Analysis: Cairo scorecard: The good, the bad & the omitted

An Israeli Jewish primer on the good, the bad, the omitted and the "don't worry about it."

By
June 5, 2009 00:23
Analysis: Cairo scorecard: The good, the bad & the omitted

obama cairo speech 248.88 ap. (photo credit: AP)

 
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The address US President Barack Obama delivered in Cairo on Thursday was one of the most anticipated and hyped speeches in recent memory. And now that the 5,804-word address has been delivered, every sentence will be dissected for days, weeks and months by various states and groups trying to figure out just how they fared. Leading the pack, of course, will be the Jews and Israel, obsessed - not unjustifiably - with how we are seen in the eyes of the strongest power on earth. What follows is an Israeli Jewish primer on the good, bad and omitted. The good • Although it often sounds banal, it is not insignificant for the president of the United Sates to go the center of the Arab world and declaim that America's bonds with Israel are unbreakable, and based on cultural and historical ties. The premise of a strong, unshakable Israeli-US relationship is the basis for any diplomatic process. As Dennis Ross wrote in his book, The Missing Peace, "Would the Arab world even believe it had to accommodate itself to Israel's existence if it had reason to question the staying power of the US commitment to Israel?" Peacemaking, Ross wrote, required that the Arabs understand "that no wedge would be driven between the United States and Israel, and that Israel was not going to disappear." Obama made that clear. • There was something powerful about hearing Obama address the Holocaust, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism in a city where Holocaust denial and vile anti-Semitism are a major export. "The Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust," he said. "Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve." One would be hard pressed to find other examples of world leaders stating this case to the Arab world so unequivocally. • Obama put paid to Saudi Arabia's contention that it doesn't have to make any gestures to Israel because it initiated the Arab Peace plan in 2002. The initiative called for a normalization of ties between Israel and the Arab world when Israel returns completely to the pre-1967 borders and agrees to a "just" solution to the refugee question. Frankly, Obama said, this was not enough. "The Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past." The bad • While it was highly significant that Obama addressed Jewish suffering and the Holocaust in Cairo (see above) there was something rather problematic about his use of the term "on the other hand" in transitioning from Jewish to Palestinian suffering. "Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today," Obama said, stating a fact. "On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland." On the other hand? As if there is room for comparison between the Holocaust, brought upon the Jews due to no fault of their own, and the suffering of the Palestinians, for which a cogent argument could be made that the Palestinians bear a good share of the responsibility. • Obama's comparison of the Palestinian cause to the US civil rights movement struck a jarring note, though here he was not blazing new ground, but following former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who made similar comments in the past. "Palestinians must abandon violence," he said, strongly. "Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding." The comparison is facile: the civil rights movement fought for integration and equal rights for black Americans. The movement was not fighting to destroy white America. The same can not be said of the Palestinian movement in its relation to Israel. • The president was much too lenient on Iran. "It is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point," Obama said. "This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path." A decisive point? How about telling us, and the Iranians, something we don't know, like what the consequences of Teheran's continued intransigence will be, and how long they have to stop uranium enrichment, or else. The omitted • The biggest omission, from Israel's point of view, is not mentioning the Jewish historic and religious right to be in this part of the world. Granted, Obama mentioned the Holocaust as a context for the Jews' right to a state, but he didn't mention their historic, religious rights. This omission strengthens the argument in the Arab world that the Palestinians are paying the price for European crimes against Jews, and that if it were not for the Holocaust, the Jews would never have come back to Israel. The Jewish historic right to be in Israel is something Arabs have never acknowledged, and Obama could have seized the opportunity to stress the point. He did the exact opposite, however, when he said that "privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away." Recognizing Israel because it will "not go away" is not the same as accepting its legitimacy, and the historic rights of the Jews to be here. The don't-get-too-worked-up-about • Some government officials complained after the address that Obama went overboard trying to appease the Muslim world, painting a picture of a moderate Islam that most Israelis don't know and exaggerating both the impact and influence of Muslims on American society. Forget it; it doesn't matter. This is not a zero-sum game wherein if Obama praises Islamic civilization, he is thereby denigrating the Jewish one. Honoring Muslim influence in America isn't something Jews should feel threatened by. Though some may get nervous when Obama says "Islam is a part of America," they don't have to. Just because "Islam is part of America" does not mean - as contemporary history has shown - that America will turn its back on Israel. • Some will see in Obama's remarks about Jerusalem a call for internationalization of the city. "All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear," he said. "When Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them) joined in prayer." The story of Isra tells of how Muhammad was carried from Mecca to the "farthest mosque" on his winged steed, Barak. The location of this mosque is not explicitly stated in the Koran, but is traditionally considered to be the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - something which might explain the huge round of applause Obama received at this point. Obama's comments on Jerusalem are not a blueprint for policy, but rather an overall aspiration. It shouldn't be seen as a clarion call to wrest Jerusalem out of Israeli control, because the issue of control, of sovereignty, was not mentioned. Who doesn't want peace in Jerusalem? The question, and one which Obama skirted, is how exactly to go about achieving it.

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