You scream, I scream, and even Dolley Madison screamed for ice cream, serving it at the White House for the first time. Vanilla, of course, and she got the attention of voters with a sweet tooth. Rutherford B. Hayes banned liquor at the White House, trying to encourage Republicans to temperance, so his wife, Lucy, served lemonade. She became known as "Lemonade Lucy," and this embarrassed his secretary of state, accustomed to entertaining diplomats. He boasted after one official dinner that "the water flowed like champagne."
Jackie Kennedy attempted to bring a little sophistication to the White House after Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower, whom she regarded as dowdy dames from the Middle West. She introduced French cuisine to state dinner parties, but someone, maybe even her husband, had to step in to scotch the proposal to print the menus in French.
Food and fashion have always been political, and this week President Obama served gefilte fish on White House china, reprising the first White House Seder, which he presided over last year. There was a precedent of a sort; he hosted a Seder during the '08 campaign when Jewish staffers couldn't get home for the holiday. Instead of the traditional toast at the end of the dinner, "next year in Jerusalem," the president raised his glass to "next year in the White House."
Nearly 80 percent of the Jewish voters helped make his toast come true, and no doubt many of them are flattered that the president most hostile to Israel pays a little Passover lip service to the Jews. But certainly not all.
Many other Jews confess to second thoughts, troubled about what his presidency means for the future -- and even the survival -- of Israel. The Obama administration's application of moral equivalence in the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians ignores the reality writ plain and simple. These Jews do not quarrel with the goal of a two-state solution, but the corrosive double standard makes the goal unobtainable.
"We use American influence with Israel not to promote economic growth in the West Bank, but to try and impede Jewish (never Arab) construction in the capital city," Elliott Abrams, an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, a deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush and now a fellow of Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in The Weekly Standard. Indeed, when the United States condemns Israel, as it did over the building of housing units for Israelis in East Jerusalem, the condemnation emboldens allies and enemies to jeer at Israel. When the Palestinian Authority named a public square for a terrorist who killed 38 Israelis, including 13 children, neither the president nor the secretary of state said anything to criticize.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington last week, he was punished again. His meetings with U.S. foreign policy officials were kept secret. He was the unwashed country cousin whose presence was tolerated but not welcomed. He met with the president, but there were no photo ops. That might have offended Palestinian radicals.
The official American criticism not only hurts Israel's image internationally, but the lack of rebuke for Palestinian offenses encourages them to persist in ignoring their obligations for responsible leadership. Crude hatred of Jews continues unabated in Palestinian textbooks and in the media, supported by the Palestinian Authority. A generation is being raised to hate thy neighbor.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Jewish audience that Palestinian "provocations" must be condemned, but stopped well short of condemning any of them. Such toothless rhetoric is not overlooked by Israel's enemies -- or ours.
"American presidents can be more successful when they put their arms around Israeli prime ministers and encourage them to move forward, rather than attempt to browbeat them into submission," Martin Indyk, the U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, once said. Ariel Sharon got that message and at great risk to himself and to his country removed certain settlements from the West Bank and Gaza.
An insidious and perverse idea carried through innuendo and insinuation is rising in Washington today, even suggesting that American support for its most reliable ally in the Middle East endangers American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as if the Islamists and the Taliban would lay down their guns and bombs on getting the news of a settlement freeze in Israel. This flies in the face of the ruthless reality that the Palestinians draw no moral distinctions between Great Satan and Little Satan. "In the eyes of these fanatics," says Netanyahu, "we are you and you are us." Serving gefilte fish on White House china won't change that.