President Barack Obama stressed atonement in his New Year greetings to the Jewish community, but failed to ask forgiveness for the anti-Jewish rhetoric he and his allies used in campaigning for the Iran deal in recent weeks.
The holiday, called Rosh Hashanah in Hebrew, begins Sunday evening and lasts until Tuesday night. It marks the start of ten days of repentance, in which the custom is to ask forgiveness for any sins committed the previous year.
Obama offended many in the Jewish community by using rhetoric common among antisemitic extremists, such as alleging that his “well-financed” opponents were using money and lobbyists to influence the U.S. political system. He never mentioned that supporters of the deal were also well-funded, and backed by an aggressive lobbying effort.
Obama also accused Republicans who opposed the deal of “making common cause” with the Iranian regime.
A writer at the left-wing Forward magazine worried that Obama’s rhetoric “could seem tone deaf to some in the organized Jewish community.” Tablet, an online Jewish publication with no political affiliation, slammed the president in an editorial entitled “Crossing a Line to Sell a Deal,” protesting that his rhetoric was “the kind of dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally, not from the president of the United States.”
Obama refused to back away from his rhetoric, or to apologize, though he was given several opportunities to do so.
When asked by CNN’s Fareed Zarakia whether he still stood by his “common cause” remark, Obama replied: “What I said is absolutely true, factually.” When he was asked about the the issue in a webcast with the Jewish Federations of North America, Obama not only refused to apologize, but claimed his opponents were worse: “I would challenge a little bit the notion that there has been sort of an equivalence on both sides of heated rhetoric.”
Later, in an interview with Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the Forward, Obama again refused to accept responsibility for the fact that opponents of the Iran deal were being called “warmongers” by the administration’s allies. “He rejected that outright. It was the only time during our interview that I saw him bristle and his back stiffen,” she said.
The president’s Rosh Hashanah message would have been the perfect time to make amends. Still, he refused.
“As human beings we’re not required to be perfect, but we are required to atone where we’ve fallen short, and to do whatever we can to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past,” he said–evidently with no sincerity or self-awareness.