It’s Wednesday – February 18, 2015

Boker Tov.

Cuba filled up much space last week, it is time to move on to other topics. The most painful of these is what feels like a 30/100 year war against western civilization, manifested especially by ISIS barbarian actions and terror attacks in Europe, along with Iranian trouble-making across the Middle East.

In the face of all this, let me focus on relevant matters involving the only two heads of state that really matter to me, our President and Israel’s Prime Minister.  If you think they are beyond criticism, don’t read further.  President Obama first. You remember the Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher market. In an interview with Vox released last Monday, Obama was quoted as referring to the attackers as “violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”  The words “randomly” and “bunch of folks” produced a minor storm, and ultimately much backtracking by Obama aides.

Let us remember what actually was said at the time. The transcript is provided by our man at the Times in Paris. He wrote to me with the relevant part of the exchange that Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman, had with a French television reporter (BFM-TV) by telephone from inside the store before he was killed: “Vous avez visé ce magasin pour une raison? Oui. Les juifs. C’est pour toute l’oppression, plus particulièrement l’Etat islamique mais tous les endroits. C’est pour tous les endroits où les musulmans sont oppressés. La Palestine en fait partie.”  Translation:  Q: You have seized this store for a reason? A:  Yes. The Jews. It’s for all the oppression, and particularly (against) the Islamic State, but everywhere. It is for all the places where the Muslims are oppressed. Palestine is part of it.” Le Monde also reported that Coulibaly had done internet research on several Jewish businesses, including looking up Hyper Cacher’s opening hours.

Surely I am not the only one who knows this.  Nonetheless, and despite a firestorm of reaction,  Obama’s statement stood un-retracted for days.  Spokespeople at the White House and State Department corroborated that the White House no longer viewed the attack as motivated by anti-semitism.  Then they – but not Obama himself – backtracked. Official tweet: “Terror attack at Paris Kosher market was motivated by anti-Semitism. POTUS didn’t intend to suggest otherwise.” I wish there was no anti-semitism, but what is the point of denying an obvious and horrible example of it? Was the President unaware it was a kosher market or did he believe what he said? It is hard for me to stomach this, to be honest.

Possibly – searching for some rationale – this was actually about tensions between Obama’s people and congressional Republicans over the invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at a joint session of Congress in early March. So let me give the Prime Minister  a little air time now, and equal trouble.

Netanyahu’s acceptance of that invitation to speak about Iranian nuclear intentions to a joint session of Congress – giving him the benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t his idea – without the President signing off on that first is pretty much unprecedented and a serious breach of protocol. There are plenty of strong opinions on this in political and Jewish circles.

Just this Monday, speaking to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Netanyahu laid out his reasons for doing the speech to Congress. “The current proposal to Iran would endanger Israel. It would enable Iran to break out to its first nuclear device within an unacceptably short time. And it would allow Iran to build an industrial capability to enrich uranium that could provide the fuel for many bombs in the coming years. A regime that openly calls for Israel’s destruction would thus finally have the means to realize its genocidal aims. The real question that should be asked is how could any responsible Israeli prime minister refuse to speak to Congress on a matter so important to Israel’s survival? How could anyone refuse an invitation to speak on a matter that could affect our very existence when such an invitation is offered? Why go now? The deadline for reaching an agreement with Iran is March 24th. That’s the date that drives the speech. Now is the time for Israel to make its case – now before a deal is signed.”

Netanyahu has made his point about Iranian nukes in many ways and at many times, as he should. I worry about those nukes a lot and worry about the kind of deal that Obama may be willing to accept. I am not the only one who is worried – there is bipartisan concern.  But I just don’t see that the gain from the Congressional appearance is worth the cost of the breach of protocol,  and sincerely hope that in the end Netanyahu doesn’t do it.  He can give the speech to AIPAC, in the same time frame and surely with large press coverage. He and Obama will never be best buddies, this won’t make a bad relationship that much worse, but I think supporters of Israel should not want any part of this congressional address. It feels too political – as a gambit in the upcoming Israeli elections and as a way for Republicans to thumb their noses at Obama – and overall it just feels wrong.  If the Congressional leadership is really concerned about Iranian nukes, which are a danger not just to Israel,  let them lead the charge and be all over the media and not put out Israel’s Prime Minister as their proxy. That would be the best outcome.

I know leadership is hard, but these two cases seem pretty simple.  Let us hope for better decisions by our leaders, and better world news sometime soon.  In the meantime, have as good a Wednesday as possible.   Bill Rudolph

P.S. Our first candidate for the rabbi position comes this weekend. Do try to hear him. And remember that it’s a twofold process – seeing which candidate would be best for our community AND putting our best feet forward so s/he wants to partner with us. And don’t miss the White House Counsel in dialogue with our own Kenneth Feinberg a week from tonight.