Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Afternoon After the Speech

As a historian, I could quible with the speech Obama just gave in Cairo. He set up a partial narrative of the past, choosing the elements that were convenient to string together a vision of the future as he'd like it to be. Yet he's not a historian. He's the most powerful man in the world, and he's trying to use his limited power to make it a better place. The narrative he presented and the vision drawn from it were admirable. It was a fine articulation of an Enlightened goal for humanity. Sadly, it's a rare politician who ever takes the time even to try to make such an encompassing articulation, much less set it up as a beacon to guide the formulation of policy. He deserves credit for trying. His determination to "tell truth" was also admirable: the speech may have been an interpretation of history but it was consistent and honest about its essential componants: Fight violent extremists; two states in Israel/Palestine (with a loud rejection of Holocaust denial); no nuclear race which at this point means no nuclear Iran; democracy (tho he could have been more explicit for my taste); equality of women; respect for all religions (though he mentioned only the Abrahamic ones); equal opportunities.

What was there not to agree with?

A wise Israeli Prime Minster such as we don't have, would have gone on air two minutes after Obama's speech and said "As the elected leader of Israel and foremost political figure in the Jewish world, I welcome President Obama's speech wholeheartedly. He speaks for us, too, in our joint aspirations for peace dignity freedom and well-being in the Middle East and everywhere. We will do whatever we can to assist him in realizing his fine vision".

Let the Arabs wriggle and squirm. Why should we be defensive after such a positive speech? Of course much of what he asked for will never happen. Let the enemies of the vision stand forth and reject it. How did we paint ourselves into their camp?


G said...

Sir, thank you. You have articulated exactly how I feel about this speech and how we shoudl respond.

Shalom, Cherry Hill, NJ said...

Ironically, while Obama notes the Treaty of Tripoli, the Marine anthem which recalls the Barbary Pirates (the shores of Tripoli...)and their history of murdering and enslaving Westerners is far more representative of history.
Furthermore, he presents a fantasy that will only harm Israel--that a two state solution can be implemented soon, if only Israel would allow it. He says that Hamas must end violence--but it won't. How are they and Fatah to govern the Palestinians-- as they are killing each other right now? So, does he really mean a three state solution? Or a two and a half state one?
Obama took his apology tour to Turkey, where they promptly held military manuevers with Syria. He spoke nicely to Iran--and they promptly tested new missiles. Perhaps Netanyahu is being too accomodating, not too difficult. Perhaps we should learn from Sri Lanka, and just suck it up and get the job done.

Maddux314 said...


I think what you are missing is that the PM knows things that we do not about Obama. He has been threatened behind the scenes in ways that would probably shock us, including withholding vital military supplies to Israel. Therefore his spin is not your spin because he has already heard and seen with his own eyes that Obama is hostile to Israel. How else can we explain why the administrating is seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Israel, while making only pro forma denunciations of Iran's nuclear ambitions, and even endorsing it to some extent. Israel is in serious trouble and I pray that Jews everywhere realize this before it is too late.

Maddux314 said...

But I do agree that BB should call for a summit between him and Arab leaders to discuss peace without any preconditions. The Arab leaders of course won't agree to this and then Obama will be pushed back onto his heels to defend his failed outreach.

Zachary said...

Maddux: That's the great thing about secret "threats," isn't it? Because they are so secret, none of us can prove you wrong (regardless of whether or not what you are saying is true)!

Yaacov: I think that the Israeli PM didn't endorse Obama's speech right away as a political move. Obama asks for concessions and compromises from both "sides" so to speak, and for Israel to seem overjoyed at this would come across as suspicious. As if Israel and the US still have that "in pocket" relationship and are trying to cover it up.

Anonymous said...

has Obama also asked for the slanderous cartoons published regularly by Israel's neighbours to be stopped i.e. Israel is asked for something concrete and definable, its neighbours are asked for something rather wholesale like cessation of violence which you can always wriggle out of by claiming it was self-defense -
the great danger with Obama is that he speaks very seductively in a cultured and educated way which seduces all the lovers of language but I do not believe that he will tolerate any resistance to the implementation of what he decides to be right, period!!!
He will love Israel under the condition that it behaves itself or else??? That's how you treat a child. I will not read his speech because it makes me sad how all the world is falling for him - his administration MAY turn out for the good but to presume that on account of his speeches is that all too common age-old folly (and that by Dr. Lozowick who wrote such a penetrating piece on one of Obama's books"
I will not read his speech the London Times' telling headline has made me sad enough - my translation of it is "hurrah, finally somebody is going to teach these Israelis some discipline"
"Obama delivers strong attack on Israeli settlements in speech to Muslim world"
PS: I am all for this constant indiscriminate Muslim-Bashing to stop but not via aksing Israel for yet more and more and more - look at the Bruce Springfield-concert episode at Jeffrey Goldberg's blog and also read his comments on settlements and you get an idea of what's wanted in everyday language

Nadingo said...


How is it considered "hostile to Israel" to attach conditions to military aid? If a teenager's parents stop paying his allowance if he acts against their wishes, does that mean that they are hostile to their child? Israel is completely free to ignore Obama's "threats," as you deem them, so long as Israel is willing to cut the umbilical cord linking it to U.S. military aid.

Marek said...


Israel is not a teenager and the US is not his parent. Your comparison is at least senseless.

Us is providing about 2 - 3 billions in aid to Egypt. Is Obama demanding something from Egypt? Is Obama criticizing Egypt?

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps we should learn from Sri Lanka, and just suck it up and get the job done."

Writing in from New Jersey, with no skin in the game and all the bluster in the world. How about you go live with the people you identify as "we?"

Jeffrey said...

Marek: I believe the billions in aid to Egypt are so that it keeps recognizing Israel's right to exist. That is, our aid to Egypt is also a gift to Israel. And Obama implicitly criticized Egypt's government when he invited members of the Muslim Brotherhood (banned as a political party in Egypt) to his speech.

As Nadingo said, Israel just needs to refuse our aid for us to stop meddling in its business.

Anonymous said...

you forget that Israel is also a (valuable to the USand to Europe) pawn in a power game
- the US would not look too good (or strong) if it would blink on Israel just as it wouldn't have looked too good during the Cold War had it blinked on Berlin
Anyone who dreams of the big Kumbaya between the US (and or Europe) and the non-"western" part of the world once Israel is as meek as they want it to be is deluding himself
PS: did you know that Byzantium even at its military peak paid tribute to the states on its borders in order to be let alone and in order to have buffers against the farther away - today it is called aid me thinks ...

Shalom, Cherry Hill, NJ said...

To Anonymous (and how brave you sound, with that signature)

Having served in a combat infantry unit in Lebanon in the 80's--both regular service and miluim, after having to acquire parental consent to do so (a requirement as I'm an only child and could only serve in a combat unit with said consent) I'm comfortable with the skin that I've had in the game. If it's not sufficient for you, as we used to say 'kfotz lee al ha **** (Ya'akov can provide the missing word, if he feels it proper on a family blog--and you are unfamiliar with it).

Marek said...


Well, Egypt has a peace agreement with Israel. Consequently, the point about recognition is somewhat moot.

Egypt is paid mostly to help keep the current regime afloat. Whether this is a gift to Israel is at best debatable.

On the other hand EU, Russia and others are not providing a military or economic aid to Israel - yet they all are meddling full time in Israel's politics. Consequently I do not see why would the US stop even after cutting the aid to Israel.

Any examples of the US criticizing Egypt explicitly?

Nadingo said...


It's called a metaphor, and it's meant to illustrate a point. Do you honestly think that the U.S. should dole out foreign aid without regard for whether the country in question is acting in the U.S.'s interests? Whether you like it or not, it's what states do. They use their resources to advance their own interests. The fact that the U.S. has given unconditional aid to Israel for so many years is the exception, not the rule.

As you state, aid to Egypt is meant to support the current regime, which would immediately be replaced by the incredibly popular Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. If you don't think that Israel is better off with the current regime in Egypt, rather than the Muslim Brotherhood, you're fooling yourself.

Finally, who gives a fig what EU and Russia say about Israel's politics? It's precisely because they don't give aid to Israel that it's so easy to ignore their critiques. All Obama has to do is state that he actually means it when he says "no more settlement development," and everybody pays attention.

Anonymous said...

"the great danger with Obama is that he speaks very seductively in a cultured and educated way which seduces all the lovers of language but I do not believe that he will tolerate any resistance to the implementation of what he decides to be right, period!!!"
Silke,so you would prefer Obama to speak like Ahmadinedshad,to meet your expectations??
Maybe. let's give it a thought, he really IS the serious and thoughtful person that we can hear and feel here (I can) - wouldn't that be worth a second thought?
I am the last person to support anybody who does anything against Isreal- but here it's different.No period.To compare him to dictators says a lot about your way of thinking (and this is not meant in a disresoectful way!), and what you decided to conclude throughout your life.Will things ever change if we decide the world is only against us? I myself could find hundreds of arguments against Obama- but would they help? They would make me angry,despereate,and even more cynical, and worst: they would prevent me seeing a potential. Here, I'm sorry to think and feel different, we have a great person who means well, and I do respect and value this.It touches me,and we will benefit from it.

Shalom, Cherry Hill, NJ said...

To Nadingo,
You are correct in pointing out that it is proper for the US to give aid in ways that advance American interests. What is so disturbing to me is that Obama seems to be a naive ideologue, and has no clue.

Forgetting Israeli interests, how does Obama's decision to push on the settlements advance American interests? By insisting on stopping 'natural internal growth' he is sure to cause division among many pro-Israel Democrats who otherwise support him, and that will encourage Bibi to resist on that issue, who will have great political problems if he goes along with Obama, anyway. After the accolades in the Arab and anti-Israel press, will the debates make him look stronger or weaker?

Will Obama really play hardball and stop intelligence sharing, foreign aid, and so on? Was this a wise issue to push on-- especially after Turkey embarassed him with the Syrian manuevers after his visit, Iran's continued games, North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, and so on? Domestically, Cheney's speeches, and the Democrat Congress' refusal to fund the closing of Gitmo make him look weak. Even today, Hugo Chavez was mocking him in saying that he and Castro are more Conservative than Obama!

I don't think that Obama is an 'Israel hater'-- I just think that he is a standard far left progressive who is very slick and may do terrible harm to us all in his entirely wrongheaded worldview.

Anonymous said...

here you find an assessment from Robert Satloff and in case you do not remember Mr. Satloff a short reminder.

Does this sentence not remind you of the campaign?

"While the president said a lot, he also didn't say much,"

A lot of people wrote that they felt all aglow and warm and happy after having heard Obama speak but when they tried to remember what he actually said, there was almost nothing.
To say almost nothing is normal for a politician but to make people feel so good that they forget that there was almost nothing makes me deeply weary. And you're stating that I prefer Ahmadinejad's speeches is pure nonsense - as I am quite an admirer of Churchill as a skilled politician and a great writer your insult is not only to me but to Churchill also.

During his two years abroad, Dr. Satloff's personal research also focused on unearthing stories of Arab "heroes" and "villains" of the Holocaust, drawing on archives, interviews, and site visits in eleven countries. His discoveries, which helped convince the German government to award compensation to Jewish survivors of labor camps in North Africa, are the subject of a new book, Among the Righteous: Lost Stories of the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands (PublicAffairs, 2006).

Anonymous said...

Nothing to quibble about? How about the presentation being the lefty moral equivalence between terror, referred to as "resistance" and alleged occupation? How about the implicit demand that Israel surrender its nukes?

Rattling The Kettle said...

Y - a few more back and forths among the commenters, and your comment section can be almost as vitriolic as Haaretz' "talkback" feature!

As to your post, well said.

Anonymous said...

Isn't most US aid to Israel for purchase of US-made weaponry? I often wonder how that aid could be reduced without howling from defense contractors - and their supporters in Congress.

Seems like an empty threat.


Philo-Semite said...

Yaacov, now that the Netanyahu administration has issued a statement praising Obama's speech, will you retract your condemnation of Netanyahu, and admit that you have displayed a disappointing prejudice towards him?

I've generally liked your blog, but seeing your visceral hatred of the man, I now realise that I must take your comments with a large grain of salt.

Philo-Semite said...

Lisa is correct.

Economic aid to Israel ended a year ago, and all US aid to Israel is now "military" - that is, specifically earmarked for military procurement.

Israel obtained the concession of being allowed to spend 20% of that amount in Israel. The rest must be spent in the US.

Jeffrey Yasskin said...

Lisa: Israeli military purchases from the U.S. are less than 0.5% of our purchases from ourselves. I think the contractors will be the least of Obama's worries.

Cherry Hill: Obama's goal is peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Giving the Palestinians their own state is widely seen as the best way to that goal. The settlements (with Yaacov's caveats from other posts), and especially growing settlements are widely seen as a big obstacle to Palestinian statehood. So, if we want peace, it seems to make sense for Obama to push on the settlements to perhaps take some heat off Netanyahu when he tries to deal with them. Which part of that do you disagree with?

Anonymous: I think it's dangerous for Israel to overestimate its own importance to the rest of the world. It's very nice to have a stable, Western-style democracy in the region, but supporting Israel causes all sorts of trouble with the other, much more strategically important countries in the region. Our support may even have prevented some of them from becoming democracies by providing a distraction for potential dissidents. Israel still has our support and is in no immediate danger of losing it, but that support isn't unconditional in the long run.

annie said...

Jeffrey Yaskin, if Israel overestimates its own importance, what do you have to say about all the other countries of the world and the glorious UN itself, who talk about nothing BUT Israel, and how it is Israel and only Israel that is the cause of all the strife and enmity in the world. (exaggerated only slightly).

Overestimate much???? You are clueless.

Anonymous said...

Yeffrey Yaskin,
it is not about whether Israel overestimates irself it is about what an underestimating of the importance of Israel will do to the reputation/status/MachoCredibility of its supporters.
and as to finances: aren't the EU supplying a lot of Gaza maintenance? So we are involved and preach at the same time perfect holyness, pretty disgusting.
Fortunately*) and Unfortunately**) for Israel all seem to have pegged their reputation to it
*) otherwise it wouldn't have been founded, remember even the Russians were staunch supporters until they switched to imperialism accusations the language of which seems unaltered strangely alive and well even today
**) because the supporters impose those impossible to fulfill behaviour rules on Israel, i.e. they want to keep the cake and eat it
David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer have commented
and Tzipi Livni says some common sense non lofty truths

Shalom, Cherry Hill, NJ said...

Yasskin: I disagree with all of it. The logic of your statement “Obama's goal is peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Giving the Palestinians their own state is widely seen as the best way to that goal.” is analogous to saying “The Nazis just want some ‘lebensraum’ and to then live in peace, and letting Mr. Hitler have his way with Czechoslovakia is widely seen as the best way to that goal”. I am not implying that Obama is a Nazi sympathizer; rather, I question the validity of your assertion.

As you must know, the Palestinians threw away many opportunities to build a state, from rolling over for the Jordanians and Egyptians in 1948, to spurning the generous offers offered to Arafat in the past, to flushing Gaza down the toilet after Israel’s foolish decision to withdraw. It seems to me that by continually demanding Israeli concessions, the Arabs are encouraged to refrain from working at improving their society by rooting out terrorists, changing the hate based school curriculum, stopping the hate mongering in the government controlled press and mosques, and so on. If they believed that there would be a severe price to pay for their games, perhaps then there would be some real
progress. As it is, what is their motivation to deal with the real issues that they have, when they can continue to take graft, and point their fingers at Israel and America? If it seems ridiculous that poor Arabs would not see the logic to throwing out the hate mongers who keep them poor and miserable, it also seems ridiculous to me that most Southerners who fought to keep slavery did not themselves own any slaves.

By the way, please address the part of my first post that asked what two state solution ‘is widely seen as the best solution’, as Gaza has control of one territory, Fatah the other, and they are killing each other. Should there then be a ‘three state solution’, or should we help one side to destroy the other, or perhaps put the whole idea on hold until one side emerges victorious? In either case, should we just ignore that both Hamas and Fatah encourages the murder of Jews, and allow the state anyway?

As a final question, please tell me why it matters how large the settlements are, in any case? After all, if over a million Arab Muslims can be citizens of Israel, why can’t tens of thousands of Jews live as citizens in Palestine? If Palestine has to be Judenrein, then what does that tell us about what kind of ‘peace’ we’ll be getting?

Jeffrey Yasskin said...

Oh well, the thread's been Godwinned. I'm out.

Shalom, Cherry Hill, NJ said...

HA! Since I explicitly wrote "I am not implying that Obama is a Nazi sympathizer; rather, I question the validity of your assertion." it seems clear that you simply cannot reply to the specific points made. Just admit it, and you'll *probably* feel less emasculated later on.

Shalom, Cherry Hill, NJ said...

Having never heard of 'Godwin's Law', I found the following part of the link interesting:

"However, Godwin's Law itself can be abused, as a distraction, diversion or even censorship, that fallaciously miscasts an opponent's argument as hyperbole, especially if the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate. A 2005 Reason magazine article argued that Godwin's Law is often misused to ridicule even valid comparisons.[7]"

Christian Atheist said...

Your position seems to me inarguable, not to say obvious.It is much the same argument I find myself making in discussions with left leaning friends.Thank you for not giving up.True peace and justice require that the truth be championed always and at all times.
To quote a great man "Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

Shalom, Cherry Hill, NJ said...

Hi, Christian Athiest,
Thank you for your kind words--likewise, keep on trying. I do have to wonder what a 'Christian Athiest' is, or believes.