When I came to Israel thirty years ago, my first home was the northern town of Kiryat Shmonah. I was quickly adopted by a young family–they were my age but already had two children–who were part of a small group that had come to Kiryat Shmonah from Israel’s big cities. Under the inspiration of the Kiryat Shmonah’s Ashkenazi rabbi, Tzefaniah Drori, they had come to this poverty-stricken town, under constant attack by Palestinian katyusha rockets, to serve as teachers and community workers.
During my months in the town I attended synagogue services led by Rabbi Drori. He’s a dedicated man with many fine characteristics. But, as a student and spiritual heir of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, he subscribes to a doctrine of Israeli territorial maximalism and political messianism that I find abhorrent.
People choose religious communities for lots of different kinds of reasons. So, while I think the politics of Reverend Jeremiah Wright abhorrent, I assumed from the start that many in his church don’t hold the same beliefs–Barack Obama among them.
Obama has done the right thing by making this explicit:
But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
I’ve been a supporter of Hillary Clinton in the fight for the Democratic nomination, but I admire Obama for having the courage and forthrightness to address the issue of Reverend Wright straight on and unequivocally. Furthermore, he’s done so without talking down to his audience. Instead, he offered a complex and nuanced view of his religious and racial identity. I think Clinton would make a fine president, but it’s hard to imagine her making a speech like this.
People may still have reasons for opposing Obama, but his association with Reverend Wright should not be one of them.