Sunday, October 25, 2015

Why the President Deserves Our Gratitude

President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
I have been very critical of President Barack Obama and his administration of late. It is criticism that in my view is richly deserved. To say I am disappointed in his current attitude with respect to Israel would be an understatement.  

The narrative coming out of the administration about the indiscriminate Arab violence against Jews in Israel seems almost identical to the Palestinian narrative. That they refuse to even mention the real reason for the violence – which is the decades long indoctrination of Jew hatred in the Arab world (spanning several generations) - is shameful.

But at the same time I believe that we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the President for all the good things he has said about Israel and done for the Jewish State over the course of his Presidency.

I rarely re-post entire articles from other sources. But I believe that what Rabbi Avi Shafran said is so important, that I am making an exception here. It needs to be read and absorbed. Especially now in light of the current circumstances where there is surely a tendency by many to forget all the positive things he has done and brand him an antisemite. Which he clearly is not. This article first appeared in Hamodia and was republished on Cross-Currents. It follows in its entirety:

Rabbi Avi Shafran
Although Barack Obama’s last day in office won’t come until January 20, 2017, the spectacle of the various presidential debates reminds us all that we won’t have him to kick around too much longer.

It’s no secret that the current Commander-in-Chief is unpopular in some circles, including, I suspect, a good part of of Hamodia’s readership. His support for a “two state solution” in Israel seems, to many, outdated and unrealistic; his long-time discord with the current prime minister of Israel (amply fueled by both men) is legend; and, most recently, his Iran deal left many upset.

Some read those entrails as indicating an animus for Israel. I don’t. Either way, though, we’re not absolved from the elemental Jewish ideal of hakaras hatov, “recognition of the good” – which, Chazal inform us, is due even to inanimate things, and presumably, too, to people we may not like. Whatever one’s views on Mr. Obama, some things he has said and – more importantly – done over his terms in office merit our recognition.

What things? Here are some:

In his 2009 Cairo speech to the Arab world, he stated that America’s “strong bond” with Israel is “unbreakable,” and that the Jewish “aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.” He firmly denounced anti-Semitic stereotyping and Holocaust denial, staples of the Arab square, and condemned anyone who would threaten Israel’s destruction.

That same year, he rejected the critical-of-Israel’s Gaza operation “Goldstone report.”

The next year he refused U.S. participation in joint military exercises with Turkey unless Israel was included. And he told the U.N. General Assembly that year that “Israel is a sovereign state and the historic homeland of the Jewish people” (something denied, of course, by the Arab world). Then, in 2011, he withdrew the U.S. from the Israel-bashing Durban II Conference. That year, he also threatened Egypt with severe consequences if it didn’t protect Israeli embassy guards besieged by a mob, which it did, and Israel evacuated the hostages.

In 2014, he sought funding from Congress (to the tune of $225 million) for Israel’s “Iron Dome” system, and signed the law providing the funds.

He relentlessly pursued Islamic terrorists, like Anwar al-Awlaki and Osama bin Laden (and was vilified by some on the left for his decisive actions). And the Obama administration has provided more security assistance to Israel than any American administration.
And then there are words Mr. Obama wrote or spoke that may not have received the attention they deserved. Like:

“I’ve seen what security means to those who live near the Blue Line, to children in Sderot who just want to grow up without fear, to families who’ve lost their homes and everything they have to Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s rockets. And as a father myself, I cannot imagine the pain endured by the parents of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, who were tragically kidnapped and murdered…”

[Holocaust denial] is “baseless, ignorant, and hateful, [as is] the “threatening [of] Israel with destruction” [and the] “repeating [of] vile stereotypes about Jews.”
“Palestinians must abandon violence. [It is] a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.”

“More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here [in Israel], tended the land here, prayed to G-d here. [That Jews live in Israel today] is a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.”
“Those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down. . . . After 60 years in the community of nations, Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate… It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the U.S.”

His Secretary of State lectured Al-Jazeera that “when the Israelis pulled out of Lebanon they got Hezbollah and 40,000 rockets and when they pulled out of Gaza they got Hamas and 20,000 rockets”; and his State Department condemned the Palestinian Authority’s denial of the Western Wall’s connection to the Jewish people.

I don’t think that Mr. Obama’s appointment of Jews to important posts (Jack Lew and Janet Yellin are the best known, but it’s a long list) or his yearly “Pesach Seders” are of great significance, but they do say something about Mr. Obama’s attitude toward Jews and Judaism.

And so, even those who see bad in Mr. Obama must, if they wish to be true to a Jewish ideal, recognize good too.