I’m about to rant, once again, about the crazed Obama-Cairo-Holocaust lie, but first:
My internet hero is Bob Somerby.
For 11 years at the Daily Howler, he has assaulted the comfortable, conventional wisdoms that permeate the press. His mission, initially, was to expose the flowering untruths proliferating in coverage of his former college roommate, Al Gore. Working pretty much alone, he relentlessly exposed the "I invented the internet" and "I was the model for Love Story" lies, until finally — to a degree — the scales have fallen from the eyes from those who perpetuated and in some case invented these lies.
(Not that the same folks will admit it: Frank Rich, for instance, was to a great deal responsible for the "Love Story" nonsense, and yet – although his recent columns on media pieties virtually channel Somerby — he has not, to date, owned up.)
Somerby is an unabashed liberal, but that hasn’t stopped him in recent years, from exposing the pieties, the myths, the trivia that consume liberals as well as conservatives. Keith Olbermann is as much his bugbear as is Bill O’Reilly.
His principal target, though, is the mainstream media, the troops who set the daily agenda and whose obsession with gossip, with what is considered in this depraved town to be the "telling detail," divert our collective attention from substance. Because of them, we spent an election (2000) considering Al Gore’s alleged propensity for sighing more than we did the substantive differences between the candidates on Social Security.
His point is that the victim in 2000 was less Al Gore or George Bush (he noted in real time how the press eagerly ate up the 2000 McCain campaign’s misdirections about Bush) than Americans’ ability to make an informed choice.
He’s not always right. He thought the focus on Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic orgy, "The Passion of the Christ," was misapplied and I wrote him to say why I thought he was wrong.
Still, Somerby’s broader mission is sacred: To get the media to take its work seriously. I write imagining him over my shoulder and I probably more often than not fail to meet his standards.
When we — reporters — get sucked, or suck ourselves into trivia, rumors and lies, we are kept from delivering what matters, what you, the readers, need to equip yourself for decisions, however you come by them.
We cheat you.
This by way of explaining why Aluf Benn’s piece in today’s New York Times had me eating newsprint this morning. A lie now has the imprimatur of the nation’s most important opinion real estate:
Mr. Obama seems to have confused American Jews with Israelis. We are close emotionally and politically, but we are different. We speak Hebrew and not English, we live in the Middle East and have separate historical narratives. Mr. Obama’s stop at Buchenwald and his strong rejection of Holocaust denial, immediately after his Cairo speech, appealed to American Jews but fell flat in Israel. Here we are taught that Zionist determination and struggle — not guilt over the Holocaust — brought Jews a homeland. Mr. Obama’s speech, which linked Israel’s existence to the Jewish tragedy, infuriated many Israelis who sensed its closeness to the narrative of enemies like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.
Obama. Did. Not. Link. The Holocaust. To. Israel’s founding.
Please, please, tell me, explain to me what in the following passage makes that connection:
America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed, more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction—or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews—is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
OK: to sum up: America’s bond with Israel — not Israel’s existence — is rooted in three things: Culture. History. And sympathy for the tragedy of Jewish history. In its entirety. Not just the Holocaust.
Obama’s presumption — and it’s not a stretch by any means — is to imagine these three elements are what sustain American support for Israel: "America’s strong bonds … this bond … it is based."
Nowhere does he say, he has not ever said, "And the sole underpinning of this bond is the Holocaust."
Nowhere does he say, he has not ever said, "And because of this bond, Israel exists."
Saying this does not, by any means, discount the lives of the 6,000 Israelis who fell fighting for its independence. It is plainly delusional to suggest as much.
"Delusional." As in bat-guano crazy.
Obama’s speech in Cairo was about smashing myths, and one of these was Arab Holocaust denial. This is why the Holocaust featured prominently in his speech. This is why he emphasized Jewish suffering in accounting for America’s bond with Israel, while citing culture and history too.
Look, tragedy figures in about every national narrative, and it would be crazy to pretend it was not a component of our own. This is why the signal Jewish presence on the National Mall is the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is why Yad Vashem is a must-stop for official visitors to Israel.
So it can’t be that Benn and others are asking Obama never to cite Jewish tragedy. The only concusion that one can draw, then, from this jag about Obama’s Cairo speech is that every time Obama mentions Israel he must make clear he has a holistic understanding of its founding.
There’s a word for this: Narcissism. More than one word: Pathological narcissism. Monomania works too.
"We are here, comemmorating the 70th anniversary of the London blitz, and the privations ordinary Britons suffered during the Second World War. But let me mention tea. And the Magna Carta. And Shakespeare. And what about the Beatles? And Beckenham! Bend it, baby!"
"The French Resistance represented the flowering of the ideas of the Revolution, the rejection of tyranny. But you know what? Moliere was a blast. Joan of Arc – waddagirl! And who doesn’t love butter? Lots and lots of melted butter? And Tintin! Oh wait. He was Belgian."
"Gettysburg was the forge that melded the raw freedoms bequeathed Americans by their forefathers into the sword of justice. Plus, I must have read ‘Leaves of Grass’ 20 times, ten of them under its influence, if you know what I mean. And who came up with the designated hitter? Huh? Americans, that’s who."
Thence lies madness.
UPDATE: A thoughtful reader points out that this phrase, "the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied," may be construed as rooting Israel’s establishment in the Holocaust — or may not, if one encompasses within "tragic history" the destruction of the Temple and the Diaspora. In other words, it’s an open question.
I don’t think it’s so open. Obama makes it clear in his following sentence — "Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust." — that he is taking the broader view, that there was something inherently tragic in the Diaspora. "Around the world" equals "Diaspora." Not just Holocaust.
It’s true that our aspirations to Zion are rooted in much more than exile (but were fueled by exile). He is not saying here the aspiration is exclusively rooted in the "tragic history." (More on that in a sec.) And please, don’t just go read Herzl, talk to any Independence War veteran and tell me you don’t come away understanding that what drove that bravery was a sense of "the persecution stops here."
But, again, the insistence that he cite our ancient roots in Israel, that he cite our biblical ties is monomaniacal and a little obsessive. (I’ve made this point before.) This is our internal national narrative; why does it need external validation?
The Bosnians, for instance, have a whole set of distinctions they cite as justifying their separateness from Croats and Serbs. The West upheld, to the point of armed defense, the Bosnian right to self-determinination without once considering these arguments about the tradition of Islam in Europe, etc. It upheld the right because it was clear that Bosnians were not safe without it.
This understanding — that peoples have a right to self-determination because they are at risk — is not the minimum we should expect from the civilized world, it is all that we should expect. Do we expect every major Western leader to become acquainted with every national myth? Did we need a familiarity with the unique linguistic attributes of the Khoisan click language to understand why Apartheid had to end?
That said, Obama does go the extra mile: He cites Americans’ cultural and historical ties, and "cultural" would include the embrace, in some American Christian quarters, of Jewish rootedness in the Holy Land. "Historical" would include Jewish American support for the establishment of a homeland — support that is rooted in Zion, not just in Diaspora.
He expands on "tragic" because he is making a point on Holocaust denial and on denial of Jewish suffering. He’s making it to a polity that wraps up suffering with the right to self-determination (see under: Palestinians).
Again: He said Americans support Israel for a number of reasons, among them, an appreciation for a longing ("aspiration") for a homeland rooted in (not born of) suffering. That suffering — "centuries" of suffering "around the world" — culminated in the Holocaust. Denying the Holocaust is wrong. So stop doing it.
How exactly does this translate into "No Holocaust, no Israel?"