Have teleprompter, will travel.
President Obama’s long-awaited speech in Cairo on US-Muslim relations met expectations. It was passionately read and delivered (except for one stumble: calling a “hijab” a “hajib,” an understandable error), touched all the rhetorical bases and, like typical Obama, actually said much less than it read. And what it said should cause Jews, frivolous worriers, to worry for real. As always, what was said was as important as what not was said, and the audience reaction spoke eloquently about the effect of these words on the Muslim world.
Many will perceive the speech as a success simply by virtue of its being given, and because Obama was met by occasional applause but never with a shoe or two. But what in fact did he say?
Praising Islam for all its contributions to civilization is admirable and accurate; of course, Obama could have then delivered this speech in the year 1200, by which time all the “contributions” that he mentioned had already been made. But Islam has been slumbering, in primitivism and occasional barbarism, for 800 years, and but for the discovery of vast oil reserves a century ago would be today completely ignored by the civilized world, as is, for the most part, Africa. To speak of Islam as a wellspring of “dignity, justice and tolerance” is, at this point in history, delusional, as is the attempt to marginalize Islamic radicals as some fringe element in Islamic society, when in fact their supporters number, perhaps, in the tens of millions. And terming Islam, as a religion, part of the “solution” for global peace would have been more meaningful had it followed the simple truth that Islam is the only religion sparking violence across the globe today.
But Jews should be most concerned. Speaking of America as “partners” with Moslems and Jews in forging peace is a troubling code that signals that America and Israel – according to Obama – no longer share the special relationship that has always marked the two countries. The moral equivalence uttered between the suffering of the Jews historically (especially during the Holocaust) and the suffering of the Palestinians “in their quest for statehood” was obscene. Studiously avoiding Israel on this trip, instead tossing Jews the bone of visiting Buchenwald, sends Jews the clear message that we are to be best perceived as history’s victims, to be sheltered by the beneficence of a kind world, but not at all as national actors with rights, interests and claims of our own. And the comparison of moral offenses committed by both sides – lodging rockets at sleeping babies and blowing up old ladies on city buses (Arabs) vs. settlements !!! (Jews) is grotesque. Hmm, Jews build houses on empty land given to them by their government…what an outrage !
Whatever his personal background (rootless, without any real identity, and therefore a citizen of the world who is above the parochial religion that engender strife) and his rhetorical nods to Israel (America will never abandon Israel, etc.), deeds speak louder than words. And Obama’s campaign to weaken Israel and force it into making suicidal concessions is now crystal clear. He has decided what will bring lasting peace in the region, and he will impose whatever he has to – despite the fact that the same solution has been tried in the very recent past, and failed miserably. He – Obama – is just another slave to the “peace idol” who cannot ever admit that peace is not coming anytime soon. Who will pay the price for those fantasies? Jews.
Once again, Jews are expected to make concrete concessions, dismember their land and jeopardize their existence – in exchange for a repeat (sixth or seventh time, by my count) of Arab promises not to use violence, not incite violence, not to indoctrinate their children with the ideals of violence, etc. Same defective merchandise being sold, this time by a new and charming salesman.
The real gauge of the speech was the audience reaction. The State of the Union address, with its constant and insipid interruptions of hand clapping, it was not. Obama’s brutal and truthful comments about the Holocaust and the evil of Holocaust denial – was met with stony silence. His impassioned declaration that Arabs must recognize Israel’s right to exist – generated no applause at all. And this took place in what passes in the Muslim world for a bastion of moderation – a university setting, in which students in the past have participated in pro-democracy riots. But any positive reference to Israel – indeed, any indication that Arabs might have to compromise on anything – was greeted with dead air.
But a denunciation of settlements, the “history” of Palestinian suffering (almost all, by the way, self-inflicted), the grievances of the Arab world against the West and the United States all drew wild, enthusiastic applause. The silence of the audience was more revealing of the current state of Arab-American and Arab-Israeli relations than anything President Obama said.
In media-speak, Obama showed great courage in going to Cairo and even giving a speech in which he did, on occasion, challenge his audience to re-think some of their prejudices. But that seems to be drama, not courage (which involves the risk of some personal sacrifice), and Obama is an individual who loves a stage and knows how to perform on it. Real courage would have required him to challenge the audience on their silent reaction to crucial parts of his speech, rather than just move on to the next paragraph. Real courage would have Obama challenging Mubarak on his authoritarian rule and suppression of dissent, much like Condaleeza Rice did in 2005 in Egypt. Real courage would have required Obama to call upon the Arab world to join America in arresting Iran’s nuclear program by any means necessary. Real courage would have Obama telling the Arab world that Israel is a reality, that it unreasonable to expect any further Israeli concessions when past surrenders have sowed the seeds of future conflict, that it is senseless to further carve up the one small Jewish island in the Arab-Muslim ocean of 22 states in order to create an irredentist, 23rd Arab state, and that the Arabs now dwelling in the Land of Israel should find their nationalistic aspirations elsewhere if they are unhappy in Israel. (Actually, that courage would be welcome in an Israeli prime minister as well.)
Therein lies the confrontation ahead. Obama has paskened the solution to the conflict. It is up to the Israelis to say “No, that has not worked in the past, and there is not a shred of evidence that it will work in the future. We will not betray our heritage and endanger our existence based on your fantasies.” They will need the strength and political support of American Jews – 80% Obama supporters – to inundate the White House with protests and their congressmen with our expectations and interests, taking nothing for granted, and rallying our support for the right of Jews to settle anywhere in the land of Israel and for a strong hand to be raised against any hint of terror. American Jews – and their obeisance to the Democratic Party – will be tested.
Then the Obama Cairo speech will take its proper place in the other dramatic Obama addresses – rhetorical flourishes, symbols without substance – until this moment passes, and strong leadership will arise that can address problems in the real world, and not the world of our illusions. Until then, we will have to show fortitude, tenacity, and real courage.