Friday, June 5, 2009

The Cairo speech

The first general comments I read about the speech, from sources not prone to knee-jerk responses, were pretty positive. Then I started reading some excerpts and got a sinking feeling. So I sat down and watched the entire bloody thing over at HuffPo. (There's a transcript there, too, though I believe it's an advance one ... there was a bit of ad libbing in there if you read it while you watch.)

The sinking feeling rapidly turned to annoyance and frustration and then to anger. And that was only exaccerbated by the ridiculous claims of media around the globe as well as Democrats (of course) and even Republicans (well, this one anyway) that this was somehow a ground-breaking, wound-healing, earth-shatteringly important speech that will go down in history, blah, blah, blah.

By now it's been thoroughly picked over and dozens of important points have been made about the strong points, the weak points and the absurd points. SoccerDad puts it in context (heh) in remarkably succinct fashion and links to gobs of other analysis, all (or at least as much as I've been able to read) well worth a click. Charles Krauthammer, as usual, slices and dices with precision. Especially on this point:

Obama says he came to Cairo to tell the truth. But he uttered not a word of that. Instead, among all the bromides and lofty sentiments, he issued but one concrete declaration of new American policy: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," thus reinforcing the myth that Palestinian misery and statelessness are the fault of Israel and the settlements.

Blaming Israel and picking a fight over "natural growth" may curry favor with the Muslim "street." But it will only induce the Arab states to do like Abbas: sit and wait for America to deliver Israel on a platter. Which makes the Obama strategy not just dishonorable but self-defeating.

Needless to say, I agree. More incisive comment on the Israel angle here (again, thanks to Soccer Dad).

I would make the following abbreviated points of my own. I think these are bit off the beaten path. Let's start at the beginning.

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement.

Obama mentioneed Al-Azhar again a few minutes later with similar praise. Now Al-Azhar was Obama's host and no one expects a guest to insult his host (certainly not in the Middle East of all places). And yet, Al-Azhar does have a history of blatant antisemitism, and it's hardly a secret.

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores - that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Suddenly his story is not so unique. That's new. Throughout his campaign, throughout his pre-inaugural rhetoric and in the view of countless breathless essays, editorials and op-eds, it was incredibly unique. As for those "nearly seven million American Muslims," Daniel Pipes addressed that yesterday. What's the reason for this constant exaggeration of the numbers? A classic effort to pump up the perception of Muslim political power and, above all, to give the impression that it now dwarfs that of the nefarious and all-powerful "Zionist Lobby" (yes, it's a contradiction, but what can you do). But why has our President bought in?

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

Last time I looked, Israel was not the "Holy Land" of Islam. Islam has quite a number of holy sites there and, lately, has developed a particular attachment for Jerusalem (strangely lacking during periods of history in which it actually controlled Jerusalem), but the term "Holy Land" is Christian and for Jews, of course, Eretz Yisrael is the alpha and omega of holy ground. Islam's "Holy Land" is currently under the administration of the Saudi family. But let's be charitable and call this poetic license. I wonder if it has escaped Obama's notice that under Israeli rule Jersualem was already (for the first time in a very long time) a home for Jews and Christians and Muslims and a place where all the children of Abraham (and Christians, too) mingled peacefully together and, while they prayed separately, prayed in peace. Then along came this intifada thing and buses and pizza parlors and city squares blowing up. It's odd.

There's more. But I need to wrap this up before it becomes tedious (and I'm out of time anyway). My response to Obama's comments regarding Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, both yesterday and over the past few weeks, requires a separate post. To be continued...

Shabbat Shalom.