President Obama’s visit to Israel and Palestine has now ended, with the president having made quite an impression.
For example, Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Bayit Yehudi Party, criticized Obama’s continued push for a two-state resolution to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, arguing that ” “a nation does not occupy its own land.” However, as the Jerusalem Post reports, even “Bennett said he recognized that Obama’s words came from concern for and true friendship with Israel.”
Others in Israel were considerably more emphatic and supportive, and in many cases downright enthusiastic about a major speech given by the president Thursday. Here’s Herb Keinen, again in the largely conservative Jerusalem Post:
He had us at the word “Shalom,” did President Barack Obama, on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Or if not at “Shalom,” then 33 words later when he said in Hebrew, “Tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz” (It’s good to be back in Israel). And if not then, well, at least at the end of his brief welcoming speech, when he said, “I’m confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, it is forever – lanetzah.” Again, he used Hebrew. We swooned.
And if he did not have us all, at least he had some of the country’s media stars broadcasting from the airport, gushing superlatives as Air Force One – tracked as if it were an Apollo flight reentering the Earth’s orbit – was seen entering Israeli airspace.
As Irit Linor said on Army Radio, discussing what she deemed the over-the-top Obama Madness that gripped the nation, if this is the way the country greeted Obama, what’s left to greet the Messiah?”
Chemi Shalev, writing in the more liberal Haaretz, was more effusive still:
… there’s never been quite such a speech by any U.S. president: “dugri” and direct, admonishing words wrapped in thick layers of support and understanding, sympathy and concern, “tough love” as it was originally intended. The promos from the White House that had built up the speech as the centerpiece of the entire visit, turned out, in retrospect, to be grossly understated.
There wasn’t one Israeli button that Obama didn’t push during the speech and throughout his entire visit: from Holocaust to redemption, anxiety to bravery, victimhood to victory, ancient rights to start-up nation. He embraced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, complimented his wife, adopted his children and commemorated his hero brother, all in an effort to wipe the slate clean and start anew, as far as possible…
… the high point of Obama’s public visit, its rhetorical and emotional crescendo, was reached in his challenging words about occupation, settlements and peace with the Palestinians, without which, he suggested, Israel’s future, security, and wellbeing are at risk.
Obama posed the kinds of questions that are hardly asked aloud anymore in the Israeli mainstream, swamped as it is in a steady stream of jingoistic, right-wing rhetoric, associated as it has become with people who are portrayed as loony liberals and self-hating leftists. He confronted the conventional wisdom that time is on our side and the status quo is working in our favor. He asked, blasphemy indeed, that Israelis try and look at the world through Palestinian eyes. He conducted — how ironic — the kind of values-based peace campaign which so-called center-left parties were so afraid of in the recent election campaign, because they thought it was toxic.
In this regard, Obama pulled a Bibi on Netanyahu on Thursday: he played on his home field, but for the rival team. Just as conservative Republicans in America would anoint Netanyahu as their leader in an instant, so too Obama yesterday became the resolute and persuasive spokesman that the Israeli center-left so desperately needs; one who could convince the public that his — or her — support for a two-state solution “along the known parameters” does not contradict his great love for Israel, but quite the contrary.
This is the real Obama, his acquaintances say, no masks and no makeup. Obama, “the Jewish president” as Peter Beinart described him in The Crisis of Zionism, whose formative years in public life were spent alongside liberal Zionist Jews who taught him of the Jewish battle for civil rights and of the Jewish belief in a just and enlightened Israel, before the occupation started taking its toll.
This is the same Obama whose naïve assumptions and mistakes borne of inexperience served as fodder for the nefarious jihad of hate and venom and plain old bigotry that his rivals and enemies have waged against him since his first election campaign, a foul and sometimes deranged campaign that is without precedent in the annals of relations between Jews, both American and Israelis, and American Presidents. This is the man who is routinely compared to the worst Jew-haters and baiters in history, from Pharaoh to Haman to Ahmadinejad, who is hell bent on “throwing Israel under the bus” as Mitt Romney repeatedly and recklessly asserted during the recent election campaign.
In this regard, Obama will henceforth be a much tougher rival for his right-wing conservative critics. After this visit, they will be hard pressed to convince many Israelis – and many American Jews, for that matter – that Obama is a rabid Israel-hater and Muslim sympathizer who has the country’s worst interests at heart. His admonitions, even if rejected, will be categorized under the Proverbs saying of “faithful are the wounds of a friend”.
– Jay Bookman