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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Obama's Jewish problem

Over the weekend, the JPost Magazine published the full 5-part article from Klein and Chesnoff on Obama's relations with the Jewish community. The article originally appeared on HuffPo. I have previously discussed the first three parts of the article (here, here and here), but somehow I missed the last two parts' publication, so I wanted to take a quick look at those.
“Maybe Jews and blacks were once the closest of allies in Chicago,” said Joseph Aaron, the liberal editor of The Jewish News, Chicago’s largest Jewish newspaper, “but in the years that Obama was being shaped, a lot of young blacks, especially in the Southside neighborhood where Obama lived, harbored animosity toward Jews and Israel.

“Two central issues divided blacks and Jews in those years. Blacks saw affirmative action as a way to overcome prejudice, while many Jews saw it as a quota system designed to keep them out. It was also a time when Israel, snubbed by many nations, especially in black Africa, chose to forge close ties with the apartheid regime in South Africa. That included selling Israeli arms to South Africa. We never realized the degree to which those links to South Africa hurt black sensitivities.

“Add it all up and you don’t come up with an anti-Semitic Obama. That is not who Obama is. What you do come up with is someone who doesn’t really understand our attachment to Israel or Israel’s importance to Jews as a people, a president who doesn’t have a gut love for Israel like some of his predecessors, but someone who understands the Palestinian position better than any president we’ve had, someone with no natural affinity for Jews or Israel, and someone who approaches the Middle East, as he does most everything else, dispassionately and with a burning desire to fix the problem.”
I disagree. Anti-Semitism in the black community became rampant from the late 60's onward. I discussed the problem at length here. Note this from Time Magazine's January 31, 1969 cover story:
Many blacks think that they must now reject all of their white friends—the Jew among them—in order to discover themselves. As a result, an ominous current of anti-Semitism has appeared to widen the breach between them and the Jew. While this ancient virus infects only a small fraction of the country's 22 million Negroes, the Jew knows from bitter experience that it can spread with distressing rapidity. At the same time, some latent anti-black feelings have come to the fore among Jews—symbolized by the half-casual, half-contemptuous Yiddish reference to the "schvartzes" (blacks).

New York City has become the center of black antiSemitism, although it exists in almost every urban center where large communities of Negroes and Jews intermingle. New York has more Jews (1.8 million) and more blacks (1.5 million) than any other city in the world. The predominantly Negro areas of Harlem and Brooklyn's Ocean Hill-Brownsville were once solidly Jewish; now the Jewish presence is signified by absentee storekeepers and landlords who, fairly or not, are regarded by the Negro as colonial exploiters. More often than not, the black child is taught—in a crumbling, inadequate public school—by a Jewish teacher. More often than not, the hated neighborhood welfare center, to the black a symbol of indifferent, domineering white bureaucracy, is staffed by Jewish social workers. "If you happen to be an uneducated, poorly trained Negro living in the ghetto," says Bayard Rustin, executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, "you see only four kinds of white people—the policeman, the businessman, the teacher and the welfare worker. In many cities, three of those four are Jewish."


In an atmosphere of mutual antagonism, provocations have multiplied. Almost every week brings a new incident. Over radio station WBAI-FM, a Negro schoolteacher named Leslie Campbell recently read a poem dedicated to Albert Shanker, the Jewish president of the U.F.T. It began: "Hey, Jew boy, with that yarmulke on your head. /You pale-faced Jew boy—I wish you were dead." The teachers' union has filed a formal protest with the Federal Communications Commission. [I specifically remembered the 'poem' and felt compelled to include it. CiJ]
Read the whole thing. Back to Klein and Chesnoff:
BY THIS summer, with the fall midterm elections looming ever larger in the calculations of the White House, the Obama administration seemed to soften some of its more controversial Mideast policy initiatives. For instance, on Jerusalem, the White House conceded that the question of the city’s status should now come at the end of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, as Wiesel desired, rather than at the beginning, as the president originally wanted.

Along with this apparent U-turn in substance, the White House launched a charm offensive to win back the allegiance of the Jewish community. The president set the tone. He sent a personal letter to Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, in which he reasserted his support for Israel’s security. And he followed that up with a warm message of greeting on the occasion of Israel’s 62nd Independence Day.

Meanwhile, pro-Obama rabbis from local communities all over America were invited to the White House for schmooze fests with Emanuel, Daniel Shapiro, the deputy national security adviser who deals with the Middle East, and Dennis Ross, the White House’s top Iran policy official. “The three men told the Democratic rabbis that the administration has three priorities in the Middle East,” Caroline Glick reported in The Jerusalem Post. “First Obama seeks to isolate Iran. Second, he seeks to significantly reduce the US military presence in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. And third, he seeks to resolve the Palestinian conflict with Israel.”

As part of its PR campaign, the White House had David Axelrod do a limited mea culpa hangout. “With some of the leadership of the Jewish community there’s been some bumps in the road over the past 15 months,” Axelrod admitted in a phone conversation.

“Some of those bumps resulted purely from a lack of communication on our part. I don’t think we’ve done as good a job as we could have in our communications with the Jewish community during the first year or so of the administration. We’ve had a sustained and vigorous round of communications in the last few months, and I think that’s been helpful.”

The crowning moment in Washington’s charm offensive came in July, when Netanyahu returned to Washington and this time was given the red-carpet treatment. He was honored with a working lunch in the Cabinet Room and a joint press conference with Obama. And there were plenty of opportunities for photos. Following that, in September Obama sponsored direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians – talks that could conceivably meet with some success or simply come to a harsh halt.

But neither the White House’s charm offensive nor the minor adjustments that it has made in its policies could obscure an irrefutable fact: Those changes have been tactical and tonal, not substantive. Indeed, the essential ingredients of the Obama administration’s Mideast policy have not changed. The goal is still the same – to conclude successful peace talks by applying pressure on Israel.

“In my view, the Obama administration has not pulled back from its desire to ingratiate itself with the Arab world,” says Kenneth J. Bialkin, chairman of the American-Israel Friendship League. “Yes, they’ve pulled back from saying that Israel’s conduct endangers the lives of American soldiers in the Middle East. But most of its charm offensive was aimed at damage control in order to salvage the Jewish vote this fall.”
Bialkin's got it right. The Obama administration's reaction to Friday's Jerusalem announcement indicates that we're headed back for the bad old days of March 2010.

Yes, there's at least some anti-Semitism in the Obama administration. While there may be hope for it being less focused with the departure of Rahm Emanuel, who believes that he knows better than the Israeli government what's in Israel's interest, the anti-Semitism in the Obama administration comes from the top, and it's been spiced with the rantings of Rashid Khalidi and Jeremiah Wright. Israel has much to fear over the next two years and three months, and so does American Jewry, regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections.

Read the whole thing.


At 9:26 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The mid-terms could temper the pressure Obama would like to apply to Israel. And his first concern in the next two years is getting re-elected. We'll have to see how it plays out.


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