US President Barack Obama delivered a passionate peace paean to a warm and
excited crowd in Jerusalem on Thursday.
That peace will arrive when a
similar address receives a comparable ovation in Ramallah, let alone
Click here for full JPost coverage of Obama's visit to Israel
The address showed the distance Obama has traveled over the past
four years in understanding the Israeli public.
First serve them the
honey, then the vinegar – because it is the honey that will make the vinegar
easier to swallow.
And that, indeed, is how the president constructed his
nearly hour-long talk.
It started with paying tribute: “Only in Israel
could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board
the Mars Rover originated.”
It segued into admiration: “As President
Truman said in explaining his decision to recognize Israel, ‘I believe it has a
glorious future before it not just as another sovereign nation, but as an
embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.’” It swelled into empathy:
“Your children grow up knowing that people they have never met hate them because
of who they are, in a region that is changing underneath your feet.”
then, only then, did it break into rebuke: “Neither occupation nor expulsion is
the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have
a right to be a free people in their own land.”
And therein lay a key
difference between this speech and the Obama speech that so angered so many
Israelis in Cairo in 2009. During the Cairo speech the vinegar overwhelmed the
honey. This time the ratio was reversed.
There were also major
substantive differences in the two speeches. Obama was lambasted after the Cairo
speech for not mentioning the age-old Jewish connection to Israel.
than made up for it in this speech and on numerous occasions during his visit
when the Jewish connection to the land was underlined.
There were other
correctives to Cairo during his speech at the Jerusalem International Convention
Center on Thursday.
He didn’t compare Palestinian suffering to that of
the Jews, as had been implied in the Cairo address, and he did not compare the
Palestinian cause to that of the US Civil Rights movement, as also had been
hinted in Cairo. Indeed, his reference to the US Civil Rights movement on
Thursday was how the Passover story served that movement as an
One colleague who attended Thursday’s address spoke
afterward of an “electricity” in the hall. There might have been. Obama is a
masterful speaker who feeds off his audience, and this audience – carefully
chosen – was warm and effusive. Lively sparks flew between the speaker and the
crowd, but the electricity had to do with atmosphere, not
Obama delivered a potent plea to the Israeli people to
continue to work for peace, saying that not only was it the right, just thing to
do, it was the smart thing to do. In addition, he talked about how Israel needed
to make peace with the peoples of the region, and not just with their leaders –
as if the peoples of this region, now in the throes of an Islamic revolution,
are ripe and ready for normalization with an entity they see even more these
days as an alien import and an affront in an Islamic sea.
delivered a powerful paean for peace.
But one must question whether his
chosen audience was indeed the one that needed convincing.