All that is said or written about President Barack Obama during these final days before 2016, must be said or written within a darkness that reminds us that our current president will soon be replaced by either Hillary Clinton, or any one of a dozen right wing Republicans, any one of whom will, in comparison, make Obama look like St. Francis of Assisi.
Before his nation’s Memorial Day week-end, President Obama managed to make us even more aware that the Candidate of Hope is certainly no St. Francis.
Against a background of three successive Israeli death-dealing invasions of Gaza, President Obama delivered a speech in Washington’s Adas Israel Conservative Jewish synagogue Thursday.
With no reference to the Gaza invasions, President Obama bragged about being a member of the Jewish “tribe” the way a nerdy kid might try to convince leaders of a Chicago South Side gang that he is truly “with you fellows”.
American liberal Jewish writers gave the speech favorable reviews. My review is more negative.
The speech was a campaign effort to win votes in favor of Obama’s attempt to persuade Congress to support his Iran nuclear arms agreement. The President feels he needs American Jewish support.
It was a worthy cause, to be sure, but at what price did he solicit those votes?
I have read the speech in search of at least one sign that Barack Obama knows he is our last best American hope to release the world from its bondage imposed by the modern state of Israel.
There were no signs, not one. To me, it was a surrender speech coupled with the plea: Let us keep our horses and our deal with Iran, and we will give you our love.
In this instance, “love” means protection in the United Nations, and all the military fire power Israel’s heart desires.
Nathan Gutman gave the speech a favorable review in the Jewish Forward:
Obama chose a complex and subtle message for his Jewish American Heritage Month address at Adas Israel congregation, Washington’s prime Conservative synagogue, where many of the city’s Jewish government official, high profile politicos and journalists come to worship. He sought to explain, not to retract, his criticism of Israel and was met with a welcoming crowd.
“I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America,” Obama said, explaining this is the reason he feels “a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland.”
His audience applauded freely as Obama reminded them that in the White House he had surrounded himself with Jewish advisors.
He made his customary, grinning nod to Rahm Emanuel, who added his White House Chief of Staff job to his ability to raise money from Corporate America, to emerge as a U.S. Congressman and now as the mayor of Chicago.
Gutman quotes Obama:
And as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who’s hosted seven White House Seders and been advised by two Jewish chiefs of staff, I can also proudly say that I’m getting a little bit of the hang of the lingo. But I will not use any of the Yiddish-isms that Rahm Emanuel taught me because I want to be invited back. Let’s just say he had some creative new synonyms for “Shalom.”
Obama repeated his “aw-shucks” appreciation of the honorary “Jewish president” title bestowed on him by Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the Jewish writer who served his tour of duty with the Israeli Defense Force by “making friends” with a Palestinian prisoner he was guarding.
In another rhetorical flourish, he praised the makers of Jewish history and Jewish values. Then sadly, he jumped over Israel’s invasion, destruction and subsequent occupation of Palestine, and landed squarely in the midst of the modern state of Israel, where Obama gave unqualified support for Israel’s absolute “right to exist”.
Does that “right” without question, include the right to create the prison of Gaza?
Obama ignored the Nakba. He quit being an historian of Jewish values and became a southside Chicago politician begging for votes in Tel Aviv. You want jobs? Your uncle need medical help? We are here for you. How about all the weapons your heart desires?
Donald Johnson is especially harsh on the speech under a headline, ‘The grotesque injustice of Obama’s speech at the Washington synagogue”.
He writes that President Obama was “pandering” to what Johnson correctly identifies as Israel’s “sense of entitlement”.
“Obama is pandering to alleged liberals at this synagogue, liberal Zionists, and he gets laughter for saying that Palestinians are not easy partners”.
President Obama surrounded his mention of a future Palestine state with a heavy emphasis on Israel’s need for security, and a tasteless quip: He said:
Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well. (Applause.)
Now, I want to emphasize — that’s not easy. The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners. (Laughter.) The neighborhood is dangerous. And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.
“‘Taint funny, McGee”, as Molly McGee would have said to her husband Fibber. It is not only not funny, but it underscores the pandering nature of the speech.
President Obama reminded his Jewish audience that he has visited the Jewish town of Sderot, which has suffered through rocket attacks from Gaza. By virtue of its proximity to Gaza, Sderot is the only community living in constant danger of the largely ineffective Gaza rockets.
That too is tasteless, comparing Sderot to the invasion destruction and on-going violence in Gaza. The President touches on Gaza suffering by couching it with “rights” language for Israel:
“The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people,” Obama said. “And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.”
Obama’s speech might have referenced a child in Gaza. No way. Imagine the scene in the speech-writers office, as writers, eager to please a totally Jewish audience, argue:”Don’t use a city in Gaza, use Ramallah. Do not use a city which will remind the listeners of what happened in Gaza”.
The speech says: “And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity.”
The “rights” of the Jewish people have emerged as Israel’s favorite right-wing trope.
Obama says the unnamed child in his speech “feels” trapped? This unnamed child does not just “feel” trapped. He or she, unspecified as to gender in the speech, IS trapped inside a military occupation.
In public speeches , Obama likes to point to a member of his audience, young or old, and identify the member by name, age and circumstance. In this speech, he made no pretense of ever having spoken with a Palestinian child trapped in an occupation prison.
Obama does know that Palestinian children are growing up under occupation. They don’t just feel trapped, they are in fact, trapped behind the occupation’s prison walls..
You know that to be true, Mr. President. You should say so and stop all this pandering. You have two years left. Use those years to redeem the campaigner of Hope.
The picture at top is from Oxfam. It appeared in Mondoweiss and shows a “check point”, a closely-guarded entrance to a walkway from Gaza to Israel at the Erez crossing. The 1948 picture from the Nakba is was provided by the Israeli Goverment Press Office on May 4, 2008. It shows two Palestinian women fleeing with just tthe possessions they are able to carry as they make their way toward Lebanon from villages in the Galilee during the early stages of the Nakba.