A minor uproar erupted yesterday over this picture of President Obama putting his feet up on his desk while talking on the phone to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Apparently, many Israelis (and some Jews outside of Israel) feel that by putting his feet up and showing the soles of his shoes, Obama was insulting Israelis and asserting his superiority over Netanyahu. One news article from AOL stated that "It is considered an insult in the Arab world to show the sole of your shoe to someone. It is not a Jewish custom necessarily, but Israel feels enough a part of the Middle East after 60 years to be insulted too." (Seriously? Have Israelis really adopted this purely Arab way of thinking?) I think that this is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Obama didn't "show the sole of his shoe" to Netanyahu- they were on the phone. There are countless pictures of Obama putting his feet up on his desk, on coffee tables, while riding in airplanes- it seems to be his default "comfort position". And Americans don't think like that. I don't believe that this photo was intended to be anything other than what it is- simply a picture of the President talking on the phone.
On the other hand, the AOL article also contains this alarming bit of information: "Israel's Channel One TV reported that Netanyahu was told Tuesday by an "American official" in Jerusalem that, "We are going to change the world. Please, don't interfere." The report said Netanyahu's aides interpreted this as a "threat." Please don't interfere? The source of this quote was not cited, but I find it hard to believe that any high ranking representative of the American government would be so stupid and undiplomatic as to tell the Prime Minister of Israel to butt out of any decisions that would involve the Middle East.
I like Obama; I voted for Obama. I felt (and still do) that he is a fair minded man that is honestly interested in generating positive changes in this world. But if this is going to be the administration's official position regarding Israel, then I will be the first one to hit the streets in protest. The problem is, I don't know if this "official" was speaking for the administration or just shooting off his mouth, but I would sure like to know. As far as I can tell, no one from the White House or the State Department has confirmed or denied that this statement was made. In the meantime, I think that we need to watch this situation carefully. It's very nice that the Obama administration wants to change the world, but they can't do it unilaterally. It's not just their world.
Weinstein, Mayim Bialik and the Perils of Religious Instruction - *I wrote the following for my Beit Midrash's weekly email, and on reflection I'd like to get feedback from a broader population, so I'm reproducing it here...
5 hours ago