Wednesday, April 08, 2009

President Obama Hosting Passover Seder

Barack Obama will become the first American President ever to host a Passover seder at the White House.

While the story has received minimal mainstream media coverage here in the U.S. it was much bigger news in the Jewish and Israeli press. The historical significance was not lost on The Jerusalem Post:
'I'm really happy to hear about it,' said Steve Rabinowitz, who once led a staff Seder in the Clinton White House but didn't know of any White House Seder in which the president had personally taken part before now. 'It's been an extremely open White House to all faith communities, certainly including ours.'

William Daroff, who runs the United Jewish Communities' Washington office, recalled that former president Franklin D. Roosevelt snuck out the back door of the White House in 1943 to avoid seeing rabbis marching out front to demand US action to save European Jews from the Nazis.

'Sixty-six years later the President of the United States is spending Thursday evening with his friends and family celebrating the liberation and survival of the Jewish people,' Daroff noted, calling the event 'a testament to how far we have come as a Jewish people in America.'

In a bit of irony former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) chose today to declare that the Obama administration is "anti-religious". He was referring to the appointment of Harry Knox, a former Methodist minister and an outspoken gay rights advocate to the White House advisory council on faith-based initiatives. Apparently Mr. Gingrich believes anything other than right-wing evangelical Christianity isn't worthy of consideration as a religion. There are any number of liberal and tolerant Christian denominations. Reform Judaism is openly supportive of gay rights as are many in the Conservative (Masorti) movement.

I'm often asked why Jews tend to vote Democratic by conservative friends who see liberals as insufficiently supportive of Israel. While many European leaders were issuing warnings and thinly veiled threats to the new Israeli government even before Prime Minister Netanyahu officially took office President Obama chose that day to declare America's "unwavering support" for Israel. Support for Israel among Democratic leaders is not lacking.

Many right-wing Republicans, on the other hand, are very tied to Christian fundamentalism. Mr. Gingrich also accused President Obama of being "intensely secular". As a Jewish woman and a member of a religious minority in this country I am more comfortable with a secular government than an intolerant fundamentalist Christian one. My mainstream Jewish values are very different than those of the American Christian religious right.

I, for one, am grateful to President Obama's support for Israel even if I have some reservations about specific elements of his foreign policy. I think Mr. Gingrich's comments on the day before the President is taking part in a truly historic Jewish religious observance illustrate very well why I can't support his views.

To President Obama, and to all my readers:

Hag Sameach! Happy Passover!

A Breath Of Fresh Air From The Israeli Foreign Ministry

The rather right-wing One Jerusalem website, in an April 2nd article, characterized new Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as having the right message but of being the wrong messenger. They describe the vilification of Lieberman in the media:
Critics of Lieberman included the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, western public officials, editorial boards, and most anyone else involved in foreign affairs.

In the vast majority of the reports Lieberman is depicted as a 'racist' who hates Arabs. He is also seen as an international outlaw who is challenging the very foundations of Middle Eastern international relations.
The Jerusalem Post covered Lieberman's speech to his new staff at the foreign ministry. Here are a few highlights:
I think that we have seen the cheapening of many concepts, first and foremost of the word 'peace.' The fact that we say the word 'peace' 20 times a day will not bring peace any closer. There have been two governments here that took far-reaching measures: the Sharon government and the Olmert government. They took dramatic steps and made far-reaching proposals. We have seen the disengagement and witnessed the Annapolis accord. I read in the newspaper about the far-reaching proposals made by the prime minister to the other side, which I do not think have ever been made, outside of Barak's visit to Camp David.

Israel Beiteinu was not then part of the coalition; Avigdor Lieberman was not the foreign minister. Even if we wanted to, we couldn't have hampered bringing peace. But I do not see that it brought peace. To the contrary. It is precisely when we made all the concessions that I saw the Durban Conference, I saw two countries in the Arab world suddenly sever relations, recalling their ambassadors - Mauritania and Qatar. Qatar suddenly becoming extremist.

We are also losing ground every day in public opinion. Does anyone think that concessions, and constantly saying 'I am prepared to concede,' and using the word 'peace' will lead to anything? No, that will just invite pressure, and more and more wars. 'Si vis pacem, para bellum' - if you want peace, prepare for war, be strong. We certainly desire and want peace, but the other side also bears responsibility."

Am I the only one who is cheering these words? The Foreign Minister is absolutely correct that Israeli concessions have been interpreted as weakness, both in the Arab world and among Israel's critics in Europe and elsewhere. Withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza didn't bring the opening for peace that Prime Minister Sharon hoped for. It only brought more bloodshed: bloodshed initiated by Hamas. It also brought more international condemnation. It didn't matter that not a single Israeli remained in Gaza. It didn't matter that Egypt also controls a border with Gaza. Somehow Israel was still guilty of "occupation" and "oppression" because it wouldn't allow the free flow of goods, including weapons, and people, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists.

Foreign Minister Lieberman is also right to put the onus for peacemaking on the Palestinians. Palestinian President Abbas is boycotting the new Israeli government even as Prime Minister Netanyahu is talking about strengthening the Abbas-led Fatah government and moving ahead with the peace process. To me the speech is a breath of fresh air. It's about time Israel had a Foreign Minister who is not timid and not afraid to speak the truth.

One Jerusalem has its own objections to Foreign Minister Lieberman. He is an outspoken proponent of a two state solution who has said that he would gladly give up his West Bank home for peace. One Jerusalem doesn't support a two state solution.

Usually if you are criticized from both the left and right you are doing something right. Next week I'll look at Foreign Minister Lieberman's record and statements in more detail. While some respectful criticism of and concern about the Foreign Minister is certainly justified much of the media attacks on him are certainly not.