I have a lot of problems with Obama, and I’ve written about Jewish opinion for and against him. But the flap over his Holocaust gaffe is no issue at all. What did he say? That he had an uncle who as an American G.I., was involved in the liberation of Auschwitz. What was true? That he had a great-uncle who as an American G.I. was involved in the liberation of Buchenwald.
Okay, there is a difference. Theoretically he should have known that Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets. Also theoretically, he should have given the exact degree of genetic relatedness between himself and the aging liberator.
Come on, folks, if this is the kind of thing you have to jump on to beat the guy, those who oppose him are in deep trouble. How many Jewish Americans know who liberated Auschwitz? How many knew Obama had made a mistake before the attack dogs raised the flag over it? As for relatedness, how many Americans of any stripe are precise enough to say “great-Uncle Fred” instead of “Uncle Fred” when referring to a much-loved family member?
Consider also the context: He was trying to make the point that he understands returning soldiers who are psychologically crippled by their devastating experience. Why? Because after his great-uncle got home, the poor guy spent six months holed up in the house—partly in the attic—because he was shattered by what he had seen.
Obama has every right to be proud of his great-uncle for two reasons: he didn’t shirk the duty to fight and risk his life for (among other things) the closing of the gas chambers; and he didn’t take in stride the hideous cruelty he saw.
This is not the Obama gaffe that we should worry about.
The one to worry about is the one about meeting with Ahmadinejad, who has sworn to destroy Israel and who supports those who kill Jews throughout the world. (Also, the tinpot dictators of Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela.)
Or the one about how Hillary’s threat to obliterate Iran should it do the same to Israel is some sort of wacko warmongering. Or the one about how Bush’s reference to appeasement in his Knesset speech was nothing but political positioning.
And how about the one about how he could never disown the man who was like an uncle—Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who over the twenty years that Obama was regularly in the pews of his church, preached anti-Israel, anti-American, and nearly anti-Semitic sentiments from the pulpit.
Those are the kinds of gaffes that may reveal the kind of President Barack Obama would be. Those are the gaffes that, should he stick by them, could get Israel wiped off the map, just as Ahmadinejad promises to do. Those are the gaffes that could lead to a repeat of the worst things that have happened in Jewish history.
Suppose Obama had been President instead of Roosevelt when millions of Jews were being murdered. Do we know what he would do? I don’t. Suppose he had been in the White House instead of Harry Truman when Israel declared its independence? Would he have gone smack dab against Arab and world opinion and recognized Israel eleven minutes later? I wonder.
Last week Obama gave one of his reassuring speeches to an adoring liberal Jewish audience at a Boca synagogue, B’nai Torah. He said all the right things. He always says all the right things to those kinds of audiences.
But as one congregant said, “It's very easy to come down here to south Florida to a synagogue and preach to the choir about how much you love Israel. But I want to see him say that in Dearborn, Michigan, before a hall full of Muslims. Then he will have my attention.”
Another made reference to his long friendship with Rev. Wright: “When you're indoctrinated for 20 years, 99 percent of the time it will leave an impression on you.”
Obama has been backpedaling on some of these very serious gaffes. But he has a lot more convincing to do if he wants the usual automatic Democratic share of the Jewish vote. And he needs to do more than talk.
He needs to pick a running mate with a real record of support for Israel and tough-minded foreign policy. And he needs to announce some possible candidates for Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor, and United Nations representative who can be relied on to protect the Jewish state.
Obama is a slick politician who will say anything to get elected- granted, he’s hardly unique in that regard.
This comment preplexed me: "Suppose Obama had been President instead of Roosevelt when millions of Jews were being murdered. Do we know what he would do? I don’t."
Since it’s a counterfactual question, how could anyone possibly know? I also believe Roosevelt did nothing to increase the immigration quotas in the 1930s. Is he really the role model Obama should aspire to be?
Dear Jack, sorry I didn’t reply sooner. Of course, you’re right, no one can know. But even Hillary said she would respond to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel by obliterating Iran, while Obama refused to say any such thing and criticized her for saying it. McCain, whom I have many problems with, sounds like Hillary on this.
As for Roosevelt, he certainly could have been a better friend to the Jews, as could Winston Churchill, and even Harry Truman. But each of them did a lot for the Jews nonetheless.
Thanks for writing, Mel Konner
Thaknk for responding. I know you’re busy.
In fairness,Obama has come out more forcefully recently against Iran. I know this because many left-wing bloggers are griping about how he’s sold out to AIPAC. How sincere he is, is of course, the question.
On an unrelated note, it’s disappointing that I’m the only Amazon.com reviewer of Medicine at a Crossroads. I wish more people would read it. I do try to bring up the book in any discussion of health care I get involved in online. (No, I’m not asking for a share of the profits:-) I actually heard of it only after I saw your presentation at Beyond Belief 2006, went to the library and Amazon.com and did a search by your name.
Jack, I agree about Obama, words are just words. He’ll do more to convince me if he picks someone like Lieberman or maybe Nunn for VP.
I appreciate very much your comments on both my websites, and your patience when I am slow in replying. Your review of Medicine at the Crossroads warmed my heart.