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Where His Heart Is Print E-mail

By Sarah Honig
May 22, 2008

Speakers of Yiddish and German doubtlessly remember being cautioned that their conduct reflects on how they were reared. When their behavior failed to meet expectations, the predictable admonishing question always was "where is your kinderstube,?" Literally kinderstube means the children's room or nursery. Over time it had come to be semi-synonymous with propriety because it denoted upbringing - the scene where value-systems are nurtured.

A politician's kinderstube should never be regarded as immutable predestination that automatically determines his future course. Any person can change, renounce or even resent what had been inculcated into him early on. Nothing is absolutely foreordained. But the lack of any clear departure from an early environment must be judged noteworthy, especially when it's subsequently accompanied by steady increments of more of the same.

That's why all those who downplay Barack Obama's contact with Islam - even if only superficial - miss the point. So do those who reject the focus on his later and ongoing associations and denigrate it as a conspiracy to smear. Obama's associations matter all the more in the absence of any real record. They become the sole available gauge to the man who aspires to lead the free world. Were it not for his aspiration, no one would bother about him. Because he might end up shaping our fates, it's legitimate to resort to all available clues to figure what colors his perceptions.

This isn't about Obama's circumstances of birth - over which he had no control - nor about his religion or his Indonesian schooling. These can't and shouldn't tar him for life. Ayaan Hirsi Ali showed the world how a resolute individual can surmount any amount of brainwashing. Obama endured nothing as harrowing or adverse as Ayaan, yet he hasn't evinced anything like the courageous fortitude and intellectual independence of this African woman, born into a Muslim family.

THUS, WHILE it's obvious that she had freed herself from seminal indoctrination, the same assumption can't be made for Obama even if in his case formative influences were hardly as constrictive or overwhelming. In Obama's case we must suspect that kinderstube impressions linger and continue to mold attitudes and proclivities - whether subliminally or consciously.

Most of the time a president's background belongs in the background but it can abruptly become extremely relevant - for better or worse. Harry Truman's Jewish past-partner in the haberdashery business - Eddie Jacobson - is credited with having been pivotal in persuading him to recognize newborn Israel.

When the free world's leader faces tough choices, his seemingly incidental predispositions may be crucial in swinging him one way or another. They load his psychological or ideological dice. They make him more likely to oppose or support what others may not.

The tendency to draw on one's life experiences is universal and inescapable. Hence the spotlight on Obama's kinderstube and subsequent socio/political meanderings isn't powered by bigotry. The emphasis on Obama's interactions and relations is hardly a function of his being different but of his being so much the same, subject to biases and prejudices no less pervasive than those which propelled some of America's WASP patricians into positions incontrovertibly and coldheartedly inimical to the most basic of Jewish existential interests. They were raised in social surroundings which in the very least were unsympathetic toward the Jews whom the native sons were conditioned to dislike.

The Judeophobic kinderstube came cruelly into play as the Holocaust loomed menacingly over Europe. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration barred America's gates before Jews desperately seeking asylum from Hitler's hell (among many examples, the 1939 denial of haven to 907 refugees aboard the liner St. Louis and the refusal to allow into the US 20,000 unaccompanied Jewish children). It dismissed reports of Nazi final solution plans, regularly suppressed news of actual extermination, foiled the April 19-29, 1943 Bermuda conference on the slaughter of Europe's Jews and refused adamantly to bomb the railways to Auschwitz and its crematoria (though nearby factories had been attacked repeatedly).

Roosevelt's secretary of state Cordell Hull, undersecretary Sumner Welles and assistant secretary Breckinridge Long - all resplendent in impeccable Anglo-Saxon names and credentials - couldn't have been more obstructionist. FDR's personal friend, Long, was the most notorious of all. On October 3,1940 he noted in his diary that the president "was 100% in accord" with his own policy of "postpone, postpone and postpone" the granting of visas to Jews.

In a damning 1943 indictment - after preparations to funnel funds to Europe to underpin rescue efforts were deliberately impeded - the US Treasury charged the State Department was "guilty not only of gross procrastination and willful failure to act, but even of willful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler." That's how deadly kinderstube can be. That's why, mindful of Ahmadinejad's neo-Hitlerian threats, it's incumbent upon Jews not to pooh-pooh any prominent American's kinderstube - not just the kinderstube of a half-black candidate with an Arab name and Muslim links.

IT'S NOT intolerance of skin color or cultural origins which prompts scrutiny of the company Obama keeps - from Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers to PLO propagandist Rashid Khalidi and Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah. The contention that Obama is penalized for the sins of others - be it Wright's demagoguery or Ayers' bombing plots - is disingenuous because more than one problematic affiliation is involved.

The sheer confluence of questionable connections creates a weighty preponderance of evidence about Obama's milieu, his subjective antipathies, sympathies and likely leanings. This is far more pertinent a concern than whether Obama is Muslim by Islamic tradition, whether he ever practiced Islam or whether according to Muslim criteria he's an apostate.

Incomparably more germane is the disclosure that Obama's occasional Mideast policy adviser, inveterate Israel-basher Robert Malley, routinely engaged in talks with Hamas. The fact that Malley became a campaign embarrassment, and therefore had to withdraw, doesn't lessen the significance of the radical sphere to which Obama consistently gravitates and which, contrary to expedient electioneering rhetoric, delineates his affinities, orientations and inclinations. Obama's milieu amplifies his receptiveness to the Arab/Islamist "narrative" and indicates where his heart is. This shouldn't only perturb Israelis and Jews.

Kinderstube eventually evolves into weltanschauung (one's worldview or mindset).

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