December 14, 2018

Why not support President Obama?

Why should I, a liberal in the bluest of cities in California, the bluest of states — where President Barack Obama now has a 57 percent approval rating — be subject to the whims of the pro-Republican prime minister of Israel? 

And why should I or anyone else listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he allies himself with the most inflammatory elements of the Republican Party, which are portraying our president as unpatriotic and as a man who appeases Iran and Islamic terrorists?

[PRAGER: ” target=”_blank”>as reported by the Jewish Journal’s Aron Chilewich. Most will attend, Chilewich wrote, “but not without first expressing their displeasure with the Israeli leader and … Boehner.”

One point in the dispute between Obama and the Netanyahu-Boehner team is complex, and I sympathize with the members of Congress working their way through an issue that is both highly technical and politically charged.

It involves the negotiations between Iran and the United States and its partners Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia over curtailing the Iranian nuclear program. Netanyahu wants the program dismantled, rather than limited. He says Iran is building nuclear arms, which he argues are a threat to Israel’s very existence. He places no stock in Iran’s insistence that it needs nuclear energy for uses beyond war. He sounds like a man willing go to war to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program, a war that could, in turn, drag the United States into the conflict on Israel’s side.  

This is not a partisan matter. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are co-authors of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if negotiations with the six major international powers don’t reach a deal by June 30. Some other Democratic senators have joined Menendez. Faced with the threat of a veto from Obama, Menendez and the other Democrats told the president they will hold off on the legislation until after a March 24 deadline set by the negotiating countries for an agreement.

Intelligent people can argue over this. But there should be no argument over another purpose Boehner had in inviting Netanyahu to speak as well as in the prime minister’s acceptance. That purpose is to damage Obama and the other Democrats.

By going along with Boehner, Netanyahu is, in effect, supporting efforts to smear the president as an appeaser of Iran and as being unpatriotic. Here’s how Boehner described his take on Obama’s feelings on Iran, according to Fox News: “The president warned us not to move ahead with sanctions on Iran, a state sponsor of terror. His exact message to us was: ‘Hold your fire.’ … Hell no.”

The best-known purveyor of the virulent anti-Obama line is former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who, as reported in Politico, said of the president, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up, and I was brought up through love of this country.”

Giuliani is the most unrestrained of the Republican attackers. Boehner gives comfort to them. “I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian. I’ll take him at his word,” Boehner said Feb. 22 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” But when asked if he didn’t think it was his duty to speak out against Republicans who say they think Obama is a Muslim, Boehner said, ”It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. The American people have the right to think what they want to think.”

Also in recent days, asked about Obama’s religion by Washington Post reporters, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, an early leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, said he was not aware of the president’s religion.

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

But the representatives Chilewich interviewed — Democrats Brad Sherman, Ted Lieu and Adam Schiff — are not running in conservative Republican districts and don’t have to espouse some distorted truths about the president’s religion and patriotism. These men, who ran as liberals, are not being asked by an ultra-right constituency to prove their Republican chops so they can win an early primary in another more conservative state. In a straightforward, objective manner, Jewish Journal reporter Chilewich portrayed a Los Angeles-area congressional delegation wanting to have it all — to be seen viewing and presumably applauding Netanyahu while voicing mild criticism. But the reality is, sometimes in the political business you can’t have all. There are fences that can’t be straddled, and this is one of them.  

Rather than listening to Netanyahu and likely applauding him, the local Democratic members of Congress should denounce him for giving aid and comfort to those who oppose the progressive politics that got them elected. 

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).