There is a reason President Obama received numerous standing ovations during his address on Dec. 16 to the 6000 delegates to the General Assembly of the Union of Reform Judaism. This is a President who embodies the values and aspirations of the Jewish community. He ran for President on these values. He fights for them, and his achievements embody them.
First among these is his strong and consistent support for Israel—for example, imposing the toughest sanctions against Iran and obtaining support for these sanctions from Russia and China, and his eloquent support of Israel at the United Nations—leading Israel’s Defense Minister Barak to praise President Obama not only as a friend but as a “leader”, as “a man who is capable and ready to undertake the fiercest of political risks to his survival, in order to make good on what he believes”.
Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have effusively thanked President Obama for the unprecedented level of defense cooperation between Israel and the United States. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently said that President Obama’s staunch support of Israel at the United Nations merited a “badge of honor”. And Danny Ayalon, Israel’s former Ambassador to the US and current Deputy Defense Minister, has said, “We have not had a better friend than President Obama.” The reason Israeli leaders can make such claims is simple – every time the world tried to isolate Israel, President Obama said before international community: I’m right here with you.
Some partisans have tried to drive a wedge between President Obama and the Jewish community. But anyone evaluating this President’s record should perhaps weigh more heavily the views of these Israeli leaders than the assertions by those who averred from the outset that they were determined to undermine the Obama Presidency.
At the Union of Reform Judaism General Assembly, President Obama underscored a range of areas where his principles are precisely those most cherished by our community. I was particularly moved by his statement that “When my Jewish friends tell me about their ancestors, I feel a connection. I know what is like to think ‘Only in America is my story even possible.’”
This is a President deeply comfortable with who he is and what he believes, willing to engage in candid discussions about the values he holds and for which he fights, and to clearly state the connection between his own values and those of the Jewish community. At the General Assembly, he said: “American Jews have helped to make our union more perfect. Your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents ... fought bigotry because they experienced bigotry. They fought for freedom of religion because they understood what it meant to be persecuted for your religious beliefs. Our country is a better place because they shared the same values that bring you here today, the same values that led Justice Brandeis to fight for an America that protects the least of us.”
And not only has President Obama’s administration embodied these Jewish values, but this President frames his accomplishments and his remaining goals in the context of tikkun olam and other deeply Jewish concepts. In his speech, he invoked the Biblical “Hineni” to remind the audience of the fights he has led and won:
*to provide “health care reform that we passed after a quarter of a century of trying, reform that will ensure that, in the United States of America, nobody goes bankrupt just because they got sick”;
*where now “insurance companies [are] not ... able to charge you more just because you are a woman or deny you coverage if you have breast cancer”; and
*where now “2.5 million young people ... have health insurance on their parents’ plan because of the Affordable Care Act”;
*to increase fuel efficiency standards for the first time in 30 years, as a tangible accomplishment—against bitter opponents—toward ending our addiction to oil;
*of appointing two new Justices to the US Supreme Court “who will defend our rights including our First Amendment rights surrounding religion”;
*and to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, so that, as the President put it: “You don’t have to hide who you love to serve the country you love”.
Some partisans have engaged in some pretty wild distortions and misrepresentations of President Obama’s record, regarding Israel and other subjects. But anyone evaluating this President’s record should perhaps weigh more heavily the views of these Israeli leaders than the assertions by those who averred from the outset that they were determined to undermine the Obama Presidency. And his speech to the Reform General Assembly truly speaks to the nature of the man and his Presidency. That is why the warm reception he received was so appropriate. The General Assembly members understood that President Obama is imbued with Jewish values, and his record demonstrates his allegiance to the highest priorities of the Jewish community.