From Van Jones to Valerie Jarrett, the Obama has made a series of politically extreme personnel appointments that it has since come to regret. Its latest hire bids fair to continue the pattern. President Obama has appointed an “anti-Semitism czar,” Hannah Rosenthal, who appears singularly unqualified for the job. Her first target of criticism has not been an anti-Semitic exponent or event. Rather, it is Israel’s Jewish ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, who has drawn her ire for the offense of disparaging a liberal group with which Rosenthal has been affiliated.
Not surprisingly for a liberal-Democratic administration, Rosenthal has a liberal-Democratic background. She worked for the Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, and in 1992 and 1996 was a leader of the Wisconsin Clinton-Gore campaigns. From 2000 to 2005 she was executive director of the liberal Jewish Council for Public Affairs. More recently she’s been on the advisory council of the ostensibly “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street and JStreetPAC.
Ideally, it shouldn’t matter. Isn’t “to monitor and combat anti-Semitism”—from the “anti-Semitism czar’s” official job title—a bipartisan concern for Jews and a consensus concern for all decent people? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Some Jews define themselves highly invidiously in opposition to other Jews. Rosenthal appears to be one of them.
As the Jewish Press noted in an editorial,
“Speaking several years ago on the sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, [Rosenthal] said:
“‘I’ll tell you point-blank; I have two grown daughters, and I didn’t think that my kids were going to have to deal with the same anti-Semitism that I did as the daughter of Holocaust survivors. It’s a scary time, with people losing the ability to differentiate between a Jew, any Jew, and what’s going on in Israel.’”
As Michael Goldfarb observes,
“Parse that quote and it’s pretty clear what Rosenthal is saying—the Israelis have it coming, but the rest of the world needs to distinguish between the good progressive Jews who are not living on Palestinian land and the Israeli Jews who are committing daily atrocities in the name of colonialism and occupation.”
To that must be added Rosenthal’s affiliation, in itself, with J Street. Indeed, the Obama administration likes J Street and sent National Security Adviser James Jones to give the keynote address at its October conference. That doesn’t change the fact that J Street has taken strange positions such as favoring the staging of the anti-Semitic play Seven Jewish Children and the (abortive) appointment of the anti-Israeli diplomat Chas Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council.
Or as Israeli ambassador Michael Oren recently put it, J Street is “a unique problem in that it not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments….” As Oren went on to note, that has included criticizing Israel’s campaign in Gaza last winter, calling to include Hamas in peace talks, failing to reject the Goldstone report, and opposing sanctions on Iran.
And it is Hannah Rosenthal’s recent criticism of Oren’s remarks that has prompted a storm of anger and protest from Israeli and U.S. officials as well as American Jewish leaders.
Last week Rosenthal told Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz that Oren’s statements against J Street were “most unfortunate” and that Oren, who declined J Street’s invitation to speak at its October conference, “would have learned a lot” by participating.
In response, Haaretz reports in a subsequent article, “Senior Israeli officials told their American colleagues that it was unacceptable for an administration official to publicly criticize Israel’s ambassador over his relationship with Jewish organizations.”
For its part, “the White House asked the State Department to issue a clarification notice.” And “Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and a confidant of…Obama issued a condemnation of Rosenthal’s remarks, casting doubt over her ability to fulfill her responsibilities as an opponent of anti-Semitism.”
While the complaints rightly focus on the inappropriateness of the anti-Semitism czar’s criticism of the Israeli ambassador, there is much else in Rosenthal’s quoted remarks to Haaretz that calls into question her suitability for her new post.
As when—apparently also in connection to Oren’s declining to address J Street—she “said she opposes blurring the lines between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel. ‘It is not 1939,’ she said. ‘We have the state of Israel. We have laws in countries that are holding people accountable.’” This appears oddly inane, since Oren has never accused J Street of anti-Semitism.
Or when she says:
“We need to have as many people coming together to try and put an end to this crisis, the matzav [i.e., Israel’s ongoing conflict with some of its neighbors] cannot continue—it’s unacceptable and that’s why I always paid my membership to AIPAC, but I have always paid my membership to Americans for Peace Now—because they all need to be supported and they all need to be at the table.”
“I lived in Israel in 1973 in the bomb shelters. I don’t want my kids or my grandchildren to have to ever come visit their homeland and to live in a bomb shelter—that is what I mean when I say the matzav.... Sometimes I wonder what it does to the psyche of people and children to know that they have to know where the nearest bomb shelter is—that’s not okay. As a peace loving person and as a Jew who wants my kids to feel comfortable here—I think that’s what I mean that the matzav cannot continue.”
It’s peculiarly muddled, but she seems to be saying that everyone should be open to, and ultimately embrace, a liberal-dovish view of Israel’s conflict with some of its neighbors, because then the conflict would go away. Finding the situation “unacceptable,” not wanting children to live near bomb shelters or even be exposed to them on a visit, is somehow connected to ending the conflict. In other words, it’s Jews—bad Jews like Oren, or the Israeli government—who are responsible for keeping it going.
For the anti-Semitism czar, the enemy of the Jews or at least of Israel is not the anti-Semites, the violent attackers of Israel, but the Jews themselves – or at least the bad ones who don’t embrace J Street’s outlook and even find it objectionable.
That means Rosenthal lacks exactly what she ought to have: a clear, reality-attuned grasp of the actual, grim situation of Jew-and Israel-hatred in today’s world. And it means the Obama administration has failed to make a wise choice even for the seemingly nonpartisan task of “monitoring and combating anti-Semitism.” Instead, it has appointed a left-wing partisan who promotes the liberal delusions that help anti-Semitism thrive.