While surfing online to find information for an editorial I’m working on, I came across this clip and description of the historic “Rabbis’ March on Washington. It was a demonstration that took place on on October 6, 1943, in support of American and allied action to stop the destruction of European Jewry. Four hundred rabbis, mostly members of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, from New York and cities throughout the eastern United States, traveled to Washington D.C. to plead with President Roosevelt to take a more active approach to attempting to rescue the Jews of Europe. The President avoided meeting the rabbis, on the advice, at least in part, of some of his Jewish aides (Rahm Emanuel, anyone?) and several prominent American Jews who told him that these rabbis, many of whom were immigrants to the U.S., were “not the official leaders of the Jewish community.” These Jewish-American advisers to the President also worried the march would “stir up anti-Semitism.”
According to Wikipedia, “Shortly before the protest reached the White House, FDR left the building through a rear exit to attend an Army ceremony, and then left for a weekend in the country. Disappointed and angered by the President’s failure to meet with them, the rabbis stood in front of the White House where they were met by Senator William Warren Barbour and others, and refused to read their petition aloud, instead handing it off to the Presidential secretary, Marvin McIntyre.
The march garnered much media attention, much of it focused on what was seen as the cold and insulting dismissal of many important community leaders, as well as the people in Europe they were fighting for. The headline in the Washington Times Herald read: “Rabbis Report ‘Cold Welcome’ at the White House.” Editors of the Jewish Daily Forward commented, “Would a similar delegation of 500 Catholic priests have been thus treated?”
Last month, when Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to the United States to plead with the nations of the world to establish a clear red line beyond which Iran’s nuclear program cannot be allowed to proceed, the President of the United States refused to meet with him and instead did the talk show circuit. Of course, one can cite facts about the money Obama has allocated to Israel and the speeches he’s given touting the Jewish State as an ally. But there is no denying that this refusal to meet with Israel’s leader at this urgent time, as Netanyahu appealed to the world for unity in the face of the Iranian threat, speaks volumes.
When will Jewish-Americans, with our vaunted sense of history, see the simple truth: Israel’s security and the safety of world Jewry are not high priorities for this President. Obama may not be a bad man any more than FDR was, but neither one has been a great friend to Jews, despite Jewish-Americans’ slavish devotion to both. It is an issue of priorities and clearly, the fate of world Jewry was nowhere near the top of either man’s list. The difference this time around is, Jewish-Americans and Jews around the world have the lesson of recent history and should know better. The rabbis who marched on Washington in 1943 stood outside the White House and begged FDR to see them and try to do something more for the Jews of Europe, who were being slaughtered by the millions. FDR took the back way out, refusing even to look them in the eyes, much as President Obama refuses his global responsibility to stand solidly with Israel and acknowledge, consistently in word and deed, Israelis’ right to defend themselves.
If there is even a one percent chance that Mitt Romney will take a more responsible role in showing unity with Israel against Iran–a threat to the entire world but one which, let’s face it, Israelis are on the front lines of–American Jewish voters should not hesitate but do the one tiny thing they can do to support fellow Jews who are facing a genocidal threat. It is not enough this time around to wave one’s liberal credentials and say “Never again.” Pretending that a leader we may like, such as President Obama, has shown great resolve in allying himself with Israel at a precarious time is a foolish luxury this generation indulges at our peril, and cannot afford. The best chance of avoiding war is a demonstration of unity and the credible threat of force. But by refusing to meet with Netanyahu and other actions, such the recent statement by Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the U.S. will not “be complicit” if Israel strikes Iran, this administration has clearly signaled there is a gulf between it and Israel’s leadership. The mullahs of Iran know it. American Jews would be wise to see this reality and vote accordingly.
Time to wake up, American Jews. The brutal truth is, liberal credentials may be nice, but like prayer, they won’t protect Jews from a nuclear Holocaust this time around any better than they protected our brethren from the gas chambers.
Expect lots of rhetoric tonight about U.S. alliance with Israel. But remember that, when Bibi came to the U.S. and asked for a meeting with Obama, the latter showed him the back of his hand.