Obama and the Orthodox, Revisited

In a recent article in HaAretz, reprinted here on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Avi Shafran offered several explanations why there seems to be an Orthodox “animus” against President Obama. He discounts theories like racism and Obama’s social liberalism before arriving at the one he prefers: a lack of hakaras hatov — gratitude.

I have always greatly respected Rabbi Shafran and his writing, and consider him a personal mentor. And I think it is unquestionably true that some people have made “over the top,” irrational criticisms — not that I feel that these reactions are unique to the Orthodox Jewish community, or unique to our current president. But on balance, I think Rabbi Shafran must revisit not only that social liberalism, but the very areas in which he feels our thanks are due, in order to understand why there is so much negativity about the Obama presidency from Orthodox Jews.

Here’s what I wrote about Obama’s election, in November 2008:

I believe that getting America to the point of electing a black President was one of America’s finest hours.Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein, November 12.

He beat me to it, as I was going to make a similar comment. As a strong McCain supporter, I did not expect to have such positive feelings about the statement made by Americans about America today, through this election. Less than 50 years after whites had to be forced to share classrooms and bathrooms with black Americans, they elected one to be President of the United States. If I read the electoral college numbers correctly, then although it is true that over 90% of African-Americans voted for him, Obama would have won without the black vote.

Despite his selection of the very partisan Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff, Obama has begun with a number of overtures across the aisle. If he governs the way he campaigned — namely, in the center — then the next four years may be a pleasant surprise, and we should give him the chance to prove himself.

I said it, I believed it, I think we gave him that chance, and I think he disappointed us overwhelmingly.

Rabbi Shafran focuses upon foreign policy, and Israel in particular, as the area in which we owe the current administration “special good will.” He points to Obama’s Cairo speech, in which he mentioned the “unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel.

What he does not mention is that Obama visited Cairo immediately, and didn’t visit Jerusalem until his second term. Nor does Rabbi Shafran mention Obama’s declaration, among other troubling statements, that “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” which includes new neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh, not just new outposts between Palestinian towns.

History shows that Ronald Reagan called new settlement activity legal if “ill-advised.” George H.W. Bush, a Republican widely regarded as unfriendly to Israel, said “we do not believe there should be new settlements in the West Bank or East Jerusalem,” permitting normal growth of existing towns. A Clinton-Era Assistant Secretary of State explicitly allowed for that natural growth. And George W. Bush said to Prime Minister Sharon that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome… will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

And Rabbi Shafran would have us believe that Obama’s position is consistent with “the declared American position over several administrations?” If he meant the Carter administration, he’d be right. But I don’t think anyone regards Jimmy Carter as a friend of Israel.

Indeed, following the Cairo speech, Senior Israeli officials accused the President “of failing to acknowledge… clear understandings with the Bush administration” that allowed Israel to continue limited settlement construction even during the “freeze” during negotiations. Yet in 2011 UN Ambassador Susan Rice reiterated the administration’s new position, “reject[ing] in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity” of any kind.

Rice was one of three Obama appointees whom Rabbi Shafran jokingly called “a stealth bomb aimed at Israel,” as if, in reality, none of them were of concern. Let’s look at another of the three, Chuck Hagel.

In October 2000, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was one of only 4 Senators who refused to sign a letter in support of Israel during Arafat’s renewed intifada. The next year, he was one of only 11 Senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with Arafat until his forces ceased violence against Israel. And in August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 Senators who refused to call upon the EU to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organization.

The source of that information, by the way, is the National Jewish Democratic Council. You see, Hagel was a Republican Senator. Predictably, the NJDC reversed course, choosing to “trust” that “former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel.” And somehow I doubt J-Street would have called Chuck “Jewish lobby” Hagel “pro-Israel” (not that J-Street terming a person “pro-Israel” is ever particularly comforting) when he was a Republican Senator. If some Jews are simply being knee-jerk partisans, it’s not the Orthodox, whose concern about Hagel is entirely consistent with how pro-Israel voters on both sides of the aisle regarded him prior to the appointment.

It remains true, for a variety of reasons, that the medina shel chesed, the kind nation in which we live, shares an “unbreakable bond” with Israel. But that is something that Obama inherited, not something which he has actively encouraged or strengthened.

Did the US refuse to participate in joint exercises with Turkey if Israel wasn’t invited? Yes. Turkey disinvited Israel because Turkey was blaming Israel for its soldiers having the audacity to defend themselves against the knife-wielding, bulletproof-vest-wearing flotilla “peace activists” who jumped them when they boarded to enforce the Israeli embargo on shipping to Gaza.

Without Israel’s participation, it is difficult to imagine the threat against which joint US-Turkey military exercises would help prepare. But Netanyahu’s ridiculous, demeaning apology for troops defending their lives, complete with “reparations” to the families of the terrorists, is widely attributed to pressure from Washington. Obama called Erdogan a “trusted friend,” while his relationship with Netanyahu is commonly described as “icy.”

Like most false gestures — and most of Obama’s foreign policies — the Netanyahu apology proved completely ineffective. Today Israeli-Turkish relations remain at an all-time low, the US (in another slap at Israel) has effectively blocked any credible effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities, the US reaction to Assad’s use of chemical weapons left Israeli leaders horrified and appalled, and the “Arab Spring” brought Hamas allies to power in the same Cairo (before the Egyptian military removed them, without American help).

The BBC, which like most of Europe adulated Obama prior to his election, said that US credibility is now “in tatters.” And that’s only foreign policy.

The president who made those “overtures across the aisle” has rarely been in evidence since taking office. The voters of very liberal Massachusetts elected a Republican State Senator, instead of the Democratic Attorney General, to take the remainder of the late, very popular, and very liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy’s term. The AG had led throughout the race, and the reversal was widely regarded as a last ditch attempt to stop ObamaCare. The Obama administration’s reaction was to strong-arm Democratic members of the House to make sure they could ram through this “key legislative achievement” without returning it to the Senate, which would, without a filibuster-proof Democratic majority, have required bipartisan support.

The result is a “non-tax” which is only Constitutional because it is, in fact, a tax, in which we can “keep our doctor” and “keep our plan” except that we really can’t. Those who said Bush “lied” for relying upon the unanimous opinion of every Western intelligence agency (with regards to Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMD’s) needed a lesson in what it actually means to be lied to by a U.S. President.

I was advised to renew my insurance policy two months early, exchanging coverage for a new and relatively high deductible, in order to avert the much higher cost increase for policies renewed after the ACA took effect this month. My agent tells me he is unaware of a single person who has managed to navigate the “Maryland Health Connection” ObamaCare web site and come out with insurance. Similarly, the person with whom I spoke at BlueChoice told me that to her knowledge, no one has saved money. The greatest beneficiaries of the ACA thus far are the insurance companies. In fact, it is due to ObamaCare that Maryland’s oldest historically black college, Bowie State University, announced that it would drop health care coverage for students, instead allowing them to attend with no insurance.

As I mentioned, both Rabbi Adlerstein and myself found it extremely heartening that America had proven itself sufficiently race blind to elect a black president. Unfortunately, that president has proven himself not to be at all race blind. He has twice injected himself uninvited into racially-charged situations. Both times he has inflamed tensions, and both times he has been wrong.

And the list goes on. Obama’s “fiscal stimulus” has resulted in an unparalleled increase in federal debt, and one of the most anemic and prolonged economic recoveries in US history.

Yes, I’m a Republican. I certainly favored John McCain with his tremendous pro-Israel track record. But I was among those who shared the feelings of an Israeli political commentator who hoped “the Bush will burn” on the eve of the 1992 election, and in retrospect I believe Clinton proved to be a reasonably effective and pro-Israel president. I expressed hopes for our first black President, perhaps biased by the fact that I went to college with his wife, Michelle Robinson Obama.

So no, I don’t think it’s a lack of gratitude, hakaras hatov. I don’t think it’s racism. I don’t think it’s because he’s a liberal and Orthodox Jews tend to be conservatives. And I certainly don’t think it’s because “we humans don’t like to admit that we were wrong.”

After all, I’ve admitted error on Cross-Currents before. Both times I made one.

I hope you knew that I was kidding. But I do think that although Rabbi Shafran is always insightful and usually demonstrates a clear understanding of Jews both Orthodox and otherwise, this is one of those few times he has erred.

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42 Responses

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    “What he does not mention is that Obama visited Cairo immediately, and didn’t visit Jerusalem until his second term.”

    Neither did George W. Bush.

    “Ronald Reagan”

    Reagan never visited Israel while President.

    ‘new settlement activity legal if “ill-advised.” ‘

    The US policy on settlements was first stated during the Johnson Administration, on April 8, 1968. Here is the document stating the policy:


    None of Johnson’s eight successors have reversed this policy.

    ‘he is unaware of a single person who has managed to navigate the “Maryland Health Connection” ObamaCare web site and come out with insurance. ‘

    58,422 Maryland residents had done so as of 12/28/2013.


    “the person with whom I spoke at BlueChoice told me that to her knowledge, no one has saved money.”

    This is probably because Maryland has a unique healthcare regulatory system dating back to the 1970s that got costs more under control than most states. Here in NY, which let market forces determine rates with little regulation, the ACA Exchange has resulted in significant savings. I’d get more coverage for less money were Yeshiva University to allow me to select an Exchange plan rather than their group insurance.

    “new and relatively high deductible”

    High deductible insurance plans have been pushed by Republicans for years as a way to get Americans to become responsible for the cost of their health care. The fact that for most of us, employers pay most of the cost has shielded us from those expenses, and as a result we have no idea how expensive health care is in the US. In calendar year 2009, it was over $6800/year — $567/month.

    “Bowie State University, announced that it would drop health care coverage for students, instead allowing them to attend with no insurance.”

    That Bowie State plan was precisely the kind of junk insurance that should have been banned a long time ago. Its lifetime maximum was only $5,000! In any case, most of the students can stay on their parents’ insurance and all could get real insurance through the Exchange, and most would get big subsidies to pay for the insurance.

    ‘Obama’s “fiscal stimulus” has resulted in an unparalleled increase in federal debt’

    Not as a fraction of GDP, which is what really matters. But the highest federal deficit in history was Bush’s last budget and it has been declining ever since.

    “one of the most anemic and prolonged economic recoveries in US history.”

    This is indeed true, and a major reason is the fiscal austerity program that the Republicans have used their power in Congress to force on the country. Such programs didn’t work in Japan or Europe, and they don’t work here, either.

  2. Dan says:

    The main problem with R. Shaffren’s piece was that it failed to pose a question that needed explaining. Orthodox Jewish conservatives do not hate Obama any more than do athiest conservatives. It has nothing to do with being frum.

    I’m glad he wrote the piece, because I don’t want to politicize support for Israel (or at least I’d like to maintain the pretense, even though there is a clear political continuum on it). But it ought to have been written more in the nature of “here’s why we were wrong on Obama and Israel” than as “here’s why we should like Obama”.

  3. Reb Yid says:

    “He has twice injected himself uninvited into racially-charged situations. Both times he has inflamed tensions, and both times he has been wrong.”

    You’re still on this kick that Zimmerman was the victim? No, what the POTUS did was not only right, but empathetic, wise and, frankly, Presidential. It was a brilliant speech.

    And don’t kid yourself–there’s a very high correlation between those who spew vitriol at Obama and those who do the same with the Open Orthodox.

  4. Y. Ben-David says:

    I want to thank Rav Menken for this piece. As an Israeli, I was astounded at the two columns that appeared at this site claiming that Obama was some kind of great friend of Israel. Israelis (and not only Israelis but also other people in the Middle East) are GREATLY distressed at Obama’s poy concessions on their part.
    It is clear to me that Obama is attempting to divide American Jewry and is planning for the day when the Kerry mission breaks down so that he can (wrongly) blame Israel for the impasse and try to sanction Israel and yet have the support of a large part of American Jewry for this. He tried this before with the settlement freeze, thinking that most American Jews, being Left-liberal and not-Orthodox could be made to alienate them from the settlement movement which is supported by the Israeli Right and the Religious Zionists and support. That time he failed, but he is clearly trying again.
    I stronly recommedn Denish D’Souza’s excellent book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” which shows that this President comes from a background totally at odds with the background and values of all previous Presidents and that he has a radical agenda to completely redefine America’s values and its role in the world. Obama has shown clear animus to traditional American allies around the world and we in Israel, unfortunately, are at the top of the list for being demoted from America’s friendship in order to make way for “tzaddikim” like Iran and Assad’s Syria.

  5. Toby Katz says:

    Shtadlanim know that they have to stay on the good side of the rulers, no matter who sits on the throne and no matter how distasteful it may be to have to lick their boots. We Jews can’t afford to be seen as disliking our rulers, no matter how good our reasons are. We can’t afford to get on the wrong side of the man in power, not while he’s still in power. We have been forced to lick much worse boots than these in our long, troubled history. Rabbi Shafran is a shtadlan, and a good one. He knows that we won’t get far in Washington if we are seen simply as hostile to Obama. You see this in diplomacy all the time. You see how even Natanyahu has to say nice things about his friend Barak, and deny that relations are frosty. Israel is a tiny country and we Jews are a tiny percentage of the world’s population, and basically we always have to walk carefully and smile hopefully and keep murmuring, “Nice doggy, nice doggy.”

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Liberal responses to the true Obama in action give us an effective mussar lecture on the human power of rationalization. In this case, cherry-picking Obama actions that could be portrayed in, or bent into, a positive light is a really superhuman task, so those who do it here and elsewhere deserve our admiration, sorta.

    I used to think some of our organizational people were just trying to forestall adverse actions that a ticked-off Obama could take, but that was too kind.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Toby Katz wrote, “We Jews can’t afford to be seen as disliking our rulers.”

    1. Do we or don’t we see ourselves as responsible citizens of this country? When the country goes down the tubes, as it is now in peril of doing, do we benefit? The same for the state or the city.

    2. Can’t we at least avoid false praise? Can’t we at least avoid supporting bad policies? Of course these questions don’t occur to liberals smitten with Obama, but others have no such excuse.

  8. Y. Ben-David says:

    Toby Katz-
    What you say here reminds me of the attitude of American Jewry during World War II which was the supreme crisis of world Jewry. American Jews said the same thing…”we have be be careful, we don’t want to stir up antisemitism here in America, after all they may not let us join their country clubs”, or “Steven S Wise (the main ‘shtadlan’ of that period) says he is a personal friend of FDR, he is no doubt taking care of the situation in Europe quietly” or “Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) and his group to save European Jewry are just a bunch of noisy troublemakers, Wise is correct in trying to get them deported”. I could go on.

    Everyone in the Middle East outside of the Shi’ite bloc is dismayed at Obama’s appeasement of the Iranian terrorist regime which is trying to get NUCLEAR weapons. Rav Jonathan Rosenblum pointed this out in an excellent article but Mr Marvin Schick berated him for pointing out these uncomfortable truths here at Cross-Currents. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Haven’t we learned ANTHING from the tragedy of the 1940’s which I pointed out above?

    I can go even farther….America is undergoing a massive upheavels in morals and ethics and Obama and his Democrats are in the forefront of in pushing for these changes. Basic morality, such as the laws against giluy arayot that the non-Jews are required to follow under the 7 mitzvot of Benei Noach and which the whole world has followed for generations have been thrown in the junk heap by Obama, his political followers and even the Supreme Court. Does American Orthodox Jewry believe they won’t be dragged down along with everyone else by this? Obama’s hostility to Israel is just one more manifestation of his radical world view (remember his friends like antisemite Jeremiah Wright and terrorist Bill Ayres). Will traditional “shtadlanut” even work in this situation? Isn’t it time to wake up?

  9. Tal Benschar says:

    Putting aside one’s view of the current incumbent, I never understood those who did not want to say Ha Nosein Teshuah La Melachim because they did not like the current incumbent. (I remember my parents lived in a town with a shul where one of the members did that every week — when they said that tefillah, he would yell out, “But not Bush.”)

    The tefillah asks that the rulers of the country have mercy on the Jews and treat them well, among other things. Jews used to say it about the Tsars. Whatever one’s view of Obama or Bush, they are not worse than the Tsars.

  10. Reb Yid says:


    The phrase “rachamanut” used to be part of HaNoten Teshuah but over the past couple of centuries it and other forms of passivity have largely disappeared from American siddurim (I’ve done considerable historical research here). In some cases, there is simply a different alternative formulation that eschews the HaNoten Teshuah formula.

    But it speaks to the fact that American Jews feel more comfortable and confident in being Jewish in America and indeed, how far Jews have come from depending upon the Czars or Kaisers for their well-being.

  11. yosef t. says:

    Thankyou Rabbi Menken for your important response to Rabbi Shafran’s post.I was incredulous that an “ehrlicha osek betzorchie tzibbur” like him could be so terribly misguided.I am convinced that he is victim to his own theory regarding dificulty admitting when one is mistaken or he is victim to the syndrome discussed in another recent post of his regarding having opinions not based on enough information.His absurd assertion regarding the current Iran deal as being some sort of brilliant maneuver rather than a Chamberlinesque surrender is the left wing talking point du jour.The very same left wing Rabbi Shafran valiantly fights in their dishonest horrid treatment of Orthodox Jews, yet in this crusade he finds them credible!Either way,the Israeli government ,defense establishment and even a large amount of congessional democrats oppose easing sanctions on Iran so I certainly am befuddled how he views this deal as point in Obamas favor. I agree with Toby Katz that a shtadlan must keep all avenues open. However there certainly must be a point when one realizes that a particular politicion has such animas to our point the of view there is no hope or point in practicing “chanifa” other than providing that politician political cover and alienating those that realy share our values.The reasons based on policy why the majority of “chareidim” oppose Pres. Obama are overwhelming.Many of them Rabbi Shafran alludes to and seemingly just disregards them for no given reason as irrelevant and unimportant.I certainly find it important that Obamas “rebbi”( rev wright)is a rabid anti semite and that he has appointed many anti Israel/semites to his foreign policy cabinet as enumerated by Rabbi Shafran.I find it most important that he is a radical pro abortionist not even allowing for life saving measures on babys who have survived botched abortions.I find it most important that he is so beholden to evil teachers unions that his Doj has sued states that have done minimal amounts to allow school choice(what I thought was a core aguda agenda item)I find it most relevant that 3 times he has proposed a budget cutting by 2 thirds the amount one can deduct for charitable giving,something my own left wing senator here in Md conceded would destroy private education(yeshivas,day schools ect)and chesed orginizations.I find it petrifying that his stated ideal for healthcare is to have the govt make pikuach nefesh treatment decisions based on cost and who they deem worthy of living.The list can go on and on.This is realy not a debatable issue so I would ask the venerable rabbi Shafran to rethink his views and come join the vocal majority.

  12. Raymond says:

    I really wish we could get past skin color already, as that issue seems to be clouding the judgment of far too many people. We need to judge Barack Obama on exactly the same scale of justice that we would judge any other American President. Playing the race card when it comes to the world’s most powerful position is a very dangerous idea. Honestly, I could not care less what skin color he has, as it has zero relevance to the very serious issues at hand.

    As for Barack Obama as President, to me it is crystal clear that he is the President that Jimmy Carter would have become, had Carter been chosen to serve more than one term in the White House. In my naivete, I had thought all these many decades since then, that this nation had learned its lesson, that the policies and worldviews of the Jimmy Carters of this world, are both wrong and dangerous, while the policies and worldviews of the Ronald Reagans of this world, bring about goodness, decency, and prosperity, for Israel, for America, and really for the rest of the world as well. Apparently, though, every generation has to relearn this lesson, because this generation has once again chosen a modern day Jimmy Carter as their leader, in the person of Barack Hussein Obama. And now Israel may pay for that mistake with its life, as Obama and several key European nations have essentially given Iran the green light to build its nuclear weapons with which to destroy Israel, while Israel is not allowed to prevent that calamity from happening.

    Now is not the time for appeasement. Now is the time to tell the real truth about things. As a result of the highly destructive policies of Barack Obama, I am more frightened for the fate of Israel and America than I can ever remember feeling. We live in such frighteningly dangerous times. Perhaps the only one who could save our world at this point, is Moshiach.

  13. echad ani yodea says:

    Avi Shafran has been on this issue for a very long time. Anytime someone criticizes Obama he gives a mussar shmuess. It has become his Holy Grail. He can’t accept that some people just view the President differently. While all that may be fine, it is disappointing that he has taken this argument to the secular Haaretz.

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    WADR, when both the Israelis and the Saudis , as well as many other countries, view the current administration’s flirtation with Iran with alarm, as well as the newly released book by Robert Gates, describes the micromnanaging of the war in Iraq and Afganistan, one can only describe the President as a liberal-left isolationist, whose views of Isalmofascism/terror are naive, and whose statist views of domestic policy are an unmitigated disaster.

  15. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    First of all it is unfair that only Cross Currents editors get to comment on Avi Shafren’s articles.

    Second of all I don’t believe that Avi Shaffren meant to claim that President Obama’s record is flawless. What he did mean to convey is that many in our community do not have a balanced view of Obama and his record. They tend to ignore the many positive policies and results of his administration. Much of the dialogue regarding Obama is characterized by hysterics. The failure to say a Misheberach for him is but one moderate example. Ronald Reagan had Casper Weinberger (undoubtedly worse than Chuck Hagel)as his Secretary of Defence. Ronald Reagan condemned the bombing of the Osirak reactor. Ronald Reagan had members of his administration (Oliver North etc.) funneling arms to the Mullahs in Iran in direct violation of American law and congressional resolutions. His VP George Bush later linked aid money to a stop in settlement activity – something Obama has not even threatened to do. Yet Obama is characterized as a Muslim, Jew hater etc.

    Lastly, The ACA has many positives that are also ignored. It is finally remaking the private market for insurance.No longer does your employer dictate to you what type of insurance is best for you. The ACA marketplace enables individuals to pick and chose their own plans. This should be an ideal embraced by conservatives who presumably favor choice. Furthermore the idea for the universal mandate was first floated by the conservative Heritage Foundation and in reality Obamacare is essentially Romneycare on a larger scale.

  16. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    “My agent tells me he is unaware of a single person who has managed to navigate the “Maryland Health Connection” ObamaCare web site and come out with insurance. Similarly, the person with whom I spoke at BlueChoice told me that to her knowledge, no one has saved money. The greatest beneficiaries of the ACA thus far are the insurance companies.”

    In my state – not Maryland – the sign up was done through healthcare.gov. Despite initial problems everyone I know who tried was able to sign up in time for Jan 1 coverage. Furthermore, the plans were cheaper (with subsidies) and had far better coverage than anything offered through my employer.

  17. Charlie Hall says:

    The US policy on Settlements was actually made clear to Israel April 8, 1968, by Secretary of State Rusk. Lyndon Johnson was President. No President has repudiated this policy.

    The link to the document is here:


  18. Nachum Lamm says:

    I was going to make some snide comments about the motivations, whether cynical or ideological, that motivate some to find some redeeming feature of this failed president and somewhat distasteful personality. But an old quote came to mind. Close to two decades ago, David Klinghoffer, a well-known conservative (politically) Orthodox writer, then an editor at no less than National Review, wrote a long letter to Tradition decrying racism in the Orthodox world. At one point, he recounts how, upon hearing that he’s a conservative, other Orthodox Jews very often begin making racist remarks and jokes. “You’re not offended, are you?” asks one man at a seder. “I thought you were a conservative.”

    (Quoting Klinghoffer from memory:) “I had intended to adopt a pained look and inform him that, sir, there is a difference between a conservative and a bigot. But I kept quiet, as I had before…”

    I have no doubt that many Orthodox Jews have no political views whatsoever, and that many view politics purely in terms of “what can I get.” And I’m sure there are Orthodox racists. But there are many, many Orthodox Jews with strong conservative political views who dislike Obama for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with race. And there are many who, for better or worse, have views on the survival of the State of Israel and its inhabitants that outweigh (if necessary) their strongest (or weak) domestic political views, such as the oh-so-pressing issue of whether homosexuals can “marry”- and they have much stronger reasons for disliking Obama. Again, absolutely zero to do with his race, except as his self-image may influence his own views.

    And frankly, it’s just a bit offensive to see repeated attacks on such idealistically-motivated people as nothing more than a pack of ignorant racists. It should stop. Tell me why Obama is somehow better than he looks on first (and second, and third) blush. But spare me the self-righteous and dismissive sermonizing.

  19. Daniel says:

    Charlie: Let me get this straight; you are attempting to prove with that link that the US policy has always been this negative on the settlements, and that Obama’s stance is therefore not new.

    But all you have proven is that you agree Obama’s stance is more negative than his predecessors. Since it is obvious that his predecessors have not agreed with your link.

  20. Eric Leibman says:

    1) Obama fouled up on Syria and let Russia back into the Middle East through their “mediation” of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons.

    2) Obama’s Iran policy is almost universally reviled and condemned in Israel. His dawdling and foot dragging only allows the Iranians more time to work on their bomb, all the while chuckling at all those stupid Americans whom they are taking for the ultimate possible ride.

    3) When Egypt stomped on the Muslim Brotherhood, which every sane human being on the planet applauded, Obama’s reaction was to PUNISH Egypt and its new military rulers, who are the ONLY people in Egypt we can consistently reason and deal with and who can be depended upon to keep the true crazies and loons somewhat under control.

    4) Obama’s Iran policies terrify the Gulf Oil States, who badly want the United States and/or Israel to deal with the Iran nuclear threat, once and for all. The Saudis are so upset they are making overtures to the Russians as another potential major ally and they are even asking the Israelis through back channels to please DO SOMETHING.

    5) He has done more than his share to advance the homosexual cause in modern American society, thereby helping to hasten and speed up the decline and disintegration of the society we Jews much live in.

    On and on and on and on and on and on the list goes.

    If you want to kiss the king’s feet in order to maintain favor, that is your misguided business, but don’t get mad at us because we don’t participate in your fantasy and instead insist on pointing out the Emperor has no clothes and is as dim as a one watt light bulb.

  21. mb says:

    “The tefillah asks that the rulers of the country have mercy on the Jews and treat them well, among other things. Jews used to say it about the Tsars.”

    And as improbable as it sounds, they said it during the Nazi regime in Germany too. And just to add, some important Rabbis somewhat approved of Hitler because he was anti-communist.

  22. Nachum Lamm says:

    mb, to clarify: Some rabbis sent a letter asking Hitler to clarify whether he hated all Jews or just communist Jews, and stressing that, unlike the communists, they were loyal Germans. Of course, they couldn’t be more wrong in their hopes- Hitler hated Jews, period- but they had no real way of knowing that at the time (or, at least, you can see how people could have fooled themselves into hoping that at the time). In fact, the letter ends by asking Hitler to admit that he hates all Jews, if he does, and so make things clearer and give them a chance to get out. Of course, he didn’t bother answering.

    (Considering that Fascism, National Socialism, and Communism are all variants on the same ideology, it’s clear that any “anti-Communist” remarks the Nazis made were purely political and not ideological anyway.)

    Later, Avraham Stern and Lechi tried to make contacts with the Nazis to get them to send their Jews to Palestine, again not realizing that the Nazis *liked* killing Jews. The official Zionist establishment tried their own accommodations much earlier. Basically, no one could quite believe that the Nazis had planned what they had planned- it’s not as if anyone- Charedi, secular, left-wing Zionist, right-wing Zionist, etc.- can say they acted perfectly in that era, and it’s not like you can blame any of them.

    Charlie: So what? Jews have a right to settle anywhere they want, regardless of whatever any president of the US may feel. Do you disagree?

    “alternative like TOV will come along”

    Which explains why Tov got exactly zero seats in every city they ran in the last election. The more extreme party, on the other hand, got a few here and there. Monty Python nailed it years ago.

  23. Bob Miller says:

    Charlie Hall wrote above, “The US policy on Settlements was actually made clear to Israel April 8, 1968, by Secretary of State Rusk. Lyndon Johnson was President. No President has repudiated this policy.”

    Don’t you think it’s high time a President did revise this policy? Policies and commitments favorable to Israel get revised, distorted, ignored or eliminated all the time. Such people as Robert Gates, who has found his way into administrations of both parties, have shown zero appreciation for what Israel provides to the US in return for US support. This points to a pervasive idea in the US defense/political establishment that Israel’s enemies are more worthy of support than Israel is, for economic or ideological reasons. Each party has its favorite set of Israel’s enemies (such as the Saudi royal family for the Bushes, radical Islamists and others for radical Democrats…). Israel and its supporters need to rethink how to make Israel’s case relevant to today’s total situation.

  24. Steve Brizel says:

    Charlie Hall-Where were the Democrats in the build up to the Six day War? They could not even support an American supported flotilla to break the Egyptiamn blockade or guarantee that the Sixth Fleet would come to the rescue of Israel. Secretary Rusk’s statement should be contrasted with the memorandum of understanding as to settlements between the younger President Bush and former PM Sharon ZL.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    Unfortunately, when the President isn’t blaming Republicans and their views as obstructionists, or sending troops to a mission to that he never believed in and viewed simply as a war to get of,and to diminish the size of the military, he reaches for the race card to bash his opponents. That is evident from his comment in the latest issue of the New Yorker.

  26. Steve Brizel says:

    For those interested, here is a link to the David Remnick article in The New Yorker.http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/01/27/140127fa_fact_remnick?currentPage=all

  27. Crazy Kanoiy says:

    For all those condemning President Obama’s Syria policy. Read the news. The following is from Reuters describing why Israel has stopped distrubiting gas masks to the general population.

    “I think this decision stems mainly from budgetary concerns, but also from the perception that the threat has diminished given the Syrian chemical disarmament process,” said Alon Rozen, former director-general of the Civil Defense Ministry, who now runs the Elements HLS consultancy firm.

    As recently as last August, thousands of Israelis lined up for gas masks, spurred on by fears that a U.S.-strike against Assad’s forces would bring reprisals against Israel.

    Washington had threatened military action after reports surfaced of poison gas attacks on the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds, including children.

    Assad then agreed to abandon his chemical weapons, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is now overseeing the destruction of the Syrian arsenal.

    NO WAR, NO AMERICAN DEATHS, NO MISSLES ON ISRAELI CITIES. REAL DISARMERMENT. Seems like a whole lot better result than the pro-Israel Military adverturaism of the Bush era.

  28. BTG says:

    I am glad Steve Brizel brought up the New Yorker and Obam’as comments about race. Here is the whole paragraph in question:
    “Obama’s drop in the polls in 2013 was especially grave among white voters. “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,” Obama said. “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”

    Rabbi Shafran’s point, I believe, is the Frum people (really adopting the right-wing position no matter what), is to always assume the negative about Obama. He’s not playing the race card, he’s showing how race is a factor in people’s feelings about him (BTW, Rabbis Shafran explicitly did not blame Frum people’s animosity for Obama on race; I am not so sure). Why does no one quote the second part of this paragraph where he clearly lays out the other side of the race equation? Choosing to ignore that is the worst from of bias: not just giving in to preconceived notions, but ignoring the obvious to make a false point.

  29. Yaakov Menken says:

    A few replies:

    Charlie Hall says that George W. Bush never visited Israel until his second term, but that’s only technically accurate. W’s first Middle East trip took him to the Red Sea Summit where he met 5 Arab leaders, and then to Aqaba, Jordan, on the Israeli border, where he met with Sharon and Abbas. Since he’d already met both the Jordanians and Abbas at the Summit, his reason to go to Aqaba was to meet Sharon, and put Sharon and Abbas together, though he did meet with King Abdullah II as well. The warm relationship between W. and Sharon is well-known. Reagan made fewer than 50 international trips total (including 5 to Canada), none of which were to the Middle East.

    The claim that US policy did not change since 1968 is simply wrong, and it’s not just the Israelis who say so. According to the ADL, the Foundation for Middle East Peace is “little more than an old-fashioned anti-Israel propaganda mill” — so when the FMEP says that Reagan departed from previous policy (which, as per the document Charlie provided, applied the Fourth Geneva Convention to Israel and the territories occupied in 1967), and says George W. was responsible for a “further retreat from past policy” when he said a return to the 1949 borders is unrealistic, these are not intended as compliments.

    Reb Yid says I’m on a “Zimmerman kick,” but in reality my comment had little to do with the evidence that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, as if that hadn’t been obvious to the jury. He calls Obama’s speech “empathetic, wise and, frankly, Presidential. It was a brilliant speech.”

    But what Obama said was “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Without any facts to back him, Obama endorsed a race-based analysis of what happened, and implied that a man who took a black woman to the high school prom and tutored two black children was a racist. It was “brilliant” only if you are of the Al Sharpton school of thought, in which to be white is automatically to be a racist incapable of just treatment of black people. To the rest of us the statement was unfair, and frankly disgusting. But sadly, it was entirely consistent with Obama’s remarks implying racism, again without a shred of evidence, on the part of a Boston Police Sergeant who was appointed by a black Police Commissioner to teach about racial profiling and how to avoid it. At least in the Crowley case, the President backtracked and said that “I could have calibrated those words differently.” He never backtracked on his racial profiling of Zimmerman.

  30. Reb Yid says:

    To Yaakov Menken:

    As BTG mentioned earlier, cherry picking by Obama haters is a big problem.

    As you have allowed others to post URLs, here is the entire transcript of President Obama’s statement after the verdict was read. It is, indeed, empathetic, wise and Presidential, and a statement no other President has ever come close to making:


  31. Steve Brizel says:

    BTG-The President’s comments in the New Yorker interview are a mirror image of similar comments by Oprah Winfrey. Like it or not, the President resorted to a classical liberal/left fall back-when you are criticized on any issue domestic or foreign-when all other arguments fail-regurgitate race.

  32. Aryeh Lev says:

    There are a few factual issues here:

    1) Bet Shemesh is inside the 1949 Armistice Lines, so President Obama does not object to the construction of new neighborhoods there.
    2) There is no such organization as “J-Street.” (They don’t put a dash in their name.)
    3) The article implies that Obama would disagree with Reagan that the settlements are “legal but ill-advised,” or would disagree with George W. Bush who said that he “doesn’t expect” that Israel will fully withdraw to the 1949 lines. In fact, Obama would not disagree with either statement. Obama (like Reagan) believes that the settlements are ill-advised, but neither he nor his administration has ever called them illegal. Look it up. In fact, his UN Ambassador specifically vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which called the settlements illegal. Obama, like Bush, also “doesn’t expect” Israel to withdraw to the 1949 lines. Whenever he has spoken about those boundaries, he has always said that they are only a “basis” for negotiations, and that the final borders will include land swaps, presumably allowing Israel to annex Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and large settlements. Obama’s position (like his predecessors) is that until the land swaps are finalized in negotiations, Israel should choose not build on the other side of the 1949 lines, despite the fact that Israel has a legal right to do so.

    I don’t necessarily mean to agree with Obama or disagree with Rabbi Menken, but I think that the factual errors and rhetorical shortcuts hurt the article’s credibility.

  33. Yaakov Menken says:

    Aryeh Lev,

    1) I should have said Kiryat Sefer. My bad.

    2) Don’t piddle. A dash isn’t a factual error, and is a variant spelling.

    3) Argue it out with Charlie Hall. Charlie (and Rabbi Shafran) claim that all of Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush II did not change US policy since Johnson, which was that all settlements are illegal. You, on the other hand, agree that Reagan did change US policy, and say that Obama has not reversed it since he has not called them “illegal.” Again that is technically correct, as the Obama administration said instead, repeatedly, that it rejects settlement activity as “illegitimate” rather than “illegal.” After you’re done untangling the semantic web you’ve woven, you’ll have to argue out with Rabbi Shafran and Charlie whether or not Reagan disagreed with Johnson, before deciding which way to claim Obama has gone.

    The truth, of course, is obvious: Reagan did reject Johnson’s (and Europe’s) application of the Geneva Convention to this case, and said the settlements are not illegal. Bush I and Clinton followed the new policy, and Bush II went even further, to say the 1949 lines are no longer relevant to any peace plan. Obama reversed course on both counts, calling building an extra room onto an apartment in Kiryat Sefer “illegitimate,” and to adopt the Palestinian vision — return to the armistice lines, with “mutually agreed land swaps” — as US policy.

  34. Y. Ben-David says:

    Crazy K-
    I see you have fallen for the radical Left claim that Bush invaded Iraq as a “favor to Israel”. Well, I’ll let you know that most Israelis thought that the invasion of Iraq would turn out to be a disaster for Bush and the US. It was commonly thought that it would turn out exactly the way it did….anarchy, chaos and the spread of jihadist terrorism and that Bush was extremely naive. Do you really think Israel is better off now regarding Iraq than it was before the invasion when Saddam had been defanged after the first Gulf War regarding WMD’s and the such? . I note that you use the term “pro-Israel” as some sort of epithet, representing militarist hubris in your mind. This confirms the belief I had regarding your opposition, expressed in an earlier thread, to Haredim serving in the IDF which you based on supposed threats to the religious observance of the boys involved, but in actuality you have an ideological opposition based on your views of Israel and Zionism.

  35. Steve Brizel says:

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2014/01/23/obama-administration-to-israel-call-off-the-jews-please/ do the readers here need any more evidence of who the President blames for Israel’s views and the lack of trust of the president as reflected in a recent poll by The Times of Israel/

  36. L. Oberstein says:

    I want to sy that I agree with Toby Katz that a stadlan has to be able to work with whomever is in power. As far as Roosevelt during WW II, the record of history is clear that many Jews could have been saved had the nations of the world wanted to save them. What I did not know until I read a recently published book “Roosevelt and the Jews” was how strong anti-semitism and anti- immigrant feelings were in the 1930’s. The Congress passed several Neutrality Acts and Roosevelt would never have been able to enter WW II had not Japan attacked first and he would not have fought Germany,even then, had Germany not declared war first. Roosevelt was of course a flawed person and ,even under those circumstances could have done a lot more, but unless you understand the mood of the country and the opposition of Britain to letting out Jews who might want to go to Palestine, you cannot know the full picture. I do not want to defend Wise ,but there was no AIPAC back then and the leaders,except for the orthodox, were timid for good reasons. My point is that it would be nice if we Jews had the luxury of not looking at the overall picture and coould afford to think and act like any other American, but we have to think of how our words and deeds will affect Klal Yisroel. Avi Shafran is right and Marvin Schick is right and ,if you knew as much as they did, you would see how right they are.

  37. Charlie Hall says:

    Steve Brizel’s link is to an opinion piece that presents a single unconfirmed anonymous source and he thinks that is “evidence”?

  38. Charlie Hall says:

    “Where were the Democrats in the build up to the Six day War? ”

    Lyndon Johnson tipped off the Israelis that US intelligence knew that Egypt was planning a surprise attack. As a result, Israel was able to make its pre-emptive strike — which was opposed by the National Religious party leadership, BTW.

    And Lyndon Johnson had spoken up for Israel before. In 1957 he wrote a letter protesting the Eisenhower’s (eventually successful) bullying of Israel to force them to withdraw from the areas captured during the 1956 war in return for absolutely nothing:


    That is the President who would personally warn Israel about the impending war in 1967, and whose Secretary of State would warn Israel about the negative consequences of settlement building less than a year later.

  39. Charlie Hall says:

    “The claim that US policy did not change since 1968 is simply wrong”

    Find me a President who supported settlements. There aren’t any.

    “Jews have a right to settle anywhere they want, regardless of whatever any president of the US may feel. ”

    I agree. You have the right to buy a home in Nablus from the Arab who owns it — or at least you should. The PA’s death penalty for such needs to be called out early and often. Israel, however, does not have the right to subsidize settlement of its citizens in areas that are not within its borders. (Only East Jerusalem and the Golan have been annexed to Israel and the 1995 Taba Agreement confirms that Areas A, B, and C are not within Medinat Yisrael.)

    Were Israel to annex Areas A, B, and C and grant citizenship to the non-Jews living there I would support that. But the last four Prime Ministers of Israel supported a Palestinian State!

  40. Charlie Hall says:

    “The Congress passed several Neutrality Acts and Roosevelt would never have been able to enter WW II had not Japan attacked first and he would not have fought Germany,even then, had Germany not declared war first. ”

    Had the Congress knew how closely FDR was cooperating with Churchill, there would have been impeachment proceedings. There would have also likely been impeachment proceedings had FDR broken the law to allow Jewish refugees into the United States. The racist immigration quotas had been enacted by Republicans in 1924 when FDR was in private life. (Amazingly, there are Jews today who support restrictive immigration. Do they have no memory?)

    The ONLY thing regarding Jewish immigration for which one can possibly blame FDR is that he waited until January 1944 to set up the War Refugee Board, using wartime emergency powers. In theory he could have done so in January 1942. But it would not have helped the Jews of Eastern Europe; by that time it was too late to get them out and in any case the US was at war with Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania effective June 1942. It *might* have helped some of the Jews of France, for the US maintained diplomatic relations with the Vichy regime, never declaring war on it, in part because it was a great source of intelligence information. Were there any passenger ships from unoccupied France to the US traveling in 1942?

  41. Steve Brizel says:

    Charlie Hall wrote in part:

    ‘Where were the Democrats in the build up to the Six day War? ”

    Lyndon Johnson tipped off the Israelis that US intelligence knew that Egypt was planning a surprise attack. As a result, Israel was able to make its pre-emptive strike — which was opposed by the National Religious party leadership, BTW.

    And Lyndon Johnson had spoken up for Israel before. In 1957 he wrote a letter protesting the Eisenhower’s (eventually successful) bullying of Israel to force them to withdraw from the areas captured during the 1956 war in return for absolutely nothing:

    That is the President who would personally warn Israel about the impending war in 1967, and whose Secretary of State would warn Israel about the negative consequences of settlement building less than a year later.”

    I stand by my post-when the Israelis looked to LBJ for help in 1967, not 1957,, neither LBJ, nor his administration, which was micromanaging the Vietnam War, nor Congressional Democrats in the Senate, were interested in helping Israel in any concrete way.LBJ understood that when diplomatic options had failed, that the Isarelis would be forced to commence a preventive war. The notion that the Israelis were otherwise unaware of the buildup by Nasser was dispelled by former Ambassador Oren in his magisterial book on the buildup to the war and the amazing victory, who demonstrated that the Israelis, through their own intelligence were aware of Nasser’s buildup. The notion that LBJ tipped the Israelis off to what they already knew is simply not justified by any serious reading of the facts. LBJ’s Secretary of State, FWIW, was a dedicated Arabist both before and after the 1967 war.

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