“Do u know what Obama Coffee is? Black and weak.”
— A June 21 tweet by Judy Mozes, wife of Israeli interior minister and vice prime minister Silvan Shalom.
Those who regard the Iran nuclear deal as a grave threat to Israeli and U.S. interests have a moral duty to vigorously oppose it, just as those of us who view the deal as the best way to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon should work for its adoption. Vilifying the president of the United States with slurs and insults, however, is out of bounds. Except, perhaps, in some places and with some people.
U.S.-born Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, has done his own anti-Obama number. Citing President Obama’s upbringing, Oren suggested in a series of recent articles in Foreign Policy that the president’s “abandonment” by his mother’s “two Muslim husbands” created in him a desire for “acceptance by their co-religionists” that has now influenced his foreign policy. Conspiracy theorists and birthers could hardly have said it better — Obama’s Christianity notwithstanding.
This is beneath the Michael Oren I thought I knew.
It has come to this: racially charged affronts to the president of the United States from, of all places, Israel.
According to the Book of Esther, Haman, a high official of the ancient kingdom of Persia, sought to annihilate the Jewish people. A few months ago, Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, a West Bank settlement, likened Obama to a scourge on the Holy Land, telling an audience, “The president of the United States is lashing out at Israel just like Haman lashed out at the Jews.”
Riskin wasn’t the first rabbi to dub Obama a reincarnation of Haman.
In 2012, Dov Lior, then chief rabbi of another West Bank settlement, Kiryat Arba, also compared Obama to Haman, according to Israel’s Army Radio. But Lior stooped lower. He labeled Obama a “kushi” of the West, which, the Jerusalem Post reported, is a modern-day derogatory term used to describe people of African descent.
It’s not only the name-calling and insults hurled at Obama that grab the gut. Behavior sends signals, too.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress drew rave reviews from his Republican hosts and most — but not all — of Israel’s supporters. Many members of the 46-member Congressional Black Caucus were outraged that Netanyahu would go behind the back of the White House and arrange with Republicans to use the U.S. Capitol as the stage to challenge the president’s Iranian nuclear negotiations. Several chose to stay away.
U.S. representative and caucus member James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat, said he regarded Netanyahu’s speech as an “affront to America’s first black president.”
In an interview with USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham, Clyburn called Netanyahu’s White House end run “a real in-your-face slap at the president, and black folks know it. . . . [Netanyahu] wouldn’t have done it to any other president.” Pressed as to why Netanyahu would disrespect Obama, Clyburn responded, “You know why.”
Should it come to a search for 40 Democratic votes to join the House’s 247 Republicans in voting to override a possible Obama veto of legislation blocking an Iranian deal, don’t look for help from the Congressional Black Caucus. Hostility to the current Israeli leadership is real, and not just among caucus members. Many of their African American constituents are quietly seething, too.
Clyburn’s “and black folks know it” speaks volumes.
To no surprise, Republicans are trying to exploit the situation.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a petition urging people to sign and “[t]ell Obama it’s now time to stand with Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu.” Are the petitions being circulated in Zip codes where large numbers of blacks reside? It would be wasted effort.
There is a larger concern. While the jury is still out, the argument over the Iran deal could well stress the long-standing and largely fruitful political alliance between blacks and Jews in this country.
It would be a pity if the nuclear arms debate shapes up as a dispute between U.S. supporters of Netanyahu’s policies and Americans who respect and trust Obama’s judgment. And it would be a sorrow to those of us who still look with favor upon an alliance that has stood the test in the hardest of times.
That may explain why the “Obama Coffee” insult, the rabbinical slurs and the below-the-belt punches of Israeli officials are so sad, dispiriting and potentially disrupting in ways that once seemed unimaginable.
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