At his core, Barack Obama is a leveler – an eraser of distinctions. Most Americans savor his unique ability to blur divisions based on race – after all, no other president could have expressed public hesitation and uncertainty before checking the racial identity box on his census form. (Mr. Obama opted, after well-advertised agony, for “African American” rather than “Mixed Race.”) At the same time, many liberals, including most Jewish liberals, applaud his efforts to demolish barriers based on economic advantage, to close the gap between the impoverished and the privileged. In other areas, the president’s leveling instinct creates far more controversy, particularly when it morphs into a stubbornly non-judgmental form of moral relativism. In foreign policy and national security issues in particular his denial of distinctions has led to dangerous confusion between the decent and the degenerate and, between friend and foe and, ultimately, between right and wrong. The administration has offered new protection and sympathy for terrorist operatives at Gitmo at the same time that it threatens criminal prosecution of counter-terror heroes for harsh interrogations that helped protect us from the enemy’s murderous schemes. In this context, it’s sadly predictable that the Obama team seems determined to punish the Israelis despite their innumerable risks for peace, while rewarding the Palestinians for their unshakeable intransigence.
Mr. Obama’s maddeningly obtuse approach to Israel doesn’t so much reflect anti-Semitism or even anti-Zionism as it expresses his willful blindness to the overriding moral dimension to the conflict in the Middle East. In this, he presents a glaring and painful contrast with his predecessor. George W. Bush made his share of errors in foreign affairs, but he never lost sight of the irreducible difference between nation states seeking a peaceful, stable, democratic world and those he unabashedly called “the evil-doers” --gangster regimes and terrorist bands bent on domination and destruction. When it comes to Israel and her enemies, Allen Dershowitz (who supported Obama’s presidential campaign) memorably drew the crucial distinction on my radio show: “If the Palestinians put down their weapons, there would be peace tomorrow. If the Israelis put down their weapons there would be genocide tomorrow.” In other words, there is no moral equivalence between those who seek only security within their own borders and those who yearn to annihilate a neighboring people.
Assuming that President Obama continues to ignore or obscure the contrasting agendas of the Israeli and Islamic combatants – that he continues to worry more over Jews building apartments in Jerusalem than over Muslim fanatics building nukes in Teheran –will Jewish voters wake up to the administration’s threat to our interests and our values? That seems doubtful, since so many secular Jews share the president’s embrace of moral relativism, and recoil from the imposition of absolute categories of good and evil on contemporary affairs. For one thing, any talk of ultimate right and wrong smacks inevitably of religiosity, and Jews remain disproportionately disengaged from organized faith --- vastly less likely to affiliate with congregations, or even to profess a belief in God, than their Christian neighbors. The most conventionally religious Jews in the community, the Orthodox, display no reluctance to uphold clear distinctions between good and evil and they voted overwhelmingly against Obama – just as their less stringent compatriots unblushingly backed their fellow moral relativist by similarly lopsided margins.
A major shift in the Jewish vote would require a deeper shift in the American-Jewish worldview, and a desperately needed but highly unlikely new willingness to re-affirm the most rigorous and judgmental aspects of our ancient tradition. The sad fact is that most Jews like Obama’s leveling approach, and his eradication of differences, including the all-important, existential distinction between Jew and Gentile. Consider the goofy pride with which so many besotted liberals pointed to the recent White House seder, led by Jeremiah Wright’s long-time congregant in his conspicuous yarmulke, presiding over the annual ritual of particularistic national origins despite his admitted ignorance of virtually all-aspects of Jewish tradition. By contrast, when George W. Bush hosted menorah lightings in the White House, he never presumed to kindle the lights himself, but instead assigned the task to Jewish offspring of fighting men who were serving their country in Iraq or Afghanistan.
This president, unlike Mr. Bush, would feel profound discomfort with the timeless and uncompromising Jewish emphasis on distinctions and separation – between pure and impure, kosher and non-kosher, Sabbath and weekday, good and evil. After all, the Book of Genesis shows God beginning the work of creation through the process of division – between light and darkness, between the waters above and the waters beneath, between earth and seas, and so forth. The Havdalah, or “separation” prayer recited by religious Jews at the conclusion of every Sabbath, emphasizes this crucial aspect of Jewish ideas of the sacred: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who separates between holy and secular, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor.” When more Jews resonate with this eternal imperative to draw clear and crisp distinctions they will rally to Israel’s uniquely compelling case as a singular example in the most desperate and depraved corner of the earth, but until then they will probably continue to make common cause with our Relativist-in-chief.
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