During his first term, President Obama spent considerable energy trying to build America’s relationship with the Muslim world. He never visited Israel, and repeatedly showed hostility toward the Jewish state. His reelection seemed to vindicate this approach.
This made his decision to take his first-ever visit to Israel this past week intriguing. It took place against a backdrop of increasing radicalism in the Arab world, a rise in Islamist authoritarianism, growing anti-Americanism among Muslims—and American retreat from the Middle East.
The president went out of his way to soothe the Israelis and say a lot of nice things. He made guarantees about Israel’s future, and about keeping Iran from going nuclear. He condemned groups that deny Israel’s right to exist. He was extremely friendly with Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom he repeatedly called “Bibi.”
However, President Obama refused to speak before the Knesset, opting instead to address a group of handpicked university students, symbolic of his wanting to reach the Israeli people directly. This set the stage for the most telling and remarkable moment in the president’s trip.
Most of the speech was champagne and chocolate: ingratiating, sensitive, appealing to the Jews. He acknowledged “the changes sweeping the Arab world … uncertainty in the region—people in the streets, changes in leadership, the rise of non-secular parties in politics.” Just listening, one would never know the role this administration has played in encouraging and fueling these dangerous changes. Then came the real point of the speech: admonishing the Jews to give the Palestinians a state. And among the Israeli intellectuals in the crowd, he found glowing support.
“The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognized.” Applause. “And put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own.” Applause. “Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements not just of those young people, but their parents, their grandparents, every single day. It’s not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished.” Applause. “It’s not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands or restricting a student’s ability to move around the West Bank (applause begins) or displace Palestinian families from their homes.” Applause. “Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer.” Cheering applause. “Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their homeland.” Applause.
These words characterize the Palestinians as yearning for peace through negotiations with Israel, if only Israel would cooperate. Apparently this view is shared by these Jewish academics.
They woefully ignore several pressing realities: that the Palestinian children of which the president speaks are being raised on virulent Jew hatred; that Arab leaders who support negotiations with Israel lose public support; that Arab leaders, whatever they may say to the international press, consistently speak to their own people in terms of war with the Jews; that when Israel ended its “occupation” of Gaza, that territory became a terrorist haven; that Israel’s “controlling” security measures are necessary to protect citizens from unprovoked terrorist attacks. The crowd’s applause signifies stubborn adherence to beliefs long proven false.
The president followed up these comments by encouraging the Israelis to demand their leaders make concessions for peace. “[L]et me say this as a politician, I can promise you this: Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see.” But the fundamental change required for peace cannot take place in Israeli hearts. Who will change the hearts of the Muslims—not just those in Gaza and within Israel—but also in Egypt and elsewhere in the surrounding countries—who want to eliminate the Jews?
Some of the audience’s most enthusiastic applause came when President Obama spoke of some Palestinian youths he met. “I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with those kids, they’d say I, I want these kids to succeed. I want them to prosper. … I believe that’s what Israeli parents would want for these kids if they had a chance to listen to them and talk to them. I believe that.” Wonderful sentiment. Any right-thinking person would agree. But how many Muslims would think that about Jewish youths?
The president assured his listeners that peace is possible. He said they had a “true partner” for peace in the Palestinian Authority leadership—a notion that has repeatedly proven false. Several of the president’s statements were founded on the old belief—contrary to the reality of human experience—that, deep down, everyone wants peace.
Speaking of the Muslims who heard his speech in Cairo four years ago, he said, they’re basically like you: They want “the ability to make their own decisions; to get an education and a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married; to raise a family.” It’s quite remarkable to invoke America’s involvement in Egypt as proof of the potential for peace. It was with Egypt that Israel had enjoyed a peace pact that lasted for three decades. But since President Obama’s speech there four years ago (a speech to which he invited the Muslim Brotherhood)—and thanks in no small part to America pushing Hosni Mubarak aside—Egypt has shifted dramatically toward radicalism, and that peace agreement is in tatters. The new Egyptian president has called the Jews “blood suckers … descendants of apes and pigs,” and said “we should employ all forms of resistance,” including military resistance, against the “criminal Zionists.”
President Obama’s handpicked listeners were cheering a fantasy. The peace they hope for simply cannot come by the means they wish for. “The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace” (Isaiah 59:8).
Don’t be distracted by the attractive visuals of this visit. The underlying realities were only reinforced. Negotiations will not solve these problems. The threat to Israel’s security will increase. The limits of American support will be further exposed. And the need for another foreign advocate will become ever more painfully clear—an advocate to which the Jews will look, mistakenly, for salvation. ▪