June 12, 2009

The campaign's the thing

During the campaign last year, we kept on hearing stories about how supportive President Obama would be of Israel. Those of us who looked at his associations and wondered how someone with his background would be pro-Israel were mocked for our failure to accept "hope and change" and charged with being uninformed, if not prejudiced. But it appears that Ali Abuminah's boast was accurate.

Well it seems that whatever positions President Obama took during the campaign regarding Israel were mostly for show. Pro-Palestinian groups are very encouraged by the administration's approach so far. The Forward reports:

Activists for the Palestinian cause, who are now describing President Obama's outreach speech to the Muslim world as "brilliant" and "brave," are feeling emboldened by a new sense of openness within the administration. Some even have the satisfaction of having had input in the process of preparing the speech itself. A pro-Palestinian organization was among those invited to take part in a group meeting with White House staff to prepare the June 4 speech. Other activists spoke of their feeling that Washington is taking a real interest in them for the first time in years.

So if the Cairo speech seemed somewhat one sided regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict generally and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict specifically, well it wasn't exactly an accident.

Obama's Cairo speech, in which he spoke emphatically about the Palestinian right for statehood, as well as his insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze, has made pro-Palestinian activists believe that change is in the air.

Yet, surprisingly, the sudden success in getting the Palestinian message through has many in the pro-Palestinian advocacy community concerned.

"The Palestinians should not sour U.S.-Israeli relations. That will not help anyone," said Ghaith Al-Omari, advocacy director for the American Task Force on Palestine, a group now seen as the leading pro-Palestinian voice in Washington. He warned against Arab groups "gloating," and expressed concern that one-sided pressure could lead to an "adversarial approach." Al-Omari, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, recently participated in White House discussions in preparation of the Cairo speech.

I do find that last approach somewhat unexpected. But I wouldn't be surprised if it were a minority opinion.

And if Palestinian advocates are encouraged by the approach of the Obama administration, a companion article at the Forward shows one reason that pro-Israel advocates were disappointed with the President's speech.

As the Obama administration deepens its outreach to the Muslim and Arab world, it faces the difficult task of countering Holocaust denial without reinforcing an increasingly popular anti-Zionist narrative that ties the legitimacy of the State of Israel to Jewish suffering in Europe.

And as discussion of the Holocaust becomes more widespread, so does the argument heard from Tehran to Gaza that while Europeans were responsible for atrocities against Jews, it is the Palestinians who are paying the price.

"Discussing the Holocaust and learning its lessons have become an integral part of global culture, and therefore, to a certain extent, the Arabs feel they are on the defensive," said Esther Webman, research fellow of the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, at Tel Aviv University. "That's why we see in recent years an increase in Arab rhetoric tying the Holocaust to the Palestinian hardship."

Unfortunately the article emphasizes that it's a "right wing" concern rather than a universal one.

Activists on the right also point frequently to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as one of those responsible for spreading Holocaust denial in the Arab world. Abbas, in a 1984 research paper written at the Moscow Oriental College, questioned the existence of gas chambers and suggested that the number of Jews murdered was not more than 1 million. After Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization engaged in negotiations, however, Abbas said, "Today I would not have made such remarks." In a 2003 interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, he added, "The Holocaust was a terrible thing and nobody can claim I denied it."

It wasn't just a research paper, it was his PhD thesis. Does he repudiate his PhD? And why doesn't this bother activists on the Left? If he were European - instead of a "peace partner - the thesis would have rendered him beyond the pale.

But of course the Palestinian don't just deny the Holocaust (and contradictorily use it for their own purposes) they deny two thousand years of Jewish history.

Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.

This is a tenet of Palestinian nationalism. That even "moderates" such as Abbas or Fayyad refuse to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, testifies to the degree that this belief is still accepted.

Unfortunately when President Obama spoke in Cairo his main focus of "honest" talk was about settlements. And when he made the case for Israel's legitimacy, he failed to emphasize the historical case, instead making the case that it was the result of the Holocaust. Given his audience that was problematic. But it also reflected the advice he received and, I think, where his sympathies lie.

Crossposted on Yourish.

Posted by SoccerDad at June 12, 2009 7:23 AM
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Some posit that Obama is everyday still on the campaign trail as a major criticism.. Unfortunately on this political issue it appears as if the campaign has stopped dead in tracks, and sped off in the other direction. Good post.
Shabbat Shalom

Posted by: saus at June 12, 2009 12:19 PM

This is what infuriates me about liberal Jews who chose to believe what Obama was telling them regarding his support for Israel rather than relying on his lifelong associations and obvious affinities for the muslim world given his own background. And they are still relying on what Obama tells them rather than what he is doing regarding Israel policy.

Jews have got to end this blind loyalty to the democratic party.

Posted by: Laura at June 12, 2009 12:23 PM

Laura, Jews won't. Don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

Obama owes American Jews nothing despite their having voted for him.

Posted by: NormanF at June 12, 2009 12:35 PM
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