Does Obama Really Doubt Kosher Market Attackers’ Anti-Semitism?

paris62047[1]President Obama and other members of his administration have repeatedly condemned the January 9 Paris kosher market attack as anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community. (Barack Obama, January 22)

The violent assault on the Jewish community in France that took place on Friday afternoon – as the Jewish community in Paris was in the final hours of preparing for the restfulness and peace of the Sabbath – was the latest in a series of troubling incidents in Europe and around the world that reflect a rising tide of anti-Semitism. (Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff, January 13)

All four [victims] were casualties of violent anti-Semitism–targets because they were Jews. All were killed playing some role in preparation for the celebration of Shabbat – a core practice of their faith. (Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, January 22,

But in a Feb. 9 interview with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, the President was not as clear as he could have been, and his critics ignored all of his previous statements and leapt to the most implausible interpretation, as if this was the first time the President spoke about it.

Yglesis: Do you think the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism and this kind of chaos, as opposed to a longer-term problem of climate change and epidemic disease?

Obama: Absolutely. And I don’t blame the media for that. What’s the famous saying about local newscasts, right? If it bleeds, it leads, right? You show crime stories and you show fires, because that’s what folks watch, and it’s all about ratings. And, you know, the problems of terrorism and dysfunction and chaos, along with plane crashes and a few other things, that’s the equivalent when it comes to covering international affairs. There’s just not going to be a lot of interest in a headline story that we have cut infant mortality by really significant amounts over the last 20 years or that extreme poverty has been slashed or that there’s been enormous progress with a program we set up when I first came into office to help poor farmers increase productivity and yields. 7 It’s not a sexy story. And climate change is one that is happening at such a broad scale and at such a complex system, it’s a hard story for the media to tell on a day-to-day basis.


Cartoon courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen:

Look, the point is this: my first job is to protect the American people. It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris. We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that

Compounding matters, two White House spokespeople did a terrible job responding to questions, although they did get it right later that same day.

Our view has not changed. Terror attack at Paris Kosher market was motivated by anti-Semitism. POTUS didn’t intend to suggest otherwise. (John Earnest, White House Press Secretary, February 10)

We have always been clear that the attack on the kosher grocery store was an anti-semitic attack that took the lives of innocent people. (Jen Psaki, Department of State Press Secretary, February 10)

Yair Rosenberg spells it all out:

One of the downsides of Obama’s carefully cultivated intellectual persona is that onlookers often mistake his errors for intended actions, not realizing that this president makes miscues like any other. What critics would’ve written off as a gaffe if it came from George W. Bush, they instead see as part of deliberate plan when it comes from Obama. But those who would read a malevolent worldview–rather than mere mangled messaging–into this episode should remember that the Obama administration has in fact been a stalwart critic of rising European anti-Semitism. The president even dispatched his confidant Samantha Power to Berlin to hector European nations about not doing enough to fight it. It is exceedingly unlikely that the administration has suddenly decided that Jew hatred on the continent is no longer a problem.

Hopefully, the next time the president errs, his team will simply correct the record the first time, rather than awkwardly attempt to spin his mistake into something more sensible.

McDonough: US Always “Stalwart Friend & Ally of Israel”

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— by Max Samis

Over the weekend, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough spoke in front of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Weinberg Founders Conference. McDonough covered a wide range of topics regarding the Middle East, but spent a significant amount of time discussing the United States’ special relationship with Israel.

Highlights of speech follow the jump.


McDonough said:

No president since Harry Truman has done as much for Israel’s security as Barack Obama. Record levels of security assistance; the Iron Dome rocket system, which as recently as several weeks ago intercepted 80 to 85% of rockets aimed from Gaza at Israeli homes, hospitals, and schools; the largest ever joint military exercises and most comprehensive consultations between our political and military intelligence leaders; and in the President himself, a president who has stood up repeatedly – sadly, often alone – against attempts to delegitimize Israel in international organizations…

All the while, the United States will be a stalwart friend and ally of Israel. I can assure you, that will never waver in our pursuit of peace.

McDonough also discussed the threat posed by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and how the sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama have had a strong impact on the Iranian economy. He said:

When [President Obama] took office, the Iranian regime thought itself ascendant. Externally, Iran’s reach seemed to be longer than ever, and the international community was divided on how to deal with its illicit nuclear program. Multilateral diplomacy had stalled, and around the world, many had begun to give Iran the benefit of the doubt, somehow blaming the United States for the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program…

President Obama was determined to reverse this dangerous dynamic, to highlight the danger of Iran’s illicit program – one, incidentally, that it is pursuing at great cost to its own people – and to isolate Iran, rather than the United States. That determination is beginning to pay off. He has repeatedly stressed his determination to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and has consistently given Tehran a choice: Fulfill your international obligations, or face increasing pressure. To date, Iran has refused.

And so, together with our partners, we have put in place the strongest sanctions that the Iranian government has ever faced. As a result, Iran finds itself isolated from the international community; finds it harder than ever to acquire materials for its nuclear and weapons program; and to conduct transactions in dollars and Euros. It’s struggled to buy refined petroleum and the goods it needs to maintain and modernize its oil and gas sector; it’s unable to access over half its foreign currency reserves; and its currency has lost over half its value since this time last year. Throughout that country, Iranians are turning to gold to secure their assets, and the Iranian government has introduced strict controls on the sales and purchase of foreign currencies.

This is the pain and misery that the regime itself has imposed on the Iranian people. Leading global companies have stopped doing business there, and more recently, we, working with Congress and our international partners, have increased pressure on Iran by targeting its central bank and its oil exports – the main source of its revenue. The results have been significant – in fact, far greater than we would have anticipated, with countries throughout the world acting to reduce their purchase of Iranian oil and to reduce their exposure to Iran’s financial system. I should note that 11 countries so far have significantly reduced their imports of Iranian oil. Others have indicated their intent to do so, including countries as diverse as South Korea and Turkey, and we expect still others to indicate a similar intent in the coming days and weeks.

The purpose of this pressure is not punishment. It is to convince Iran that the price of pursuing nuclear weapons is too high, and that the time is now to make good on its commitments to the international community. And it’s time for Iran’s leaders to answer why it refuses to prove its peaceful intentions, instead further isolating its own people, choosing to pay the price of intransigence, rather than choosing to join the international community of nations…

And so, it’s clear that the change we are witnessing in the region is not opening the door to a greater Iranian influence. Today, a dynamic region is moving away from, and frankly beyond, Iran. Not towards it. We know that, and importantly, we know and have seen that Iran’s leaders know, and are fearful, of exactly that trend…