President Obama gave a very good speech in Israel today. Within the speech he provided both words of support, words of adulation, words of criticism, but mostly words of encouragement.
All issues in the Middle East effectively have a religious component. It is for this reason early in his speech he illustrated the commonality of the major religions in the area.
For the Jewish people, this story is central to who you have become. But it is also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and salvation. It is a part of the three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – that trace their origins to Abraham, and see Jerusalem as sacred. And it is a story that has inspired communities around the globe, including me and my fellow Americans.
He then went on to praise the many accomplishments of the Israelis, from the taming of the desert through kibbutzeem (ironically a form of agrarian socialism), to the establishment of a “democracy”, to its high tech industries, and much more. He implied America’s similarity in that America is a land built on immigrants. Israel is built on immigrants from Europe, Russia, Ethiopia, North Africa, and many other countries. The similarity is one that should have been excluded from the speech given that said immigration is based mostly on religious homogeneity.
The basic focus of his speech was on three tenets, security, peace, and prosperity. He seemed to use it effectively to also promote Israeli empathy for Palestinians, if one is to go by the cheers in the room and the reviews given by both Prime Minister Netanyahu and others.
The president did however take a swipe at Netanyahu’s government when he said in one of the most touching portions of his speech that likely spoke to the emotions of every mother or father, irrespective of nationality the following.
Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
He then went off script with the following.
I am going off script here for a second but; before I came here I met with a group of young Palestinians from the age of fifteen to the age of twenty two. Talking to them, they weren't all that different from my daughters, they weren’t all that different from your daughters or sons. I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with those kids, they’d say I want those kids to succeed. I want them to prosper. I want them to have opportunities just like my kids do. I believe that’s what Israeli parents would want for these kids if they had a chance to listen to them and talk to them.
It was the President encouraging, given permission to Israelis to have empathy by stating what should be obvious; the humanity of all.
All in all most of the speech contained issues we all hear in the American Israeli dialogue and mutual support conversations.
The president had a message to the Israelis and Palestinians but one that should resonate at home.
“And let me say this as a politician. Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things. I know this is possible.”
Americans should take heed. Inasmuch as there are problems in the Middle East those needs taking care of, the American wealth and income disparity could cause degeneration in our society that creates our own conflict, not between Israelis and Palestinians but between the haves and the have-nots.
UPDATE: I covered Rachel Maddow detailing Fox News snub of Obama receiving the Presidential Medal of Distinction with a video only Rachel Maddow could do.