Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama and Israel

I have been thinking a lot about this question. Does our new president understand and appreciate the worries and existential angst of Israel and Israelis--and of course Jews? Jeffrey Goldberg's article in Saturday's New York Times provides an excellent analysis of this dilemma. While I fully believe that President Obama appreciates the significance and importance of the State of Israel to the Jewish people, his priorities will not always coincide with those of Israel's leaders. His interests are not the same as Israel's. That Israel's government and the United States's leaders might sometimes disagree is normal and natural. If Obama disagrees with the priorities of Israel's Netanyahu this does not necessarily mean that he is abandoning Israel. Friends can also tell friends that they are wrong. In actuality this does not mean that they are not friends. It is in reality a greater testament to friendship when friends can disagree. Loving criticism means that the friendship is far more than superficial. Disagreement means that the friendship is not just about "I need this from you and you need that from me." Still, here are my worries. The increasing mantra that "If only Israel would do x or y, then there would be peace," suggests a lack of appreciation of recent history. Yes, Israel has allowed settlement expansion and the construction of the security fence to at times inflame Palestinian hatred. But the root cause of the conflict is not Israel's capture of the West Bank from Jordan and its subsequent construction of settlements. Most Israelis would blindly give away the store if the Arab world would do but one thing--accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East. If the Arab world, and especially the Palestinians, would come to terms with Jewish sovereignty over at least a portion of the land of Israel, then the ground would give way under the settlements. Then the security fence could be taken down. Finally most if not all Israelis and Jews have learned that we must take antisemites at their word. When the leader of nearby Iran says, repeatedly, that he wants to destroy Israel and he hosts a conference denying the Holocaust, we cannot ignore his words. When he seeks to acquire and build the weapons to make his words a reality we must act. Waiting and inaction embolden Iran and its leaders. Mr. President I believe you are our friend. Understand our worries. Pay heed to our fears. They are legitimate and real.

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