Barack Obama's Speech Appeals to Israelis' Best Instincts — and Interests

President's Soaring Rhetoric Included Nod to Security Needs

getty images

By Leonard Fein

Published March 30, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem was not merely a home run; it was out of the park. Few people — truth to tell, I can think of none — combine eloquence and substance as well as Obama, and the shame of it is that there was no one on base when he delivered his major address while in Israel.

Forgive me: There’s no way to do the speech justice without quoting extensively from it, and that in itself, which calls for pulling apart a very carefully crafted speech, is an injustice. His bluntness, his friendship and even admiration for Israel, his deep understanding of Israel’s dilemmas and, therefore of the urgency of both peace and security are remarkable and deserve to be studied. (There have been suggestions that the speech become a part of Israel’s high school curriculum.) So I urge you, if you’ve neither seen it nor read the text, to find it on line and read it — slowly.

Some highlights: “For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the state of Israel wound through countless generations. It involved centuries of suffering and exile, prejudice and pogroms and even genocide. Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea – to be a free people in your homeland.”

It surely did not escape the attention of his audience that these last words — “to be a free people in your homeland” — are a direct quote from Hatikva, Israel’s anthem: lihyot am chofshi b’artzeinu.”

These may be thought simple rhetorical flourishes, but they set the stage for the message Obama sought to communicate, a message about security, peace and prosperity and the links that tie them together.

Security? “[M]ake no mistake: Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist – they might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above, because Israel’s not going anywhere.” And: “[S]o long as there is a United States of America, “Attem lo l’vad – you are not alone.”

Describing himself as “a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future,” he pointedly noted that “Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.” Plus, beyond demography, there’s the matter of empathy – of empathy and of justice.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.