Fearing that the Jewish community now perceives him as hopelessly unsympathetic to Israel, President Obama has launched a Jewish charm offensive. Last week alone 15 Rabbis and 37 Jewish members of Congress were invited to the White House. The Rabbis met presidential advisers while the Congressmen and Senators, all Democrats, got the real deal, a pitch from the president himself.
An invitation to the White House is a big deal and can play all kinds of tricks on people's convictions, which might explain why so many of those who visited emerged with newfound praise for the president even though the administration has changed none of its positions on Israel. The president is still demanding that Jews build no new homes in Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood that is entirely Jewish. He has yet to repudiate his administration's position that the Arab-Israeli conflict, and by implication Israeli intransigence, fuels the Taliban and other Arab extremists. And he has yet to apologize to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the humiliating treatment he dished out in March. Most of all, the president has not reversed his biased policy of apportioning the blame for the lack of movement in the peace process squarely on Israeli settlements rather than decades-old Arab refusal to accept Israel as a permanent and legitimate fact. We have yet to hear the president forcefully condemn the Hamas charter calling for the destruction of the State of Israel or the Palestinian Authority recently naming a public square after Dalal Mughrabi, who led 1978 Coastal Road terrorist massacre which killed 37 Israelis.
Still, some Rabbis seemed quite swayed. Rabbi Aaron Rubinger, for example, who runs a Conservative Synagogue in Orlando, said, "Our president is every bit as committed to Israel's safety and security as any previous administration." But those of us who have not yet curried enough favor with the president to be invited before his august presence can only but wonder what secrets were shared that might have won these leaders over as enthusiastic endorsers of Obama as Israel-friend-in-chief when there has been no discernible change in policy.
But even this praise pales beside the truly bizarre comments that came from, not unsurprisingly, Congressman Steve Rothman of New Jersey's Ninth District. Rothman began by blaming the Republicans for misrepresenting Obama on Israel. "We discussed Iran, the situation in the Middle East, the efforts of the Republican Party to distort President Obama's positions on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." So the president's contemptible treatment of Israel's Prime Minister, which earned universal scorn from virtually every corner of the American Jewish leadership, turned out to be, according to Rothman, just a canard dreamed up by the Republicans.
But Rothman went further with a comment that brought presidential brown-nosing to new heights. President Obama is, Rothman maintained, 'the best president on U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation in American history." No doubt even President Obama, who has done his utmost to demonstrate to the Arabs that he repudiates George W. Bush's unconditional support for Israel, was scratching his head Rothman declaring him the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House. One wonders whom the good Congressman might name as first runner-up. Jimmy Carter, perhaps?
Rothman would have been better off following the wise example of Senators Lieberman and Schumer who attended the president's meeting but issued no statements afterward. They understood how knee-jerk declarations of support, without any discernible change in presidential policy, would simply cost them credibility in the pro-Israel community across the United States.
Rothman is, of course, the same lawmaker, now running for reelection, who admonished me publicly to accept the presence of the Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations, Kaddafi's personal envoy Muhammad Shalgam, living tax-free next door to me, saying, "I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors."
Just recently, Libya was elected to the United Nations Council on Human Rights, making the council as big a joke as its predecessor from which the Bush Administration courageously withdrew to protest the inclusion of repressive states. The Obama Administration's reaction was a little bit different. Asked by the media to comment on the stomach-turning spectacle of one of the world's most brutal regimes being elected to a body that is meant to supervise other nations' conduct on human rights, Ambassador Susan Rice said that it would be unhelpful to condemn Libya. "It is preferable to work from within to shape and reform a body with the importance and potential of the Human Rights Council, rather than to stay on the sidelines and reject it."
And herein lies the problem with the President Obama. Simply stated, the man does not seem to hate evil. He continues to believe he can charm wicked regimes into doing good, that personal charisma can persuade tyrants to lay down their arms and beat their swords into plowshares. This was the policy that the president first pursued with Iran and Ahmadinejad. It of course yielded no results, other than to embolden a vile regime who promptly stole an election and began to slaughter their own people it the streets. The president turned up the charm with Hugo Chavez with the result that the Venezuelan dictator has now become one of the president's most strident critics.
Will the president and his advisers learn that charm offensives can never take the place of moral policy? All the smiles, hugs, and bows in the world are never going to soften tyrants who seek not the favor of the president of the United States but unchecked power over their oppressed citizenry.
The American Jewish community should not be so naïve as be charmed by words that are not matched by changes in policy. If the president wishes to win over American Jewry, he should know that we are a religion that places action before speech and character before personality. It is not charm that moves us but a robust, moral posture. Equating a thriving and free democracy like Israel with the Arab tyrannies that surround it is a misguided policy that even a White House invitation cannot obscure.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published 'Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.' www.shmuley.com