Many of my fellow Jews are prone to "shrei gevalt," to "cry out woe." President Obama gave a speech in a country that likes to fancy itself the leader of the Arab world in which he said the Jews have a right to be a nation in their homeland, he denounced Holocaust denial, he affirmed America's commitment to Israel — yet many find fault.
For example, fresnozionism.org says "Throughout, Obama struggles to equate Israel with ‘Palestine’, so he can justify taking from one to give to the other. Of course, ‘Palestine’ will never be satisfied until there is nothing left of Israel — but apparently he is unable to see this."
As Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb puts it, "When Obama holds a Seder at the White House, they love it. When he quotes Koran or cites Arab achievements (the list ain't so long, Algebra and arches in buildings – so what's the big deal?) he's become the agent of Muhammed."
Obama's speech brings back an era of diplomacy. Instead of painting the world into black and white, calling for Crusades, and labeling other nations part of the axis of evil, Obama shows he hears the valid concerns of both sides, while condemning the radicals who are opposed to peace on both sides. He praises his hosts — recalling the glory days of the Muslim world and quoting the Koran — which is of course both good manners, and guaranteed to make the audience feel good. All the while not letting them off the hook for things like violent extremists or lack of democracy.
And what is it that gets some Israelis so upset? Obama had the temerity to say that settlements are a problem. And they are. The 40-year long occupation of the West Bank was supposed to enhance our security and deepen our connection with historic Israel. Instead it has caused endless friction, cost tons of money, drained resources and people away from the Negev and Galillee, and has eroded the Zionist commitment of a large number of secular Israelis.
What Obama had to say is mostly what the center of Israel would say: we have a right to peace and security, and the Palestinians should be able to live in dignity in a state of their own.
The NY Times has a good roundup of opinion on the speech from a variety of sources in the Middle East. You can read it here.
Will the President's speech herald "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims," as he called for in his speech? I don't know, but I sure hope so.
We can almost (but not quite) take it for granted that America's relationship with Israel is rock solid. So if America's relationship with the Muslim world improves, ours is likely to improve as well. And that's the real key to our security and stability.
The Torah charges us to "seek peace and pursue it." I am feeling cautiously optimistic knowing that America has a President who seems to understand diplomacy. We will never be able to bomb our neighbors into peace. We will have to talk them into peace. And we'll need some help.