Shakespeare's Antony once said "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." But in a stunning if largely unnoticed and insignificant reversal, I truly come to praise President Obama.
Although he has not opted for the dodge "evolved," President Obama seemingly has come a long way in his understanding of the Middle East.
It might be said to have been in his speech (transcript, here) in Jerusalem on Thursday, when the President boldly defended controversial U.S. action at the U.N. by declaring
There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror, and leaders who missed historic opportunities. That is why security must be at the center of any agreement. And there is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiation. That is why, despite the criticism we’ve received, the United States will oppose unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations.
It might have been the enunciation during the speech of an even-handed approach to the conflict between Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs when
Addressing an enthusiastic crowd of more than 2,000, Mr. Obama offered a fervent, unsparing case for why a peace agreement was both morally just and in Israel’s self-interest. Younger Israelis, Mr. Obama said, should empathize with their Palestinian neighbors living under occupation — or, as he put it, “look at the world through their eyes.”
Hours earlier, visiting the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Mr. Obama urged the Palestinians to return to the bargaining table even if Israel did not meet their condition of halting construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories — a demand he, too, made at the start of his first term, but which had only a temporary, partial impact.
It might have been the linkage Obama noted between the movement for freedom of American blacks and that of Jews generally when he remarked
In the United States – a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew – we are naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land. To African-Americans, the story of the Exodus told a powerful tale about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the civil rights movement.
Though few may notice, that was a rebuke, intentional or otherwise, to that portion of the American left which applauds every national liberation movement- but not of Jews.
My vote, though, is for a another statement made by Obama the following morning in which (though understandably he'd never admit it) he contradicted a shameless remark made in his astoundingly overrated speech in Cairo. There, he propagated a powerful myth: "Around the world," he claimed, "the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust."
The point was not "around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries." Nor was it that the "culmination" of anti-Semitism was the Holocaust which, after all, was morbidly termed "the final solution." The significance lay in the phrase "anti-Semitism in Europe."
Anti-semitism, common in Arab lands for centuries, was neither a 20th century phenomenon, nor the sole province of Europeans. In remarks to the press Friday morning at the Yad Vashem memorial to the approximately 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust, the President declared "The State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but with the survival of the State of Israel there will never be such a holocaust again."
The latter phrase is self-evident and beyond debate: there will never be a holocaust again because there is a Jewish homeland, with most other Jews in the U.S.A. But in words superficially merely symbolic but with the possibility of policy ramifications, Obama declared "The State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust." It is recognition of history, history that is sometimes denied and typically ignored. Now, dramatically, Barack Obama seems to have rejected myth and embraced a reality too rarely voiced.