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Jewish World Review
August 18, 2009
/ 28 Menachem-Av 5769
No second thoughts
Is Obama's bestowing Presidential Medal of Freedom on woman who presided over a United Nation's anti-Semitic hate fest yet another testing of the waters for future outrages against Israel?
asked about whether US President Barack Obama was rethinking his
decision to give Mary Robinson his nation's highest civilian award, a
spokesman for the White House was quoted as saying that the president
"had no second thoughts" about giving the former Irish president the
Presidential Medal of Freedom. Indeed, the ceremony went off without a
hitch and nary a discouraging word as Robinson and 15 other less
controversial recipients got their medals amid a blizzard of
Obama lauded Robinson, the woman who presided over the United
Nation's anti-Semitic hate fest at the 2001 Durban Conference on
racism, as "an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten
and the ignored," and ignored the widespread criticism of the honoree
from a wide range of Jewish groups as well as some members of Congress.
Robinson is a longtime foe of the Jewish state and even today
holds the post of honorary president of Oxfam, an NGO that gained
publicity last week for firing actress Kirstin Davis of Sex and the City fame as its
spokeswoman because she also represents Ahava, whose Dead Sea cosmetics are
considered off-limits by Israel-haters.
Though the dustup over Robinson cast something of a shadow on an
event that is almost always non-controversial (because the White House
generally eliminates questionable candidates), the dispute did not
generate a great deal of publicity. It was Robinson's good fortune that
the weeks leading up to the ceremony were dominated by a divisive
national debate over health care reform.
Even Obama's most virulent critics on the right were too
preoccupied with the debate over the president's massive expansion of
government power for it to register much of an impact on the nation's
political Richter scale.
But friends of Israel, especially those Jewish Democrats who
have been doing their best to ignore the White House's increasingly
belligerent tone toward the Jewish state, would do well to note what
happened with Robinson. Obama honored a virulent enemy of Israel,
someone who bore a great deal of responsibility for Durban, one of the
most disgraceful episodes in the history of an institution the UN
that is no stranger to disgrace. And he has gotten away with it with
hardly a scratch on his reputation.
Though some will dismiss this incident as a minor mistake that
will soon be forgotten, the main lesson to be learned here may not be
the one about presidential award nominations needing to be more
thoroughly vetted. Rather, it may be that as much as this was an
unforced error on the part of the White House, what Obama and his
advisers may take away from this incident is how easily they were able
to dismiss a nearly universal Jewish dismay.
In the weeks to come, the president and his foreignpolicy team
are said to be preparing what we are told is a new Middle East peace
plan. The upshot of this exercise may be some sort of peace conference
doomed to certain failure because neither of the two leading
Palestinian factions the supposedly more moderate Fatah that runs the
Palestinian Authority and the Islamist terrorists of Hamas have any
real interest in a peace deal with Israel.
As Robert Malley, the former Clinton administration staffer who is a prominent
critic of Israel, wrote in The New York Times last
week, for either group "to accept Israel as a Jewish state would
legitimize the Zionist enterprise that brought about their tragedy. It
would render the Palestinian national struggle at best meaningless, at
worst criminal." Thus, the only possible purpose of the Obama
initiative will be to attempt again to bludgeon Israel into making
concessions to Palestinians that are uninterested in peace.
The administration is also still committed to "engagement" with
Iran's despotic Islamist regime and continues to appear uninterested in
any serious effort to stop Teheran from gaining nuclear capability.
Though both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary
Robert Gates have talked about giving the Iranians until after the
General Assembly of the United Nations meets this fall before
attempting to organize more stringent sanctions, this is not a credible
stance since such efforts will not only be undermined by lackluster
European support and open opposition from China and Russia, they will
almost certainly be too late to stop Teheran's nuclear timetable.
On both these issues, despite their hopes that Obama may
ultimately step back from a fullthrottle battle, the proIsrael
community may soon find itself looking into the business end of a White
House propaganda machine that will feel confident about dismissing
concerns about Israel's security in much the same way that they have
trashed opponents of their health care plan.
There are those who take the point of view that the willingness
of mainstream groups such as the AntiDefamation League and others to
allow any daylight to be seen between themselves and the White House on
the Robinson affair is a sign that Jewish spines are stiffening in
response to Obama's attitude on Jewish security issues. But that
strikes me as overoptimistic at best since leftwing groups with
growing clout among administration circles, such as J Street, dutifully
supported the president on the issue. So long as his leftist base
sticks with him, it's doubtful that the president will worry about
support from mainstream liberals who are loathe to make common cause
with Obama's critics.
Though they may have been surprised that any major Jewish
groups had the chutzpah to oppose the president even on this issue, the
nonchalance with which Obama and his apologists road roughshod over any
opposition to the award may well have taught the White House that they
can get away with anything.
There may have been some who thought Robinson's award would
prove to be Obama's Bitburg moment a symbolic episode that forever
tarnished Ronald Reagan's reputation even among his most ardent Jewish
supporters. But while Reagan paid a heavy price for offending Jewish
sensibilities by honoring dead SS members at a German cemetery, Obama
escaped from the Robinson award with few scars and little media
attention to the story.
Far from serving as a warning to the White House to tread
carefully in the future when it comes to Israel or the Jews, Mary
Robinson's medal may turn out instead to be a trial run for far worse
outrages yet to come from this president.
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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine.
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