Reality Check

How Obama and his mouthpieces are encouraging anti-Jewish behavior

Jonathan Tobin

By Jonathan Tobin

Published Feb. 11, 2015

President Obama's recent interview with Vox included an astonishing characterization of one of the most notorious recent terror attacks.

As he did in his initial reaction to the assault on a kosher deli in Paris, the president did not call it an act of anti-Semitism or say that those slaughtered were singled out for murder because they were Jews. Even worse, he told Vox that those responsible for the attack on the Hyper Cacher had decided to "randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a Paris deli."

The day after such a glaring misstatement of fact, one might expect the White House to walk back this remark in some way. But, instead, both White House spokesman Josh Earnest and State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki doubled down on the president's tortured logic in a stunning display of Orwellian doubletalk.

Instead of just a president with a blind spot about anti-Semitism that comes out when he is interviewed, it is now clear that the United States has an administration with a blind spot about anti-Semitism.

To have made such a statement once might be just a gaffe. To do it twice revealed that the president has a blind spot about anti-Semitism that somehow prevents him from either admitting that the incident was anti-Semitic or condemning it as an incident in which Jews were targeted. But today we learned that this is not just a rhetorical tic. It is now official U.S. policy to claim that when Islamist murderers go into a kosher deli looking for Jews to kill, they are not targeting Jews or acting out of religious bias.

Earnest's insistence that the Hyper Cacher was not chosen by the terrorists because of the likelihood that it would be filled with Jews shopping for the Sabbath is mind-boggling. So, too, is Psaki's belief that calling it an act of anti-Semitism is a question so complex that only the local French authorities investigating the crime can know for sure.

Why the adamant refusal to label an unambiguous act of anti-Semitism what it is?

One reason is the natural resistance on the part of this administration to admit mistakes especially when the president commits them. President Obama is a notoriously thin-skinned individual who clings to the conceit that he understands every issue better than his critics. Few administrations like to concede they have erred but this one is particularly allergic to that type of transparency.

But this problem goes deeper than that.

This is an administration that is loath to say that Islamist terrorists represent a significant minority of adherents of their faith. Indeed, this understandable desire to avoid casting the conflict as one of the West against Muslims has been exaggerated to the extent that the president now poses as the pope and claims that he has the authority to determine who does or does not reflect the true version of that faith.

But now apparently this reluctance to admit that Islamists terrorists are Muslims extends to refusing to say that Jewish victims were Jewish or that the killers were trying to kill Jews. In doing so, the administration seems to think that denying that it was an act of anti-Semitism will absolve it of any responsibility to speak up against Jew hatred or to acknowledge the way the virus of anti-Semitism has spread among Muslims.

It goes without saying that this controversy and the embarrassing lengths to which Obama's whims required Earnest and Psaki to foreswear both logic and honesty were entirely unnecessary.

Acknowledging the obvious anti-Semitic nature of the Hyper Cacher attack has no real policy implications. No one expects the administration to do anything about anti-Semitism except to condemn it.

In fact any mention of the attack is not a trick question. It is a layup for the president who could easily pose as a defender of Jewish interests and an opponent of hate by merely saying he is appalled by the targeting of Jews in France or anywhere else.

Obama and his mouthpieces could have done this easily without being roped into unwanted action or even expressing sympathy for Israel as a refuge against anti-Semitism.

But though speaking out against anti-Semitism is a cost-free way of demonstrating both sensitivity and a zealous defense of human rights, it is apparently too much to ask of a president who feels free in his last two years in the White House to say and do as he likes.

But there is a cost attached to Obama's refusal to speak about anti-Semitism and his firm orders to underlings to copy his oblivious stand. By that I do not refer to a political cost for Obama who will never again have to face an electorate, including an American Jewish community that gave him the lion's share of their votes despite his obvious hostility to Israel.

Instead it is the Jews of Europe, who continue to be targeted because of their faith amid what even Obama's State Department termed a "rising tide of anti-Semitism," who will pay the price for his refusal to speak the truth about violent Jew hatred.

Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors in Iran will not be slow to pick up on this signal from Washington that the Jews are on their own. If the president and his spin masters won't speak about anti-Semitism, you can be sure that those ginning up these attacks and engaging in the most vile forms of delegitimization will interpret it as a sign that the U.S. isn't interested in the fate of the Jews.

Were the president prepared to speak responsibly about terrorism he would do more than acknowledge that the Hyper Cacher was singled out because it was filled with Jews. He would, instead, connect the dots between these acts of terror and the hate spread by an Iranian regime that he is pursuing with offers of détente. But it is hardly surprising that a president who treats Israeli acts of self-defense against terror as an obstacle to his foreign policy goals would treat the siege of the Jews of Europe as beneath his notice.

An administration with a blind spot about anti-Semitism is one that is not only encouraging more such attacks. It is also demonstrating that is unready to defend anyone against an Islamist scourge that this president dares not call by its right name.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine, in whose blog "Contentions" this first appeared.