Michael Oren And President Obama’s Itfar Dinner

Abraham H. Miller Emeritus Professor, University of Cincinnati
Font Size:

The Itfar dinner is the breaking of the fast of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Last Tuesday President Barack Obama hosted, at the White House, his annual Itfar dinner. Honored with seats at the president’s table were two radical Muslim anti-Israel activists, Riham Osman and Batoul Abuharb.

At a time when the nation is still reeling over the hatred that inspired a lone gunman in South Carolina to murder nine African-Americans, and where there are strong calls for the nation to be sensitive to symbols of hate, the photo of the president breaking bread with two virulently anti-Israel activists is an exercise in hypocrisy.

Regurgitating Hamas’ incendiary rhetoric, Osman claimed that the Jewish state “murdered 1,000 innocent civilians.” She opined that if “the devil was in human form,” it would “look, speak, and act like Netanyahu.” These hateful, anti-semitic comments appeared on her Facebook page, on July 28, 2014, and have since been removed.

Abuharb was in Gaza during the 2014 war. In a piece for the Huffington Post, she describes her experiences, which would lead a naïve reader to conclude that Israel woke up one morning with malicious intent and decided to instill fear in the civilian population by starting a war. Abuharb is capable of writing a narrative about the war absent any allusion to Hamas or its genocidal rocket, missile, and tunnel campaigns against Israeli civilians.

As president, Obama must suffer through numerous diplomatic dinners with people whom he otherwise would cross the street to avoid. But here Obama had a choice. After all, there are millions of progressive Muslims in America, so why does the president surround himself with Muslims whose attitudes toward Israel and Jews are detestable?

The answer, perhaps, emerges in part from former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s new book, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.

Oren asserts the president’s Muslim heritage dictates and promotes his foreign policy. The president, says Oren, is a product of the Muslim faith, its traditions, and his education as a Muslim.

In his speech at the Cairo University Obama said, “I’m a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.”

When reality is too difficult and undiplomatic to deal with, the purveyors of spin emerge. Not only was Oren’s declaration diplomatically unpalatable to some of his fellow Israelis; the outgoing president of the Anti Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, was outraged.

Foxman called Oren’s characterization an insensitive and unjustified attack on the president. Foxman’s credibility might have stood somewhat more erect had it not been for his campaign in 2011 to pressure Jewish groups to promise not to criticize Obama’s record on Israel.

Certainly, Jimmy Carter’s inability to work with a Congress dominated by his own party has been the subjected of speculation about his socialization, as has John F. Kennedy’s reckless womanizing that put state secrets at risk. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s experience in the KGB and his residency as an agent in East Germany have been the subject of numerous articles trying to explain Putin’s policies.

So, how is any of this different from Barack Obama’s exposure to Islam? Why is everyone else’s socialization ripe for discussion, but not Obama’s?

Perhaps, as Oren strongly suggests, Obama’s exposure to Islam does explain his policies toward Israel. It is simply politically incorrect to acknowledge it.

When it comes to associations with Jews, as Paul Miller has insightfully noted, Obama’s relationships are centered on progressive Jews like Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who held as a point of honor her boycott of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.

If we want to understand who is sitting at the presidential table at Obama’s annual Itfar dinner – and why – maybe we need to open Oren’s book and reread the passages about Obama’s Islamic experiences.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. Follow @salomoncenter