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Deconstructing President Obama’s interview on Israeli TV

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. –President Obama dragged out some really dated stereotypes while demeaning both Jews and Israelis in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 Television. Confronted with the “anxiety” (as the reporter put it) that some Israelis feel about his relationship toward Israel, Mr. Obama bluntly blamed the Jews:

“This is the thing that actually surfaced even before I was elected President, in some of the talk that was circulating within the Jewish American community.”

He continued:

“Ironically, I’ve got a Chief of Staff named Rahm Israel Emmanuel. My top political advisor is somebody who is a descendant of Holocaust survivors.”

Would someone please tell the President that in the 21st Century the “some of my best friends are Jewish” line is offensive? And, in this case, inconsistent. Before the election, the President’s people demanded that no one associate the candidate with the vicious anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism and anti-Israelism of his longtime pastor and spiritual mentor Jeremiah Wright, in whose church then-Senator Obama sat. If nothing of Wright rubbed off on him in 25 years, how did those sneaky Jews do it?
Speaking of irony, here’s one. After claiming closeness to the American Jewish community vicariously – through the Jewish commitment to the American Civil Rights Movement of which he was not a part and because he has Jewish friends and, after claiming that, “My closeness to the Jewish American community was probably what propelled me to the U.S. Senate,” Mr. Obama opines:

“Some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion. “

More than 76 percent of the Jewish electorate voted for him. Does he think they didn’t know his name was Hussein? Does he think Jews are easily swayed, or stupid? He continued:

“Some of it may have to do with the fact that I have actively reached out to the Muslim community, and I think that sometimes, particularly in the Middle East, there’s the feeling of the friend of my enemy must be my enemy.” 

It is blatantly stereotypical to say that Israel or American Jews understand either the “Muslim community” or the Middle Eastern “Muslim world” as a monolith deserving of a “friend of my enemy is my enemy” approach. A slur like that makes people “anxious,” first because is grants no nuance to Israel and Jews, and second because if the President of the United States sees the region as a zero-sum game with Jews and Israel on one side and Arabs and Muslims on the other, it will be almost impossible to address the region’s real problems.  
And they are legion and have little to do with Jews.
The Middle East is split by Arab/Persian/Ottoman rivalries, by the Sunni/Shiite rivalry, by radical/traditional regime rivalries, the Syrian/Lebanese rift, the Hashemite/Palestinian divide and the Hamas/Fatah civil war. The Middle East is endangered by Iran’s determination to have nuclear weapons capability, the Muslim Brotherhood’s determination to have Cairo after Mubarak, the minority Alawite determination not to lose the regime in Syria for fear of death by the Sunni majority, Hezbollah’s determination to control Lebanon, and Iran’s determination to have hegemony in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

But here’s what really produces anxiety in some people, including us: In response to a question about being president, Mr. Obama said:

“There is a value to anonymity in terms of just being able to wander around… I remember when I first visited Jerusalem, I could wander through the Old City and haggle for some gifts to bring back to Michelle, or stand at the Wailing Wall, and people didn’t know who I was.”

Nice words, but the anonymity was cynically calculated. JINSA wrote at the time:

He visited the Western Wall at 5:45 in the morning just before he left the country. He wasn’t sneaking it in, exactly – his minions brought campaign signs and hung them along the police barricades that line the outer section of the plaza (not very respectful). But it was clever. Doing it quietly and after Ramallah meant he didn’t have to explain to Abu Mazen a public, crowd-filled and happy visit to Judaism’s holiest site, possibly interpreted as approval of Israeli stewardship. And he didn’t have to worry about Israeli or American protesters. By the time the event was public, he and the media had moved on. ”
It is the disconnect between words, attitudes, facts and policies that makes a lot of people – not just Jews, not just Israelis – anxious.


Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

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