by Brian on June 12, 2009

in In the News

Let me preface the following rant by saying I voted for the guy. I had great expectations, not quite bordering on messianic, but in that general direction. His oration; the clear, educated and trained mind – especially compared with his predecessor – was lucidly refreshing.

Yes, those of us in Israel were worried that he’d take too soft a stance vis a vis Iran. But, as I wrote prior to the elections, I was sure that those negotiating overtures would come to a quick demise after the Islamic Republic made clear it had no intention of modifying its hard line position.

Ditto on Israel. Yes, there might be some tougher rhetoric, but the bonds between the U.S. and the Jewish state are too strong to fall into any kind of serious crisis.

It is therefore with true regret that I find my support of U.S. President Barack Obama, at least when it comes to our little corner of the world, to have been misplaced. Many of my sublimated fears, the ones I blithely tossed into the dust accumulating under my bed, seem to be coming true.

President Obama’s speech last week in Cairo started out on the right foot. He had promised a message of reconciliation and he was quick to deliver. He was tough on terrorism while speaking passionately about democracy, religious freedom and women’s rights in the Arab world.

When it came to the Jews, I was taken aback – in a good way. Here was a U.S. President, appearing in an Arab capital, saying that under no uncertain circumstances Holocaust denial is wrong. “Six million Jews were killed, more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless. It is ignorant, and it is hateful,” Obama told the crowd (to no applause).

Obama went on to say that “the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. Around the world the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries. And anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust.”

The unstated but undeniable message: the Jews deserve a state because of tragedy, persecution and, in particular, the Shoah.

And that’s where he got it so wrong.

The Holocaust is not the reason we’re here in Israel. It may have been the final catalyst that made the Jewish state viable in the international community, but the connection between the Jews and the land goes back thousands of years. And Obama never once mentioned this historical fact.

What he did was play right into the Arab narrative: that Israel is a foreign entity in an Arab land brought about solely from European guilt. It frames Israel’s existence from a negative: we were killed, therefore give us something in return.

The Arab world makes no bones about rejecting this justification wholeheartedly. “Why should we have to pay for European crimes?” is a common refrain. After all, haven’t Yassar Arafat and all his would be successors claimed for years that there was never even a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount?

And, with no historical connection, just a fading feeling that a safe haven for the Jews might be a good thing, why not give the Jews a less controversial homeland. Like Uganda? Or, as in Michael Chabon’s alt-history novel “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” a small, wet and miserable corner of Alaska.

The Zionist movement rejected the Uganda option in 1903 because, as the Jerusalem Post wrote in an editorial earlier this week, “Uganda did not belong to the Jews.”

If this is truly Obama’s position – that Israel is simply payback for genocide – then he is sadly misinformed…and dangerous to boot. He may be striving for even-handedness, but when history is disregarded, then only the most recent positioning becomes valid and this will, as sure as Al-Queida is planning another attack, doom any real prospects for peace.

But Obama proceeded to make it worse. In a line that must have been carefully calculated and worked over for months by speechwriters and policy makers, he stated, immediately after his exhortation against Holocaust denial, “on the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people… have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.”

Now, I’m no hard-core right-winger. I will be the first to acknowledge that the Palestinian side has legitimate grievances that must be addressed.

But to even compare the murder of 6 million Jews with the results of a war where the Arab side attacked the nascent state of Israel is unconscionable. Does Obama truly believe this? Despite all his eloquence, this borders on anti-Semitism itself.

At this point in his speech, I was so flabbergasted I could barely expect anything worse. But here it came. His long awaited tough approach to Iran. We expected negotiation, yes, but with the stick of sanctions and just a hint of military action.

Instead what we got was a namby pamb,y brief monologue (a mere 8 paragraphs vs. 25 on the Arab-Israel conflict) on how it would be perfectly fine with the U.S. for Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program as long as it wasn’t military in nature. Right. Isn’t that what Iran has been saying for years to forestall U.N. inspections?

Obama, in a few short paragraphs, gave Iran a free pass, making it clear that the U.S. would take no substantive action, to stop Iran’s relentless pursuit of the bomb (and the missiles to deliver it). Couple that with his delegitimization of Israel’s historical connection to the land, and it’s painfully clear that we are totally and completely on our own.

I was elated at the election of Barack Obama. I had great expectations for a new world order, with a leader who promised, and might truly succeed, in bringing about real change. And still he might. But that change doesn’t look particularly good for the Jews.

To paraphrase the other big message regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and one that I won’t get into here), we are not the obstacles to peace. The president of the United States is.


I know I’m not the first person to write about these issues. But I would be very interested to hear your comments. Do you agree with my analysis? Do you think I’m over-dramatizing the speech? Or am I hopelessly naive? Please post your comments to the blog and let’s start a conversation.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: