What was Wrong with Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem

24 Mar



            It was master-crafted as an ingratiating speech by the world’s most important leader and the government that has most consistently championed Israel’s cause over the decades. Enthusiastically received by the audience of Israeli youth, and especially by liberal Jews around the world. Despite the venue, President Obama’s words in Jerusalem on March 21st seemed primarily intended to clear the air somewhat in Washington. Obama may now have a slightly better chance to succeed in his second legacy-building presidential term despite a deeply polarized U.S. Congress, and a struggling American economy if assessed from the perspective of workers’ distress rather than on the basis of robust corporate profits. 


            As for the speech itself, it did possess several redeeming features. It did acknowledge that alongside Israeli security concerns “Palestinian people’s right of self-determination, their right to justice must also be recognized.” This affirmation was followed by the strongest assertion of all: “..put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes.” To consider the realities of the conflict through Palestinian eyes is to confront the ugly realities of prolonged occupation, annexationist settlement projects, an unlawful separation wall, generations confined to the misery of refugee camps and exile, second-class citizenship in Israel, ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, and a myriad of regulations that make the daily life of Palestinians a narrative of humiliation and frustration. Of course, Obama did not dare to do this. None of these realities were specified, being left to the imagination of his audience of Israeli youth, but at least the general injunction to see the conflict through the eyes of the other pointed the way toward empathy and reconciliation.


            Obama also encouraged in a helpful way Israeli citizen activism on behalf of a just peace based on two states for two peoples. A bit strangely he urged that “for the moment, put aside the plans and process” by which this goal might be achieved, and “instead..build trust between people.” Is this not an odd bit of advice? It seems a stretch to stress trust when the structures and practice of occupation are for the Palestinians unremittingly cruel, exploitative, and whittle away day after day at the attainability of a viable Palestinian state. But this farfetched entreaty was coupled with a more plausible plea: “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. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.” There is some genuine hope to be found in these inspirational words, but to what end given the present situation.


            In my opinion the speech was deeply flawed in three fundamental respects:

                        –by speaking only to Israeli youth, and not arranging a parallel talk in Ramallah to Palestinian youth, the role of the United States as ‘dishonest broker’ was brazenly confirmed; it also signaled that the White House was more interested in appealing to the folks in Washington than to those Palestinians trapped in the West Bank and Gaza, an interpretation reinforced by laying a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl but refusing to do so at the tomb of Yasir Arafat. This disparity of concern was further exhibited when Obama spoke of the children of Sderot in southern Israel, “the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live.” To make such an observation without even mentioning the trauma-laden life of children on the other side of the border in Gaza who have been living for years under conditions of blockade, violent incursions, and total vulnerability year after year is to subscribe fully to the one-sided Israeli narrative as to the insecurity being experienced by the two peoples.


                        –by speaking about the possibility of peace based on the two state consensus, the old ideas, without mentioning developments that have made more and more people skeptical about Israeli intentions is to lend credence to what seems more and more to be a delusionary approach to resolving the conflict. Coupling this with Obama’s perverse injunction to the leaders of the Middle East that seems willfully oblivious to the present set of circumstances makes the whole appeal seem out of touch: “Now’s the time for the Arab world to take steps towards normalizing relations with Israel.” How can now be the time, when just days earlier Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of the most right-wing, pro-settler government in the history of Israel, selecting a cabinet that is deeply dedicated to settlement expansion and resistant to the very idea of a genuine Palestinian state? It should never be forgotten that when the Palestinian Liberation Organization announced back in 1988 that it was prepared to make a sustained peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders. By doing this, the Palestinians were making an extraordinary territorial concession that has never been reciprocated, and operationally repudiated by continuous settlement building. The move meant accepting a state limited to 22% of historic Palestine, or less than half of what the UN had proposed in its 1947 partition plan contained in GA Resolution 181, which at the time was seen as grossly unfair to the Palestinians and a plan put forward without taking account of the wishes of the resident population. To expect the Palestinians to be willing now to accept significantly less land than enclosed by these 1967 borders to reach a resolution of the conflict seems highly unreasonable, and probably not sustainable if it should be imprudently accepted by the Palestinian Authority.


                        –by endorsing the formula two states for two peoples was consigning the Palestinian minority in Israel to permanent second-class citizenship without even being worthy of mention as a human rights challenge facing the democratic Israel that Obama was celebrating. As David Bromwich has pointed out [“Tribalism in the Jerusalem speech,”] http://mondoweiss.net/2013/03/tribalism-jerusalem-speech.html Obama was also endorsing a tribalist view of statehood that seem inconsistent with a globalizing world, and with secularist assumptions that a legitimate state should never be exclusivist in either its religious or ethnic character. Obama went out of his to affirm the core Zionist idea of a statist homeland where all Jews can most fully embrace their Jewishness: “Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.” And with embedded irony no mention was made of the absence of any Palestinian right of return even for those who were coerced into fleeing from homes and villages that had been family residences for countless generations.

            Such a regressive approach to identity and statehood was also by implication attributed to the Palestinians, also affirmed as a a lesser entitlement. But this is highly misleading, a false symmetry. The Palestinians have no guiding ethno-religious ideology that is comparable to Zionism. Their quest has been to recover rights under international law in the lands of their habitual residence, above all, the exercise of their inalienable right of self-determination in such a manner as to roll back the wider claims of settler colonialism that have been so grandiosely integral to the Greater Israel vision and practice of the Netanyahu government. And what of the 20% of the current population of Israel that lives under a legal regime that discriminates against them and almost by definition is a permanent consignment to second-class citizenship. Indeed, Obama’s speech was also an affront to many Israeli post-Zionists and secularists who do not affirm the idea of living under in a hyper-nationalist state with pretensions of religious endowments.


            In my view, there are two conclusions to be drawn. (1) Until the rhetoric of seeing the realities of the situation through Palestinian eyes is matched by a consideration of the specifics, there is created a misleading impression that both sides hold equally the keys to peace, and both being at fault to the same extent for being unwilling to use them.  (2) It is a cruel distraction to urge a resumption of negotiations when Israel clearly lacks the political will to establish a viable and independent sovereign Palestinian state within 1967 borders and in circumstances in which the West Bank has been altered by continuous settlement expansion, settler only roads, the separation wall, and all the signs are suggesting that there is more of the same to come. Making matters even worse, Israel is taking many steps to ensure that Jerusalem never becomes the capital of whatever Palestinian entity eventually emerges, which is a severe affront not only to Palestinians and Arabs, but to the 1.4 billion Muslims the world over.


            In retrospect, worse than speech was the visit itself. Obama should never have undertaken such the visit without an accompanying willingness to treat the Palestinian reality with at least equal dignity to that of the Israeli reality and without some indication of how to imagine a just peace based on two states for two peoples given the outrageous continuing Israeli encroachments on occupied Palestinian territory that give every indication of permanence, not to mention the non-representation and collective punishment of the Gazan population of 1.5 million. Obama made no mention of the wave of recent Palestinian hunger strikes or the degree to which Palestinians have shifted their tactics of resistance away from a reliance on armed struggle.  It is perverse to heap praise on the oppressive occupier, ignore nonviolent tactics of Palestinian resistance and the surge of global solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, and then hypocritically call on both peoples to move forward toward peace by building relations of trust with one another. On what planet has Mr. Obama been living? 



57 Responses to “What was Wrong with Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem”

  1. Aaron March 24, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    As usual, 90% hyperbole and 10% substance. Falk always fails to tell the whole story and only picks the narrative that suits his agenda. There isn’t enough typeset to punch holes in all the falsehoods in your essay…………………..

    • Ray Joseph Cormier March 25, 2013 at 7:21 am #

      You are always free to offer your alternative vision. That’s what discussion is all about! There is no substance in your comment, only wind!

  2. Gene Schulman March 24, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Don’t pay attention to the Aarons of this world, Richard. They must be reading too much of J Street. Your essay is 100% on target. I don’t think our astronomers have yet discovered the planet on which Obama resides. I hope the never do.

  3. DorisV March 24, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    Thanks for an interesting summary of the speech and the situation. Do agree with what you say. Why a “jewish state”? Why do we keep dividing ourselves into religious camps? Time to realize that we live on a planet called Earth and that we have enough weapons to obliterate all of us. Give Peace a chance!!

    • Ray Joseph Cormier March 25, 2013 at 7:26 am #

      To this very Day Christ declares from the Mount: Blessed ARE the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.

      This transcends Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Atheism.

      Call NO MAN on earth your father. We have ONE FATHER who is in Heaven. Who could believe that?

      This perspective of Christ also transcends all religions.

  4. walker percy March 24, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Richard, et al.:
    Watching Obama’s speeches in Israel was deeply unsettling for me, because I have been a staunch Obama supporter and admirer, and so the cognitive dissonance of hearing him use vocabulary like “eternal” in describing the Jewish connection to Palestine was excruciating. I have since been thinking through his reasoning for taking this stance, and wondering what their game is. They are not ahistorical dunces like the last ones. This was a calculated decision to try to neutralize criticism of Israel at home, and to force those of us who support Obama, but are aware of the depth of Israeli malfeasance to stand down. I cannot accept that Obama is venal, therefore I must assume that he has a strategy in mind that does not include the US acting as a vassal state to its rulers in Jerusalem, of all places!

    Maybe I am just in denial, and I should accept the fact that the zionists have won, and the US will continue to unfairly protect and enrich Israel, in blatant disrespect to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, so terrorism will never end. The US will run out of money fighting one war after another to protect Israel from the deadly enemies they make wherever they roam. By that time, Israel will have built a real iron dome over their dumb homeland, but they will continue to kvetch in mid-dovin about the annoying scratching sound of the few surviving Arabs outside with their slingshots.

    What a beautiful world G_D is making for his chosen darlings!

    • Richard Falk March 24, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

      Walker: I am surprised that you were disappointed with Obama’s Israel visit and speech as it was
      only marginally more one-sided that his general approach to the two peoples. The tribalism was
      a bit gratuitous, over the tope, as was the sensitivity to Muslim sensitivities.

      With greetings,


  5. walker percy March 24, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    A vassal state is any state that is subordinate to another. The vassal in these cases is the ruler, rather than the state itself. Being a vassal most commonly implies providing military assistance to the dominant state when requested to do so; it sometimes implies paying tribute….
    from Wikipedia


  6. Björn Lindgren March 24, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Dear Richard,

    Thanks for clear-eyed comment on Obama’s visit to Palestine/Israel.

    It looks like the Nobel Prize winner in speech is living on planet Goldman Sachs. His behavior is pretty much the same in the US itself. While the U.S. falls apart in apathy and structural and open violence.

    The space for initiatives from Turkey also seems fading away. European countries sending weapons to the rebels, will pour more gasoline to the Syrian fire.

    Now the Palestinians have to go further on their own, launching long-term non-violent campaigns for a Palestinian state. Of course, they have to unite to accomplish the necessary conditions for this. It seems far away at the moment. And it will be a long struggle.

    At the horizon lurks an Israeli ethnical cleansing of the West Bank.

    Nevertheless, Spring will come.

    Cheers, Björn Lindgren

    • Richard Falk March 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

      Thanks, Bjorn. I always enjoy and agree with your comments! Richard

  7. monalisa March 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Dear Richard,
    thank you for your reflection on the present speech of the US president.

    When President Obama received the Nobel Price for Peace and his speech was all about war all alarm clocks were ringing in my ears.
    The next time was his speech in Cairo where too my alarm clocks rung.
    And this is the third speech where I am – as an European citizen – are alarmed.

    However, I was right from the beginning of his candidacy for president in some sort of scepticism how he would fulfill this position.
    And it seems that my suspicion, my way of thinking about some persons, even I don’t know them personally, had been right from the beginning.
    This because Obama had been within white people whereas he is colored. Being colored in the United States is different from much other states on our globe: colored people are right from the beginning “sanctioned”. Maybe all his way along his childhood and youth there had been some influence, so more or less an indirect one (this doesn’t mean that he wasn’t much loved by his grand parents and so forth) , about his person being colored.
    Being as elected president he is following the path of most white rich people when it concerns greed, wars, imprisonment, lies and – much much to regret – a way a person trained in the jurisprudence, trained what is right and what is wrong, trained which right people should have in their own dignity shouldn’t have been shown at all in the ways he did up till yet.

    Obama followed the path of his predecessors and all in all he showed the world a face of the USA which couldn’t be more devasteful as he didn’t stop immediately the infringements on peoples’ rights as well as wars (starting with korea), murder committed outside USA by Secret Services and imprisonment the USA is leading since the WWII. Instead that he took the chance to correct things he showed that he is just a puppet in the hands of the security complex like his predecessors (a very big and influential one in the USA!!) as well as the Pentagon/military complex and not to forget in the Israel Lobby. (It is the downfall of the USA that people being elected have to have so much support by big organizations, companies etc. that they can never feel free and independent when it comes to decisions!)

    I think we should trust and listen much much more to our natural inborn instincts which we accumulated over several thousand of millions of years when we have been developed as mankind and needed to take care for ourselves.

    Unfortunately the mainstream influence – too in Europe – is working for the oligarchy nowadays.
    And people in general are all too passive (as you already mentioned in your earlier essays) and actions will be take when it is too late (for example when drones will completely control the population).

    I feel so very sorry for the Palestinians being within the malstream of greed and power and
    denied of their rights.
    Isarels government rulers seem to have implemented much from Nazi Germany in their way how to rule their country. Committing crimes is the first sign of it, the second is the denial of rights of people within this country, the third is the Wall like the Berlin Wall when it had been built. Nothing learnt out of history.

    Take care of yourself


    • Richard Falk March 24, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

      Dear monalisa:

      you are as wise as ever, and perceptive beyond the normal!

      I think Obama’s timidity as a black man who has been invited to dinner at
      the plantation, and then is handed the keys to the mansion, does explain some of his behavior.

      It does seem very late in the history of this species to imagine a turn toward survival and decency, but we must not give up hope.

      warm greetings,


  8. madams12 March 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    THANK YOU RICHARD!!….But now, now that Defense News has posted their latest we can see that Obama brought his ‘special knee pads’ to Israel….as a reward (?) for saying “sorry” to Erdogan, apparently Obama will be “upping” the welfare check to Israel from the current measly $30Billion/2017 TO $40Billion /2027 ALONG WITH the increase from the pittance of $3.1 Billion to $4 Billion…with the encouragement to “do what you have to do to “defend” yourself with pre-emptive attack or whatever……..see this:http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130324/DEFREG02/303240005/U-S-Israel-Negotiate-Military-Aid-Extension?odyssey=tab (thanks to Jeff B!). /Miriam

  9. Fred Skolnik March 24, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    This is a really twisted response to a speech that was meant ro reestablish Obama’s credibility in the Israeli public and facilitate his efforts in the months to come to bring the two sides to the negotiating table. I am aware that nothing less than a speech that sounded like one of your blogs would have satisfied you but your way of thinking has gotten the Palestinians nowhere.

    As for the substance of your remarks, you still fail to grasp the fact that Israel is not an ethnic/religious state. It is a national state that is Jewish in the same way that France is French and Spain is Spanish, and in this national state the Arabs are a national minority whose primary identity is with the larger Arab world and that is the source of any discrimination they experience. Nonetheless, as polls have shown, they would not want to live under Palestinian sovereignty, which means that they understand that their life in a Jewish state is better than it would be in a Palestinian state – politically and economically – which is something that you and your readers apparently do not wish to understand.

    As for the rest, your understanding of Jewish and Arab claims in the Land of Israel is not based on any historical reality. The Arab-Israel conflict is a conflict between two nations or peoples claiming the same land. The only way to resolve such a conflict is through compromise. The only way to reach a compromise is through negotiations. Israel has publicly affirmed its willingness to enter such negotiations without prior conditions. This is the only path that will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. It may well be that you and your readers don’t want to understand this, getting more satisfaction from vilifying Israel, but it is precisely people like yourselves who encourage the Arabs in their intransigence by creating the illusion that if enough pressure is applied, Israel will be forced to compromise its existence. In the meanwhile, of course, the Palestinians will continue to live in misery. That doesn’t seem to trouble you in the least. When people are starving and there is a basket of food outside their door, the best advice you can give them is to open the door. For some reason, none of you has thought to do that.

    • Ray Joseph Cormier March 25, 2013 at 10:37 am #

      “you still fail to grasp the fact that Israel is not an ethnic/religious state.”

      How can you possibly think that when temporal Israel is recreated from the Bible? The only repetitive mantra is God gave the land to the Jews according to the Book. A Religious Book as a matter of Fact.

      Israel did not exist among the Nations for 3000 years. Ignoring all the realities on the ground of Today, Israel gives lip service to Peace but deals in idle words. By it’s actions and facts created on the ground, Israel surreptitiously recreates, slowly but surely, Eretz Israel as it existed 3000 years ago according to the religious Book.

      How can you so wilfully blind yourself to the reality Israel is a religious state, a Theocracy in origin, and in history?

      To claim God gave you the land on one side of the mouth, and say this has nothing to do with religion on the other is delusional!

  10. Mustafa March 25, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    While negotiating the sharing of the cake, Israel has been eating away at it for many years now. The precondition shouldn’t be a pause in new settlements, but a complete dismantling of all illegal settlements

  11. Ray Joseph Cormier March 25, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    It is said The Lord works in mysterious ways. Obama was supposed to travel by helicopter to visit Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ in Palestinian territory.

    A sudden, violent sandstorm forced the cancellation of that plan and Obama was left no alternative but to travel by road.

    He had no choice but to see the reality on the ground. He would have seen the separation wall, the check points that were kept open for him so he did not have to endure the daily indignities Palestinians must suffer in their own land. He would have seen the beautiful homes the settlers are building on the high ground and the contrasting poverty of the Palestinian homes.

    Seeing those ground contrasts may have left him with some haunting images that will begin to work in his subconscious. We can only hope!

    • Richard Falk March 25, 2013 at 7:59 am #

      Ray: An intriguing, interesting hope. Time will tell. Greetings, Richard

    • monalisa March 26, 2013 at 6:55 am #

      to Ray:
      Your point of view is very interesting.
      however, I think that when kids, children and growing-ups are indirectly influenced from outside they will when being adults not know why this or that will make them uncomfortable. This because most of our experiences in early childhood goes down directly into the subconscious where it isn’t easy to digg into when having reached a certain age.
      That’s why religions are teaching already little children some “basic rules” and – according to my experience living in the Middle of Europe and knowing exactly how children were and still are influenced by the Roman-Catholic church, some more, some less – therefore make sure that these “teachings” will remain for a long long time, usually life-long, within the individual’s subconscious.

      Obama will want to show that he can “do it better than any white man”.
      That’s in short what I think. And therefore I doubt very much that he will not even try to alter some relations to Israel. Its only “hot air” if it is perceived otherwise.

      Moreover, the fact is that even former US presidents are living very comfortable and no one had ever been put on trial for having given orders to murder several millions innocent people (inclusive women and children). Not to speak of all the devasted soil and sea.

      In short: he will have seen, he will feel uncomfortable but will put it aside.
      He will not lift any finger to help those who would be in need of help – neither US citizen nor Palestinians.
      I really wish I am wrong with my way of thinking.
      This could only change if he sees it as a very “plus”, a “fingerprint” of his presidency in order to go into history as a president being colored but with an instinctive path for having shown some exceptionalism compared to other US presidents.
      Maybe this could include helping the underprivileged, the millions of people living on streets already in the US or marking his mark on a population like Palestinians putting their “plight” onto a pedestal and forcing Israel to acknowledge its wrongdoings and to change it.
      Uptil yet no sign of something like this.

      Sorry, but I hope that you are right for the sake of all these innocent children ….
      I still hope it very very much …..


      • Gene Schulman March 26, 2013 at 7:18 am #

        Monalisa, I think you’ve got it just right. Although Ray’s analysis is good, I would contest whether Obama even has a conscience, let alone an unconscious which would allow him to see the “other” for what they are. He is a narcissist who has only one agenda – himself.

  12. Jim K March 25, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    Planet Zionism.

  13. walker percy March 26, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    After some reflection, I now think it is a mistake to take Obama’s comments in Israel at face value. If nothing else, he is a calculating politician, and is perfectly capable of pulling off a grand deception for strategic or legacy reasons. There must be a large group of smart people spinning what-if scenarios for every possible outcome in the Middle East in the White House. The disintegration of Arab societies makes our gov’t. very, very nervous and it should. Obama is aware of the complexities of these matters, maybe more than anyone.

    Obama is privy to a lot of information that we are not, and it would be a mistake to characterize his behavior as jejune. Possibly ill-conceived, but not ill-informed. Of course, he doesn’t personally believe the nonsense that european holocaust survivors who set up Israel and who initiated the main conflict that has caused so much unhappiness and pain for so many people to this very day, were direct descendants of biblical jews. You learn in 9th grade about how genetics work, and how after hundreds of generations, everyone is related to everyone else. So why would Obama make these patently ludicrous statements in public? Why would he reverse US position on settlements?

    My theory is that this performance was intended to win over evangelical republicans, who believe that Obama is the devil because he wants to destroy Israel. The cognitive dissonance of the comments on conservative websites last week was quite funny; people whose identity is constructed around hating Obama and loving Israel trying to wrap their brains around this overtly-zionist Obama. he is desperate about 2014 congressional race, and kinows he must get a democratic majority in both houses to be able to fix our budget problems, which take precedence over the latest outrage from our “friends” in Israel.

    As usual, the world is forced to spend energy and resources on Israel and its problem restraining 100 million ever-more desperate Arabs from killing them. Unfortunately, our President should be worrying about the looming “haircuts” to bank depositors in other European countries, and then to us.


    • Richard Falk March 26, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

      Walker: An astute assessment, especially the cool calculations, and the interplay between regional worries in the ME and domestic priorities, especially gaining a Democratic majority in both houses. Best wishes, Richard

      • Rabbi Ira Youdovin March 27, 2013 at 8:22 am #

        The only thing wrong with Walker Percy’s “astute” assessment is that it cannot be supported by any discernable evidence. If President Obama is so desperate to court the evangelical vote in the 2014 Congressional elections, why is he pushing for same-sex-marriage, abortion rights, Obamacare and other items that are an anathema to evangelicals? Besides, repeated studies have shown that foreign affairs have little impact on Congressional elections, as the Constitution assigns primary responsibility for these to the executive branch of the U.S. government.

        Rabbi Ira Youdovin

    • Jerry J April 28, 2021 at 11:08 pm #

      How ignorant can you get? Israel was not set up by “European Holocaust Survivors.”

  14. Rabbi Ira Youdovin March 29, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    To: Gene Schulman, Jose Mas, Bjorn Lindgren

    I begin by thanking you for your thoughtful well-intentioned posts, which create an opportunity for what I hope you will accept as a thoughtful response.

    1. Regarding opposition to Israel as a Jewish State, I must ask what you understand by “Jewish State”? To be sure, some Jews seek to make Israel into a theocracy ruled by religious law in which non-Jews and even liberal Jews are unwelcome. While their vision and actions are assuredly horrendous, they constitute a small minority whose significance is magnified by sensationalist media. In the highly unlikely even that they seize control, you will find me and many other Zionists on your side of the barricades.

    Before making dire predictions about Palestinian Israelis, one must examine in non-polemical terms the current status of Palestinians who comprise 20% of Israel’s citizenry. It would be disingenuous to suggest that they have full equality, But it’s no less misleading to portray them as downtrodden and oppressed. In fact, they enjoy a standard of living and human rights, including franchise, that exceeds that of their siblings in most other middle eastern states. (N.b. This is not an endorsement of the status quo. Many Jewish and Jewish-Palestinian human rights organizations in Israel and throughout the world are fighting for improvement. Israel being a Jewish state does not preclude its being a pluralistic democracy. )

    Apropos, it must be remembered that ultra-Orthodoxy (or Haredism) is by no means the only expression of religious Judaism. Nor is it the largest. More on this in a moment.

    Moreover, one must consider the alternatives. Some, including Prof. Falk, advocate for a “bi-national secular state.”” But isn’t this This pretty much what the western allies tried as they went about re-organizing the defeated Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires following WW1. What they got were mash-ups like Yugoslavia that held together so long as a ruthless dictator held sway, but eventually disintegrated into bloody civil war. If one wants a preview of a bi-national “Israelstine” a decade or so down the road, look at Syria today. Or Iraq. Or Lebanon. It’s not a pretty picture.

    Besides, while the notion of a bi-national state is almost always directed at Israel, one must ask how the Palestinians feel about it. Would they be willing to abandon their struggle for an independent Palestinian state? I think not.

    2. Regarding the notion that Jews worldwide march in lockstep with Israeli government policy: this is a canard rooted in deliberately spread misinformation that can be easily discredited if one is willing to look at the facts.

    In the recent presidential election, 70% of American Jewish voters voted for Obama although Netanyahu clearly favored Romney.

    Polls repeatedly show that a substantial majority of American Jews favor a two-state solution with a substantial Israeli withdrawal from territory occupied in 1967 and negotiated land swaps from inside the Green Line to compensate for the land taken.

    Those who dissent from Israeli government policy are not afraid to speak out. It is the long-held official policy of national Jewish groups such as the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish organization in North American comprising 1.5 million members of more than 900 affiliated congregations. J Street, a highly visible Washington lobby, advocates against the Occupation. Smaller groups such as Americans for Peace Now, T’ruah, and many others do the same. Yes, we are denounced by the hardliners. But we continue to speak out.

    Note to Jose Mas: I’m among the dissenters. I first signed a petition opposing the Occupation in the mid-1970’s, and have been speaking and writing against it ever since.

    In Israel, many Jews and Jewish groups work to end the Occupation and correct inequalities inside Israel. Rabbis for Human Rights actually sends Jewish volunteers to help West Bank Palestinians harvest their dates.

    Which brings us to a final point: Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Israelis want to end the Occupation. Why that hasn’t happened as yet is fodder for another post. But I don’t want to abuse my welcome by making this one even lengthier than it already is.

    Rabbi Ira Youdovin

    • Gene Schulman March 30, 2013 at 5:58 am #

      To: Ira Youdovan

      What I understand by a “Jewish State” is one that is beholden only to its Jewish population. By definition it cannot be democratic. I agree that the ultra-Orthodox do not make up the majority of the population in Israel, but they do wield a very strong political influence. The current government depends highly on their votes to remain in power. In order to garner those votes, their demands must be heeded, ergo the strong settler movement.

      Imagine if the American constitution referred to the U.S. as a Christian state (which actually might not be far off), how would you react to that? The beauty of America is the separation of religion and state, which permits not only freedom to believe, but also freedom from religion.

      As for the Palestinian Israelis, it is not that they might be less downtrodden and oppressed than their brethren in the occupied territories. The question should not be comparative with those, but rather their co-citizens in Israel. They do not have the same rights as Jewish citizens; in where they can live, in education, in freedom to marry and bring their families to live with them, less access to jobs, etc., etc. And they are constantly under the threat of having their citizenship taken away and being “transferred” out of the country. Just ask Avigdor Lieberman and others of his ilk, who are actually proposing such a measure. And I would add, it is not only the Palestinian Israelis that suffer this discrimination, but many of the oriental Jewish citizens It is well known that Israel is a European, Ashkenazi Jewish creation and is governed by such to the degradation of its black (Ethiopian) and other darker skinned oriental indigenous Jewish population (current Miss Israel notwithstanding).

      Your understanding of history is not much better than your understanding of the American constitution. It is the Western powers that have created the “mash ups” of Yugoslavia and Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. These territories were divided into spheres of influence to be controlled by the very Western powers that won the war. Yugoslavia escaped by joining the non-aligned nations, but its recent disintegration was aided by American and other NATO powers. Speaking of being disingenuous, Iraq and Syria and Libya were stable states with thriving economies, and although there was dissent among the religious sects – Sunni, Shia, etc. a certain modus vivendi applied until the Western powers decided to break these states up in order to exploit their natural resources, thus bringing chaos to the region. Though Messrs Hussein, Khadaffi, et al. may have been authoritarian in their governance, these states and their populations thrived. Indeed, it is not now a pretty picture.

      In my humble opinion, a bi-national state including all the citizens of Palestine/Israel is the only way to bring peace in the region. I believe that this is the only just way. It is much too late for the creation of a separate state for the Palestinians. The existing powers of Israel will not have it. They prefer to ethnically cleanse all of the Arab population.

      Finally, I am afraid that so long as the U.S. and Israel share a common vision of how the Middle East shall be controlled, there is little hope for peace, and the slaughter will continue. If I were religious man, I would ask for god’s help. But I have lived long enough to know “god is not in his heaven” and all is not right with world.


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  7. 'Look at the world through their eyes' -- Obama should take his own advice - March 28, 2013

    […] A version of this piece appeared on Richard Falk's website 4 days ago. Falk is the special rapporteur to the U.N. on human rights in the Palestinian territories. He is an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. […]

  8. ‘Look at the world through their eyes’ — Obama should take his own advice ~ by Prof. Em. Richard Falk | Occupied Palestine | فلسطين - March 28, 2013

    […] A version of this piece appeared on Richard Falk’s website 4 days ago. Falk is the special rapporteur to the U.N. on human rights in the Palestinian territories. He is an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. […]

  9. Palestine – UN Special Rapporteur Bans Free Speech…writes David Singer - April 2, 2013

    […] This has happened to myself and at least one other person when we attempted to post comments in response to an article written by Professor Falk titled ” What was wrong with Obama’s speech in Jerusalem” (https://richardfalk.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/what-was-wrong-with-obamas-speech-in-jerusalem/#comments) […]

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