The OU on Obama speaking thoughtfully vs. just speaking


The Orthodox Union’s IPA blog has a different problem than mine with Aluf Benn’s appeal today in the New York Times to Barack Obama to reach out to Israelis.

Contrasting Benn’s take with that of Yossi Klein Halevi in The New Republic, IPA  notes that Benn wants Obama essentially to lecture Israelis, while Halevi thinks the president should conduct a dialogue — as in not just speak, but listen, too.

Benn’s advice to Obama is not to change his policies, but to make a speech in Israel and explain them better so that, presumably, the Israeli Left will be able to take on Netanyahu.


In contrast, Klein-Halevi suggests concrete steps in diplomacy and policy that President Obama should undertake. These steps would forge a working relationship between the U.S. and Israeli governments and resonate with the Israeli populace too.

That said, Halevi, despite his otherwise sharp advice, is guilty too of perpetuating the "Obama used the Holocaust to justify Israel" myth that has so exercised me. Not only that, he apparently thinks that American presidents have a duty to embrace every wrinkle of every national narrative:

By referring only to the Holocaust, and ignoring the historical Jewish attachment to the land of Israel, the president has inadvertently reinforced Muslim misconceptions regarding Jewish indigenousness. The Holocaust helps explain why Israel fights, not why Israel exists. It doesn’t explain why thousands of Ethiopian Jews walked across jungle and desert to reach Zion; nor for that matter why some Jews leave New York and Paris to raise families in a Middle Eastern war zone.

Obama did not refer only to the Holocaust, he referred to Jewish suffering "around the world" and for "centuries" (I’m considering assigning the last sentence a macro), but never mind. I’m eagerly awaiting Halevi’s critique of Obama’s failure to note the Risorgimento during his recent Italy stay.

That also said, a caller pointed out this problematic passage in Benn’s piece:

In Mr. Netanyahu’s narrative, the president has fallen under the influence of top aides — in this case Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod — whom the prime minister has called “self-hating Jews.” 

The "self-hating Jews" remark first appeared, anonymously sourced, in Ha’aretz, Benn’s employer.  If Benn were writing this piece for Ha’aretz, there would be no issue — one does not add "reportedly" to one’s own paper’s reporting.

But it is appearing on the New York Times op-ed page, one that is well-known for its rigorous fact checking; Has this fact been checked? Has the New York Times confirmed that Netanyahu made these remarks, contra denials by his spokesmen?

That would be news.

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