Obama salutes 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
On the eve of his historic speech at Cairo University, we wonder whether President Barack Obama will use this unique venue to provide a reality check for his hosts and through them the larger Arab and Muslim worlds about accepting and respecting Jewish history and aspirations.
Case in point is CairoÂ¹s Al Ahram, EgyptÂ¹s most prestigious daily and the semi-official voice of the regime: it seems to have already inoculated the Egyptian public from any temptation of taking to heart a possible plea from the US president for better relations with Jerusalem. Al Ahram has given its editorial page to Cairo University political professor Hassan Nafaa, whose rambling diatribe informs Egyptian readers that they need not bother their heads about recognizing Jewish history or Israeli rights because "Iraqi researcher Fadel Al-Rabiei, who studies pre-Islamic Arab history ... believes that the Jerusalem of lore was not even in Palestine, but in Yemen, and argues that Mount Zion was in Negran in Yemen."
Unfortunately, denial from SolomonÂ¹s Temple to the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust Â is the operative word for much of the mainstream Muslim world, a fact that has supercharged enemies of peace like Iran's emboldened fanatic president Ahmadinejad.
THE DEMONIZATION of Israeli leaders seems to be catchy, with some respected American pundits, including Fareed Zakaria and Roger Cohen, wondering aloud if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Âbeneath his bon vivant secular veneer Â could be a closet religious fanatic who believes that Iran is the reincarnation of Amalek, the biblical enemy who became short-hand for every tyrant who has threatened the Jewish people Âand who, according to the Torah, must be annihilated.
Bibi as an avenging Moses - incredible on its face - makes sense only if you looking to excuse Ahmadinejad for threatening to "wipe Israel from the map." The Iranian president quite openly believes in an imminent apocalypse, to be ushered in by the mysterious Thirteenth Imam. Netanyahu loses sleep not because he wants to incinerate millions of innocent Iranians but because of the all-too-real-threats from the Teheran regime, armed with nuclear-tipped ambitions committed to finishing Hitler's work.
To his credit, in advance of his Mideast trip Obama told PA President Mahmoud Abbas "that it was very important to continue to make progress in reducing the incitement and anti-Israel sentiments that are sometimes expressed in schools and mosques and in the public square, because all those things are impediments to peace." Kudos to the president for even bringing up this issue, which the world's media generally ignore. There is no reported or discernible evidence in either Gaza's "Hamastan" or Abbas' West Bank of "progress" in reducing anti-Israel and anti-Jewish "incitement," which remains rampant and officially promoted in Palestinian mosques, madrassas, and media. Abbas' response: nada. He completely stonewalled on the issue.
REAL PEACE has to be made not only from the top down but from the bottom up. This is why Palestinian politicians since 1993, when Arafat first promised to recognize Israel's "right to exist," have put themselves in a box by
demagogically inflaming their own people. It's not merely extremist preachers on Palestinian television describing Jews as "apes and pigs" destined for destruction. It's Palestinian politicians, who describe Jerusalem as the Holy City of Islam and perhaps Christianity, but never Judaism.
If President Obama wants to become an historic Mideast peacemaker, he's going to have to slay the dragon of a deeply embedded mythology. The beast he must confront resides not in the head of Israel's democratic majority or its prime minister but in the minds and hearts of too many Arabs and Muslims who believe outlandish, anti-Semitic as well as anti-Israel fantasies. The
podium at Cairo University offers President Obama an unprecedented historic opportunity to confront this dragon in its lair. Let's hope he will seize it.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal