After watching and listening to President Obama’s speech in Israel several days ago, I have now spent a good deal of time reading and listening to reactions to this speech from a wide variety of individuals, officials, and media, both within and beyond Israel.
First, nothing comes close to what I think can be gained simply by watching and listening to the speech. Reading the transcript is good too, but in so doing, you miss much about Pres. Obama’s presentation, and you also miss the reaction(s) of the audience, 2,000 young people chosen by lottery.
Second, as is so often the case with Pres. Obama, it is possible to see what you want to see in what he has to say, to pick pieces of his presentation, to ignore the parts with which you don’t agree.
Of all the reactions I have followed, two sets of responses stand out for me: the reactions of nine young people who were in the audience and interviews with some young, Palestinian activists.
You can see these reactions for yourself:
- Israeli Students Reflect on Obama’s Speech
- Palestinian Teenager(s) Respond to Obama’s Speech (There is more than one reaction/segment here, but you have to be a bit persistent to find it. But once you do, it’s definitely worth the effort.
I don’t often urge readers to spend 50:33 minutes of their time on something I found valuable. This time, however, is different.
Tim Malieckal said:
Watching it now – it drives me to distraction that Obama is so maligned. It’s less a consideration of his ‘big game’ ability to make big speeches – no small feat – but how such speeches demonstrate not just his intelligence, or command of the nuts and bolts of complex issues, but his ability to weave them all together to present the bigger picture.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. America’s become reflexively anti-intellectual, and Obama is an intellectual par excellence. It’s why he’s termed ‘aloof’, ‘professorial’, and disdained as not being ‘political’ enough.
“These are facts”.
He knows how to spew political homilies and then cut to the chase.
This becomes important when he demonstrates his understanding of the history of Israel in the context of the security issue, uncategorically names Hizbollah a terrorist organization, and calls Iran a legitimate threat – BUT insists Iran’s nuclear issue must be solved diplomatically, through sanctions (via a coalition of the UNWILLING to go to war).
That nuance may elude we Americans, unable to grasp any nuance whatsoever on any issue (I hate to say it, and it’s sad, but true), but for Israelis who actually live in danger, they get it. The applause and cheers make that quite clear.
“I understand there are people in this hall who do not simply skeptical about peace, but question its underlying premise… but it’s important to be open and honest, especially with your friends. The easiest thing for me to do would be to put this issue aside; just express unconditional support for whatever it is Israel wants to do” (27th minute). In saying so, he lampoons what being ‘Strong on Israel’ has meant in the our politics, and shows how that is simply bad for the Zionist dream.
The ‘undertow of isolation’ is a beautiful metaphor, and “Progress with Palestinians is a powerful step while sidelining the extremists on both sides” is yet another attempt to speak truth from power to the people.
“It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own… It’s not just when violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer”.
Can any of us imagine an American pol having the courage to say this?
Never. We should be proud of our Prez and this speech. Wow.
It’s clear he wants a two-state solution (“Israel must remain a Jewish state”) and that the borders of said states must be fair and inviolate (“Settlement activity must stop”). And he shows the way, too: “Political leaders will never take risks if people do not push them to take risks. You must create the change you want to see”. Talk about talking past Bibi to the people themselves! Very strong stuff.
“Sometimes the greatest miracle is realizing that the world can change”. God, let’s hope so. If only we’d believe the same. I know the book on Obama is that he has great speeches and does nothing, but on this of all issues, a lot of unspoken truths are known by all, and uttered by none. On this score, pointing out the elephant in the room is a big step.
Pretty hilarious that the feed cuts to a picture of a smilingly moronic George W Bush, as the narrator mentions that this week marks the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War. How far we’ve come, indeed.