By Rabbi Avi Shafran
1) Hamas is evil.
2) Israel has a responsibility to protect its citizens.
3) Anti-Israel sentiment is usually simple Jew-hatred in (not very good) disguise.
4) The United States needs to be fully supportive of Israel.
5) It has been.
Some would take issue with that last sentence. They are wrong. And it behooves Klal Yisroel, which is meant to be imbued with the concept of hakaras hatov, to recognize that fact.
Over the past six years, some have come to imagine that the current occupant of the White House is some sort of adversary of Israel.
Anyone, of course, can disagree with President Obama on any or all issues, even, perhaps, to just dislike him for no good reason, as some apparently do. But for those of us who (even though we expected the worst, considering some of the baggage he brought to Pennsylvania Avenue) have carefully observed him, he has proven himself more than worthy of Jewish respect.
Yet he was pounced upon, after his famous 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world for, well, the simple decision to address that world; and for basing the state of Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. What seemed to be overlooked, though, was that he made a full-throated argument for Muslim acceptance of Israel and rejection of terrorism. And he can hardly be faulted for not raising a Torah-based argument on behalf of the Jewish right to Eretz Yisroel.
In subsequent years, he had the US boycott the Durban Conference, rejected the Goldstone Report, strongly backed the Iron Shield and David’s Sling programs (to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, beyond the $3 billion the US has given Israel annually) and bluntly, publicly reiterated that the entire Arab world needs to accept Israel as a Jewish state. He wasted not a minute in the middle of the night to, by threatening Egypt, effect the rescue of endangered Israeli embassy guards in Cairo, and condemned the Palestinian Authority’s denial of the Kosel Ma’aravi’s connection to the Jewish people.
Under Mr. Obama’s watch, moreover, the US conducted the largest joint American-Israeli military exercise in history. And he has demonstrated determination to neutralize Islamic terrorists, including with drones and targeted assassinations (like that of Mr. Bin Laden), gravely disappointing many of his left-wing long-time supporters. They are not likely much heartened, either, by his recent decision to launch airstrikes against Islamists in Iraq.
When Hadar Goldin, Hy”d, was reported missing, an anti-Israel, or even Israel-neutral, leader would simply have considered him a prisoner of war. Mr. Obama publicly demanded his return. And in asking for a cease-fire, the president made any final truce unconditionally dependent on a demilitarization of Gaza. To ignore any of that is to forfeit any claim, leave aside hakaras hatov, to fairness – or emes.
Nor is it fair to characterize the president’s words of concern for civilians in Gaza as somehow antithetical to his support for Israel’s right to defend herself; he explicitly reiterated the latter each time he voiced the former. Nor is it justified to lambaste Secretary of State John Kerry, a stalwart defender of Israel for the nearly 30 years of his public service, for promoting a draft peace proposal that, in fact, he had never put forth.
Some Israeli media are not guiltless here. They slurred Mr. Kerry and “reported” details of a purported private telephone call between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu; the transcript, it turned out, was a fabrication, according to both the White House and Mr. Netanyahu.
To be sure, there has been friction between the Israeli and American leaders over past years, but which of them is at fault for that is entirely arguable. In our zeal to defend Israel, we sometimes forget that Mr. Netanyahu, whatever good qualities he may possess, is neither a novi nor a godol. He is not, we do well to realize, beyond either errors of judgment or faults of character. The issue here isn’t the relationship between two men, but rather Mr. Obama’s support of the state of Israel’s needs. And in that he has acquitted himself well.
Yes, the US State Department harshly condemned an apparent Israeli shelling of an area near a school filled with Gazan civilians that killed ten people, and urged Israel to do more to “avoid civilian casualties.” Yet that entirely understandable reaction (who among us didn’t cringe at the news ourselves?) didn’t prevent President Obama from, the very next day, signing a bill to give Israel $225 million to restock its Iron Dome missile defense system, or from declaring as he did that his administration is determined “to make sure that Israel is able to protect its citizens.”
There is a reason that people like left-wing political activist Professor Cornel West have declared Mr. Obama a “war criminal” for his support of Israel.
We’re still in golus, of course; Tisha B’Av was only days ago. And in golus, Klal Yisrael is supposed to be, and always has been, respectful of even less-than-friendly leaders of the lands in which we live. The phrase “kal vachomer” is inadequate to convey how we should feel about the United States’ current leader.
As events distant and recent alike well attest, Klal Yisrael has enough true enemies out there. Why in the world would we want to treat a friend like one?