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

President's Soaring Rhetoric Included Nod to Security Needs

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By Leonard Fein

Published March 30, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
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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.


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