President Obama’s speech at AIPAC straddled the line of a Jackie Mason
standup routine. It turns out that when the president said last Thursday that Israel should return to its ’67 borders, it wasn’t exactly what he meant. Who said I was referring to 1967? I meant 1867. I didn’t mean CE, I meant BCE. And why did you assume I was talking about Israel’s border? I was talking about French Guyana’s borders.
This was the first time I actually felt sorry for Obama – an incongruous statement to make about such a talented individual who also just happens to be the most powerful man in the world.
So why did he elicit my sympathy? Because you could see, both in his body language and the utter absence of passion, that he had been defeated. The president dithered, bobbed and weaved. He came into a room filled with 10,000 pro-Israel activists knowing he’d blown it, not just with the American Jewish community but with history as well.
For months, Arab democracy has been breaking out all over the world but Obama had yet to give one major policy speech on this unprecedented uprising. Yet when he finally chose to do so and thus recapture the American president’s traditional mantle as leader of the free world, he could not help but insert a highly inflammatory line about Israel that was immediately seized on by the media, thereby extinguishing the speech’s other content. And even on the Israel front he was forced to so dilute the ’67 border statement that it became utterly meaningless.
As Obama put it at the AIPAC convention:
“It was my reference to the 1967 lines – with mutually agreed swaps – that received the lion’s share of the attention and since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what ‘1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps’ means. By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967 . It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu could not have expressed it better.
So why did Obama sabotage his Arab democracy speech, not to mention further erode his already tenuous Jewish support, with a reference to the ’67 borders he has now climbed down from? Here we have a president with the eloquence of Martin Luther King but who has yet to make a single memorable speech as president aside from the moving and dignified words he offered the night bin Laden was terminated. Last Thursday at the State department was his chance. Why did he blow it?
The president’s explanation at the AIPAC convention was that he had no idea the ’67 borders line would inspire such an angry backlash.
“My position has been misrepresented . If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance . What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”
But the president’s claims to naivet? are ridiculous. To his detractors Obama is many things, but he is no fool. He knew full well that to publicly call for a return to the ’67 lines was a bomb waiting to detonate. Obama knew the demand to return to the pre-Six-Day War borders spoke directly to the Palestinian narrative.
So why did he say it?
I believe the answer speaks directly to the growing mistrust that American Jewry, which gave the president 78 percent of its vote in 2008, has for Obama and why Democratic Jewish donor purses are closing.
Stated simply, this president has a strange obsession with Israel. Even when he’s talking about the unprecedented breakout of democracy across oppressive Arab regimes, he has to connect it to Israel. He could easily have given a stand-alone speech about Israel and mentioned the ’67 lines there. But he believes to his core the oft-repeated falsehood that the secret to wide-ranging Middle East peace is a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and that Israeli intransigence is largely responsible for Arab anger and Middle East strife.
And even as history proves him wrong and the Arabs start directing their anger against their real oppressors like Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt, Khaddafi of Libya and Assad of Syria, Obama still thinks that at its root the protests are against Netanyahu of Israel.
Every president wants to be a historic figure and Obama has decided that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict will define his presidency. If he successfully pressures Israel to remove any military presence from the Jordan Valley and return for the most part to its ’67 borders, he will achieve what no president has before him.
Sadly, Obama has forgotten that Jimmy Carter pulled off just that kind of breakthrough, brokering peace between Israel and Egypt, yet is still remembered as a failed president because he lost the larger battle of freedom to Islamists in Iran who initiated a war against the West we are still fighting.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international bestselling author of 25 books, including his recent “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.