Antisemitism in the US is on the rise - what do US senators and Israeli ministers have to say about it?
How would Obama's speech play in Ramallah?
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March 22, 2013 00:03
Analysis: While the US president's speech got roaring applause in Jerusalem after providing his listeners with a balanced amount of honey and vinegar, the question remains whether this was the audience Obama needs to convince.
Obama waving after speech in Jerusalem, March 21, 2013.

Obama waving after speech in Jerusalem 390. (photo credit:Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

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 Gaza.



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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.”

And 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.

He more 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 inspiration.

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 substance.

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.

Yes, Obama delivered a powerful paean for peace.

But one must question whether his chosen audience was indeed the one that needed convincing.
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