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President Obama’s long-awaited speech in Cairo on U.S.-Muslim relations met expectations. It was passionately read and delivered (except for one stumble: calling a “hijab” a “hajib,” an understandable error), touched all the rhetorical bases and – typical Obama – actually said much less than it read.
What it did say, however, should cause Jews, frivolous worriers, to worry for real. As always, what was said was as important as what not was said, and the audience reaction spoke eloquently about the effect of these words on the Muslim world.
Many will perceive the speech as a success simply by virtue of its having been given, and because Obama was met by occasional applause but never with a shoe or two. But what in fact did he say?
Praising Islam for all its contributions to civilization is admirable and accurate; of course, Obama could have delivered this speech in the year 1200 – by which time all the “contributions” he mentioned had already been made. Islam has been slumbering, in primitivism and occasional barbarism, for 800 years, and but for the discovery of vast oil reserves a century ago would today be completely ignored by the civilized world.
To speak of Islam as a wellspring of “dignity, justice and tolerance” is, at this point in history, delusional, as is the attempt to marginalize Islamic radicals as some fringe element in Islamic society, when in fact their supporters number perhaps in the tens of millions. And terming Islam, as a religion, part of the “solution” for global peace would have been more meaningful had it followed the simple truth that Islam is the only religion sparking violence across the globe today.
But Jews should be most concerned. Speaking of America as “partners” with Muslims and Jews in forging peace is a troubling code that signals that America and Israel – according to Obama – no longer share the special relationship that has always marked the two countries. The implied moral equivalence between the suffering of the Jews historically (especially during the Holocaust) and the suffering of the Palestinians “in their quest for statehood” was obscene.
By avoiding Israel on this trip (instead tossing Jews the bone of visiting Buchenwald), Obama sent Jews the clear message that we are to be best perceived as history’s victims, to be sheltered by the beneficence of a kind world but not at all as national actors with rights, interests and claims of our own. And the comparison of moral offenses committed by both sides – lodging rockets at sleeping babies and blowing up old ladies on city buses (Arabs) vs. building of settlements (Jews) is grotesque.
Whatever Obama’s personal background (rootless, without any real identity, and therefore a citizen of the world who is above the parochial religions that engender strife) and his rhetorical nods to Israel (America will never abandon Israel, etc.), deeds speak louder than words. And his campaign to weaken Israel and force it into making suicidal concessions is now crystal clear. He has decided what will bring lasting peace in the region, and he will impose whatever he has to – despite the fact that the same solution has been tried in the very recent past and failed miserably.
Once again Jews are expected to make concrete concessions, dismember their land and jeopardize their existence – in exchange for a repeat (sixth or seventh time, by my count) of Arab promises not to use violence, not to incite violence, not to indoctrinate their children with the ideals of violence, etc. Same defective merchandise being sold, this time by a new and charming salesman.
The real gauge of the speech was the audience reaction. A State of the Union address, with its constant and insipid interruptions of hand clapping, it was not. Obama’s comments about the Holocaust and the evil of Holocaust denial were met with stony silence. His impassioned declaration that Arabs must recognize Israel’s right to exist generated no applause at all.
And this took place in what passes in the Muslim world for a bastion of moderation – a university setting in which students in the past have participated in pro-democracy riots. But any positive reference to Israel – indeed, any indication that Arabs might have to compromise on anything – was greeted with dead air.
About the Author: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and author, most recently, of “Tzadka Mimeni: The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2014). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.
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