Sunday, June 07, 2009

Obama's Perspective

Much has been said and written about Obama's Cairo speech. I am going to add a couple of thoughts of my own. (For some other responses, see here and here)

Let me begin by saying that Obama's speech was an attempt to be balanced, sophisticated and intelligent about the Middle East, respectful and generous about Islam. From an American perspective I think it was a good speech. From our perspective however, Obama's attempt to embrace the Muslim world isn't such great news for the Jews. We certainly drew the short straw. To quote a summary from the (London) Times:

"His toughest message was reserved for Jewish settlers on the West Bank, whose communities he termed illegitimate. He added that Jerusalem, claimed by Israel as its capital, should be a home for Jews and Christians and Muslims."

I should add that I support Obama, I like him, and his general approach. I should also add that I am frequently despondant that our leaders, both Left and Right, seem to be in an impasse as regards the Peace Process. The Right ignore the Palestinian's Rights, the Left seem unrealistic as to the threats of the enemy and the need to address and cultivate the Jewish soul of Medinat Yisrael. New ideas ARE needed. Israel is crying out for solid and final borders and a solution to the stalemate so that we can apply our energies to other things. Nonetheless, it is not fun to have the American President put us on the spot and effectively point the finger primarily at Israel as the major culprit or hindrance to Peace.

I have two comments.

1. There is no doubt whatsoever that Obama has shifted the U.S. administration's attitudes towards Israel. (I wrote about this months ago - link). And this shift is uncomfortable from the Israeli perspective.

One feels that Obama is picking on us in particular, day by day. I cannot help feeling that the pressure that he is applying regarding Israel is excessive. After all, Obam has repeated at least five times over the past 3 weeks as to how Israel must stop settlement activity, Clinton has also driven the message home, and so has Biden. what happened to being "diplomatic" in the sphere of diplomacy? This is a very heavy handed approach.

And one wonders, is settlement activity the most heinous crime in the region?
why is this policy in particular being singled out? - Is it the most dramatic obstacle to a two-state solution?
And whereas I feel that he is treating Iran with kid's gloves, we are feeling the heat.

At some level, this single minded focus on settlement building feels simplistic and shallow, easy pickings. But there are so many other factors to this crisis, not least amongst them, Hamas's ongoing refusal to recognise Israel, that one wonders how Obama can see settlement restriction as the panacea to a 100 year war.

2. And possibly this second point will help us understand how Obama sees things. See this quote from his speech:

"Palestinians must abandon violence. 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."

To understand Obama, one must realise that the civil rights movement, the oppression of the blacks in America and their eventual equal rights, is a force that animates his perspective. (Just read his book. It is at the centre of his consciousness.)

In this passage he explains something simple. From his viewpoint, Israelis are the whites, the oppressors, and the Palestinians are the oppressed, the blacks. For me this may explain why Obama feels so passionate about this issue. It also helps me understand why we shouldn't anticipate Obama to sympathise with our perspective. The way he sees things, the Palestinians are an oppressed nation. They are his brethren and they should be freed from their slavery. It's not a Muslim thing; it is deeper and more emotive than all that. His heart lies with the Palestinians. we are the rich, white slaveowners.

Now that doesn't look to good for our prospects over the coming years.

It's going to be a rough ride.


Bez said...

hey rav alex,
i think you're right when you say obama sees the israeli/palestinian conflict with all the baggage of growing up black in america. but i don't think that necessarily makes him pick sides; alot of commentators made the point that his seder on pesach was because the story of the exodus, jews marching out of slavery to israel, resonates strongly for him as a black man. true, he may be harsher on israel than bush was, but i wouldn't put it down to him equating the palestinians with the blacks and israelis with the whites. it could very well be that both sides are at once oppressors and victims (you could even extend this to obama himself, being oppressed within america as a black man, yet oppressing others outside america through american foreign policy. but that's pretty far flung). point is, i like the guy.
hope you're well, glad to see the blog back in full swing.

Alex said...

I like Obama too.
Currently reading his book as well.
But still, when the heat is on Israel it feels a tad uncomfortable.