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A Fascinating Shabbat

The Security Barrier

The Security Barrier

Well, this has been a fascinating year considering the Democratic primaries between two very strong and unusual candidates, including an extraordinarily well-run campaign by Barack Obama. A black man was elected into office; a man who grew up with Muslim roots and whose middle name is Hussein. He didn’t just win, but there was a mystique built around him that continues to resonate with voters even today months after the elections.

Obama ran an intelligent campaign, aggressive when it needed to be (and perhaps underhanded if, as I believe, the calls of racism against the Clintons originated with his campaign), but also representing itself as fair and a true alternative. And alternative he is. He brings to Washington ideas that float around in non-mainstream circles, and has broadcast and even begun the process of pushing through an ambitious and demanding (and expensive and risky) agenda. There will be reform of many things, although he is a smart enough tactician to recognize that his opponents must feel they are being embraced – if they agree, he can move forward more easily; if they disagree, they look like obstructionists.

But this week truly was extraordinary. An American President with a Muslim background and familiarity went to an ancient Arab city and spoke to Muslims around the world. This Great Hope of the world came to speak to a huge audience and the expectations were immense.

What came of it? Well, his familiarity with their world came through. His desire to recruit the Muslim everyman as friend came through. His desire to alienate as few Muslims as possible while bringing moderate and unaffiliated forces closer to the US came through. Being diplomatic, he didn’t say everything he needed to say. This was not an angry or hubristic USA. This was not a dominant or self-righteous USA. Nor was it a supplicant. This also wasn’t Nixon going to China – the US has many allies among Muslim and Arab nations.

No, this was the guy at the prom inviting the girl he’s been teasing the entire year to a dance because he needs a job next year and her dad owns a big factory. He flatters her qualities and smoothes over her flaws. He can find some beauty in her tonight and maybe if they get along, they’ll even remain friends after this. Who knows, maybe he’ll even get to taste some work from the dad.

Except that the schnook at the dance has to do this with some delicate maneuvering. After all, he’s got to let go of the girl he brought to the dance as his date. Maybe not for the rest of the night, but definitely for now. So he tells her how good she looks and how important she is to him. Heck, with his back already half turned to the other girl, he even reminds his date that his grandfather once really helped her grandfather when he was down and out. Yes, those bonds go deep, so she should understand that he likes her a lot and pursuing the other girl may be his goal right now, but that’s because she’s got the daddy with the factory and the girl who is the date just has good looks and a history of fooling around with him. Not quite slutty, but he kinda got her pregnant and she’s screwed if he dumps her because her options are limited. His are not. He’s not pregnant. He’s not facing imminent danger. He’s just looking to improve his situation.

So Obama sidles up to the Muslim world, misstates the number of Muslims in the US, glosses over their tyrannical societies, ignores the reasons for the poverty in their societies and instead praises and cajoles them in order to show them he understands their hearts.

Then he goes to Buchenwald. “No need to be afraid, dear Jews who voted for me and dear Israelis who realize the tides have turned and your good friend is now just going to be a friend. No need to be afraid, I care about your dead people. Isn’t that what you care about?”

Iran is apparently permitted now to have “peaceful” nukes, but gosh darn it, their leader is going to be called to task for Holocaust denial. Israel has to swallow a sudden change in American policy that goes against prior agreements, not to mention the insult of being approximated to colonialists and having all their towns outside of 1949 armistice lines called “settlements,” but that’s okay because Hamas has to learn to be peaceful and to accept the state of Israel. After all, the bonds of America with Israel are unshakeable.

Well, they’ve been shaken.

Netanyahu will be a fool to maintain his obstinate opposition to a two state solution. This is a time to back down and play along. Let the other side shoot themselves in the foot. Rest assured they will, because if there is one thing they don’t want, it’s a second state. They want one state…that they get to rule.

In the meantime, here are some aligned stars in the Negev desert.

Moon Jupiter and Venus

Moon Jupiter and Venus

The lovely images, not professional but interesting and relevant to our discussion, were taken by dkonn from Detroit on what appears to have been a lovely trip to Israel.

SHABBAT SHALOM!

5 Comments

  1. froylein

    6/6/2009 at 4:18 am

    Good post, Middle.

  2. themiddle

    6/6/2009 at 10:35 am

    Needs work, but okay for a rough draft. Thanks, Froylein. 😉

  3. beershevaboheme6

    6/6/2009 at 2:07 pm

    I also think this is a great post, and in reading President Obama’s full speech, I found it to be extremely well written, but even more delicately stated to keep the audience on his side. Even more telling (I thought) was where applause is noted throughout the speech. When Obama speaks of a two state solution for Israel and Palestine…”applause” When he goes on to demand Violence stop in that endeavor…”crickets”.

    He knows his audience, that’s for sure, and it’ll be interesting to see how and if he progresses with the actions promised in Cairo…

  4. Tom Morrissey

    6/7/2009 at 3:43 am

    How have US-Isreal ties been “shaken”? Because Obama gave a conciliatory speech in a Muslim country? Because he and Bibi don’t see eye to eye? I get a sort of unfocused, fearful vibe from much of what you’ve written recently, yet what you fear (to the extent I can identify it) is US policy that promotes what you’ve elsewhere described as an existential imperative, a retreat from some of all of the settlements and and end to their spread. What gives?

    I don’t differ with your argument, I just don’t follow it. You’re in AIPAC/Camera mode here, and it doesn’t square with your views elsewhere.

    Obsma’s speech, while flawed (by far the most disturbing passages for me dealt with Iran), gets subjected to a simple test: was it in the national interest of the US? I think the answer was clearly yes. He presented a new American attitude and an appealing alternative to al-Zawahari et al. Will it work? Probably not immediately, maybe not at all, but it was worth trying.

    Middle chastises the president for not giving the speech Bush may have given. You know, ‘you’re either for us or against us’, near-reflexive deference to Israel on security matters, etc. Is this what you want, a Bush approach to the Middle East?

  5. themiddle

    6/7/2009 at 11:39 am

    Tom,

    I’ve already responded to you in a different discussion that I never stated, nor do I believe, in 1949 armistice lines, AKA the Green Line. I don’t believe that’s what Israel should give to the Palestinians and I don’t believe UNSCR 242 requires it. I’m especially sensitive on the issue of Jerusalem and environs on this point. When Hillary translates Barack, the differentiation isn’t there. Instead, it has become “settlements” as in “all the settlements” which is unacceptable language because in 1949, the Jordanians emerged victorious on the part of Jerusalem that is most critical to the Jewish people. Translating that into “settlements” today would be very bad for Israel. The fact that we’re not seeing any differentiation indicates to me one of two things: Obama believes he has to give 1949 lines to the Arabs to achieve peace; or, he believes that this needs to be the first negotiating position in order to conclude with an acceptable compromise. The second possibility is actually very dangerous for Israel because in the past the Palestinians have always started negotiations from whatever the last position of their previous partner may have been. Then they stall the talks and years later the new negotiations have a new baseline. In this case, the new baseline includes Jerusalem and environs.

    I hope I’m being clear here that even while I believe in the removal of settlements, and even of the doing so unilaterally, I’ve been very specific and consistent that they should move the settlers west of the Fence and then negotiate for the remaining half of what’s west of the Fence and the Green Line with the understanding that the large settlement blocs are sacrosanct. Additionally, any compromise on Jerusalem must not treat Jerusalem as occupied territory. Period. Compromise is fine, but nobody spent 2000 years waiting for Jerusalem just to give it up because the Jordanians won it in 1948 and proceeded to make it Judenrein.

    Third, I already wrote in my previous comments on this, although not on this post, that I thought this was a good speech and was an important speech for America. That Barack did what he needed to do to begin the reinvigorate and actually change the relationship with the Muslim world. Within that context, I think he did a fine job and have said so on this site. This post takes him to task for the weaknesses in the speech, particularly as his new approach on American policy deals with Israel and the negative aspects of the Arab and Muslim world.

    This post also points out that the Buchenwald visit and its timing was the throwing of a bone and in my view a bone that was difficult to swallow. I reject the idea that Israel was created because of the Holocaust on many levels. It’s not true historically; it’s not true if you look at the history of the Yishuv, it’s not true if you look at its population, and it’s not true in terms of the idea of Israel and what it’s about as a home for the Jewish people. Zionism as an ideology goes back long before Zionism as a political movement and even Zionism as a political movement precedes the Holocaust by 100 years.

    It doesn’t appease me in any way that Obama went to Buchenwald – and my family lost the entirety of my father’s family (grandparents, great uncles and aunts, married siblings of both his mother and father, their spouses, plus their children, as well as cousins) in the Holocaust – if the intention was, as I believe it to be, to throw us all a bone. It becomes a cynical ploy to advance an agenda that is antithetical to Israel’s well being and security. If the idea was to force Israel to move back to 1949 lines and then show us he cares because he respects the Holocaust, I think it would be better if he didn’t use the Holocaust in this way. “Give up Jerusalem, folks, but look at how much I care about the Holocaust.”

    There is also a deep problem with the Iran issue. It is now clear that Obama is going to let them proceed with their nuclear program. He hasn’t even had a bite from the Iranians despite all of his pronouncements so far, but as I read this speech, they have a pass to continue with their program from the US now. That is a mistake that hurts not only Israel, but also the US. Israel will just be the first, god forbid, to pay the price of this mistake.

    As to your final paragraph, I have already stated in our other discussion that this was a sophisticated speech that was important and successful as far as forging forward with a new American policy with the Arabs and Muslims. But it also seems to indicate that the “special relationship” and Jerusalem are the sacrifices Obama is willing to make to further America’s interests. Not only do I find this disappointing, I also think it’s wrongheaded. At the end of the day, Israel remains the only true democracy in the Middle East. This is critical to the equation, but it’s not what Obama articulates in his speech about why Israel’s bonds with the US are unshakeable.

    Right now, as I write, the Israelis are saying to the American administration that promises were made and assurances were given by the former President just several years ago and the Americans are responding that this is untrue or if true wasn’t binding on the Americans. Is it in America’s interest to do this Tom? Pretend for a minute that the ally in question wasn’t Israel but, say, Egypt, South Korea, Japan, etc. If things were said at the highest levels of government, but said quietly for obvious reasons, is it in the interest of the US to renege on those agreements when it becomes convenient?

    So how about you give me Obama’s sophisticated speech and approach to the Muslims without the parts where dangers to Israel are increased, where it doesn’t lose its most important city, where its democratic values are appreciated for what they are and where Iran doesn’t get a pass? All of that would square away with America’s national interest, unless you have come to believe as Obama has, that it’s in America’s interest to sacrifice parts of Israel (and perhaps even Israel itself if Iran continues on its current course) to move ahead in the Muslim world. If that’s the case, then we disagree.

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