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(photo credit: AP)
As could be expected, President Barack Obama on Thursday identified "the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world," as being "a source of tension." In this respect, he correctly delineated the issue as being much broader than a conflict solely between Palestinians and Jews, a distinction which is very important in terms of working towards a possible solution.
Precisely for this reason, however, his comments regarding Israel and Jewish history were so problematic. First and foremost was his linkage of the establishment of the State of Israel and the Holocaust.
Thus, according to Obama, Americans recognize that "the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied," an obvious reference not to the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from its historic homeland, but rather to the Shoa. The continuation of the speech, in which he refers to his visit today to Buchenwald and attacks Holocaust denial, make this linkage absolutely clear.
But besides being historically inaccurate, this false connection strengthens one of the strongest canards of anti-Israel propaganda in the Muslim world; that Europeans guilty of Holocaust crimes established a Jewish state in Palestine at the expense of the local Arab residents to atone for their World War II atrocities.
By ignoring three thousand years of Jewish history, by neglecting to even mention the unbreakable link, started long before the advent of Islam, between the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael, Obama totally failed to deliver what should have been one of his most important messages to the Arab world.
The major problem of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the tensions between Jews and Muslims all over the world is not Holocaust denial. As irritating and disgusting as that phenomenon undoubtedly is, it is merely a symptom of something much deeper, which Obama either failed to understand or refused to publicly identify. And that is the basic refusal of the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Dar-al-Islam, the Islamic expanse.
So to devote most of his comments on the Middle East conflict in yesterday's speech to Holocaust denial was to squander a unique opportunity to convey an absolutely vital message which the Arab world has to hear.
Along the same lines, Obama's failure to focus primarily, in his comments about our region, on the open threats by Iran to destroy Israel, should be cause for serious concern in Jerusalem. Instead of tackling Teheran's genocidal bravado head-on, he chose to equate the possibility of a second Holocaust with "repeating vile stereotypes about Jews," something certainly objectionable but hardly comparable.
It was also hardly comforting to hear Obama try and convince the Arab world to stop Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic stereotypes as, bottom line, they are really not worthwhile because they ultimately make Israelis less inclined to make peace.
In summation, the goal Obama sought to achieve was indeed daunting, but the only hope for success, at least as far as Jews and Arabs are concerned, was not to try and take the easy way out, but rather to address the core issues directly.
In other words, even if the Arabs stop denying the Shoa, it will not bring peace to the Middle East. In fact, it is not even that significant in and of itself. What will bring a true change to our region, and to relations between Jews and Arabs, will be when the latter recognize the history of the Jewish people and their connection to Eretz Yisrael and the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Dar-al-Islam.
That should be the objective of all American governments, since it will mean the end of the religious conflict between Jews and Arabs, which is basically insoluble, and the beginning of steps toward a peace agreement, which hopefully can one day be achieved.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, www.operationlastchance.org.