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Israel to Obama: Be Gentle With Me

Obama israelJodi Rudoren’s survey piece about Israeli public opinion as the backdrop to Barack Obama’s arrival in Israel is a total bunch of mush, from the sources she chose to offer as a representative sampling of Israelis, to the substance of what they say.

The first troubling bit is the very first sentence:

Obama administration officials have made it clear that the top agenda item for the president’s visit here this week is to win the hearts of the Israeli people.

Why is winning the hearts of the Israeli people even on Obama’s agenda at all?  This shows a complete misunderstanding of what the role of a U.S. president is in regards to relations with Israel.  He is not the president of Israel.  He’s not running for anything in Israel.  He doesn’t have to win any hearts in Israel unless it’s the trust of a leader with whom he’s negotiating a peace agreement (and we’re far from that).

In fact, a U.S. president who has won the hearts of Israelis has automatically lost those of Palestinians.  He would have to reject Right of Return, sharing Jerusalem, and return of conquered territory in order to win those Israeli hearts.  And in doing so, he will have alienated all Palestinians.

So a U.S. president has to have not love from Israelis, but something far different and harder earned: grudging respect.  Anything that borders on love or admiration will mean he’s betraying his proper role.  In other words, those administration officials expose the fundamental error in the conception of this trip.

In choosing sources for this article, Rudoren adopted Tom Friedman’s trusted method of testing the temperature of any exotic locale he’s visiting: ask the cabbie who picks you up at the airport.  Cab drivers are always a trusty source of the views of “the people,” after all.  His whiny comment about Obama doesn’t disappoint:

“Deep inside, I think, he doesn’t like us.”

Then she queries a woman running errands at a mall.

She also interviews Rabbi Levi Kelman, spiritual leader of a leading Reform congregation in Israel (he and I attended Camp Ramah together one summer).  Perhaps the rabbi of the shul where Rudoren herself davens?  Here’s the clear-eyed unvarnished wisdom he has to offer:

“People don’t get the love from Obama,” said Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, who leads the left-leaning Reform congregation Kol Haneshama…“Bush and Clinton and Carter, these guys all had such a deep religious passion about this place, and Obama doesn’t convey that,” he added.

Yup, that’s what Israelis need from Obama: love.  That and a few bucks will get him a cappuccino in a Kikar Tzion coffee bar.  Israelis don’t need love from Obama.  They need tough love.  They need stern words.  They need to be told off, even threatened.

When your son or daughter’s been arrested for public intoxication or drug dealing for the fourth or fifth time do  you shower them with gooey love?  Or do you go for something different?

The most laughable statement comes from that moral arbiter of liberal Zionism, David Grossman.  He makes this schizoid comment:

…David Grossman, who is something of a national muse, said Israelis are “terrified” and “suspicious,” and need Mr. Obama to “be a real friend to Israel.” He added, “A friend should tell us the truth, and not what we want to hear.”

“I wish he shows empathy to our anxieties; part of them are real,” Mr. Grossman said. “But I wish he would not collaborate with them, with our anxieties, to the extent he will justify doing nothing.”

So let’s see: tell the truth, even if it’s not what we want to hear.  Show empathy for our anxieties, but only those that are “real.”  Which means you have to sort through all of them discarding the unreal and focusing on the real.  After determining which ones are real, distance yourself from them because that means doing nothing.  And after he’s done with all that, peace should be around the corner.

This passage is a perfect representation of the utter dysfunction at the root of liberal Zionism.  Compare Grossman’s dithering with the brutal certainty of the settlers, who now run the incoming Israeli government.  There is no confusion there.  They want the land.  They want the native Palestinians gone.  They want dominance.  They won’t share.

Not to mention the fact that Israel’s record of mayhem in the Middle East warrants no special consideration of the sort Grossman requests.  After thousands killed in Gaza and Lebanon and potentially thousands more if Israel attack Iran, why should Obama or anyone grant Israel dispensation for its “anxieties?”

The quandary facing well-meaning Israeli liberals is the same that faced Yeats in his famous poem, Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
…Somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.

There was a time when the center did hold in Israeli politics.  Labor dominated.  There appeared to be a national consensus, though it was little more than skin deep.  That gave way to the rough beast of Revisionism slouching not toward Bethlehem, but toward Jerusalem, to be born.  The beast built settlements and planted 500,000 settler-Sphinxes, half-Jew and half-Spartan, in the territory conquered in 1967.

Now, the center is gone replaced by brutalism, pogroms, and homicidal violence.  Into all this sails Barack Obama, oblivious to political nuance, insulated from Israeli reality, with some unspecified agenda in mind.

He may be in Israel to tell Bibi to sit back and wait for Barack’s queue to attack Iran.  If so, it’s not even clear that the Israeli PM will listen.  In fact, Haaretz quotes an anonymous Israeli official (who my own source tells me is national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror) who says the U.S. will entirely take Israel off the hook regarding Iran.  He says the U.S. has a plan.  It will take out Iran’s nukes, do so with “pinpoint strikes,” and not start a regional war.  It’s not at all clear how such a miraculous outcome can be guaranteed.  I suppose since Amidror is a religious settler, he believes in such divine miracles when bestowed by God’s earthly messenger, Barack Obama.

At any rate, the far more thorny, far more bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict will receive its typical short shrift.  Leaving the future wide open to further Israeli wars of slaughter against defenseless Palestinians.

In case anyone wants to see the true face of Israel, the one Obama will insulate himself from, just as most Israelis do, just watch this YouTube video showing heroic IDF soldiers arresting extremely dangerous 8 year-old terrorists as they make their way either to set off suicide bombs or to school (only the IDF had difficulty determining which).

{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Kevin Herbert March 20, 2013, 7:03 PM

    Thanks for the clear eyed analysis in which you pull no punches.

    I’m afraid that the now complete takeover of the latest Israeli Government by ultra nationalists, coupled with the majority of IDF positions filled by like-minded military senior personnel, is a pathway to disaster in the Middle East.

  • Davey March 20, 2013, 9:53 PM

    Israelis are anxious, so they kill people, feel some guilt and wait for the anxiety about who they are to build up again. They do not “mow the lawn,” they mow their conscience.

    You lay bare the tragedy of Obama and, yet again, I have to think kindly, even gently of ole Tricky Dick Nixon, one of the least admirable of Presidents in my lifetime. What’s the point of Obama, anyway? I just don’t “get it.” I want to believe he has a stash of surprising decency somewhere just waiting for the proper moment. I should know better.

  • Jeff Siddiqui March 20, 2013, 10:43 PM

    Heartbreaking video, I stopped motion several times and saw the fear in the children’s eyes.

    As far as Obama going to Israel, the reason is simple; he wants the support from the most powerful pro-Israeli Jewish Lobbies (that do NOT exist!) and thus, garner extra support for Democratic Party in the upcoming and future elections. Obama is promising more and more dollars and material aid to Israel that no US politician dares to vote against because they all want to be seen as more Israeli than the Israelis…so they can be re-elected.
    $200 million for the Gold Dome boondoggle and not a word about allowing free Palestinian exports to Europe.

    It is nothing new, take a look at the British Prime Ministers who coincidentally pay a state visit to Indian where they say all the things Indians want to hear because a large part of the British voters, come from South Asia…they vote and they work for candidates. The British PMs then go across the borders to Pakistan and slap them, demanding Pakistan “do more”, although, sometimes they just say it from Indian.
    Watch, Obama will be telling Palestinians to guarantee Israel’s security with not a word about Palestinians’ security.

    I know many of your readers will disagree, but as long as there is no talk of a SINGLE state (from both sides), all the talk about “negotiations” is hogwash. In my opinion, all so-called “Two-State Solutions” are doomed before the ink ever dries on such an “Agreement”.

    • Kevin Herbert March 20, 2013, 11:48 PM

      Agree 100% re the 2 State solution..it was never going to happen. I conten d that there’s never beena peace process, only Israeli posturing that one actually exists.

      The One State solution is clearly the best option, but the race supremacist Israeli political establishment will not consider it…thus, a regional war will occur in 3 years, after particularly the next US President removes US military support for Israel.

      And who will that person be?…Rand Paul of course.

  • Daniel F. March 20, 2013, 11:00 PM

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned

    The poem,composed in 1919 amidst the Irish War of Independence and so soon after the senseless slaughter of WWI (which marked the beginning of the end of the genteel old order of the British Empire) was an attempt by Yeats to come to terms with a newly emerging and terrifying world.
    The sense of things senselessly spinning out of control with ever increasing centrifugal acceleration was in Yeats’s case somewhat misplaced, soon afterwards things settled down both in Ireland (bar a Civil War) and in Europe but the analogy to the present day Middle East is apt. The turmoil in Lebanon, Iraq and now Syria,the instability in Egypt, the potential for instability in Jordan, the previously unimaginable Arab Spring and the rise of Iran as a regional power, is all frightening but hopefully is only the friction caused by the transition to a newer more egalitarian Middle East.

    “They want the land. They want the native Palestinians gone. They want dominance. They won’t share.”

    The current Settlement policy is clearly unjust, is out of step with the emerging new Middle East, is not sustainable and can only cause irrevocable damage to Israel. As time goes by the compromises Israel must make for peace can only increase and the illusion that Israel can continue without peace will be increasingly expensive to maintain.

  • Elisabeth March 21, 2013, 1:54 AM

    What a great analysis. Your comparison of “Grossman’s dithering with the brutal certainty of the settlers” is revealing, and the combination with Yeats poem superb.

  • Yonatan March 21, 2013, 5:52 AM

    A picture show who’s in charge (h/t Mondoweiss and 972Mag)

    “A revealing picture showing who has who by the balls

    (I think I got the link formatting right. If not the picture is link to 972mag.com)

  • pabelmont March 21, 2013, 10:01 AM

    Public diplomacy is not diplomacy. Why go to Israel except to make those demonstrations that help the “goer”.
    OK, clear.

    Private diplomacy (aka “diplomacy”) is private, secret generally unless wikileaks intervene). It is time for this president to tell the world that he will not interfere with, and will support, their efforts to put the “S” into “BDS” for the purpose of ending the settlement project, the wall, and the siege.

    He could do it. Nothing much suggests that he IS doing it or WILL do it.

    For that matter, he has done precisous little about CLIMATE CHANGE which is overwhelmingly more important, and importan to the whole world, a disaster in formation and “in train”, that is, to a degree unavoidable after 25 years of dithering, FAR WORSE than 100 “Holocausts”. Just to put our beloved I/P in persoective.

    Maybe those who predicted Armeggedon (and the end of the calendar) were essentially right?

  • israeliboy March 23, 2013, 11:09 AM

    It’s very simple
    This is an arrest
    It’s being made with extreme respect to the public present and with minimal force
    The reason for the arrest is explained, as you can hear on the video
    The “boy” is dangerous , according to the soldiers, because he has thrown stones in the past and was probably doing the same prior to the arrest, but of course THAT part o the video is not shown…

    stones kill.
    If you question that, just throw a stone the size of your first high into the sky and attempt to stand under it as it falls back down.

    • Richard Silverstein March 23, 2013, 5:27 PM

      What I love about Hasbara like this is that stones, in the hands of Palestinians, kill. But nuclear weapons, cluster and bunker buster bombs, helicopter gunships and F-16s in the hands of Israelis are solely defensive instruments which only hurt bad guys. The hypocrisy is self-evident, along with the self-delusion.

      Can you tell me the last Israeli soldier killed at a Wall protest?

      • israeliboy March 24, 2013, 4:09 PM

        You know very well there have been (not recently thank god) soldiers killed from stones.
        sadly, the jews in palesine became better and better at defending themselves. To a point where boys throwing stones at soldeirs and civilians are arrested PRIOR to performing their first kill.
        If only the world was fair then the UN would surely intervene and prevent the arrest of anyone until they have succeeded in killing at least one soldier.
        Jews defending themselves.
        what HAS the world come to.

        • Davey March 24, 2013, 5:28 PM

          The conquest of the West Bank through aggressive war was described as “Jews defending themselves.” Jews can attack civilian populations, police civilian populations, bomb civilians, imprison civilians and assault its neighbors all in the name of “defense.” Indeed, anything that Israel does is “defense” — it is a joke everywhere except in the US where Jews actually believe such nonsense.

          • israeliboy March 24, 2013, 10:35 PM

            All you have in evidence is nothing
            All I have in evidence is every arab leader in the region swearing to wipe out jews from palestine prior to 1948
            except for abdallah who mercifuly suggested palestine be annexed to jordan
            I dont get history lessons from random people on the net. I have my own history to learn from. I know how my father died. How my grandfather died. Who they fought and that it was a yard away from where their family was hiding while arab terrorists rampaged through motherland “falastin”
            Go preach your lies somewhere else

          • Richard Silverstein March 25, 2013, 2:09 AM

            Comment rule violation. The purpose of this blog is not to argue Zionist history. Your job & responsibility as reader is to write comments that are on topic. Off topic comments are not permitted. Consider this a warning.

          • Kevin Herbert March 25, 2013, 2:25 AM

            Agreed 100% Richard re excluding the tyre kickers……claims without data may be rejected without data…..

          • shachalnur March 25, 2013, 7:55 PM

            Without discussing “Zionist history” a solution is not possible.
            The opponents of Israel,which is almost the whole world ,know Zionist history.
            That’s why they are opposed to the Zionist entity.
            I consider the opinion of refusing to discuss Zionist history as an insult to the memory of my family that was wiped out in ww2.
            (Israeli) Jews that are ignorant of the Zionists behaviour before and during ww2 are the biggest “Holocaust deniers” imaginable.

          • Richard Silverstein March 25, 2013, 9:46 PM

            @Shachalnur: It really doesn’t interest me at all what you think should be acceptable subject matter for the comment threads nor what you consider an insult to your family’s memory. In fact, I thought that particular point was rather lame & melodramatic.

            You have the rules. Respect them. If you want other rules, create your own blog or website.

          • shachalnur March 25, 2013, 7:59 PM

            When do you want “Zionist history” to start?
            From when is it allowed to discuss Zionist history?
            or Zionist history is not an issue.
            Two posts down ,there’s more where this came from.

          • israeliboy March 25, 2013, 12:07 AM

            Also, you can name it “west bank” as much as you (and the rest of the short-term memory world) want.
            Its judea and samaria. in any official map and document ever prior to the occupation of judea and samaria by jordan in 1948.
            But hey, for palestine-narative sympethizer, thats when history began , so i understand why thats the name you chose for the “palestinian mother land”. A name that was used to describe it by the occupying jordanian king.

          • Richard Silverstein March 25, 2013, 2:05 AM

            Palestine denial is a major comment rule violation. You’ve crept right up to the edge. Go over & you’re outa here.

        • Kevin Herbert March 25, 2013, 12:49 AM


          you should grow up sometime soon…and join the adults globally who see your remarks as those of a bigot.

          • Davey March 25, 2013, 11:36 AM

            Your “father” and “grandfather” == were they busy kicking Palestinians out of their homes and lands and appropriating their rights? If they died, they fell to the right of self-defense. I mean Charles Manson had a mother and father. What history is that?

        • Richard Silverstein March 25, 2013, 2:14 AM

          You know very well there have been (not recently thank god) soldiers killed from stones.

          I know very well that you’re lying through your teeth. Comment rules demand facts and proof of claims. Therefore, you will be moderated until you provide credible proof of this claim. Comments you attempt to publish will only be published by me if you provide such proof and these comments respect the rules. If you violate them further you may lose these privileges.

    • Davey March 23, 2013, 11:28 PM

      Doesn’t Israel have a Stone Dome for taking out these lethal stones? Where is the list of stone fatalities? Does it come close to, say, 1400 — the number slaughtered in Gaza without a single stone?

    • Jeff Siddiqui March 25, 2013, 12:55 AM

      Your defense of the poor, embatled Israeli soldiers would carry MUCH more conviction if you could show similar treatments of the Jews (Orthodox) who routinely throw “rocks” at people breaking the sabbath or women wearing “unseemly” clothing.
      Israel and its defensive Jews have all the right to kill Arabs (in self-defense, of course) and demolish homes and harass Palestinian men, women and children, when they mete out the same punishments to Jews, for the same “crimes”.
      Until then, what Israel and its Jewish citizens are doing to Palestinians is simply genocide…look up the definition of “genocide” in the Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Genocide link to hrweb.org. I draw oyur attention particularly to Article 2, sections a, b & c.

  • Israeliboy March 25, 2013, 5:40 AM

    link to haaretz.com

    two israelis killed by stone throwers not so long ago. need more?

    and NOWHERE have i denied the fact that palestinians have a right for a state IN palestine.

    • Richard Silverstein March 25, 2013, 1:57 PM

      You claimed soldiers were killed with stones. I asked you to show that stones in & and of themselves have killed IDF soldiers. Pay close attention to what you wrote & I wrote and respond to it, & not to what you imagine I wrote or wanted me to write.

      • Israeliboy March 25, 2013, 11:31 PM

        I guess i was wrong. no soldier ever was killed from stones. ony severel wounded.
        Civilians however, have been killed.

        • Richard Silverstein March 26, 2013, 12:26 AM

          @israeliboy: Thanks for your honesty. I knew no soldier had been killed by stones. Yes, some have been wounded. But I assure the number of wounded soldiers is dwarfed by a factor of 100 or more to 1 by the dead and maimed Palestinian & international activists.

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