Friday, June 5, 2009

Roundup of Israeli Reaction on Obama's Speech

Reaction to Obama's Cairo speech (some of which preceded the actual speech) was mixed at best in Israel. Gideon Levy (not suprisingly) was pleased, and even Akiva Eldar's full article gives a certain amount of credit to Obama. However, most editorialists focused on the theme of Obama's framing of the Israeli and Palestinian struggles as equivalent. To quote Akiva Eldar (see link below), "The imbalance in the unequal U.S.-Israel-Arab triangle was replaced Thursday by an Isosceles triangle."


"In addressing the Palestinians, Obama urged that they wage their war without violence, and he compared it to the struggle of black slaves in America to be freed from white domination, to the struggle of the blacks in South Africa, and to the struggles of other nations in South Asia and Eastern Europe. This is not an easy comparison for Israeli ears: In Obama's view, the Palestinians are waging a just struggle for national liberation, which reminds him of past efforts to break free of colonialism and Soviet tyranny." - Aluf Benn

"Obama left Egypt with two tablets of the commandments - one for Jews and the other for Muslims. He left no room for doubt: An Israel that continues to discriminate against Palestinians and prevent them from exercising their rights to self-determination and freedom of movement cannot expect affirmative action from the U.S. It is hard to believe that Obama simply forgot to mention the words "Jewish state." The president believes that the nature of the State of Israel is something only the State of Israel can decide. Obama placed violence against Israel on a par with the settlements and the humiliation of Palestinians in the territories." - Akiva Eldar

Nonetheless, no one can ignore the speech given by Barack Obama: The mountain birthed a mountain. Obama remained Obama. Only the Israeli analysts tried to diminish the speech's importance ("not terrible"), to spread fear ("he mentioned the Holocaust and the Nakba in a single breath"), or were insulted on our behalf ("he did not mention our right to the land as promised in the Bible"). All these were redundant and unnecessary. Obama emerged Thursday as a true friend of Israel." - Gideon Levy

Netanyahu now understands what he already knew before the speech: The moment of political reckoning that he so feared is now rapidly approaching. The thunder he hears in the distance is the sound of the Likud legions and the West Bank settler hordes rolling down the mountains. The light on the horizon is not that of a new day, but of a train coming right at him - a night train from Cairo. Netanyahu will have to decide over the coming weeks whom he would rather pick a fight with: the powerful U.S. administration, whose president sees himself in an almost messianic role, or his own coalition and members of his party." - Yossi Verter


The call for Hamas - the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood - to act responsibly to 'put an end to violence' and "recognize Israel's right to exist" is extremely far fetched, even for Obama. Hamas belongs in the first part of the speech, which focused on confronting "violent extremism in all of its forms," including al-Qaida and the Taliban." - Gerald M. Steinberg

"Watching from here, his even-handed attribution of blame for the failure of peace efforts to date was jarring indeed. 'For more than 60 years,' the president declared, the Palestinian people 'have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.' To which most Israelis, having now witnessed even Ehud Olmert's ultra-generous two-state terms being derisively brushed aside by Mahmoud Abbas, would retort: 'And whose fault is that?'" - David Horowitz

"Some government officials complained after the address that Obama went overboard trying to appease the Muslim world, painting a picture of a moderate Islam that most Israelis don't know and exaggerating both the impact and influence of Muslims on American society. Forget it; it doesn't matter. This is not a zero-sum game wherein if Obama praises Islamic civilization, he is thereby denigrating the Jewish one. Honoring Muslim influence in America isn't something Jews should feel threatened by." - Herb Keinon [note: If you read no other editorial, read this one. It's very comprehensive and fair-handed.]

"If President Obama wants to become an historic Mideast peacemaker, he's going to have to slay the dragon of a deeply embedded mythology. The beast he must confront resides not in the head of Israel's democratic majority or its prime minister but in the minds and hearts of too many Arabs and Muslims who believe outlandish, anti-Semitic as well as anti-Israel fantasies. The podium at Cairo University offers President Obama an unprecedented historic opportunity to confront this dragon in its lair. Let's hope he will seize it." - Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman

"I'm sorry, but it's like this: The State of Israel is sovereign but so is the United States of America. Obama isn't holding a gun to our head, he isn't threatening to bomb us or blockade us or anything like that. He's saying that while our government has the right to do what it wants, so does his. If we want to go on building settlements, fine, but then the US is not going to go on supporting us as faithfully as it has. The guy in the White House has other countries to think about beside Israel, above all his own." - Larry Derfner

"If the specifics of who-lives-where have little strategic import, the Obama administration's rapid and harsh turn against Israel has potentially great significance. Not only did the administration end George W. Bush's focus on changes on the Palestinian side, it even disregarded oral understandings Bush had reached with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. ." - Daniel Pipes

Yediot Achronot:

"Words can touch, and on Thursday Barack Obama touched many hearts in the Middle East. However, he will be tested based on his actions, and therefore he has already started to prepare: Next week he will be sending special envoy Mitchell to the Middle East in order to receive Netanyahu's answers. After the elections in Iran, American and Iranian representatives will sit down together and get the dialogue between them underway. " - Orly Azoulay

"For those who thus far did not understand – or did not wish to understand – the winds blowing from Washington, Obama left no room for doubt: The United States supports Israel, yet the era of trickery, promises, and the gradual annexation in Judea and Samaria is over. The time has come for action" - Attila Somfalvi

If you read Hebrew, Amir Buchbot, Yonatan Gefen, Shmuel Rosner, (who also writes in English), and Ben Dror Yemini offer their opinions in the Maariv. Rosner also has an English editorial in The New Republic.

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