I always enjoy reading the contrarian offerings of my friend and former colleague Avi Klar, but I must admit that his latest article, titled “The Unpopular Truth,” caused me to raise my eyebrows even higher than some of his previous pieces. Mr. Klar claims: “Israel, and by extension the Jewish community, owes this president a tremendous debt of gratitude.” Perhaps we do, but we also owe it to ourselves and to Hamodia readers to honestly analyze Mr. Obama’s record on Israel and draw proper conclusions.
Mr. Klar asks for a “logical and unbiased assessment of all the facts,” and that is what I will attempt to provide, especially the facts that he may have unintentionally forgotten. Mr. Klar writes that “stats don’t lie.” Indeed they don’t, and neither do direct quotes and actions.
Unfortunately, Mr. Klar also mixes two disparate points. He correctly enjoins Jews to keep a low galus profile and not unnecessarily antagonize the umos, including a sitting president of the United States. He simultaneously claims, or at least implies, that President Obama was better for Israel in many ways than Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Bushes — both 41 and 43.
While I certainly agree that we shouldn’t antagonize the Nations, the facts strongly suggest that, unlike the presidents he cited, President Obama is the first president in many decades to change the strategic paradigm of America’s “special relationship” with Israel. Indeed, the Obama administration and, more importantly, Congress — the body that passes foreign aid bills — has been generous with foreign aid. However, all the foreign aid will be useless if, as a result of its policies, Israel will face far greater existential threats from without and within than it has faced in decades, threats that could jeopardize the lives of all the Jews in the country, R”l!
In addition, while I share Mr. Klar’s distaste for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s arrogance, the reaction to Netanyahu by both Obama and senior members of his administration has been “rage” and “red-hot anger.” One would expect that a mature administration led by an ultra-“cool,” “level-headed” president would be able to transcend pettiness and remember that Israel is the only real ally the U.S. has in the region. In addition, “rage” and “red-hot anger” are emotions the administration has not shown to the worst tyrants and foes of America. It is interesting that the Iranians — arguably the greatest threat to world peace and certainly the biggest global sponsors of terror — have not engendered such a visceral reaction from our president. Neither has Turkey, a NATO member country which not only has not been helping America in its fight against ISIS, but has been unabashedly hindering it. Neither have the communist Chinese nor Russia’s Putin engendered such enmity from our president.
The primary way, however, that the Obama administration has made Israel a much more dangerous place has been by its seeming inability to understand and appreciate the threat of radical Muslim ideology and terror. These policies have placed Israel — already a small country in a hostile neighborhood — in the worst strategic shape in decades.
Here are some examples:
1. The Obama Administration approved the Fatah/Hamas partnership forged soon before Operation Protective Edge this past summer. Secretary of State John Kerry then informed Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the administration would “work with the new Palestinian government …” Let us stop and contemplate what that means. President Obama did not condemn a pact between the supposedly “moderate” “man of peace,” Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, a terrorist organization on the U.S. terror list that is sworn to Israel’s destruction as per its charter. Not only that, but the administration justified its approval of the partnership with a ruthless terror organization with a loophole that the ministers serving on behalf of Hamas were only “technocrats.” Uh huh …
2. The Obama administration’s “moderate” “man of peace,” Mahmoud Abbas, has been inciting Palestinians to “rage” and “battle” against Israel. He has labeled Israel a country that engages in “genocide against the Palestinian People.” This incitement resulted in the murder of 3-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun, Hy”d, and 22-year-old Yemima (Karen) Mosquera, Hy”d. On Thursday, October 23, when state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked whether the administration would condemn Abbas for his incitement, she replied, “As you know, President Abbas has renounced violence and consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states. I don’t have any other analysis for you to offer …” Mahmoud Abbas, the “moderate” Palestinian authority leader,hailed the baby killeras a hero and a martyr. The U.S. didn’t condemn that, either.
3. The U.S. consulate referred to the Yerushalayim terror attack as a “traffic incident.” If that does not show a glaring lack of understanding for what terror is, a bias against Israeli Jews and terrible insensitivity to the Braun family (who are American citizens), I don’t know what does.
4. Perhaps the most egregious comment that displays the anti-Israel bent of the administration as well as an acute lack of understanding of what fuels terrorism was made by Secretary of State John Kerry. The reason his comment is so reprehensible is that it feeds into the age-old anti-Semitic canard that the Jews/Israelis are responsible for the world’s problems. Kerry recently linked the rise of ISIS to Israel’s intransigence in making peace with the Palestinians. “As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the [anti-Islamic State] coalition … there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt they had to respond to…” Indeed, ISIS beheads British and American citizens and murders thousands in cold blood — and the secretary of state of the United States of America effectively says, “The Jews are to blame …”
5. During the Gaza War, Secretary Kerry came to the region to try to help broker a ceasefire. While Egypt, with the help of Saudi Arabia, was spearheading the effort, Kerry decided to disregard them and, instead, run off to Paris and try brokering a ceasefire with radical Islam-supporting Qatar and Turkey as brokers. The ultra-left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz, usually known for harsh criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, said the plan put forward by Kerry with the Qataris and Turks “might as well have been penned by [Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal.”
6. That brings us to another puzzling policy of the Obama administration. It allowed and in some ways encouraged the fall of President Hosni Mubarak and strongly supported the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi. The administration’s strong support for Morsi was a clear demonstration of how it did not appreciate the threat of radical Islam. In addition, Morsi, who openly allied himself with Hamas, let Hamas smuggle through Egypt rockets, heavy arms and thousands of tons of cement to build terror tunnels, thereby greatly weakening longtime U.S. ally Israel, while strengthening radical Islamic terrorism. Those tunnels resulted in dead Jews. In addition, when the Egyptian army finally came to the conclusion that continued control by the Muslim Brotherhood government would bury Egypt, and they ousted Morsi, the Obama administration openly voiced its opposition to the Sisi government and denied it foreign aid, apparently preferring the Muslim Brotherhood.
7. During the height of the Gaza war, the White House held up the delivery of munitions to Israel — something strategically unprecedented in the annals of U.S./Israeli relations.
8. The Obama Administration is in the middle of feverish discussions with Iran about its nuclear program. According to all accounts, Iran is thus far retaining the vast stockpile of LEU [low enriched uranium] that it had on the eve of the interim deal [signed in November 2013]. And it is continuing research and development on more and more advanced centrifuges. If it decided to make a dash to the bomb, it could have the fissile material in a matter of months, experts say. If that is not the greatest possible strategic danger to Israel, what is?
9. All of this came before the now infamous article by Jeffrey Goldberg that has brought the administration’s obsession with Israel and Netanyahu to an unprecedented level of enmity and pettiness. Jeffrey Goldberg, the journalist of choice of the Obama people when they want to relay a message regarding Israel, quoted a senior administration official calling Netanyahu a “chicken” followed by a choice expletive. Amazingly, what comes out from the article is that Netanyahu’s personality is so loathed that the Obama people get far more exorcised about another apartment being built in the chareidi neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in Yerushalayim than the Iranians retaining the ability to make a nuclear bomb!
Mr. Klar ends off by asking two questions: “How do these angry, anti-Obama articles reconcile with our role as Jews in exile and the prohibition of hisgaarus ba’umos? Do you really think that all this anti-Obama rhetoric is helpful to our community?”
Funny, Mr. Klar seems so averse to hisgaarus ba’umos now, asking if anti-Obama rhetoric is helpful to our community, yet he himself, in the pages of Hamodia, engaged in similar hisgaarus ba’umos bashing President George W. Bush.
A. In a column Mr. Klar penned in June 2005, he strongly criticized the Bush administration for getting us into a “quagmire” in Iraq and misleading the American people.
B. In a column written in March of 2004, Mr. Klar took President Bush to task for using imagery from 9/11 to promote his agenda.
C. In a column written in January of 2004, Mr. Klar criticized the Bush government as “undemocratic” for not giving Muslim prisoners on Guantanamo Bay due process.
One wonders, therefore, if hisgaarus ba’umos or the rhetorical question “How does anti-sitting president rhetoric help our community?” is being used selectively by Mr. Klar (immediately prior to elections), depending on the identity of the president?
One last thing. I ask forgiveness from my friend Mr. Klar for asking such pointed questions, and if he chooses to respond to this article, I would humbly request that he not respond with an avalanche of words and platitudes, but rather do so in point form answering each of the issues mentioned above.
Avi Klar responds:
I am deeply honored that Rabbi Birnbaum — whom I hold in the highest esteem — took the time to pen such a lengthy and convincing rebuttal to my original article.
Let there be no misunderstanding: I am not an admirer of President Obama. I am deeply dismayed by many of his policies, particularly his stance on moral issues. I also find some elements of his Middle East policy very disturbing.
At the same time, I do feel that statements describing the president as being “anti-Israel” are inaccurate and counterproductive.
As per Rabbi Birnbaum’s request, I will address each of the points he raised.
1. The Netanyahu government may have made a show of outwardly cutting back on relations with the Fatah/Hamas government, but in reality continued to work closely with them on security and a whole host of other issues. After this government was formed, Shimon Peres, who was still Israel’s president at the time, attended a “prayer” meeting in the Vatican with Abbas. Why should America do what Israel wasn’t ready to do?
It would have been very risky for the U.S. to cut off relations — and considerable funding — to Abbas. It is possible that it would have convinced Abbas to dump Hamas, but it is also possible that Abbas would have stubbornly refused to buckle, thereby endangering the vital security cooperation between his well-armed militias and Israel. Without U.S. funding, he would have little incentive to cooperate. So it is far from certain that the U.S. decision to work with the “technocrat” government is such a bad idea.
2. There is no doubt that the right thing to do would be for the State Department to condemn Abbas, and its refusal to do so is inexcusable. However, it would be worthwhile to bear in mind that on this past Motzoei Shabbos, as tens of thousands gathered in Tel Aviv to mark the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, Yuval Rabin read a “special message” from Abbas. In a fiery speech, Shimon Peres swiped not at Abbas, whom he apparently still admires, but at Netanyahu, saying, “Those who despair of peace are lunatics, not those who pursue it.”
In essence, the Obama administration is following the lead of Peres and his cohorts on the left of Israeli politics.
3. Once again, the language of the internal consulate memo was wrong, but certainly didn’t reflect the administration’s views. As the spokesman for the consulate, Leslie Orderman, said in response to well-deserved criticism about that memo: “Our position is the position of the State Department spokesperson, who condemned in the strongest language the act of terrorism in Jerusalem. We have expressed our deepest condolences to the family of the baby, reportedly an American citizen, who was killed in this heinous terrorist attack …”
4. If you look closely at those highly controversial comments, Kerry isn’t giving his opinion. All he is saying is that wherever he goes — presumably referring to Arab countries — government leaders raise the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The remark was ill advised, but blown totally out of proportion.
5. There is a very simple reason why Kerry preferred Qatar and Turkey over the Saudis and the Egyptians: the former had considerable sway over the Hamas terrorists, while the latter had virtually none. At that point in the conflict, Hamas made it clear that they had no interest in working with Egypt, and so talks would never have gotten anywhere.
According to some sources, the Qatar-Turkey initiative was never intended by Kerry to be an actual cease-fire plan. Kerry sent it to the Israelis for comment, and they proceeded to leak it to the press, further damaging U.S.-Israeli relations.
6. I have responded to the Mubarak-Morsi fiasco elsewhere, in a response to a letter to the editor in last week’s edition. In addition to the points on this subject, in my response, bear in mind that it is doubtful that U.S. support alone would have sufficed to prop up the Mubarak dictatorship, and America would have lost out on all ends. In addition, while the Muslim Brotherhood is a group with close ties to Hamas, unlike both Mubarak and the military dictatorship of Sisi, it was elected in a free and democratic election.
7. At a time of significant tension with the U.S., the Netanyahu government circumvented the White House and tried to obtain the weapons directly from the Pentagon. While Obama was wrong for using the weapons to send a message to Israel, I have no doubt that Netanyahu would have done the same thing had the shoe been on the other foot. In addition, relative to the large amounts of U.S. military aid pouring into Israel — including extra supplies of interceptor missiles for the Iron Dome system — the effect of this particular munitions shipment delay was negligible.
8. I have seen considerable criticism of the president’s Iran policy, but I haven’t seen anyone come up with realistic alternatives. Let’s face it, Israel isn’t prepared to go the military route, and while the sanctions put in place by the Obama administration convinced Iran to freeze some of its activities and begin negotiations, there are no signs that the ayatollahs are about to be toppled or that Tehran is ready to buckle.
9. It seems like officials in Washington share the same view of Netanyahu as many in Israel do. What is being overlooked about Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece is that he writes: “Much of the anger felt by Obama administration officials is rooted in the Netanyahu government’s periodic explosions of anti-American condescension.”
Rabbi Birnbaum also points out that, ten years ago, I wrote a number of articles criticizing then-President Bush.
While there is room to differentiate between a frum columnist attacking an American president as being “anti-Israel” — which I feel is hisgaarus ba’umos — and criticizing a president’s policies on other issues, the point is well made. Back then, I was admonished by one of my spiritual mentors for attacking Bush, and I subsequently toned down my rhetoric significantly. A decade older, and hopefully a little wiser, I look at things somewhat differently. n