For Obama, The Honeymoon’s Over


It was a New York wedding like all others, and no other. The veil was about to cover the bride’s face, evoking the time Jacob was snookered, expecting Rachel, getting Leah.

“What do you think?” said one guest to another.
About the bride?
“No, Obama.”

His voice was low, conspiratorial. The joy and sport of last year’s campaign (even heated campaigns can be fun) has given way to cold calculation. The guest, who voted for Barack Obama, now feels like Jacob in the dead of night.

In The Wall Street Journal, Alan Dershowitz writes that because of his call for a total settlement freeze many “supporters of Israel who voted for Barack Obama now suspect they may have been victims of a
bait and switch … the Obama campaign went to great lengths to assure these voters that a President Obama would be supportive of Israel. This despite his friendships with rabidly anti-Israel characters like Rev. Jeremiah Wright and historian Rashid Khalidi.”

Some critics thought Obama was taking a harder line with Israel than even Yasir Arafat did in the 1993 Oslo Accords. (According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Oslo contained “no prohibitions on the building or expansion of settlements.”) Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl believes that “pressuring Israel made sense at first,” but went off-track when it became absolutist, including Jerusalem.

“The absolutist position is a loser for three reasons,” writes Diehl. It allows Arabs to remain intransigent while waiting for the freeze; no Israeli coalition could survive an unconditional freeze; and, as at Oslo, the Arabs never asked for it. Arab negotiators, writes Diehl, had always “gone along with previous U.S.-Israeli deals by which construction was to be limited to inside the periphery of settlements near Israel — since everyone knows those areas will be annexed to Israel in a final settlement.”

In November, Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote. By May, his administration began exerting heavy public pressure on Israel alone for an unprecedented West Bank freeze on all “natural growth” — all construction and even family growth, even in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. By June, one poll found that only 6 percent of Israelis said Obama was “pro-Israel,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

This president “may be the most hostile president ever,” said the Zionist Organization of America in a recent press release.

It was a West Bank wedding like all others, and no other. But Yehudit and Yosef’s story really began almost nine years ago, when Palestinians stormed Joseph’s Tomb (Kever Yosef) and its adjacent Od Yosef Chai yeshiva. Yehudit’s father, Hillel Lieberman, then 36, hearing that the holy places were in flames, left his shul in nearby Elon Moreh, hoping to rescue the Torah scrolls. Hillel’s body, still in his tallit, was pumped full of bullets and discarded.

There are now swastikas on Joseph’s Tomb, but it’s quieted down. Elon Moreh and Yitzhar, where Hillel is buried, are two of the settlements that will surely be surrendered to the Palestinians. But, the family wonders, after these settlements are turned into Anatevka, could they ever visit Hillel’s grave, or would it be mutilated and forbidden, like Joseph’s?

Elyorah Lieberman, Hillel’s sister, a New Yorker, said in a telephone interview, that Yehudit and Yosef had been looking for an apartment in Yitzhar but there were none. Construction had slowed to a crawl. There was one apartment in Yitzhar that wasn’t quite available but wasn’t quite used. Yael, the bride’s mother, begged the landlord to have a heart. Yitzhar was a place of burial, said Yael; it should be a place of life. The owner agreed, not to a lease but for now.

Tonight, in defiance of the United States, Yehudit and Yosef will sleep in Yitzhar. The settlement’s “natural growth” has grown by two.

“Elon Moreh,” said Elyorah, “was in the [biblical] territory of Joseph, who saved the economy of the world. Meanwhile, the American economy is in shambles. Obama should remember God’s promise to Abraham, ‘Those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed.’ God runs the world, not Obama.”

A serious percentage of American Jews seem to be to be tiring of it all. According to an American Jewish Committee poll last year, the number of Jews feeling “very” or “fairly distant” from Israel has grown to 31 percent, nearly one-third of American Jews.

When the poll was released, sociologist Steven Cohen told the JTA news service that the AJC numbers reflected his sense that “the intermarried and children of the intermarried are dragging down the Jewish people’s commitment to Israel,” he said. “Commitment among the in-married is as high as it ever was, but we are moving to two populations.”

And yet, Rabbi Charles Sheer, in-married, Orthodox, describes himself as “somewhat on the left,” skeptical of the settlement movement. Nevertheless, he has a daughter and three grandsons on the West Bank — make that four, a new grandson, Nadav Yosef, was born in May. Efrat’s “natural growth” just grew by one.

In 2005, Rabbi Sheer, a New Yorker, had loving but passionate disagreements with his West Bank son-in-law, Avi Abelow, about the Gaza withdrawal. Abelow was the producer of “Home Game,” a highly acclaimed documentary, sympathetic to the settlers, about the last “annual” basketball tournament in Gaza’s Gush Katif; a tournament that ended with everyone losing their homes.

“Looking back, Avi was right,” said Rabbi Sheer. “Israel gained nothing. Withdrawal turned out to be a total disaster.”

Rabbi Sheer says he still favors land for peace, but not land for “suicide.” Even “the most liberal left-winger has to see,” said Rabbi Sheer, “that after the withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza, you’d have to be meshuga, it’s committing suicide,” for Israel to weaken itself in return for nothing but a promise, an almost messianic belief in the reversal of Arab attitudes.

The rabbi, who contributed financially to Obama’s campaign, now has mailed a letter to the White House protesting the “heavy-handed” pressure that’s “putting the screws to Israel alone.”

Rabbi Sheer now thinks Obama’s policy borders on the “abusive. I’m both disappointed and frightened by it.”

Yossi Klein Halevi never thought of himself as a “settler.” He and his wife have lived for more than 25 years, and raised three children, in the Israeli capital, the same Jerusalem that Obama always said would forever be “unified,” until he said it wasn’t.

Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, and author of “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land,” said, by telephone, that “Israelis don’t want to hear the word ‘peace’ anymore from Arab leaders. Israelis finally caught on that when Palestinians say peace they mean peace without a Jewish state.” Israel wants peace and legitimacy as a Jewish state.

“Based on his Cairo speech, Obama doesn’t have a clue why Israel is legitimate. We’re not here because of the Shoah,” the justification cited by Obama, explained Halevi. “We fight the way we fight because of the Shoah. We may bomb Iran because of the Shoah. But we’re legitimate because we’re an indigenous people returning home,” home to Jerusalem, to Elon Moreh, to Efrat, to Hebron, disputed though they may be.

“There are no more one-way Israeli concessions. That’s finished. The majority of Israelis would accept a temporary suspension of all building in the territories,” said Halevi, but “what we need in return from the Arab world are a simultaneous and tangible granting of legitimacy and normalization.

What we need from Obama is to honor previous American commitments. Until Obama does that, I see no reason for Israel to honor previous commitments or to make any move, either to the Palestinians or the Americans.

“The perception in Israel,” said Halevi, “is that Obama is wimping out when it comes to the world’s dictatorships, and is getting tough with only one country — and that’s us. Israelis don’t like that. There is a growing sense of contempt for Obama’s weakness,” perceived in his dealings with Iran and North Korea.

“There have been some devastating cartoons in Israeli newspapers, one had Obama dressed like a scarecrow with birds shaped as missiles and rockets, laughing and sitting all over him. His slow response to what was happening in Iran was a major blow… the accumulated damage to his credibility here has been enormous. So if there’s a showdown, most of the Israeli public will stand with Netanyahu.”