Shmuley Boteach 58.
(photo credit: d)
President Barack Obama’s speech at AIPAC on Sunday could almost have been a
Jackie Mason standup.
It turns out that when the president said last
Thursday that Israel should return to its 1967 borders, it wasn’t exactly what
“Who said I was referring to 1967 borders? I meant 1867.... And
even 1867, I didn’t mean CE, I meant BCE! And why did you assume I was talking
about Israel’s borders? I was talking about French Guyana!” This was the first
time I ever felt sorry for Obama – an incongruous sentiment for a man so
talented and who also just happens to be the most powerful man in the world. You
could see in both his body language and his utter absence of passion that he had
been defeated. The president bobbed and weaved. He came into a room filled with
10,000 pro-Israel activists knowing he had blown it, not just with the American
Jewish community, but with history itself.
For months, revolutions have
has been breaking out all over the Arab world.
Obama had yet to give a
single major policy speech on these unprecedented uprisings.
Yet when he
finally chose to try and recapture the US presidential title of “Leader of the
Free World,” he apparently couldn’t help but insert a highly inflammatory line
about Israel that was immediately seized upon by the world’s media, which
ignored the speech’s other content. And even on the Israel front, he was then
forced to so dilute the ’67 border statement that it became utterly meaningless.
Want proof? “It was my reference to the 1967 lines – with mutually agreed swaps
– that received the lion’s share of the attention...
and since my
position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what ‘1967 lines
with mutually agreed swaps’ means. By definition, it means that the parties
themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is
different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967... It allows the parties
themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44
years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes,
including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could not have expressed it
So why did Obama destroy his Arab democracy speech, not to
mention further erode his already tenuous Jewish support, with a reference to
the ’67 borders from which he has since stumbled back? Here we have a president
with the eloquence of Martin Luther King, Jr. but who has yet to make a single
memorable speech aside from the moving and dignified words he offered the night
Osama bin Laden was assassinated. Last Thursday was his chance. Why did he blow
it? The president’s claim at AIPAC was that he had no idea the ’67 borders line
was going to be so inflammatory. “My position has been misrepresented... If
there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance...
What I did
on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged
But the president’s claims of naiveté are ridiculous. Obama
is many things, but he’s no fool. He knew full well that being the first
American president to call publicly for a return to the ’67 lines was a very bad
idea. As The New York Times reported, Netanyahu had already had a “furious”
phone call with Hillary Clinton the morning of the speech, when the secretary of
state informed him that the line would be included at the president’s
insistence. Obama knew darn well that any perceived demand to return to the
pre-Six Day War borders spoke directly to the Palestinian narrative of an
expansionist, imperialist Israel suddenly swallowing up the land of a harmless,
defenseless people peacefully growing olives and herding sheep.
did Obama say it? Why did he insist on including it? I believe the answer speaks
directly to the growing mistrust that American Jewry (which gave the president
78% of its vote in 2008) now feels for Obama, and why Democratic Jewish donor
purses are closing.
Stated simply, this president has an obsession with
Israel. Even when he’s supposedly talking about the breakout of democracy
throughout oppressive Arab regimes, he still has to connect it to Israel. He
could easily have given a stand-alone speech about Israel and mentioned the ’67
lines there. But he apparently believes to his core the oft-repeated falsehood
that the secret to wide-ranging Middle East peace is a solution to the
Arab-Israeli conflict, and that Israeli intransigence is largely responsible for
Middle East strife. Even as history proves him wrong, and the Arabs start
directing their anger against their real oppressors, like Ben Ali of Tunisia,
Mubarak of Egypt, Gaddafi of Libya and Assad of Syria, Obama still thinks the
protests are against Israel.
He has seemingly decided that a solution to
the Arab-Israeli conflict will define his presidency. If he pressures Israel to
remove any military presence from the Jordan valley and return for the most part
to its ’67 borders, he will achieve what no president has before
Sadly he has forgotten that Jimmy Carter pulled off just such a
“breakthrough” – brokering peace between Israel and Egypt – yet is still
remembered as a failed president because he lost the larger battle of bringing
freedom to Iran, whose Islamists initiated a war against the West which we are
still fighting.The writer is the international best-selling author of 25
books, including his recent work
Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life, and
broadcasts widely on television and radio.
On Twitter: @RabbiShmuley.