U.S. President Barack Obama, delivers a statement from the Roosevelt Room on Afghanistan at the White House in Washington U.S. on July 6, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Gary Cameron

The UN vote left me homeless

(RNS) When it comes to Jewish politics, I live in the equivalent of a large cardboard box by the side of the road.


And the recent UN resolution only makes that clear to me.

On Friday, the Obama administration abstained from the United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution that condemned Israeli settlements.

After defending this President over the last eight years, I am angry and disappointed. As the late Leonard Cohen sang: "Hey, that's no way to say goodbye." (And check out what the crowd is singing to Leonard in the video!)

To be clear: I am not a fan of Israel's settlements.

But, not all settlements are created equal.

I remain opposed to those ideologically-based settlements in the heart of the West Bank that will prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.

But, other settlements, contiguous to pre-1967 Israel, would wind up in Israel as part of a comprehensive peace settlement, along with land swaps.

Furthermore, to include East Jerusalem in this conversation suggests that the Jewish Quarter is also a settlement. This is historically inaccurate and unacceptable.

So, why am I politically homeless?

To paraphrase the biblical description of the parted Red Sea: I have come up against a wall on the left, and a wall on the right.

The wall on the right: The United States abstention at the United Nations was a Hanukkah gift for right wing Jews.

And why? For the past eight years, they have been saying that Barak Obama is anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic.

Oh, please.

  • Obama's most supportive political tutors were prominent Chicago Jews, including the Pritzker family and the late Judge Abner Mikva.
  • The Obama family Chicago home is across the street from the Reform synagogue, KAM Isaiah-Israel, once led by the late Rabbi Arnold J. Wolf, also a friend and advisor to the President. When Rabbi Wolf died, President Obama sent a message to be read at his funeral -- the only time in American history when a President has eulogized a rabbi.
  • The Obamas began the tradition of the Passover Seder at the White House.
  • And, as for Israel: here is President Obama at the UN General Assembly in 2011.

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day...

Israel, a small country of less than 8 million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, and persecution, fresh memories of knowing that 6 million people were killed simply because of who they are.

The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.

And, finally, the Jewish right should note that Obama was so close to the Jews that some Muslims accused him of "dancing to Jewish tunes."

Yes, the Obama administration blew it at the UN on Friday.

But, that failure is insufficient to damn that administration's entire relationship to Israel -- which has been, to say the least, complicated.

The wall on the left:  This vote will encourage the indictment of Israeli soldiers on war crimes charges. It will strengthen the BDS movement on college campuses, where Jewish kids are most vulnerable.

And it will further convince Republicans that they "own" support of Israel, continuing to make Israel into a partisan political issue.

Just as those on the right believe that Barak Obama can do no right, some on the left believe that he can do no wrong.

I have admired President Obama -- for his character, family relationships, even and especially his sense of humor.

The way that he has handled foreign policy -- not so much.

To quote Yossi Klein Halevi:

Obama’s legacy is a half million dead in Syria, the refugee influx in Europe which could lead to the breakup of the EU and the rise of the radical right, the rise of Iran as a conventional power that is devouring one Sunni country after another even as it is on a slower but now-inevitable track to becoming a nuclear power, the diminution of American power and prestige—and now, legitimizing BDS and the criminalization of Israel.

What gives me hope?

Consider the criticism of the United States inaction that comes from my rabbinical group, the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

Peace negotiations belong between the two parties involved. Further, the UN's obsessive and relentless criticism of Israel, while ignoring the unspeakable repression committed by illegitimate regimes and terrorist organizations worldwide, falsely and maliciously labels Israel uniquely as a pariah state.

Likewise, the opposition to the UN action from the URJ.

Please note: Reform institutions are usually to the left. This latest condemnation means something powerful: that we can use the prophetic imperative to critique power, wherever it might be.

And so, I am not really homeless. My political home remains a narrow perch -- in the center, critiquing the pieties of both the left and the right.

It's lonely here.

Anyone want to join me?



  1. There is no “center”, Rabbi Salkin, when it comes to Israel’s survival. Was there a “centrist” or “moderate” position when Goliath the Philistine was yelling and taunting at the men of Israel? Nope.

    You defended the Liberal Democrat Obama all these years, only to find out that Obama was **Goliath’s** friend, NOT Israel’s.

    That’s painful, but some folks did try to give fair warning that folks like Obama and Hillary — anybody parroting the magic phrase “Two-State Solution” — can NOT be trusted.

    Honestly, if it weren’t for Donald Trump’s great victory, Israel would probably be suffering from Obama’s treacherous betrayal for the next 20 – 30 years.

    There is no center on this issue. In fact, the dirty U.N. is going to quickly milk this anti-Israel “resolution” for all it’s worth, and try to hurt the people of Israel all it can, before Trump can correct things.

  2. This article is helping me make sense of my thoughts and feelings. I would add — why didn’t Obama at the least take a “negotiating” approach and require some concession from the Palestinians before blasting Israel in this way. Minimally, Trump would probably have done that!

  3. The USA has got to get out of the business of other countries, we have no business supporting Palestine or Israel or Iran or England. We need to take care of the people in the USA and let all the other countries take care of themselves.

  4. I really thought this article, with its title, would be by a resident of a Jewish community in the West Bank, because Obama’s non veto set the stage for ripping these people from their homes. I guess some people live in a world of metaphors while some of us suffer the brunt of careless policy and opinion shapers.

  5. “Was there a ‘centrist’ or ‘moderate’ position when Goliath the Philistine was yelling and taunting at the men of Israel?”

    So do you just not read the Bible at all, or are you just overlooking whatever details don’t fit your narrative??

    The ‘moderate’ position was, instead of doing battle between both armies, to save lives on both sides by engaging in one-on-one combat between two champions. The two extremes were bow down to the Philistines or all-out warfare. A third option between the two was chosen in your scenario.

  6. Strange. When I read this article, despite your conclusions, you make the case against Obama’s policies. In the only, real, meaningful ways it is clear that the the left’s approach has been disastrous to the world. Obama’s failure to understand America’s critically important and unique role in the world- because his origins/family were anti-capitalist and at least partially anti-american- meant he changed American policy in a way that has proved disastrous. His personal charms and attributes aside, he was thoroughly incompetent, unqualified and misinformed in his foreign policies. To be fair, a libertarian would probably be similarly disastrous.

    The left always places too much value on speciously meaningful factors, e.g. intelligence, charm, humor, articulateness, and too little weight in substantive factors, e.g. hardline ethics, hard decisiveness, real leadership, the willingness to be unpopular. After all, leadership means doing what is unimagined, unanticipated, and difficult to do. It means a departure from the crowd.

  7. This author acts like he’s a moderate when nothing he said seemed to portray that. He even went so far as to quote another author saying that Obama “criminalized Israel.” How do you get that idea from the UN resolution? Such language is entirely alarmist and nonsensical. The only possible problem that a “moderate” would have with the resolution is the East Jerusalem part regarding the Old City of Jerusalem, which should be its own, international entity, not technically part of either state. Or perhaps the entirety jointly governed by both eventual states. Either way, no one is advocating the forced evacuation of the Jewish quarter. What a joke.

  8. So you are calling Goliath the Philistine a “moderate”, a “centrist.” Oh no no.

    The 9.5 – foot giant with the 125-pound armor-plating (not counting the bronze helmet), with the 26-foot spear with the 15-pound tip, was NO moderate, NO centrist. He was 100% Philistine, “a man of war from his youth” (1 Sam 17:33).

    Goliath and Co. were standing on Israel’s property for one reason only, the reason that you yourself labeled as “extremist” — for Israel to “bow down to the Philistines.” Nothing else, nothing less.
    Goliath made it clear. “If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.”

    But Israel had nobody who came close to Goliath’s category. So whether one man fought alone and died against Goliath, or whether the whole army died fighting, the “extremist position” was all the same. The end of Israel, becoming the slaves of Philistia.

    So Goliath was NOT offering centrism or moderation. Goliath offered only taunting and the extremist position. His words openly defied Israel’s army (vv. 10, 23, 25) and even open defiance against the God of Israel. (v. 45).

  9. The Israeli Government claims it has irrefutable evidence that President Obama and SS Kerry are behind the initiative to have the resolution put to a vote. Kerry today and others in the Obama Administration claim otherwise. So who do we believe and why was the initiative to take the vote driven just before Trump takes office? Well I believe Israel. And that makes me conclude that President Obama wanted to stick it to Israel as a personal betrayal just before he left office. Or do you believe President Obama? You cannot have it both ways!

  10. One other point here, the resolution provides an initiative to allocate the Western Wall to the Palestinians. President Obama could not have missed this by accident. Does this not take the Jews back to the 14th century and the treatment by the Romans? Time to realize that the leader of the Dem party is no friend to Jews anywhere!

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