An open letter to President Obama

Israelis desperately want peace, normalization and a predictable future for their children.

Knesset US flag 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset US flag 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Dear Mr. President, as I suggested when we recently met at the White House, I hope you will be able to take some time while in Israel to enjoy the wonderful sites of that remarkable country and to get to know some of its diverse people.
The Jewish (and therefore Christian) connection to the Holy Land, which is being disputed by some of Israel’s enemies, becomes self-evident when you see the Jewish heritage all around you and beneath every step you take.
Click here for full JPost coverage of Obama's visit to Israel
Israel is truly the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, and a place of holiness to Islam as well.
Israel is among the most heterogeneous places in the world – a model of ethnic, religious and racial diversity. Though it is the nation-state of the Jewish people, more than 20 percent of its citizens are Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. Its Jewish population includes Black Africans from Ethiopia, Sephardic Jews from North Africa, Russians, Georgians and many others. There are even Israelis from my hometown of Brooklyn and your hometown of Chicago.
The country is truly a mosaic, in every sense of that word.
When you visited Israel before you became president, you emphasized the security of civilians living near the Gaza Strip and subjected to continuous rocket fire endangering children and adults alike. Now Israel’s children also face security threats from Hezbollah in the north, Iran to the east and terrorists from everywhere. Israel is the only country in the area whose right to exist is questioned by its NATO ally, Turkey, and by many member states of the United Nations. Israel will never, and should never, compromise on its security, and you have never asked it to do so. You recognize that Israel will be capable of offering a generous peace to the Palestinian Authority only if its security remains uncompromised.
You have told the Israeli people and its supporters in America that you have Israel’s back and that you will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. You will say that again to the Israelis during your visit but please also tell that to the Arab and Muslim leaders you will be meeting during your visits to their countries.
They need to hear it as clearly as the Israelis, and the Israelis need to see and hear you saying it directly to Arab and Muslim leaders. I know you understand this.
The Iranian mullahs, who you will not be meeting, also need to hear that containment remains off, and the military option remains on, the table.
They may have misunderstood your nomination of Chuck Hagel as sending a mixed message with regard to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Hagel tried to clarify his position, but left something to be desired. An unambiguous statement by you, directed at the mullahs and repeated during every stop on your itinerary, will make it crystal clear that Iran will never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. That understanding, coupled with crippling sanctions, may well persuade the mullahs to retreat across the golden bridge of peace.
WHILE IN the Middle East, you will be meeting leaders and ordinary people. It is important to understand the difference between democratically elected leaders, such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu; unelected leaders, such as King Abdullah of Jordan; and leaders who fall somewhere in between, such as the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Israeli leaders directly represent the will of their constituents, as evidenced by the complex results of the recent election. If you want to influence Israel in the direction of making painful compromises in the interests of peace, you must persuade the Israeli public. That is not as much the case in either Jordan or the Palestinian Authority, though with the advent of the Arab Spring, the voices of the people count more today than they did before.
Israelis are very opinionated, somewhat distrustful and quite worried about the future. They will seek to interpret (perhaps overinterpret) every word, gesture and silence. They will watch for changes in nuance between what you say to them and what you say to Arab leaders.
They want very much to trust you and they will if you are open and frank with them, as I know you will be.
Israelis desperately want peace, normalization and a predictable future for their children.
They also want and need security in a neighborhood that is becoming increasingly unstable, unpredictable and dangerous.
Israelis love and admire America and its people. They know that Americans, by and large, support them, while Europeans are falling away. It is important that you reaffirm the mutuality of interests and admiration between the United States and Israel. Israelis will express appreciation to you for what our country has done to enhance the security of Israel. I hope you will express, on behalf of the American people, our appreciation for what Israel has contributed to the United States and to the world during the short 65 years of its existence as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It’s a great and positive alliance. May it go from strength to strength.
The writer is a prominent professor of law at Harvard University and a well-known advocate for Israel.