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9982
“Why This Rabbi Didn't Vote for Obama — and Why I Made the Correct Decision”
by JWR - Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg   
April 20th, 2010

I must begin by telling you that I was uncomfortable writing this sermon. I wondered whether it was too harsh or not harsh enough. I asked myself if I should be delivering it or if I should have delivered it two years ago. So I'll leave it to you to decide.

This week Israel celebrates the 62nd anniversary of its rebirth … the greatest event in modern Jewish history. You know by now how much Israel means to me. From my perspective, an Israel comes along once every 2000 years so it is to be cherished, protected and loved. In two weeks I will make my annual visit to that beautiful country, taking along my entire family, which means that for my oldest granddaughter — who is 7 years old — this will be her fourth visit but for my youngest granddaughter it will be her first. We are all excited for her! Israel is at the very heart of my family's existence.

It was with this feeling uppermost in my mind that I chose not to vote for Barack Obama for President. Although I felt he offered a measure of hope for our country, and although I felt the election of a black man as President of the United States would be one of the most positive and remarkable events to take place during my lifetime, and although I agreed with many parts of his domestic policies … it was his foreign policy views that concerned me and proved decisive. I have a much more hawkish view than he does on foreign policy. I have always considered myself what is called a "Jackson Democrat" and I was genuinely concerned about Obama's perspective on Israel. My feeling was based on something he had said and something he didn't say.

What he said was said in February of 2008 in a meeting with a hundred Cleveland Jewish leaders. Here are his words: "I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says: unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, that you are anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress … because of the pressure that Israel is under, I think the U.S. pro-Israel community is sometimes a little more protective or concerned about opening up that conversation."

What he said was not so terrible and I have to tell you that I respected him for having said it. He was very honest about his feelings. What he was basically saying was that he does not agree with the policies of a Likud government and that American Jews should be more prepared to debate those policies. Now, Mr. Obama is entitled to his opinion. It is just not my opinion! Does that make him an anti-Semite? Absolutely not! We have got to stop that kind of foolish talk. There are many Israeli Jews who agree with what he said … there are many American Jews who agree with what he said! But I'm not one of them! And knowing that after years of Hezbollah and Hamas and suicide bombings and kidnappings and rocket attacks, a majority of Israeli voters don't agree with his perspective, it seemed obvious to me that if he were elected President, there would be a clash between his policies and Israel's policies. Sad to say, I was right.

But as events have unfolded, even sadder to say unfortunately I think I was right in my concern about what Mr. Obama had not said. For 20 years he went to a church whose minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, spoke in terms that were both critical of America and of Israel. And Mr. Obama had never raised his voice in protest. He not only should have, he could have! Let me tell you about a man who, in similar circumstances, did! His name is Abraham Foxman, and he is the head of the Anti-Defamation League. Mr. Foxman was a member of a prominent synagogue in Teaneck, New Jersey but he found himself in a similar position. And he left his synagogue.

In his words, "I tried to have my rabbi change his views. I went to fellow congregants to see if they could have an impact on him. Only at a point in time where that didn't happen I resigned." And he went on to say, "It was a wrenching decision, this was a synagogue where my son was Bar Mitzvahed, this was a synagogue where every happy event and every sad event I celebrated … this was my religious home." But he got up and left!

And when Rev. Wright's words came out into the open, I asked myself: why didn't Mr. Obama do the same? And it wasn't just a matter of Rev. Wright's words and it wasn't just a matter of Mr. Obama's close relationship with him … it was a matter of the whole church being enveloped with a "liberation theology" with it's Bulletin reprinting pro-Hamas articles. Wouldn't all this have had an effect on Mr. Obama's thinking? I asked myself.

James Tisch, the Manhattan billionaire and Chief Executive of Loews Corp. and long time activist in Jewish causes and philanthropies, thinks it did! In light of everything that has now been unfolding, Mr. Tisch recently said, "I think the President comes to this from Jeremiah Wright's church and there is no doubt in my mind that in Jeremiah Wright's church the Palestinians were portrayed as freedom fighters and not as terrorists." In light of Mr. Obama finding the time to visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, but not Israel … in light of his refusing to take a picture with Prime Minister Netanyahu after their recent meeting … in light of so much emphasis being placed on the settlements … in light of the recent resurrection of Zbignew Brezinski … in light of new talk about an imposed settlement … in light of all this and more, I have to agree with Mr. Tisch.

THE OBAMA DIFFERENCE I don't like what is happening, but that, in and of itself, is nothing new. There have always been conflicts between the United States and Israel. In 1956 the Eisenhower administration forced Israel to withdraw from captured territories despite Egypt's belligerency. In 1967 President Johnson warned Israel not to go to war and became the first American administration to condemn Israel's settlement activities. The Nixon administration tried to impose the Rogers Plan, forcing Israel back to the 1949 Armistice lines. Jimmy Carter … well, Jimmy Carter was, is and will always be Jimmy Carter. Ronald Regan was a friend but he was a friend who withheld weapons from Israel in punishment for its attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor. I could go on and on … there have always been conflicts; there have always been disagreements.

And one has to expect that! America is a global superpower … Israel is a country of seven million people. America's view is of the woods and Israel's is just one of the trees! So, disagreements are to be expected amongst friends. But the disagreements that are now taking place between America and Israel are different than the disagreements in the past. They are different on two levels.

First, for the first time that I can think of, Israel is being accused of being the one that is the hindrance to peace. That's never happened before! Despite all the disagreements between Israel and the United States, it was always understood that after all is said and done, it is the Arabs and Palestinians who have resisted making peace. The Ford and the first Bush administration refused to negotiate with the PLO. Bill Clinton clearly stated that it was the Palestinians fault that Camp David fell apart. Bush the Second refused to even talk to Yassir Arafat, saying he was an impediment to peace. Now? Now Mr. Obama goes to Cairo and says the first step toward making peace possible is freezing the Israeli settlements. He asks nothing tangible from the Palestinians. The Palestinians refuse to even negotiate, but its Israel's fault! And then when the clash erupts over the Jerusalem housing, Secretary of State Clinton and the others insist that Israel has to do certain things to show it is committed to making peace. Mr. Obama calls on Israel to take "bold steps" for peace but again, nothing tangible is asked from the Palestinians! Israel should show that it is committed to making peace? Israel should take "bold steps?"

What was Camp David, which the Palestinians rejected? What was the Gaza withdrawal, which the Palestinians responded to with rocket attacks? What were the Olmert concessions to Abbas, which only led to the Palestinians refusing to negotiate? What was Mr. Netanyahu's accepting a two-state solution and a partial freeze of settlements? And what was the removal of most of the check-points in the West Bank? And what were the "bold steps" the Palestinians took besides refusing to even indirectly negotiate, refusing to compromise on the right of return, refusing to accept a demilitarized state, refusing to accept Israel as a Jewish state, refusing to recognize any Jewish historic claims to Jerusalem … All they really seem to have agreed to do is to name more of their streets and squares after terrorists and suicide bombers. And Israel should show that it is committed to peace? Sen. John Kerry goes to Damascus and proclaims that Syria is committed to the peace process. Really? But with Israel there's a question?

What was Camp David, which the Palestinians rejected? What was the Gaza withdrawal, which the Palestinians responded to with rocket attacks? What were the Olmert concessions to Abbas, which only led to the Palestinians refusing to negotiate? What was Mr. Netanyahu's accepting a two-state solution and a partial freeze of settlements? And what was the removal of most of the check-points in the West Bank? And what were the "bold steps" the Palestinians took besides refusing to even indirectly negotiate, refusing to compromise on the right of return, refusing to accept a demilitarized state, refusing to accept Israel as a Jewish state, refusing to recognize any Jewish historic claims to Jerusalem … All they really seem to have agreed to do is to name more of their streets and squares after terrorists and suicide bombers. And Israel should show that it is committed to peace? Sen. John Kerry goes to Damascus and proclaims that Syria is committed to the peace process. Really? But with Israel there's a question?

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