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Posted by on Jun 5, 2009 in At TMV | 0 comments

Late to the Cairo Speech Reaction Party


Tzipi Livni, current leader of the opposition party (Kadima) in Israel

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I published a post last night with the same title as this one. Something about the prior version troubled me. So I revisited it and finally decided (i) it was not balanced enough, and (ii) I didn’t have enough expertise on Israel/Middle East matters to be making the suggestions I had made. Unable to immediately correct those deficiencies, I deleted the post and shut down for the evening. This morning, I took a fresh look at the matter, and decided to try again, hopefully with greater balance and less of my own, inexpert opinion.

We start, today, with Hugh Hewitt, who accused Obama (in the President’s Cairo speech) of equating the historic travails of the Jews and Palestinians, largely because the President talked about the former and segued to the latter with the phrase “on the other hand.” When I first read Hewitt’s take, I immediately wondered why he chose this seemingly strained tact but glossed over the following (and similar) words from Obama:

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. 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.

To my under-educated mind, these words appear to be quite bold and direct, an unequivocating rebuke of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his ilk. Still, Hewitt chose to focus on what he saw as the “moral equivalance” of the phrase “on the other hand.”

Jeffrey Goldberg had a reaction similar to mine, directed not at Hewitt but at un-named “right-wing Israelis.”

An African-American President with Muslim roots stands before the Muslim world and defends the right of Jews to a nation of their own in their ancestral homeland, and then denounces in vociferous terms the evil of Holocaust denial, and right-wing Israelis go forth and complain that the President is unsympathetic to the housing needs of settlers. Incredible, just incredible.

In turn, Daniel Gordis spotlights what was missed by both Hewitt (in focusing on a single phrase) and Goldberg (in focusing on the reaction of only “right-wing Israelis”) …

The real news is that contrary to what many expected, or feared, President Obama assumed positions virtually identical to those of Israel’s political center –- namely, that the Palestinians must renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist, while Israel must cease settlement building and permit a Palestinian state to arise. Now, Benjamin Netanyahu’s problem is that it’s difficult to distinguish between President Obama and Tzipi Livni.

Where Gordis opts to compare Obama and Livni, I recall these words from former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami:

Israel must admit once and for all that the territorial phase of Zionism has ended, dismantle most of the West Bank settlements, and help create a viable Palestinian state as soon as possible. This is Israel’s only chance to seal its 1948 victory — which has been constantly challenged ever since — before the swelling tide of Islamic fundamentalism drowns the existing Arab regimes and dooms the prospects of an enduring Arab-Israeli peace.