Obama Should Not Equate Palestinians With African-Americans (*Cuz Palestinians are lesser) – Marc Schulman/Newsweek
President Barack Obama has been on a charm offensive over the past two weeks. First, he focused on the American Jewish community during his visit to the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue in Washington, D.C. Then, on Tuesday evening, he set about winning over the hearts and minds of Israelis in a lengthy interview he gave to Channel 2, a TV ratings leader in the country.
These combined efforts, together with the interview he granted to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg two week ago, have all been designed to reassure both the Jewish community and Israelis that the president cares about them—and that “he has Israel’s back.”
In addition, these presidential appearances seem designed to criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as partial payback for his recent speech to the U.S. Congress. I recently took issue with what I felt was Obama’s misguided view of the importance of the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitic nature. This week, I compliment him for his understanding of Netanyahu and vast segments of our society.
Obama stated in his Israeli TV interview Tuesday night that “Prime Minister Netanyahu is somebody who is predisposed to think of security first; to think perhaps that peace is naive; to see the worst possibilities, as opposed to the best possibilities of Arab partners and Palestinian partners.”
Obama’s assessment is absolutely correct. He succinctly articulated Netanyahu’s position. Moreover, right or wrong, that statement accurately reflects the view of the overwhelming majority of Israel’s citizenry.
After over 70 years of warfare, it is very hard for Israelis—even those who lean to the left—to see “the best possibilities of Arab partners and Palestinian partners.”
Any prospect for embracing an overly hopeful perspective was extinguished within most Israelis during the second intifada, when bombs were exploding in all of our cities; or after our withdrawal from all of Lebanon, which was followed by Hezbollah missiles falling on northern Israel; or, after that, by our withdrawal from Gaza, which was followed by the missiles falling on Tel Aviv.
If we needed a reminder of the ever-present tensions of “the situation,” preparatory drills were held throughout the country on Tuesday to simulate a missile attack—and once again, the sirens blared. So attempting to persuade Israelis that we should adopt a more optimistic attitude toward our potential Palestinian or Arab partners will not convince many Israelis that our prime minister is wrong.
That said, Obama might have a slightly greater success influencing Israelis about our responsibilities regarding Palestinian rights. In his interview, he said that the moral claims of “a Palestinian family in Ramallah” that suffers restrictions of movement “have a claim on us, they have a claim on me.”
Of course, if Obama wants to have any chance of swaying Israeli opinion, he needs to decouple his view of the “plight” of the Palestinians from that of African-Americans in the United States. It is true that both groups have been, and are, discriminated against, and certainly both groups have suffered. However, the historic analogy between the two is very weak. African-Americans were taken as captives from their homes and kept as slaves until a civil war freed them. Many African-Americans endured a century or more of discrimination, even after the Civil War ended.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a traditional nationalistic conflict, with two peoples claiming the same land. This conflict would have ended long ago if Palestinians had agreed to any of the previously offered compromise solutions.
Regardless, if Obama or any other Western leader wants to motivate Israelis to change their views or actions in any way, they must speak to our better nature. Obama should address himself to those of us who feel that occupying another group’s territory is wrong and to those of us who realize we cannot continue to maintain an occupation and remain a democracy.
Obama needs to understand that there are very few of us who are convinced we have a true partner who really wants peace but instead understand that it is in our own interest to find ways to stop occupying another people’s territory while still ensuring that we maintain our own security.
Polls have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of Israelis support a two-state solution and would like to end the occupation. However, most Israelis do not see how we can attain that goal without endangering Israel’s security.
Unfortunately, how to achieve that balance is a conundrum to which neither Obama nor the leaders of Israel’s left-of-center parties have found a solution yet.
Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com.