Obama Is The “tough-loving, truth-telling friend” Israel Needs

by James M. Wall                 Obama Bibi photo

Early in my writing career, I received a personal note from a well-known writer which so boosted my morale that fifty years later, his note remains deeply embedded in my memory bank. What I had written prompted this response: “I wish I had written that”. 

I cannot remember what prompted such praise. I seriously doubt that my words were that special. Nevertheless, I was happy to read them.

The purpose of this blog is to point to the wisdom, research, creative thinking and well crafted writing of many people.  I try to include as many links to these writers as possible. I have long ago decided that there are far better and much wiser writers out there than the author of this blog.

Now, instead of saying “I wish I had written that”, I spend my time telling others what the wiser ones are writing and saying.

I want to start with a conference I attended last week at the Carter Center, in Atlanta, Georgia, under the auspices of the Human Rights Program, of the Center.  This opening paragraph from the Carter Center’s press release reports the results of the conference, the details of which I will return to in future postings.

National Christian leaders meeting at The Carter Center on May 14-15 sent the following letter to President Barack Obama following two days of discussions on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Citing a growing sense of despair in the Holy Land, the letter conveys to the President support for his efforts to push for a two-state solution and calls for an immediate opening of the Gaza borders.

There were more than 40 participants sitting around a large table in the Center’s conference room which overlooks beautiful grounds and a small lake. It was a group of leaders who were diverse in their makeup and deeply involved in the topic at hand: Towards a New Christian Consensus: Peace with Justice in the Holy Land.

Christian church leaders, and experts from the Jewish and Muslim communities revealed that for all their diversity, they believe this is a crisis moment for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. These leaders want the President to know they are prepared to call upon their religious communities to confront that crisis.

The group around the table represented constituencies in the U.S. and in Palestine, which share this awareness of crisis. The group included, just to suggest the diverse nature of the group, the Rev. Dr. William Shaw,  president of National Baptist Convention, Inc.; the Rev Mark S. Hanson,  presiding  bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Warren Clark, executive director, Churches for Middle East Peace; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, General Assembly Stated Clerk for the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.; the Rev. Canon John L. Peterson, Canon for Global Justice and Reconciliation, Washington National Cathedral; Lynne Hybels, Advocate for Global Engagement, Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois; and Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners.

Conference attendees and speakers are movers and shakers in the national Christian community. There is no better sign that change is coming on this major issue of peace and justice, than to realize that it would have been unthinkable twenty years ago for such a diverse and influential religious group to engage in such candid talk on peace and justice on this topic.

I know this for a fact.  I began covering national and regional church meetings in the 1960s. In those days the topic was not even on the religious radar screen.

Now it is. Which is why it was an occasion to rejoice when at the end of the Carter Center two-day gathering, conference attendees sent a letter to President Obama, which essentially, said, as one participant noted, “we’ve got your back, Mr. President”:

Our pledge to you is to continue to build constituencies that will advocate for a just political settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  We request that you call upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to embrace the principle of a two-state solution.  As members of your administration have already suggested, we share a concern about how Israeli settlements make that solution less and less possible. 

Furthermore, we are concerned that a way be found immediately to open the Gaza borders in a manner that respects both humanitarian and security concerns.  

(For the entire statement, return to the story from the Carter Center, and while you are there, pause to give thanks for the names who signed the letter to President Obama and for the religious bodies they represent. When you reach my name, you don’t need to give thanks, just keep reading this blog. You are my constituents.)

There are other signs of change.

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu came to Washington this week to face a new sheriff in town. The Prime Minister knows he still has the U.S. Congress in his pocket, but he also knows that Obama is enormously popular with the American public. And he knows Obama is skilled as a negotiator with individuals and groups (and countries) with different ideologies and agendas.

What sort of man is this president with whom Bibi is meeting? Few offer an answer as perceptive as this from Tony Karon:

Against expectations, Barack Obama may not be turning out to be the kind of indulgent enabler Israel’s leaders want, but instead the kind of tough-loving, truth-telling friend Israel needs: the friend that forces you to recognise that your pathological behaviour cannot continue, for your own good and for the good of those around you.

Having been so unconditionally coddled during the Bush years, Israel’s political establishment has been shocked by Mr Obama’s apparent fair-minded pragmatism.

No sooner had it begun to digest his insistence on a solution to the conflict (two independent states living side by side) not shared by the Israeli government, than it learnt to its consternation that Mr Obama has ended the practice of clearing every US statement on the Middle East with the Israelis beforehand.

It had hardly absorbed the shock of Washington publicly declaring that it expects Israel – like other non-signatory nuclear powers – to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, than it was directly warned by Mr Obama to refrain from launching any military action against Iran without consulting Washington.

Got that, Mr. Prime Minister? Two states are paramount; U.S. statements will not be (officially) cleared in Tel Aviv; we expect you to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; no more of this “Israel does not have nukes” charade; and, by the way, no attacks on Iran.

Bibi will resist, as he did after his Monday meeting with the President.  But Israel’s new leader is smart enough to know that he needs to maintain a good relationship with his U.S. backers.  But, as Karon notes, he can expect no more Bush-Cheney coddling. 

Even the New York Times ran an advance story on Netanyahu’s visit which quoted, favorably, from not-so-usual-suspects Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy (who spoke at the Carter Center Conference last week), Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian-American journalist from Chicago, and (drum roll, please), Charles Freeman, recently the victim of a vicious series of AIPAC-inspired attacks.

Speaking of Freeman, you can read more on his experiences in this blog, and in a longer treatment of Freeman Affair I wrote for Link, published by Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU), now available both in print and on line. Link’s archives offer a rich tapestry of the long struggle waged for peace and justice in the Middle East under the leadership of longtime Link editor, John Mahoney. 

Along with the fiction that there are no nukes in Israel, a fiction the media and U.S. political leaders know to be untrue even as they promote it, there is the fiction that AIPAC has nothing to do with the all those pro-Israel Congressional resolutions and press releases. That curtain has been lifted, as Al Kamen notes in the Washington Post:

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent out a “Dear Colleague” e-mail Tuesday asking for signatures “to the attached letter to President Obama regarding the Middle East peace process.”

The letter says the usual stuff, emphasizing that Washington “must be both a trusted mediator and a devoted friend to Israel” and noting: “Israel will be taking the greatest risks in any peace agreement.”

Curiously, when we opened the attachment, we noticed it was named “AIPAC Letter Hoyer Cantor May 2009.pdf.”

Seems as though someone forgot to change the name or something. AIPAC? The American Israel Public Affairs Committee? Is that how this stuff works?

Yes, Virginia, AIPAC writes those resolutions and even handles the press releases.  

Finally, even newly-minted Democrat Arlen Specter is starting to feel shaky with his exposure as one-sided on the Middle East. This news item appeared the day Netanyahu came to Washington:

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 5/18/09) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced today that Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has canceled a scheduled appearance at an “anti-Islam” conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by a right-wing think tank headed by Daniel Pipes, who is regarded by many Muslims as one of the nation’s leading Islamophobes.

CAIR reports that Specter, who was to give the opening address at the conference, cited a “scheduling conflict” for his decision to withdraw from the event. As late as today, media schedules listed Specter as a speaker at the conference.

The false premise of the conference, called “Libel Lawfare: Silencing Criticism of Radical Islam,” is that American Muslims are involved in a concerted effort to suppress free speech by misusing the American legal system.

Photo above is from Getty.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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4 Responses to Obama Is The “tough-loving, truth-telling friend” Israel Needs

  1. Harris Fawell says:

    Jim: Thanks again for your always insightful comments in regard to America’s policies dealing with Israel. It is very much appreciated. I wonder when Congress will wake up. Harris

  2. Elam Nunnally says:

    I, too, am very encouraged by President
    Obama’s stance, his insistence on two independent states and by his calling for the end to settlements.

    Delighted to learn of the conference at the Carter Center and the resulting news release.

    Thanks for keeping us informed.


  3. Sally Mitchell says:

    Thanks for the article and for your support with others for a Palestinian state. I can’t believe that the strong supporters of Israel take such positions. Sally

  4. wallwritings says:

    To all first time visitors:

    If you would like to be added to our Wall Writings alert mailing list, just send an email to jimwall@aol.com. Once on the list, you will be notified by email when each new posting is online. Meanwhile, all previous postings are always available on the Home Page at wallwritings.wordpress.com.

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