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Hoenlein Expresses "Concern" About Obama

Malcolm Hoenlein, a top lay leader of American Jewry, says Jews who supported Obama are now “very concerned” about him.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 6/18/2009, 12:30 PM

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a top lay leader of American Jewry, says Jews who supported U.S. President Barack Obama are now “very concerned” about him.

Hoenlein spoke with Newsmax this week, offering some sharp criticism of the man for whom an estimated 80% of Jews voted in last year’s election. He emphasized that he was expressing only his own personal views, but said that he’s heard similar concerns from “some of [Obama’s] strongest supporters.”

American-Jewish groups to the right of Hoenlein’s Conference have already expressed alarm at Obama’s new approach towards the Middle East. The Zionist Organization of America, for instance, said Obama’s Cairo speech “may well signal the beginning of a renunciation of America’s strategic alliance with Israel.”  

Hoenlein's Long List
The strongest terms Hoenlein used in describing his and others’ fears about Obama and where he is going in terms of the American-Israeli relationship were “concern,” “troubling,” and “questioning.”  However, the list of gripes he enumerated appears to justify downright “alarm” and “trepidation.”

Hoenlein cited Obama for having traveled twice to the Middle East without visiting Israel. In addition, he noted several problems with Obama’s speech in Cairo, including the following:

* Obama claimed that there are 7 million Muslims in America – when in fact the Pew Research Center estimated the Muslim American population in 2007 at only 2.35 million.

* Obama did not mention the Jewish people's ancient connection with the land of Israel.  "There was no reference to the 3,000 years of Jewish connection to this land," Hoenlein says. "And that is again one of the propaganda lines that the Arabs have used: that the Jews are interlopers, that the two Temples never existed, that there was never any Jewish history in the land of Israel. Even Yasser Arafat and others have used that argument because they're trying to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish state. I don't believe that was the president's intent, but not making those references I think is troubling."

* Obama equated the Nazi slaughter of more than six million Jews during the Holocaust with Palestinian suffering over the past six decades since the creation of the State of Israel. "There's no comparison between the Holocaust… and what happened to Palestinians," Hoenlein said.

Nor is Israel responsible for any such suffering, Hoenline feels: "The Palestinian refugee problem, or dislocation as he said, didn't come about because of the creation of the Jewish state. It came about because the Arab states declared war on Israel and warned the Arabs that they would suffer the same fate as the Jews if they didn't get out. And then [the Arab states] kept them as political pawns."

* Obama did not give a clear message to Iran: "What concerned us, concerned many people, was the message to Iran that we didn't hear," Hoenlein noted, namely, "an absolute assurance about the U.S. commitment not to allow Iran to be nuclear, not to allow it to continue to support terrorism, not to allow it to continue being the major state sponsor of terror around the world."

A Different Approach
At least one Jewish media site didn’t like the implication that American Jewry might be having second thoughts about Obama. The New Jersey Jewish News published an op-ed by its editor, Andrew Silow-Carroll, which began with an assurance from Hoenlein himself that he did not mean to imply that his concerns are “shared across the board.”

But Silow-Carroll went further, writing that there are “legitimately pro-Israel groups and individuals who believe that a little American arm-twisting is a good thing if it helps Israelis make some unpopular political decisions and gives the Palestinians assurances that their interests will not be cast aside.” He added in this connection that he hopes it is not true that “American Jews owe their first allegiance to the policies of the Israeli government over their own.”