A Murder Hits Home - and, Yes, Obama, Kerry Offer Condolences

Ezra Schwartz was murdered by Palestinian terrorists on Thursday, November 19, while en route to deliver food to Israeli soldiers. He was an 18-year-old American citizen just out of high school and on a gap program in Israel. All terrorist victims tug at our hearts, but Ezra's murder hit home hard. Even those of us who did not know him personally know kids just like him who participate in similar programs, including our own kids.

At times like these, we expect solace and recognition from our own government. Within days, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, State Department Spokesman John Kirby and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro had all condemned the attack, specifically mentioning Ezra. President Obama and Secretary Kerry personally called the family to convey their condolences.

Yet even before Shabbat ended on November 21, some of us were expressing outrage -- not at the terrorists who murdered Ezra, but at the administration, even though Dan Shapiro condemned the attack almost immediately and even though the State Department (which is run by John Kerry, who reports to President Obama) condemned it on November 20.

Maybe some of us weren't aware of the condemnations, but before we criticize the administration's response to such an awful tragedy, don't we owe it to ourselves and our friends to verify before posting? It's not that hard with Google. Maybe some of us did not know that the ambassador to Israel (the official U.S. representative in Israel) and the State Department both report up to the president and speak for him. The president uses spokespeople of necessity because there are so many pressing issues and so little time.

On Monday, November 23, the day after Ezra's funeral, Kerry spoke to the family and condemned the attack. Kerry mentioned Ezra again the following day, adding that "Israel has every right in the world to defend itself and it has an obligation to defend itself."

President Obama also called the family on Monday and condemned the attack in the strongest terms. Is the day after his funeral, the second day of shiva, really too late? Perhaps we should reserve our anger for the terrorists and acknowledge that the administration's response to this tragedy was more than sufficient. And to the extent we have questions, let's get answers before assuming the worst.

Should our first instinct be to wonder whether the president condemned a self-evidently horrific attack? Should our first priority be to look at our watches to see if he spoke out in time? My guess is that those who were concerned -- whose sincerity I do not doubt and to whom this would never have otherwise occurred -- were prompted by social media that ultimately came from the usual suspects, that small but vocal segment of our community for whom nothing President Obama does is good enough.

It's an easy game to play, straight out of Negative Politics 101: Accuse any politician of not responding, then of not responding fast enough (because it will never be fast enough), and then of issuing a response that was not strong or thorough enough (because more can always be said). And when it's the president, complain that the person speaking for the president was not at a high enough level (it will never be high enough).

Those who shared this misleading information were the victims of yet another partisan Internet hoax. The blame rests with the people who started these rumors and petitions in the first place, making them look as official and legitimate as possible, knowing that they would be shared and recirculated by people who were genuinely grieving for Ezra Schwartz. The purveyors of these falsehoods knew all too well that Mark Twain was right: A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth can put its pants on.

President Obama has earned the benefit of the doubt. Neither his personal differences with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor the steady stream of invective from some quarters of the American Jewish community has prevented him from strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship.

President Obama supported record levels of aid to Israel and raised military and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Israel to unprecedented levels. Unlike his predecessor, President Obama enthusiastically supported and funded Iron Dome, which has saved countless Israeli lives. President Obama, at Bibi's request, immediately intervened to save the lives of the Israeli diplomats trapped in the Israeli embassy in Egypt (do you know their names? Probably not -- because Obama saved them). Also at Bibi's request, President Obama immediately ensured fast U.S. help with the Carmel forest fires. And now we're complaining that a phone call to Ezra's family the day after his funeral was not fast enough?

Unlike his predecessors, President Obama's record of support for Israel at the U.N. is 100 percent. He even vetoed a Security Council resolution on settlements deliberately worded to match long-standing U.S. policy on settlements (to make it harder for the U.S. to veto) just to affirm the principle that the conflict must be resolved by the parties to the conflict, not one-sided international pressure on Israel.

And what about Iran? If Congress had blocked the Iran deal, we might be at war with Iran or preparing for the imminent possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. I still don't know whether to be amused or saddened by claims that we could have held the sanctions regime together, even though all of our allies said it would fall apart and even though the same people who accuse President Obama of failing to lead somehow expected him to use his Jedi mind control techniques to hold it all together. 

I still marvel that the same people who accused President Obama of undue reluctance to use force (even though he killed Osama bin Laden and has ordered over 6,000 airstrikes against ISIL) said out of the other side of their mouths that if Congress blocked the deal, we could stop Iran with force. Who did they think would authorize it? The Iran deal removed the biggest threat to Israel and world peace and is already emerging as one of our greatest foreign policy achievements. With all that's going on in the world today, imagine where we'd be if President Obama had not taken Iran off the table.

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