Non-Crime of Omission

I have to admit that there was one assertion in Michael Oren’s recent book, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” that disturbed me greatly. As I wrote two weeks ago, I found his book’s main points, which he outlined in essays for Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, to be factually incorrect. But I was taken aback by Mr. Oren’s description of how President Obama left Israel off a list of countries the president lauded for aiding Haiti after its devastating earthquake in 2010. That omission – especially considering Israel’s prodigious role in rescue and recovery efforts after that disaster – seemed to contradict my positive judgment of Mr. Obama’s regard for Israel.

On pages 132-133 of his book, Mr. Oren writes how his “foreboding only deepened” when Mr. Obama, on January 15, three days after the earthquake struck, made an official statement in which he announced that American personnel were on the ground in Haiti and that “help continues to flow in” as well from “Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, among others.” Israel’s omission from the list, Mr. Oren writes, made him feel “like I had been kicked in the chest.”

The passage greatly bothered me. As it apparently did the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ron Kampeas. But whereas I just puzzled over the passage, Mr. Kampeas actually researched its claim, and compiled a timeline of events that January. What he found was that Israel’s rescue activities – powerful and laudable though they were – only began the day after Mr. Obama spoke.

A day earlier, on January 14, four Israeli situation assessors did arrive in Haiti, joining the Israeli ambassador of the neighboring Dominican Republic, but it was only on the 16th that the Israeli field hospital was first set up. Anyone less negatively inclined than Mr. Oren could easily imagine the president asking a member of his staff to find out from Haitian officials which countries were on the ground searching for survivors. And receiving the answer he incorporated into his speech.

So Mr. Oren’s feeling kicked in chest was, to put it mildly, unwarranted. Perhaps he wanted Mr. Obama to list all the countries that had plans for rescue operations, but there were many more of those. There would have been no reason to mention only Israel.

Why harp on Mr. Oren’s book? And why reiterate Mr. Obama’s numerous actions on behalf of Israel’s security, as I have several times?

For a simple reason: One of Judaism’s most fundamental principles is hakaras hatov, literally “recognition of the good.”

One may certainly disagree with any of the president’s actions one doesn’t like. But one may not overlook what he has done. I listed a few things two weeks ago in my earlier essay on Mr. Oren’s book. There is, however, much more, like increased military aid to Israel, like Iron Dome, like Stuxnet. And like his words when he visited Israel two years ago.

“More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here,” he declared, “tended the land here, prayed to G-d here.” And he called the fact of Jews living in their ancestral land “a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.”

Needless to say, as the Zoharic prayer “B’rich Sh’mei,” recited by many when the Torah is removed from the aron, has it, we are not to put our trust in any man. And the hearts of leaders, in any event, are in Hashem’s hands, and subject to the effect of our own merits.

But none of that absolves us of the holy duty to be makir tov, to recognize the reality of good things and to give credit where it is due.

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