Obama Speech Mired in Zionist Rhetoric

By James M. Wall

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu returned to Washington this weekend for his annual love fest with AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is holding its annual Policy Committee meeting Sunday through Tuesday.

President Obama followed up his speech to his Arab Spring presentation at the State Department, Thursday, by reiterating his comments on Israel at the AIPAC conference Sunday morning.

The President’s speech Thursday provided an overview of the changes now sweeping the Arab world.  Late in that address, Obama turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Unfortunately, in linking the changes emerging from the Arab Spring to the future of the Palestinian Territory, the President was playing with a very bad hand.

He is a man locked into the rhetoric of the past, honed over decades by Israeli propagandists and Israel’s many friends in the US.

The President is a terrific orator. But his rhetoric in this speech needs a careful exegesis to bring out its blatant contradictions. 

It is not easy to please Israel’s many friends in the US while attempting, rather desperately, to balance the suffering and the hopes of Israel and the Palestinians. He did not succeed.

Consider his first reference to the suffering of the two “sides”:

For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.

For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.

Note carefully how he illustrates the “two sides”, trying, unsuccessfully to balance the suffering of an occupier with that of the occupied. The Israeli suffering he cites is that of children who live in fear of dying. His example of Palestinian suffering is more abstract, the humiliation of occupation and the quest for nationhood.

The bombing of Israeli buses is from the past; the suffering of Palestinian children, which the president does not specifically mention, is existential, ongoing, constant and a daily threat with no end in sight.

President Obama said he would talk about “security and territory”. He would “put off” the sensitive issues of refugees and Jerusalem, the same sensitive issues negotiators have “put off” for decades.

President Obama also dutifully followed the Zionist line that the “two parties” should negotiate between themselves.  Any involvement by the United Nations is merely symbolic and is harmful to Israel. Here is his specific complaint:

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

“Delegitimize Israel”? How does recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders “delegitimize Israel?”

And what is “symbolic” about the UN recognizing a Palestinian state? It is not “symbolic”; it is a legitimizing action on behalf of the Palestinians just as much as the UN’s creation of the Israeli state in 1948 was a legitimizing action.

The President continued:

Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

The President was talking about UN recognition before he moved quickly into the issue of Hamas which he insists on calling a “terrorist” organization.

The trouble with tossing in the “right to exist” phrase, is that Obama ignores the fact that nations do not have the “right to exist”. They simply exist within borders that their neighbors accept as legitimate because of historical circumstances. There are no “rights” involved.

It is embarrassing for our president to allow himself to be dragged into using the Zionist “right to exist” shibboleth (See Judges 12 for the term’s origins.).

And while we are reflecting on President Obama’s embrace of traditional Israeli-American propaganda language, these two short sentences do not sound like Obama; rather, they sound like something lifted from a White House manual on “How to Speak Israeli”:

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable.

What exactly is this “shared history” and what exactly are our “shared values”?

Modern Israel’s history begins in 1948.  Aside from pushing the UN to recognize the state, and selling it arms, what have we shared? OK, we did share the pragmatic belief that Israel was our bulwark against communism in the Middle East.

In his report on the White House Friday meeting between Netanyahu and Obama, Jewish blogger Richard Silverstein includes an incisive reminder of what “shared values” now mean to American politicians, from the far religious right to the Obama White House:

Obama again, in remarks after the two-hour meeting, noted that Israel was a “Jewish state” making no reference to the fact that it was also composed of a significant minority of non-Jewish citizens. It would be as if a foreign leader congratulated the US. for being a Christian nation. It sure would make John Hagee happy.

When Obama bragged, in his speech, about the US killing of Osama bin Laden, he was providing a further example of the values that Israel and the US share. Our Navy Seals killed an unarmed man who could have been sedated and delivered to the American judicial system. Was that option even considered in advance?

A trial for Osama bin Laden would have been more consistent with our American values than the practice of assassinating enemies, a standard we learned from  our Israeli friends, who have long killed their opponents by assassinations.

In his speech, Obama asserts that “every state has the right to self-defense”.

Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security.

Makes sense. No nation wants to be without the ability to defend its own citizens. But, then Obama adds this remarkable exception:

The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.

This is a convoluted sentence that could be construed to suggest that when Israel withdraws its military forces from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, it will continue to provide “security” for the new sovereign state of Palestine, which will not have its own military forces.

Or, does the sentence say that Palestine will be left with no defenses? Difficult to tell from this sentence in what was reported to be some frantic, last minute speech revisions.

Whatever it was intended to say, the defense exception for Palestine is a stunningly ugly example of Obama’s embrace of Zionist–as in, whatever is best for Israel–values.

Three days before Obama’s speech, President Mahmoud Abbas wrote a guest column for the New York Times. He began with a story:

Sixty-three years ago, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria. He took up shelter in a canvas tent provided to all the arriving refugees.

Though he and his family wished for decades to return to their home and homeland, they were denied that most basic of human rights. That child’s story, like that of so many other Palestinians, is mine.

President Abbas linked his personal story to the decision of his government to request international recognition as a state along the 1967 borders. That request will also ask that the new state of Palestine be “admitted as a full member of the United Nations.” Abbas added:

Many are questioning what value there is to such recognition while the Israeli occupation continues. Others have accused us of imperiling the peace process. We believe, however, that there is tremendous value for all Palestinians — those living in the homeland, in exile and under occupation. . . .

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Our quest for recognition as a state should not be seen as a stunt; too many of our men and women have been lost for us to engage in such political theater.

We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland because we have been negotiating with the State of Israel for 20 years without coming any closer to realizing a state of our own.

The Barack Obama who said in his May 19 speech that the US “will oppose an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others”, is not the Barack Obama who dismisses the Palestinian appeal to the UN General Assembly as merely a “symbolic action” designed “to isolate Israel”.

The Obama speech was both a missed opportunity and a sad failure.

The picture of the Palestinian woman with a flag at the top of this page, and the picture of Mahmoud Abbas, are from Intifada Palestine.

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 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.
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15 Responses to Obama Speech Mired in Zionist Rhetoric

  1. Robert H Stiver says:

    A great deconstruction of the most despicable hypocrisy. I tuned in late for Obama’s paean to Zionist psychosis and his studied ignoring of international law (the right of return, UNSC Res. 242, etc.), catching only the Palesrael portion. I was revulsed by nearly every utterance out of his mouth, continually shouting at my monitor screen “What you are saying should be reversed and applied directly to Israel!”

  2. Rod Parrott says:

    Thanks for parsing Obama’s speech. I didn’t see all of it, but am glad he put Israeli-Palestinian peace in the context of the “Arab Spring.” I guess I glossed over most of usual pro-Israel language, assuming that he couldn’t say much in view of the need for American Jewish support for 2012.

    I’m actually more hopeful that Bibi’s frenetic over-response (call to Clinton; “lecture” to the President about being realistic) gives Obama the opening he needs to frame matters differently for the upcoming UN debate. To wit: 1) noting that the PM listed the 1967 borders as “indefensible,” the President and his aides could now make a long list of Israel’s actions since 1947 that really are indefensible under international law; and 2) noting Bibi’s references to “facts on the ground,” Obama could remind Israel that a) those “facts” (i.e. settlements) really are being illegally constructed in the first place and b) if Israel could move 750,000 Palestinians to the north and east in 1948-1949, it really could move a mere 300,000 settlers south and west back into Israel. If Bibi over-played his hand, maybe some realism will settle in!

  3. Nahida Halaby Gordon says:

    Thank you for this insightful enumeration of Mr. Obama’s many contradictory remarks.

    For all those who continually affirm Israel’s “right” to exist or who insist that Palestinians must recognize Israel’s “right” to exist and even now to recognize Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state”, I say that what is being asked is approval of the destruction of the Palestinian homeland and the continued subjugation of an entire people. It tells all Palestinians that it was “right” to terrorize, massacre and dispossess them in 1947-48. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians both within the 1949 armistice lines was deemed necessary so that a state free of Palestinians be formed. A further sequel to this wish is the continued dispossession of Palestinians both within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. No state has a “right” to exist and it is only states that recognize the existence of other states. An unintended consequence Mr. Obama’s insistence that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist is an implication that he thinks that Palestine is already a state!

  4. Samia Khoury says:

    Thank you so much for this excellent analysis of Obama’s speech. What lop sided logic indeed. This is the man whom we thought would be a fresh breeze that could usher a new wave of American policy regarding our region, but he turned out a real tsunami. What a shame and what a disappointment. I remember how much he stressed on Justice in his inaugural speech. If that is how he translates the concept of justice then I would feel sorry not only for us the Palestinians, but for the people of his own nation. Samia

  5. Interesting says:

    “The bombing of Israeli buses is from the past” dont anti-tank rockets count?
    “Delegitimize Israel”? How does recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders “delegitimize Israel?” So you do not support the immoral “right” of return?

  6. Thomas Chisholm says:

    I was sick. However, I don’t recall any previous President or official of the State Dept. even mentioning the Palestinians.
    I am also nauseated that Net will speak to the congress. Who the hell is running this country? The tail continues to wag the dag and the Palestinian Gulag continues, the people, real people still deprived of civil and human rights.

    I’ll call the Reps from Wisconsin and speak to whomever answers the phone but only 500,000 protesters at the White House and the Capitol will help the Palestinians

  7. I believe you do have it right, Jim. And Zionism is the big problem, because so much of the American public, the church-goers, have Zionism built into their New Testament religion. Without usually calling it by that name, they nevertheless honor it by praying to the god of Israel, who became the Christian God, by hearing readings from the Gospel of Matthew and from the Old Testament about the “chosen people”, and even from some of the hymns they sing. The fear of being called anti-Semitic helps deter them from in any way objecting to the idea that Palestine is the chosen land for God’s chosen people. Thus they are scarcely concerned about the fate of the Palestinians and its refugees.

  8. Bill Gepford says:

    A great and courageous job of analysis. Unfortunately, Zionists (Christian and Jewish) will contiue to support the Zionists. I heard Netanyahu say that this is the last chance for Israel to claim its “rights.” But does Obama really support the destruction of the Palestinian community in order to guarantee the “right” of Israel to land that has been occupied by Palestinians for thousands of years also? Is this really what God wants, to put it in religious language? I am really disappointed by Obama’s speech. This kind of rhetoric will only continue the violence and prolong the suffering on both sides.

  9. Allison says:

    Did the UN actually create the State of Israel? Or did the early zionists simply declare it?

  10. gen katz says:

    Thanks – it explains my discomfort with Obama’s speech.

  11. Bob Hannum says:

    While bouncing along in a bus many years ago in Israel, I heard an Iisraeli gentleman wave his arms toward Jordan, and say, “Maybe someday all of that will belong to us as well.” When I couple that sort of statement with the Biblical assertion that Israel will be inclusive of all the lands to the Tigris and Euphrates, I understand the comment by the Hamas prime minister, who once said, “Which Israel do they want us to accept?”

    Declaring its borders is an essential beginning in serious negotiations.

    I wonder if the Government of Israel has ever directly asked Hamas to change its constitution and accept the State of Israel, or is their stated certainty that such acceptance would never happen an excuse to keep Hamas at arms length and an enemy?

  12. Patricia Pynchon says:

    So, what can we do about it? How will we get the President and the congress on the right track? Obviously Obama stands behind the criminal takeover of Palestine. Is there any one in the government who can see the injustice clearly.?
    One would expect the Palestinians to hate the Israelis, considering the atrocities perpetrated against them, and continuously. It is a shame that out of their frustration, missiles were sent into Israel, it only gives the Israelis an argument, what foolishness. But on the other hand, they do not admit to their own atrocities, to the astounding number of Palestinians killed, including children, and sometimes quite arbitrarily. The Palestines are living a holocaust.

  13. UmerSultan says:

    A great commentary on the Speech. Thank you for your insight.

  14. Interesting says:

    Patricia,
    “The Palestines are living a holocaust” ? With better economic and heath stats than almost every Arab nation in the Mid east? Check their life expectancy and compare it to Egypt, Syria etc. They also have one of the fastest growing population on earth. Yes, they also have political issues, but this is not a “holocaust”. Seriously, you make reasoned debate impossible with statements like that.

  15. Awad Paul Sifri says:

    Thank you for this analysis. It is obvious that the US is incapable of being an honest or credible broker and is only seeking Israel’s continued occupation under new packaging. The UN Resolutions 242 and 338 have already established that the borders of israel should be those of 1967, with “minor” adjustments. President Obama has succumbed to AIPAC and has effectively given a green light to “expand” them to whatever Israel wishes. The fact that the Palestinian David is supposed to be negotiating with the israeli Goliath will not enable the 2 parties to have any meaningful dialogue. It is perscribed to give Israel more time to build even more settelements. ALL settlements are illegal and this should not be negotiable. No “unequal” land swaps are acceptable for the same reasons.

    How could any rational person accept the argument that Israel needs security guarantees, when it defeated the Arab armies in every single war and possesses a monopoly of nuclear arsenal? On the other hand, it is Palestine that actually needs security guarantees and should demand them.

    Palestinians have recognized Israel since 1993, or even earlier. Obama should demand that Israel recognize Palestine. Netanyahu’s car-salesman jargon about Israel’s so-called, “non-defensible” borders reminds one of Nazi Germany’s expansionist drives founded on the same logic.

    Palestinian right of return to Palestine Pre-’48 is according to UN resolution 194 of 1948/49 and it has to be honoured for those choosing to return or to be compensated. Neither Israel, nor its side-kick, has the right to ignore this resolution. East Jerusalem is “Arab” and the “eternal capital” of Palestine, as part of an undivided East-West entity of “Greater Jerusalem”. If Israel rejects peace-with-justice, then a ONE-STATE solution becomes the only logical path to take.

    Regardless, the Palestinians should never, never, never allow the honeyed promise of renewed “peace process” stop them from relentlessly seeking recognition as an independent state of Palestine, come September, 2011.

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