Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

Will President Obama wear a kippah? Of course. Will he wear ….?

Posted by rabbibrian on October 20, 2010

As a rabbi, who loves to wear a kippah as an acknowledgment of our calling as humans to serve God by living an ethical life, I was struck by the post by Ali Abunimah on Electronic Intifadah about the Administration’s discussions about whether the President should be seen in anything that resembles Muslim dress.

Here is Abunimah:

US President Barack Obama has ruled out a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, sacred to Sikhs, because Obama does not want to wear the head-covering that is required as a sign of respect in case it makes him look like a Muslim. From The New York Times:

But the United States has ruled out a Golden Temple visit, according to an American official involved in planning. Temple officials said that American advance teams had gone to Amritsar, the holy city where the temple is located, to discuss a possible visit. But the plan appears to have foundered on the thorny question of how Mr. Obama would cover his head, as Sikh tradition requires, while visiting the temple.

“To come to golden temple he needs to cover his head,” said Dalmegh Singh, secretary of the committee that runs the temple. “That is our tradition. It is their problem to cover the head with a Christian hat or a Muslim cap.”

Gawker, which drew my attention to the report, also quotes the Indian Express newspaper on efforts to come up with a “compromise” that would allow Obama to wear a baseball cap – a piece of head gear that would presumably not offend American racists back home.

Of course the President and most American politicians do everything they can to get themselves with a kippah, preferably at the Wailing Wall, in a synagogue or even in a death camp in Poland.   The level of negotiation about Obama’s headdress on his visit to India reveals the extreme Islamophobia sweeping our country.  Abunimah points out that Sikhs aren’t even Muslims, but it would be too politically risky for the President to be photographed with the required headdress in their Temple.  I recommend reading the entire post.

Abunimah’s posts are such a welcome and interesting alternative to the mainstream media.   I  love his posts on Electronic Intifadah and really loved his book One Country: A Bold Proposal to end the Palestinian-Israeli Impasse, a challenging exploration of the different possibilities within a One State option with human rights and justice for all citizens regardless of ethnicity.   We desperately need a discussion of such alternatives, as challenging as they are to most Jews.  The possibility of a two state solution has been described as being a “closing window” or “five minutes to midnight” for at least two decades.  When will the window close?  Will it take another decade? When will the five minutes be up?

When will we begin to discuss alternatives?  If you want to read a challenging, humane and important book, read Abunimah’s book. I would love to participate in discussions with American Jews and people of all faiths about the ideas in his book.

In the interim, you may find his post on headdress a horrifying look at the level of Islamophobia in our country and the surrender of the Administration to the prejudice.


If Obama had refused to wear a kippah – the Jewish ritual head-covering – when he went to Jerusalem, and instead insisted on wearing a baseball cap, he would have been declared not only disrespectful, but anti-Semitic as well. Of course the whole point of going to Jerusalem was for that photo-op, in order to buttress his pro-Israel credentials.

But in the current atmosphere of routine, endemic and escalating anti-Muslim incitement Obama has no fear of offending and denigrating Muslims. He also feeds racism against, and misunderstanding of Sikhs, whom racists often mistake for Muslims. Indeed this happened most tragically when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 52 year-old Sikh man in Mesa, Arizona was shot five times and killed on September 15, 2001 by Frank Roque in “revenge” for the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Sikhs, along with Muslims and so many others, are just the latest to be thrown under Obama’s election campaign bus.


12 Responses to “Will President Obama wear a kippah? Of course. Will he wear ….?”

  1. Shloime Perel said

    Quick question: wasn’t the kipa only institutionalized by Orthodoxy in the 19th century as a reaction to the new Reform movement. I find it incredible that it became such a powerful object with a powerful tabu built around its non-use. I believe it’s important to explore the history of the kipa and how it became such a crucial object.


  2. Miriam said

    THANK YOU !!!!! thank you for writing this….today after I’d read Ovadia Yosef’s statements….and Schneerson quotes….and discussed the issues contained therein about “non Jews are donkeys”….with an exiled Palestinian woman….

    I could not help but wonder how such people as Yosef slid into such a powerful position….to propose such vile beliefs.

    I grew up with a sense that Judaism had a “humane and just” trajectory…particularly after WW2. I no longer believe that in light of the barbarous actions and behaviors demonstrated by the “Jewish” state and its powerful military.
    What do you recommend I read to understand Agudas politics ….why/when did justice get tossed out of the window? …. needless to say, its a good thing to be able to communicate with you, a rabbi who is willing to read Ali and to acknowledge another shameful truth of politics and Obama’s staffers who ‘protect’ the president’s cred with rednecks and Islamophobes back home..but care not a whit about “throwing Sikhs,…Muslims and others under the election bus”… Thank you…..and looking forward to your suggestions for readings on Agudas…/

  3. Jeff said

    Miriam, Although I am a fervent anti-Zionist who opposes what I see as overweening Israeli influence in American affairs, I hold no grudge against Judaism per se. I have met many Jews, and Israelis, of conscience, character and faith. I am convinced that they are as horrified, disgusted and disturbed at the hijacking of their faith by ideological extremists inside and outside that faith community as Americans should be at what has been done to, by, and in the name of our country.

    I believed in, and campaigned for, Obama before the election. I believed that he was the last, best hope our country would have for at least a generation to regain our sanity, our character and our national virtue. For the first year or so after he took office, I continued to make excuses, believing that even the most virtuous, decent, honest and hardworking President would have his options limited by the institutional character, or lack thereof, of the environment in which he found himself. “When you’re up to your ass in alligators,” Will Rogers (I believe it was) reminded us, “it is difficult to remember that your task was to drain the swamp.” Obama has not even begun to drain the figurative swamp built on the literal one that underlies Washington, DC; in hindsight, it should have been clear that he’d never have the opportunity and almost certainly is fine with that. While Joe Biden is no Dick Cheney, he is the consummate inside-the-Beltway dealmaker. His Vice Presidency, coupled with Clinton at State and the usual suspects running Treasury and the Fed, were a declaration that all the “hope and change” was electioneering hasbara with no intentional relation to planned reality.

    I still believe that Obama was that “last, best hope” that has now been squandered. This has grave implications both for what once was the United States and for its current owners, the reich-wing thugs that hold Israel in thrall. Things are going to get a lot worse before we even hit bottom, let alone start getting better again. My children not yet born, or their children, may see an America worthy of the name, but I am despairing that it will return in my lifetime.

  4. Y. Ben-David said

    You are “excited by the possibilities of a “one-state solution”?
    With “justice” and “equal rights” for all? You mean like Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq, Syria? All of those are “multi-ethnic” or “multi-confessional” Middle Eastern states. You want us Israelis to end up like them, just so you can “feel good” about being a “progressive Jew” living in the United States? Do you seriously think we will give up our state that we fought so hard for and which we worked so hard for? That the dream of generations of Jews will be flushed down the drain because of your bizarre “purifcation” (Prof Ernest Sternberg’s term) ideology whose main unifying theme is anti-Zionism? That we have to be punished because the Palestinians and their Arab allies have refused to make peace for decades now, even after they have repeatedly been offered an independent state but have turned it down? How stupid do you think we are?

  5. Vicky said

    “Do you seriously think we will give up our state that we fought so hard for and which we worked so hard for?”

    I think you have to ask yourself whether it is worth fighting for a state that was built on racist principles and that continues to hold fast to policies that injure all its citizens, Jews and Palestinians alike. Israel already is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state; it has a very large Palestinian minority with Muslim, Christian, Druze, and secular members. Its Jewish population is similarly diverse in terms of culture and ethnic heritage. The question is whether equal rights are to be afforded to citizens of all ethnic groups and faiths. At present they are not, which means that Israel is not so very different from Syria after all.

    “That we have to be punished because the Palestinians and their Arab allies have refused to make peace for decades now, even after they have repeatedly been offered an independent state but have turned it down? How stupid do you think we are?”

    I don’t think you are stupid, but I do think you could benefit from reading about what happened in 1948 and the events that led up to it. You might also want to ask yourself why a peaceful life in a society that is not built on fear is to be seen as punishment.

    • Chris Berel said

      Almost all states are built on what might be considered racist principles. Many states continue to agitate for restrictions even when they become multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

      Equal rights are afforded to citizens of all ethnic groups and faiths. However, at present, as with a majority of states in the world, those rights are not readily granted to minorities. Which means that Israel is not so very different from most nations on earth.

      • Jeff said

        For a country that praises itself as the “most moral” this, that and the other, which uses a unique political theology to justify its racism, being “not so very different” is insufficient to be “a light unto the nations.”

        I’d have much less quarrel with Israel if it gave up its stranglehold on what once was the United States, including foregoing the annual multi-billion dollar tribute and making reparations for (at the very least) those killed and injured aboard USS Liberty, and its insistence on overwhelming military superiority (depending on who’s doing the estimating, they’re anywhere from the third to fifth most powerful military on the planet). Recognising non-Zionists as equally human would be a wonderful thing, but I honestly don’t think the current crop of petty führers is capable of that.

      • Y. Ben-David said

        Jeff’s implication that “Israelis-Jews are Nazis” is a cheap propaganda technique. Why don’t you say that Abbas and the Palestinians are Nazi? After all, their great leader during the 1930’s and 1940’s , the Mufti Amin el-Husseini recieved a salary of 50,000 Reichsmarks direct from Hitler during World War II, when at the same time a Field Marshal in the German Wehrmacht only got half as much. What services was this beloved leader of the Palestinians doing in order to get this salary. Maybe like raising Muslim volunteers for the Waffen SS who carried out horrific atrocities against Serbs and Jews in the Balkans?
        What about the antisemitic propaganda the official organs of the Palestinian Authority is putting out. Not much different than that of the Nazis. So why don’t you write “the petty Fuhrers of the Palestinians are blocking peace because they refuse to negotiate with Israel and they refuse to give up their demand for repatration of Palestinian refugees into Israel”, which is the deal breaker that has prevented any agreement which could lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, something they apparently don’t want that much.

      • Jeff said

        Mr(?) Ben-David,

        I never said, nor intended to imply, that “Israelis-Jews are Nazis.” Implying that I did is a cheap and used-beyond-effectiveness Zionist propaganda technique.

        What did I say that was not factual? The control that the Lobby enjoys on US policy? Inarguable fact. The war crime that was the deliberate attack on USS Liberty, an unarmed vessel in international waters, even after Israeli pilots reported visually confirming her to be an American and unarmed ship? Historical fact. The repeated and continuing violations of international humanitarian law that the “light unto the nations” commits on a daily basis? Also indisputable.

        So, I wasn’t implying anything. I was just stating a few commonly-known but inconvenient facts, and leaving plenty of low-hanging fruit for a Zionist fanatic such as yourself to come and nibble on. In no way am I disputing the right of Israel to exist or to defend herself legitimately as any other nation; nor am I hostile to Judaism or its followers; fanatics exist in every religion, and the sad truth is that pseudo-religious fanatics of one stripe or another have their heels on the throats of several countries in the world today. Israel and the US merely share the same boot heel, that’s all.

      • Y. Ben-David said

        Jeff-It was YOU who started the Nazi allusions when you referred to Israel’s “petty fuhrers”. That is a cheap anti-Zionist trick, used all the time. You slip it in there, and then stand back and say “who me, I never meant to say Israelis/JEWS are Nazis, perish the thought”.
        It is also very nice of you to say Israel has a “right to exist”.

        I have always found it amusing when Arabs compare Israel to Nazis. Hitler is a greatly respected figure in the Arab world to this day, Mein Kampf is a best seller throughout the Arab world. After all, why not? The Arabs were outside of World War II, Hitler promised to liberate them from British and French colonialism and he “knew how to take care of the Jewish problem”. So when Arabs compare Israel to Nazi Germany, maybe they mean it as a compliment?

      • Jeff said

        Mr Ben David — that SHOULD have been taken in the context of “absolute dictator;” certainly the Nazi regime was not the only German-speaking culture to use the term. Perhaps I should have used kagan instead.

        I assure you that, although I have been a lifelong student of history, I almost certainly carry less Arabic lineage than you do. Painting broad prejudicial strokes about people you know next to nothing about does not win you converts among any who do not let their intellect be blinded by pseudo-religious prejudices.

        On that note, I refuse further to have a battle of wits with one who is so clearly deliberately unarmed in that regard. Good day, sir.

    • Y. Ben-David said

      So you think Israel and Syria aren’t so different?
      Let’s conduct a thought experiment. Suppose an Israeli Arab says on a street corner and organizes a demonstration opposing Israeli policies. Now lets compare what would happen if a Syrian did the same thing in Damascus, opposing Syrian policy, say, in Lebanon. What would the authorities in each country do to each person? Be honest.

      But let’s say you right, there is no difference between them. So what? Is Israel supposed to be “superior” in some way to Syria? Are Jews more “moral” than Arabs? Are Arabs more “primitive” than Jews? Are Jews expected to act in a different way than Arabs? If Israel is to be boycotted, should Syria also be? Or India because its actions in Kashmir, China because of its actions in Tibet, or Russia because of its behavior in Chechneya.? Who says? You?

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