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August 3, 2015 / 18 Av, 5775
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The Speech President Obama Must Give on Syria

Rabbi Shmuley

I believe that the first African-American president has a special responsibility to promote human freedom and the infinite worth of the human person. I believe the same obligation will be incumbent upon the first Jewish President, whomever he or she will be. Two communities that have experienced the wholesale decimation of their people have a special responsibility to promote the infinite value of human life.

For me, the greatest mystery of Barack Obama is why our President has failed to speak out forcefully and continually on behalf of the earth’s most oppressed people.

Now, I’m more puzzled than ever. Virtually every week, the President returns to the island of Manhattan to raise money for his reelection bid. Could he not take off a couple of hours from gathering cash, drive across Manhattan to the East Side, and address the United Nations about the innocent Arabs of Syria who are being slaughtered like cows by the arch-butcher Bashar al-Assad?

Such a speech should go something like this:

“Citizens of the world, I have traveled to the United Nations to make an important declaration. As you and I sit here in comfortable, air-conditioned surroundings, our brave Arab brothers and sisters of Syria are being mowed down by machine-gun fire, slaughtered from the air by planes and helicopters, and murdered in their homes with gun shots at point blank range to the head. Their crime? To wish to live as free men and women, which is their God-given right.

“But standing in the way of that most basic of all human desires is a tyrant who will hold on to power at all costs. If it takes brutalizing small children and having them shot at the family dinner table, he will do that. If it means shooting pregnant women to enforce his brutal will, he will do that do. He will stop at nothing to hold on to the levers of power.

“As the President of the United States I am here today to tell Mr. Assad – I will not call him President because any man who slaughters who is own people has lost all legitimacy to rule – that my nation regards him as a criminal responsible for crimes against humanity. I am urging the United Nations to immediately pass a resolution proclaiming the same.

“My country is right now engaged in a difficult war in Afghanistan. We are fighting terrorists with the help of Pakistan and other nations around the world, and we still have not extricated ourselves fully from our decade-long war in Iraq. In short, we are overextended. And while we may not be able to act against Mr. Assad in the short term, I want him to know that the long arm of American and international justice will find him, arrest him, and try him, providing that the vigilante justice of his own aggrieved people doesn’t catch up to him first, as it did Muammar Kaddafi in Libya. Mr. Assad will be held accountable for his crimes, either at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, or at a court in Syria.

“Mr. Assad, the eyes of the world are upon you and your dastardly deeds. You will not get away with them. I am personally telling you today that if it’s the last thing I do as President, I will ensure that you are arrested and tried for your brutal and unspeakable crimes. When we Americans say ‘Never Again’ we mean each word. We will never allow unpunished, wholesale slaughter to transpire in the world ever again.

“But as we all know, words are just that, words. So I am instructing American diplomats to begin the process today of indicting Mr. Assad for crimes against humanity and putting a price on his head of $25 million dollars, which the United States will pay to whomever arrests Mr. Assad and delivers him for trial.”

What do we have instead of this forceful speech? We have the President making tepid remarks along the lines of, “What’s happening in Syria is unacceptable Unacceptable, I tell you!” We have Hilary Clinton saying things like, “Oh my gosh, this is horrible. Just horrible. Will anyone do anything?”

And friends, we are all complicit. In the age of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, none of us can deny knowing what’s going on. We all know, but few of us care. And it’s gotta change or people will just keep on dying.

My Congressional battle against Bill Pascrell in New Jersey’s ninth district is being portrayed by some as a Congressman with a large Arab constituency against a well-known Rabbi and champion of Israel.

This characterization is unfair both to me and to Pascrell. I have spoken with Pascrell on a few occasions and he is a gentleman who has treated me respectfully. It’s unfair to Pascrell because, amid the legitimate concerns of the pro-Israel community for some of his highly questionable actions – like signing the Gaza 54 letter condemning Israel for its blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza – Pascrell has voted for American aid to Israel. And unfair to me because I have consistently said, as I emphasized at my campaign launch event, I, much more than Congressman Pascrell, am the candidate who fights for Arab interests. I am the one who championed the cause of Arab freedom years before the Arab spring. I am the one who has fought the nay-sayers who fear the Arab Spring as bringing something forth even worse than Assad, Kaddafi, and Mubarak. In endless columns I have said that any such position has contempt for Arab life and human liberty. Go tell an Arab whose child was killed by Assad that he should accept his rule because the person who replaces his President can still be worse.

Arabs are my brothers. Arabs are my sisters. I believe with all my heart that they will one day see the democracy of the State of Israel as the best friends they have in the Middle East, not the tyranny of Saudi Arabia or the murderous designs of Hamas and Hezbollah.

But regardless of my prediction for the future, I am today calling upon the President of the United States to employ his considerable mastery of words to take up the mantle of Martin Luther King and be a drum major for justice, a beacon for freedom. Sound the clarion call for liberty, Mr. President.

Get off the damn fence and stand up for Arab life and liberty. Stop the slaughter in Syria. You owe it to the brave African-Americans who died yearning and fighting for equality and liberty. You owe it to American patriots who founded the first modern Republic by casting off British tyranny. And you owe it to the people of the world who look to America for leadership, hope, and change.

About the Author: Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and the international bestselling author of 30 books, including “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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