When it comes to criticizing Israel, liberal supporters of Israel routinely quote the Jewish value of self-criticism. Try telling a pro-Israel critic the following:
“Israel is already being criticized beyond all proportion by much of the world community; it is being demonized and boycotted by a global movement trying to eradicate the Zionist project; it is surrounded by enemies sworn to its destruction; and it already has plenty of criticism and dissent within its own country. Should we, as Diaspora Jews, pile on the criticism and join the feeding frenzy — or should we push back against these exaggerated attacks and make Israel’s case to the world? Why give our enemies more ammunition to hurt us?”
The typical answer you’ll get is: “Because self-criticism is one of the highest Jewish values! It’s not just a right to criticize Israel, it’s an obligation! That’s how we improve. Israel needs our public criticism. It’s the highest and deepest expression of our love for the Jewish state.”
I understand that sentiment: We can’t grow in life without getting some tough love.
But what I don’t understand is this: Why won’t liberal critics of Israel use the same argument for President Obama? If self-criticism is such a noble value, why won’t they show the same kind of “tough love” for the president and criticize him as loudly as they do Israel?
I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen liberal supporters of Israel get all aggressive when criticizing Israel’s policies, but then, as soon as the subject turns to Obama’s policies, they suddenly get all defensive.
Apparently, not all self-criticism is created equal.
This is a shame, because the president could use a lot more criticism from liberals, especially on issues that liberals care deeply about.
In a recent post on the Atlantic Web site titled “Why do Liberals Keep Sanitizing the Obama Story?” Conor Friedersdorf pleads with liberals to “stop ignoring President Obama’s failures on civil liberties, foreign policy, and the separation of powers, treating them as if they [don’t] even merit a mention.”
Friedersdorf takes to task several prominent liberal writers, among them Jonathan Chait, whom he calls “the latest to write about the president as if his civil liberties abuses and executive power excesses never happened.”
Referring to a long assessment of Obama by Chait in New York Magazine, Friedersdorf writes:
“Apparently it isn’t even worthy of mention that Obama’s actions in Libya violated the War Powers Resolution ... and the legal advice provided to him by the Office of Legal Counsel.
“Perhaps most egregiously, Chait doesn’t even allude to Obama’s practice of putting American citizens on a secret kill list without any due process.
“Nor does he grapple with warrantless spying on American citizens, Obama’s escalation of the war on whistleblowers, his serial invocation of the state secrets privilege, the Orwellian turn airport security has taken [and] the record-breaking number of deportations over which Obama presided.”
Seriously, how often do we see prominent liberal writers publicly criticize the president for some of these vexing actions, which certainly can’t be blamed on the previous president?
“Why is all this ignored?” Friedersdorf asks. “Telling the story of Obama’s first term without including any of it is a shocking failure of liberalism.
“What does ‘better than the Republicans’ get you if it means that executive privilege keeps expanding, the drones keep killing innocents and inflaming radicals ... the Pentagon budget keeps growing, civil liberties keep being eroded, wars are waged without Congressional permission, and every future president knows he or she can do the same because at this point it doesn’t even provoke a significant backlash from the left?”
Friedersdorf says it just won’t cut it “for smart writers and prestigious publications to keep writing big think pieces about Obama’s tenure that read as if some of its most significant, uncomfortable moments never happened.
“Civil liberties and executive power and war-making aren’t fringe concerns. … They’re central to the Obama narrative, and the American narrative, as the president himself would’ve affirmed back when he was articulating lofty standards that he has repeatedly failed to meet.”
So, given all these liberal failures, why are Obama’s liberal supporters “sanitizing” his story? Even before this election season, why have so many of them been reluctant to publicly criticize their president and give him the kind of “tough love” he needs?
Well, here’s one possibility. It’s not that they think Obama is perfect and can do no wrong. Rather, it’s that they see how Obama is already being criticized beyond all proportion by much of the conservative community, and they say to themselves:
“Why should we pile on the criticism and join the feeding frenzy? Better to push back against these exaggerated attacks and make a strong case for our side. Our opponents are so much worse than we are — why give them more ammunition to hurt us?”
Why? For the same reason you criticize Israel — because self-criticism is one of the highest Jewish values! Because self-criticism is not just a right, it’s an obligation!
Because if your beloved Israel deserves your tough love, then so does your beloved president.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.