When news outlets began reporting last month that the owner of the Atlanta Jewish Times had published an opinion column seemingly suggesting that Israel might be wise to assassinate U.S. President Barack Obama, the response from prominent American Jews was fast and furious.
Here was a Jewish newspaper publisher providing fodder for something the Anti-Defamation League regularly deplores as a pernicious antisemitic canard: that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States.
In his Jan. 13 column, Andrew Adler outlined what he said were three possible responses by Israel to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon: a pre-emptive strike against Hamas and Hezbollah, a direct strike on Iran, or “three, give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.”
He continued, “Yes, you read ‘three’ correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence. Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don’t you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel’s most inner circles?”
Condemnations rained from every corner, and Adler quickly apologized. By Jan. 23, the publisher had announced that he was resigning his position and putting up his newspaper for sale.
“I very much regret it. I wish I hadn’t made reference to it at all,” Adler told JTA on Jan. 20. On Jan. 23, he said he was “relinquishing all day-to-day activities effective immediately.”
As wacky as Adler’s column was, it was an extreme expression of a viewpoint that carries great currency among Obama’s Jewish critics: that the president represents a serious danger to Jews and to Israel.
While few of those critics might go as far as Adler, it doesn’t take much discussion in certain Jewish circles to find those who see something far more sinister in Obama than a president whose policies are bad for the Jews and Israel.
“I think Obama’s overriding goal is to have Israel destroyed,” said Randy Silver, a businessman from Glenview, Ill. “He puts steps in motion to bring about the destruction of the State of Israel.”
One New Yorker who insisted on anonymity said, “He’s not a Hitler in the sense that he’s antisemitic and wants to put every Jew into a concentration camp – at least not as we see things right now.”
He also said he believes that if Obama hangs on for a second term, he’ll find a way to stay in the White House beyond that, even though the Constitution bars a president from serving a third term.
Noah, a physician from New York’s Westchester County suburb who asked that his full name be withheld, told JTA: “I will admit to serious questions about whether he’s a Muslim and whether he hates Jews. It’s a possibility. I’m very uncomfortable with him.”
To be sure, such views constitute a minority viewpoint even among Obama’s Jewish detractors, and the American Jewish community has been – and largely remains – a stronghold of support for Obama. In 2008, Obama won an estimated 78 per cent of the Jewish vote, and even though his popularity in the Jewish community has dwindled during his Oval Office tenure, it has declined far less among Jews than among the general U.S. population. A Gallup poll released four months ago showed Obama with a 55 per cent approval rating among Jews, although an American Jewish Committee poll released at approximately the same time showed the president with a 45 per cent approval rating. Still, the AJC poll showed that Obama would win the Jewish vote against any hypothetical Republican candidate by at least 18 percentage points.
Obama is hardly the first president to be called an antisemite or hostile to Israel. In 1991, George H.W. Bush found himself the subject of withering Jewish criticism when he sought to delay $10 billion in loan guarantees for Israel unless Jerusalem agreed to a settlement freeze in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said he remembers holding a news conference to denounce Jewish characterizations of Bush as Satan and evil.
But the rhetoric and conspiracy theories against Obama seem to constitute an unprecedented level of vitriol, say many longtime observers of the Jewish political scene.
“I’ve never seen as much enmity toward a president by American Jews as I do toward Obama,” said Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America. “I’ve never heard people say, as they say to me, ‘I hate him.’”
Klein, who called on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to disinvite Obama from its annual policy conference last year and thinks AIPAC should bar Obama from this year’s conference, lays the blame on the president.
“Among those who care about Israel, he surely is to blame for it,” Klein said. “Every chance he gets, he blames Israel.”
Foxman says that extreme hatred of Obama is not so much about the president’s policies as it is about America’s economic troubles, the sense that Israel faces greater existential threats today than at any time in the last 30 to 40 years, and the Internet, which amplifies and spreads radical voices and conspiracy theories.
“All of these add an anxiety element that intensifies fear and anxiety,” Foxman told JTA. “Attitudes have intensified.”
Then there’s Obama himself – a black president with the middle name Hussein who has been accused even by some Jewish Democrats of not being able to show sympathy for Israel in his kishkes.
“Here’s a president who doesn’t show emotion on anything, and the Jewish community is used to emotion,” Foxman said.
Democrats blame the Republicans for the vitriol. Republicans say Democrats are practising divisive politics.
Obama’s most vehement Jewish critics are not the only ones who accuse Obama of being a secret Muslim, a socialist and a threat to America. Many Tea Party activists have sounded similar themes, with some going so far as to decry his administration as pursuing Nazi-like policies.
But Obama’s most extreme Jewish critics also accuse him of seeking to erase the Jewish character of the Jewish state and plotting to wage war against Israel or the Jews. They see antisemitic overtones even in Obama’s hiring of Jewish advisers.
“A Jacob Lew or a Rahm Emanuel is a danger to the Jewish people because they make treif look kosher,” Silver, the Illinois businessman, said of the current and former Obama chiefs of staff. “I think these are anti-Jewish Jews. They make Obama look like he’s not a threat, but he’s a clear and present danger to Israel.”
A Jewish New Yorker named Clive said of Lew’s hire: “We know that Pharaoh hired Joseph because it suited him, but down the road, when it didn’t suit him, he made his family slaves.”
Pamela Geller, a Jewish writer whose blog, Atlas Shrugs, is a popular source of information for anti-Obama conspiracy theorists, says Obama is trying to stir up Muslim enmity toward Jews.
“The president of the United States is advancing jihad against the oath of office that he took,” Geller wrote in April 2010. “If he is agitating Muslims against Jews, will he declare war on Israel?”
Obama administration officials repeatedly have denounced these sorts of accusations as patently false and waged a campaign in the Jewish community to highlight the president’s record on issues of Jewish concern, ranging from domestic issues to Obama’s pushes for Iran sanctions and endorsement of unprecedented U.S.-Israel military co-operation.
But ultimately, for that subset of the Jewish community that sees ominous signs in Obama’s record, the concern isn’t so much what Obama has done so far in his three years in office as it is what he might do in the future.
“He takes baby steps and is slowly putting things in play to do Israel damage in the long run,” Silver said. “There’s a strategy behind this.”