Obama trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes — media didn’t notice

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The words leap out and grab you. Former President Barack Obama characterizes no other world leader in anything like the terms he reserves for former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In his recent memoir, Obama tells us that Sarkozy is a “quarter Greek Jew.” Little wonder, then, that Sarkozy has “dark, expressive, Mediterranean features,” which resemble the exaggerated, often distorted figures “of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting.”

Little wonder, too, that he is “all emotional outbursts and overblown rhetoric,” while his conversation, which reflects unbridled ambition and incessant pushiness, “swoops from flattery to bluster to genuine insight.”

One might have thought Obama was deliberately directing at Sarkozy the insults notoriously hurled at Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), the first person of Jewish birth to become Britain’s prime minister. The colonial administrator Lord Cromer said of Disraeli that he was driven by “a tenacity of purpose” that was “a Jewish characteristic.” With his swarthy, “Oriental features,” Disraeli was consumed by an “addiction” to the “passionate outbursts” and “excesses of flattery” that were the hallmarks of his “nimble-witted” race.

Cromer’s taunts, which Obama so uncannily echoes, were hardly unusual. On the contrary, the traits Obama attributes to Sarkozy — from oily complexion to pushy, self-centered assertiveness — were at the heart of the anti-Semitic caricature of the Jew that crystallized, with murderous consequences, in the 19th century.

That history makes calling Sarkozy a Jew vastly different from noting, say, that Angela Merkel’s father was a Lutheran pastor; and if anti-Semitism involves using the label “Jew” to evoke, emphasize or explain an interrelated complex of unattractive attributes, Obama’s description of Sarkozy is unquestionably anti-Semitic.

Yet from The New York Times to The Washington Post and beyond, not one of the gushing reviews considered Obama’s statement even worth mentioning.

In part, that reflects the normalization of casual anti-Semitism on the left. Just how far that process has gone was thrown starkly into relief last year when The New York Times’ international edition printed a cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu that could have been lifted from the Nazis’ Der Sturmer. A simple “error of judgment” made by an overworked staff member, the paper claimed.

But as the Times’ own columnist, Bret Stephens, asked, how could it be that the paper’s editors — “hyper-alert to nearly every conceivable expression of prejudice, from mansplaining to racial microaggressions” — now found “even the most blatant expressions of anti-Semitism almost undetectable”?

“The reason,” he went on, “is the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism” in left media, “which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry”.

The left’s problem with Jews goes well beyond the blurring of the lines between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. In an age where to hold to a faith is regarded by “progressives” as a sign of mental debility, Jews defiantly retain the faith of their fathers, with its unflinching insistence on the moral law.

Moreover, just when the left would make every aspect of personal identity a matter of choice, and reduce collective memory to a sin, this small minority remains a covenantal community of fate, with its most pressing command being Deuteronomy’s hammering injunction to “remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past.”

Sadly, the left, which once had deep roots in Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism, now finds all faith incomprehensible at best, irrational at worst.

Trivializing faith — as Obama did when he disparaged the working-class Americans who “cling” to their religion — consequently comes readily to the left; and having derided faith’s significance, it equally readily allows the claims of those it casts as victims to trump the protections religious freedom affords, jettisoning the rights of faith communities along the way.

Ultimately, in mirroring those trends, Obama’s slur on Sarkozy may reflect little more than a form of educated thoughtlessness — a thoughtlessness that pervades the “progressive” milieu he inhabits.

But far from absolving it, it is precisely that thoughtlessness which makes it so terrifying: For where thoughtlessness prevails, there is nothing to restrain the old demons or to prevent new demons from emerging.

That is why calling it out is crucial, no matter how petty its expression may seem. And that is why it needs to be countered, time and again, by the greatest, and yet harshest, of the divine commands: For God’s sake, think.

Adapted from The Australian.

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