“If I Am Not For Myself….”

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Headline at the Times of Israel: “Obama: US won’t be able to defend Israel if peace talks fail.” Jeffrey Goldberg writes,

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House tomorrow, President Barack Obama will tell him that his country could face a bleak future — one of international isolation and demographic disaster — if he refuses to endorse a U.S.-drafted framework agreement for peace with the Palestinians. Obama will warn Netanyahu that time is running out for Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy. And the president will make the case that Netanyahu, alone among Israelis, has the strength and political credibility to lead his people away from the precipice.

In an hourlong interview Thursday in the Oval Office, Obama, borrowing from the Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel, told me that his message to Netanyahu will be this: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”

But of course Obama is getting Hillel wrong, in letter and in spirit. Hillel famously said,

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But if I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?

If I were Benjamin Netanyahu, I would quote Hillel back at him. “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” Certainly the chief responsibility of the Prime Minister of Israel is to look out for Israel.

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