Back in junior high I had a classmate called Patty Christie, better known to her peers as Cookie. She was big, plumpish and her ruddy baby face was often conspicuously plastered with makeup, to the strident displeasure of our homeroom teacher.
One day Cookie announced assertively that “all Jews have banana noses.” Uninitiated in the irrationalism of stereotyping, I rose to the defense of our tribe: “Oh yeah? How come my nose isn’t like that?” Cookie shot back without hesitation: “Coz you’re not Jewish.”
“Yes I am,” I replied defiantly.
“No, you’re not,” she insisted. “You got freckles.”
I was stumped and all I could come up with was “Huh, what’s that got to do with anything?”
I found myself asking that very same question, with as much bewilderment, after the current White House resident informed the whole world about his daughter Malia’s busy schedule on the bar/bat mitzvah circuit. That was somehow supposed to prove that Obama is the most pro-Israel president ever, endear him to American-Jewish hearts and win him political support, campaign contributions and crucial votes.
But, as with Cookie’s kooky argumentation, I couldn’t find the connection.
Malia’s dad pulled out all the stops when appearing at the recent Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in Maryland. His cliché-ridden routine wouldn’t have shamed any campy stand-up comedian in the intensely embarrassing era of Catskill overkill.
Nonetheless, Obama’s performance, demeaning and hackneyed though it was, went over big. It earned him no fewer than 70 rounds of rapturous applause. It dripped with schmaltz, served up liberally by Jewish speechwriters charged with dishing up smarmy tastelessness.
After effusive “Shabbat shalom” wishes, Obama chitchatted chummily: “My daughter Malia has reached the age where it seems like there’s always a bar or bat mitzvah – every weekend – and there is quite a bit of negotiations around the skirts that she wears at these bat mitzvahs. Do you guys have these conversations as well? All right. I just wanted to be clear it wasn’t just me. As a consequence, she’s become the family expert on Jewish tradition. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from her, it’s that it never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion. It doesn’t hurt,” Obama beamed, with a feigned Yiddish intonation.
Taking his daughter’s informed advice, he launched into a d’var Torah (Torah-based lecture), homing in on Joseph (as per that week’s Torah portion) and bizarrely repeating the word hineni (here I am) over and over and over, as if casting some cloying spell.
Other Hebrew words, like tikun olam (repairing the world), followed. That too went over big. Too much is never enough.
Then it got greasier yet: “when my Jewish friends tell me about their ancestors, I feel a connection. I know what it’s like to think, ‘Only in America is my story even possible.’”
Finally, Obama reached the wearisome issue of Israel: “As president, I have never wavered in pursuit of a just and lasting peace: two states for two peoples; an independent Palestine alongside a secure Jewish State of Israel. I have not wavered and will not waver. That is our shared vision.”
Doesn’t it sound nice? Obama self-servingly set out to make nice and since the “two-state solution” has been elevated to the status of an unassailable sacred dogma, commitment to it is hardly likely to antagonize his faithful followers.
To their ears it’s heresy to suggest that the last thing Palestinians want is a Palestinian state dwelling in idyllic coexistence alongside a secure, accepted and recognized Israel. Honchos in both Ramallah and Gaza may expediently exploit the two-state slogan, but they never truly espoused the cause of two-state harmony. Still, no unpleasant reality can spoil smug pageants far away from the real nastiness.
So Obama went on: “I know that many of you share my frustration sometimes, in terms of the state of the peace process. There’s so much work to do. But here’s what I know: there’s no question about how lasting peace will be achieved. Peace can’t be imposed from the outside. Ultimately, the Israelis and the Palestinians must reach agreement on the issues that divide them.”
Music to our ears – except that pressure can be exerted while being denied. The relentless pursuit of deals can mean relentlessly coercing Israel. It can mean sending Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to blame Israel for any impasse and bully it to “just get to the damn table.” It can mean Obama’s secretary of state trashing our democratic credentials.
But nothing like the above was mentioned – not a word on equating settlements with terrorist atrocities, on the equivocation vis-à-vis Iran, on Obama’s pro-Muslim predilections (beginning with his sycophantic 2009 Cairo speech and all the way to having NASA “reach out to dominantly Muslim countries”). Likewise omitted was the animus toward Israel’s elected government.
Significantly, only last month Obama failed to defend Binyamin Netanyahu when French President Nicolas Sarkozy branded him “a liar” during a conversation with Obama that was inadvertently broadcast to journalists during the G20 summit in Cannes.
“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama bellyached. This latest incident merely underscored his unmistakable aversion as evidenced in the merciless protocol-abuse heaped on Netanyahu during his March 2010 visit.
Obama then snubbed Israel’s premier by walking out on him “to have dinner.”
This near-loathing wasn’t a negligible lapse of good manners and it wasn’t miraculously replaced overnight by a magnificent meeting of the minds. Everything remains as it was, but Obama’s aim is to make it seem that the rift never existed or, alternatively, that he healed it phenomenally.
The operative verb is “seem.” No real change had to take place, only to appear that it did.
American Jews (those who still care) need to ask themselves whether they aren’t falling for a false façade yet again when they applaud Obama’s bald-faced claim that “no US administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours. None. Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise. It is a fact.”
Even Jewish liberals mesmerized by Obama’s apparent radicalism need ask themselves if it’s moral to judge us Israelis – to pretend to know better than we what’s best for us and to tell us to take existential risks. When all is said and done, it’s our lives on the line and no skin off American-Jewish noses.
That’s what ultimately matters and it has nothing to do with whether the Obama family’s “expert on Jewish tradition” is invited to bar mitzvahs and prattles about quoting pertinent Torah portions. Malia’s best friends may be Jewish but this doesn’t make her father our best bud. He may enunciate “hineni,” but this doesn’t attest to his goodwill toward the Jewish state.
Malia’s bat mitzvah fashion statements are about as relevant to Israel’s ongoing struggle for survival as my freckles were to Cookie’s contentions. The Jewish answer to Obama’s kitschy Catskill skit should be: “Huh, what’s that got to do with anything?”