By Avi Davis
After his gaffes at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, it might be expected that President Barack Obama would now be a little more circumspect in his pronouncements about sensitive racial and religious topics. But just as the howls of protests over his recondite comparison of 21st Century Islamic barbarism to 12th and 15th Century Christian fundamentalism have begun to fade, along comes yet another Obama lancing wound.
In an interview on Vox.com, the President seemed rather unclear about the nature of the attack on HyperCacher, the French kosher market in Paris where four Jews were murdered by Ahmed Coulibaly on January 7th. He certainly did not seem to grasp that the attack was profoundly anti-Semitic and that Coulibaly chose his target with great care.
Questioned by journalist Matthew Yglesias about whether he feels the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism, he answered:
“Look, the point is this: my first job is to protect the American people. It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris. We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that — the same way a big city mayor’s got to cut the crime rate down if he wants that city to thrive.”
Inevitably both White House press secretary Josh Earnest and State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki received questions about this response today at their press conference. And the questioning lead to this bizarre exchange:
Question: Does the administration really believe that the victims of this attack were not singled out because they were of a particular faith?
Psaki: Well, as you know, I believe if I remember the victims specifically there were not all victims of one background or one nationality so I think what they mean by that is, I don’t know that they spoke to the targeting of the grocery store or that specifically but the individuals who were impacted.Question: They weren’t killed because they were in a Jewish deli though, they were in a kosher deli?
Earnest: John, these individuals were not targeted by name. This is the point.
Question: Not by name, but by religion, were they not?
Earnest: Well, John, there were people other than just Jews who were in that deli.
Lets not forget that the White House made no bones about recognizing the attacks as distinctly anti-Semitic when they occurred in early January. Later, after their press conference, both Psaki and Earnest pretended as if they had never said what they had plainly said and issued tweets announcing this. No doubt the White House will seek to walk these comments back in the next few days and paste the whole thing over as a silly misunderstanding.
But the gaffes betray a deeper discomfort of the President and his White House representatives in dealing with the world wide spread of antisemitism. How many times have you heard the President speak about the unquestionable rise of anti-Semitism as a worldwide phenomenon, rather than just a series of unrelated incidents? The answer is zero, zilch, nada.
And it is for this reason: by bringing attention to the spread of anti-Semitism, the President is forced to recognize that Jews might actually need or desire a homeland which is safe and secure – free from the rampages of Islamists who would target them for murder as they simply shop for their Sabbath meals or merely walk their children into school.
One of the historical justifications for a Jewish state – in fact the very incidents which gave rise to Zionism and the demands for a secure Jewish homeland in the late 19th Century – were acts such as the one which occurred in the Kosher market on January 7th. State sanctioned pogroms in Russia, attacks on Jewish property in Paris, blood libels in Syria and Egypt – these all contributed in the mid to late 19th Century to a sense that the position of the Jews, even in enlightened, liberated countries – was hopeless.
The safety and security of the Jewish state, which offers the single most important buffer against the recrudescence of anti-Semitism, is something of an obstacle now to the president’s attempts to remold the Middle East. Committed to building a coalition against ISIS , the President is now moving in the direction of allowing Iran’s Mullahs the room to flex their nuclear muscle so as to win, in exchange, their support for the war against ISIS. In this he knows he must sacrifice Israeli security concerns which he is almost certain are overblown anyway.
But the Israelis are nervous for one very good reason: the Iranians have repeatedly stated their intention to destroy their country. The annihilationist rhetoric is of course anti-Semitism writ large, as febrile and determined as anything planned or executed by Nazi Germany.
Is it any wonder then that Barack Obama and his Administration do not want to recognize or accentuate the worldwide rise of anti-Semitism? It offers an increasingly annoying distraction – what to do about the Jews?
With so much else at stake, it is the last thing this President wants or needs to worry about.