Friday, June 05, 2009

In Praise of the President

There are many people who have interpreted the President’s speech in a mostly negative light. An article by Melanie Phillips in The Spectator is representative of this line of thought. As an example here is an excerpt:

He revealed gross ignorance of the Jews’ unique claim to the land of Israel. He said that America’s unbreakable bond with Israel was based upon

the recognition 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 Jews’ aspiration for their homeland does not derive from the Holocaust, nor their overall tragic history. It derives from Judaism itself, which is composed of the inseparable elements of the religion, the people and the land.

Worse, Obama appeared to draw a subliminal equivalence between the Holocaust extermination camps and the Palestinian 'refugee' camps.

I for one really appreciate this perspective from non Jews. It is one of the reasons that I am proud to be an American. Political conservatives like Ms. Phillips (and even more so religious Christian conservatives) consistently support Israel and understand it's perspective on this - more than even many Jews do.

But I see the President’s words differently. One must understand why he said it and where he said it. I do not believe he made or even intended any moral equivalency between the Palestinian situation and the holocaust. I know it seems that way because of the way he segued from the horrors of the holocaust into Palestinian suffering. But the two descriptions are clearly different. He wasn’t saying the suffering was equal. Just that there was suffering.

When it comes to the holocaust - Arabs tend to either dismiss it as not relevant to the Arab-Israeli conflict or disbelieve the magnitude of it - in the manner of holocaust revisionists.

President Obama used the number 6 million. He did not use the larger number of 12 million (if I remember correctly) that some often use to include all those who died during that period. 6 million is a number that has unique significance to Jews. I think he did that deliberately.

Yes - he emphasized Arab grievances over Israel’s. But that’s not at all surprising if one wants to win over the hearts and minds of the Arabs. The fact is, if you examine the speech carefully there was nothing new in it. All he did was re-state American policy as articulated by former President Bush. He just emphasized the Palestinian side of the issue.

As for the point about Jewish claims being biblical and far more significant and much older than the holocaust or the two millennia of persecution - that was not going to play well in a Muslim country. He avoided all religious justifications and instead pointed to the real fact that Israel IS a refuge for Jews who HAVE been oppressed for so very long. Palestinians who feel oppressed now should understand that. I frankly thought that was brilliant.

Over all I think he succeeded. He in fact did win over the hearts and minds of the Arabs who already had such a favorable image of him. 40 interuptions of applause and a standing ovation. And the Arabs heard what they wanted to hear – that Obama was going to treat them differently.

But it should not be lost on anyone that he clearly articulated America’s unbreakable commitment to Israel. No one that heard that speech could have missed that point - including and perhaps especially the Arabs.

When he spoke of a two state solution it received applause. Two states. That means that one of them is a Jewish State called Israel. It is clear to me that the vast majority of Arabs are prepared to accept the idea of a Jewish State despite their theological opposition to it.

And as if to emphasize his commitment to the necessity of a Jewish State he is visiting Buchenwald today. This is a concentratioin camp that was liberated by his American troops that included his great uncle.

I still think the President is naïve about resolving the Israel Palestinian conflict. But I give him high marks for taking this step and doing it brilliantly. I believe that if there would be some way to eliminate Islamic fundamentalist influences of Iran and its surrogate army of terrorists like Hamas then peace would be at hand. And I for one would be overjoyed at the prospect of a terror free Israel living in peace and harmony with their Palestinain neighbors. Obviously any peace should include ridding all hateful materials and messages about Jews from the Arab narrative in any and every forum.

The only problem is accomplishing this. Islamic Fundementalists are not going away and I have no clue how to rid the world of them. And neither does the President. Until that happens I’m afraid nothing will change and certainly Israel must retain its military advantages in all its component parts – which includes keeping all the territory it now controls.

Hat tip: Yoel B