Marvin Hier, whom President-elect Donald Trump has chosen to speak at his inauguration, is no ordinary rabbi: He heads the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which gave the United Nations, "facilitated" by President Barack Obama himself, top billing on its list of perpetrators of 2016's most anti-Semitic, anti-Israel deeds.
But pressed in an interview as to whether he stands by his report's clear condemnation of the Obama Administration's abstention as an act of pure anti-Semitism, Rabbi Hier wasn't willing to go that far.
The Obama Administration's decision to abstain from blocking a U.N. resolution condemning Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Hier's list said, "reversed decades-long U.S. policy of vetoing such diplomatic moves against the Jewish State" and was tantamount to "endorsing BDS," the pro-Palestinian movement that seeks to punish Israel economically over the conflict.
Hier's Wiesenthal Center — named for the famed Nazi hunter — issued its condemnation of the world diplomatic organization and Obama himself under the all-caps headline, "UNITED NATIONS ERASES JEWISH HISTORY," the hashtag #TopTenAntiSemitic2016 looming above it on the header of the page.
But Hier took a softer tone in a Thursday interview, effectively walking back his accusation of President Barack Obama's complicity in what his center argued was the top anti-Semitic act of 2016. When asked whether he stood by his placement of Obama and the U.N. at the top of his list, Hier demurred, maintaining instead that the lengthy speech by Secretary of State John Kerry meant to contextualize the administration's abstention was, at best, ill-timed.
"It was a speech that should have been delivered three or four months [ago]," Hier said.
While Secretary Kerry "has every right to lay out his aspirations and plans for the future," the rabbi said, "giving a speech like that a few weeks before a new president and a new administration takes place in Washington [is] sort of looking for trouble. In other words, it's in my opinion, poor taste."
Hier got passionate about what he called the "one-sided presentation by the Security Council and the United Nations" and the decision by Obama's team to abstain from the vote calling Jewish settlements an incitement and obstruction to peace.
"Why didn't the United States as the leading force [say], 'Enough is enough, guys.' We've discussed settlements for 20 years. We've never discussed dislodging Hamas from Gaza once. Why is that?" he demanded.
"Discrimination and [a] double standard toward the Jewish state," Hier said, answering his own question. "The Arab world, the majority votes in the [U.N.] General Assembly and they don't want to discuss that. And they also know it's a tough sell. You can't get them out. So what do you want Israel to do?"
"When you do this at the last minute, at the 11th hour, it sounds suspicious — and it is," Hier said.
Hier comes as a portentous, if not totally surprising, choice to speak at the inauguration of incoming Republican Trump, who's spent weeks clashing with departing Democrat Obama on U.S.-Israel policy and countless other matters of national and world import.
To Hier, the inauguration represents a bipartisan respect for "the peaceful transition from one elected government to the next," he said. "That's the greatness of American democracy. In most places in the world, unfortunately, when there's a transition of power, it's done through the rifle."
The son of immigrants who fled Eastern Europe in the 1920s, Hier will join five other members of the clergy, including New York's archbishop, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, for the Trump inauguration.
Presidential Inaugural Committee Chairman Tom Barrack said this week the "diverse set of faith leaders" will "honor the vital role religious faith plays in our multicultural, vibrant nation."