When news outlets began reporting last Friday that the owner of the Atlanta Jewish Times had published an opinion column seemingly suggesting that Israel might be wise to assassinate President Barack Obama, condemnations rained from every corner of the organized Jewish community, and by Monday, the publisher announced that he was resigning his position and putting up his newspaper for sale.
In his Jan. 13 column, Adler listed as third of three possible responses by Israel to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon: “give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.”
He continued, “Yes, you read ‘three’ correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence.”
As wacky as Adler’s column was, it was an extreme expression of a viewpoint that carries great currency among Obama’s Jewish critics: that the president represents a serious danger to Jews and to Israel.
It doesn’t take much discussion in certain Jewish circles to find those who see something far more sinister in Obama than a president whose policies are bad for the Jews and Israel.
An Orthodox magazine, Ami, recently apologized for a cover image, illustrating a story on the purported growth of anti-Semitism in the United States, of the White House surrounded by Nazi storm troopers and draped in Nazi flags. (See article on page 16.)
“I think Obama’s overriding goal is to have Israel destroyed,” said Randy Silver, a businessman from Glenview, Ill. “He puts steps in motion to bring about the destruction of the State of Israel.”
One New Yorker who insisted on anonymity said, “He’s not a Hitler in the sense that he’s anti-Semitic and wants to put every Jew into a concentration camp — at least not as we see things right now.”
To be sure, such views constitute a minority viewpoint even among Obama’s Jewish detractors, and the American Jewish community has been — and largely remains — a stronghold of support for Obama. In 2008, Obama won an estimated 78 percent of the Jewish vote, and an American Jewish Committee poll released a few months ago showed that Obama would win the Jewish vote against any hypothetical Republican candidate by at least 18 percentage points.
Obama is hardly the first president to be called an anti-Semite or hostile to Israel. But the rhetoric and conspiracy theories against Obama seem to constitute an unprecedented level of vitriol, say many longtime observers of the Jewish political scene.
“I’ve never seen as much enmity toward a president by American Jews as I do toward Obama,” said Morton Klein, the national president of the Zionist Organization of America. “I’ve never heard people say, as they say to me, ‘I hate him.’”
Foxman says that extreme hatred of Obama is not so much about the president’s policies as it is about America’s economic troubles, the sense that Israel faces greater existential threats today than at any time in the last 30 to 40 years, and the Internet, which amplifies and spreads radical voices and conspiracy theories.
“All of these add an anxiety element that intensifies fear and anxiety,” Foxman told JTA. “Attitudes have intensified.”
Democrats blame the Republicans for the vitriol; Republicans say Democrats are practicing divisive politics.
Obama’s most vehement Jewish critics are not the only ones who accuse Obama of being a secret Muslim, a socialist and a threat to America. Many Tea Party activists have sounded similar themes.
But Obama’s most extreme Jewish critics also accuse him of plotting to wage war against Israel or the Jews. They see anti-Semitic overtones even in Obama’s hiring of Jewish advisers.
“A Jacob Lew or a Rahm Emanuel is a danger to the Jewish people because they make treif look kosher,” Silver, the Illinois businessman, said of the current and former Obama chiefs of staff.
Pamela Geller, a Jewish writer whose blog, Atlas Shrugs, is a popular source of information for anti-Obama conspiracy theorists, says Obama is trying to stir up Muslim enmity toward Jews.
Obama administration officials repeatedly have denounced these sorts of accusations as patently false and waged a campaign in the Jewish community to highlight the president’s record on issues of Jewish concern, ranging from domestic issues to Obama’s pushes for Iran sanctions and endorsement of unprecedented U.S.-Israel military cooperation.
But ultimately, for that subset of the Jewish community that sees ominous signs in Obama’s record, the concern isn’t so much what Obama has done so far in his three years in office as it is what he might do in the future.
“He takes baby steps and is slowly putting things in play to do Israel damage in the long run,” Silver said. “There’s a strategy behind this.”