There is one word, just one word, that no decent American would dare speak out loud unless he happens to be a black stand-up comedian. That forbidden word is "nigger" – a racial slur for African-Americans. The interdiction is so grave that all one needs to say is "The N word" and everyone immediately knows what it's all about.
"For top officials in the Obama Administration," a participant of the Saban Forum in Washington told me last week, "Netanyahu is now the 'N word' – the name best not mentions."
I was surprised. The White House is full of people who have politics running in their blood. They know how to read polls, how to decipher newspaper columns and the chatter at the Knesset cafeteria. They know Netanyahu is at the height of his political power. He is the man calling the shots in the Israeli government. As far as the American administration is concerned, Netanyahu is Israel and Israel is Netanyahu. You can be angry with him – but you cannot ignore his existence.
The administration disagrees with Netanyahu on two very sensitive issues – Iran and the settlements. These are legitimate disagreements, more or less. The emotional baggage seems to stem from something else: When Obama's people look at Netanyahu, they recognize in him something of their arch-nemesis – the Republican Party's right wing.
The gap between the two American parties today is greater than ever. Instead of two parties, with a Left, a Right and a great center, there is a right-wing national-religious party vis-à-vis a liberal left-wing party. Instead of cooperation and flexibility, which was the secret of the American system's success in the past, there is polarization and paralysis. There is only one thing the two camps agree on: The current situation will bring the US to the brink of catastrophe.
Hillary Clinton's painful statement at the Saban Forum was made against this backdrop. She recognized in the anti-democratic trend that's sweeping over the Knesset the same nationalistic, provincial, close-minded values that brought the members of the Tea Party to Washington. She was really just lamenting her own problems.
Many American Jews feel the same: The majority of Jews in the United States are liberals and it seems that Israel has never been farther from their hearts as it is today. It is foreign, zealous, backwards and hostile to them. They see themselves as the real Jews.
The Obama Administration is not fighting Israel – it's distancing itself from it. For better or for worse – and mostly for worse – it has given up on the chances of a successful resolution in the region. It looks to the far-east, to China, which is a military adversary, a bank to fund the US' huge debts, a chief supplier and a competitor in the global market. The administration is trying to surround China with a pro-American bloc, including, ironically, Vietnam – a bitter enemy from the recent past.
We have become accustomed to a White House and a State Department that have Jews serving in key positions, including in positions that have a direct impact on Israel. That too is over: The Jews who accompanied Obama on his journey to the White House have left, each for his own reasons. This is the first time in years that a Washington administration has been so poor in Jewish representation.
This, of course, will not stop President Obama from lighting up Hanukkah candles at a festive ceremony in the White House. Hanukkah candles – that's all that's left.