Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama and Israel


There is an old Jewish joke. A boy races into his family’s apartment in the lower east side shouting, “The Dodgers won the pennant! The Dodgers won the pennant!” His grandfather, freshly off the boat replies, “Nu boychick! Is this good or bad for the Jews?”
One of the questions fresh off President Obama’s speech at Cairo University is: Is building stronger relationships with the Muslim world bad for Israel?
President Obama began speaking on the Israeli Palestinian conflict with the following statement, “America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”
A little later on he continued, “Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.”
I think the message President Obama was stating is Israel is legitimate. Israel is here to stay. Israel is a reality, and to refuse to accept this central tenant or to deny Israel’s existence or the existence of the Holocaust is a futile effort.
President Obama then continued, “They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. “
Both of these are true statements that most moderates in the region and around the world are likely to recognize. True it is in America’s interests for a peaceful existence between Israel and Palestine with a legitimate government that recognizes Israel. But it is also ultimately in Israel’s best interest as well.
The ongoing threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions cannot be denied. And the only way their increasing threat of hegemony in the region can be dealt with is by uniting Arab countries against an actual common enemy instead of a perceived one.
Some will say this is too simple minded. Some critics have denounced Islam as a false religion filled solely with hatred. On the other hand, the Muslim world is certainly not monolithic in belief or practice. There are extremists to be sure, but there are also moderates, and liberals in the Muslim world as well. The only fact of which we can be sure is that, whenever Christians and Muslims fight, it is almost always the Jews who pay the price, be it in Spain or throughout the Crusades, and even today in modern Israel.
So maybe instead if the western and Muslim worlds can actually begin to dialogue and start to understand each other, maybe Israel could ultimately benefit.
Or as the President put it more eloquently, “For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive… But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest.” And this in turn could be good for the Jews. Now comes the hard part. Waiting to see how the Muslim world responds.

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