In a wide-ranging interview with Israel’s Channel 2, President Obama was asked why he thought Israelis were “anxious” about him.
“I think what this arises from — some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion,” he said. “Some of it may have to do with the fact that I have actively reached out to the Muslim community, and I think that sometimes, particularly in the Middle East, there’s the feeling of the friend of my enemy must be my enemy.”
As some commentators pointed out, reasonably, the president’s response was somewhat reductive. Responsible critics in Israel and among American Jews have been careful to focus on policies that they think are in error. For example, some feel an emphasis on “outreach” to the Muslim world comes at the expense of tough measures that would go further in battling state support of terrorism and advancing other vital American interests. By pinning it on his middle name, the president risks trivializing those critiques.
And yet too often other critics of Obama’s Mideast policies fall back on nasty invective and unfounded rumor in their attacks. Like that of a Washington Times columnist who recently asserted that the president is a “cultural Muslim,” their attacks seem grounded in bigotry, not policy or ideology. And anyone who has received such attacks in an e-mail and simply forwarded them on to a friend is implicated in this prejudice.
Jews have fought too long and too hard to establish the principle that people should be judged on their deeds and words, not on the color of their skin, their house of worship, or the cynical slander spread by others. Bigotry is the biggest enemy of all.