Canadian and British PM’s reject Israel’s Isolation; Obama Accepts It
During the past year, three English speaking heads of state have spoken in Israel. Nearly a year ago, President Barack Obama addressed the people of Israel in the Jerusalem’s International Convention Center. In January, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the Knesset. This week British Prime Minister David Cameron did too.
The contrasts between the President Obama’s speech and those of Harper and Cameron are striking.
First of all, President Obama chose to forego addressing the Knesset on his first state visit to Israel. According to Jay Carney, “The president will speak to all of the Israeli people in front of an audience of young Israelis who … have it within their hands the power to shape Israel’s future.” In other words, President Obama doesn’t like the direction Israel is taking (Israel held election two months earlier) and will seek to engage Israelis who may be more receptive to his message that Israel’s elected leaders. Although the president was addressing university students, he refused to allow students from Ariel University attend his speech.
To be sure, President Obama said many of the right things in his speech. He even acknowledged that Israeli efforts at making peace resulted instead in being “… faced terror and rockets.” But these professions of sympathy come across as perfunctory.
Later in his speech, when President Obama addressed peacemaking his tone was different:
I also know, by the way, that not everyone in this hall will agree with what I have to say about peace. I recognize that there are those who are not simply skeptical about peace, but question its underlying premise, have a different vision for Israel’s future. And that’s part of a democracy. That’s part of the discourse between our two countries. I recognize that. But I also believe it’s important to be open and honest, especially with your friends. I also believe that. (Applause.) …
First, peace is necessary. (Applause.) I believe that. I believe that peace is the only path to true security. (Applause.) You have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine. (Applause.) That is true.
There are other factors involved. Given the frustration in the international community about this conflict, Israel needs to reverse an undertow of isolation. And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people over the long term is through the absence of war. Because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm. (Applause.)
How do you parse these paragraphs? He seems to be saying, “you’re entitled to your opinion, but it’s morally wrong. You want democracy? Make peace. You want to avoid isolation? Make peace.”
There are two other points about last year’s speech.
Above, the President talked about being “open and honest” with “friends.” In this case it’s a euphemism for saying “I disagree with you.”
When President Obama talked about Israel’s right to exist, he said, “… those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them or the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere.” He passes no judgment on those who deny Israel’s to exist, he just calls them wrong. The lack of outrage stands in contrast to the statements of Prime Ministers Harper and Cameron.
President Obama’s defenders like to say that the reason Jews don’t appreciate President Obama’s views on Israel is because he doesn’t feel Israel “in his kishkes.” (They dismissively use “Jews” as a stand in for “pro-Israel Americans.”) But, they say that intellectually the President “gets” Israel.
In last year’s speech I don’t see any real friendship, not even intellectual friendship. I see condescension. To be sure, President Obama said many of the right things, talking of Israel’s successes, friendship and shared values, but these were overshadowed by his focus of telling Israel that they are going in the wrong direction. Whether it is the result of hostility, narcissism or something else, I can’t say. But despite his numerous professions of friendship, President Obama’s speech was not the speech of a friend.
In January of this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada addressed the Knesset. In the speech, PM Harper laid out three principles of Canada’s support for Israel:
“First, Canada finds it deplorable that some in the international community still question the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel.
“Our view that Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable.
“Second, Canada believes that Israel should be able to exercise its full rights as a UN member-state and to enjoy the full measure of its sovereignty.
“For this reason, Canada has spoken on numerous occasions in support of Israel’s engagement and equal treatment in multilateral fora.
“And in this regard, I should mention that we welcome Israel’s induction this month into the western, democratic group of states at the United Nations.
“Third, we refuse to single out Israel for criticism on the international stage.
“Now friends I understand that in the world of diplomacy, with one, solitary, Jewish state and scores of others, it is all too easy “to go along to get along” and single out Israel.
“But such “going along to get along,” is not a balanced approach, nor a sophisticated one.
“It is just, quite simply, weak and wrong.
“Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world where that kind of moral relativism today runs rampant.
“And in the garden of such moral relativism, the seeds of a much more sinister notion can be easily planted.
“And so we have witnessed in recent years, the mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism and the emergence of a new strain.
“We all know about the old anti-Semitism.
“It was crude and ignorant, and it led to the horrors of the death camps.
“Of course, in many dark corners, it is still with us.
PM Harper, in contrast to President Obama, doesn’t just say that “Israel exists” in response to those who deny Israel’s right to exist. He says that those holding those views are deplorable. PM Harper also blasted the way the United Nations singles out Israel for criticism. He identified it as part of a “new strain” of antisemitism.
Towards the end of his speech, PM Harper stated:
“I believe the story of Israel is a great example to the world.
“It is a story, essentially, of a people whose response to suffering has been to move beyond resentment and build a most extraordinary society, a vibrant democracy, a freedom-loving country with an independent and rights-affirming judiciary, an innovative, world-leading “start-up” nation.
“You have taken the collective memory of death and persecution to build an optimistic, forward-looking society.
“One that so values life you will sometimes release a thousand criminals and terrorists to save one of your own.
Seth Lipsky summed up Harper’s speech nicely, ” What is striking about Harper’s speech is the willingness to confront political correctness and call the hostility to Israel for what it is.”
This week Prime Minister Cameron also addressed the Knesset. Like President Obama and PM Harper, PM Cameron spoke of the friendship between his nation and Israel. In contrast to Obama though, Cameron stated:
And we recognise the difficult and courageous decisions both sides are taking not least with Prime Minister Nethanyahu’s decision to release terrorist prisoners, with all the anguish that can bring for affected families.
But people come to this Parliament from all over the world and talk about maps and population numbers and processes and deadlines. They tell you how to run your peace process. I will not do that. You know I want peace and a 2 state solution. You don’t need lectures from me about how to get there.
I am not convinced that the Palestinians are ready for the peace Cameron outlined, but his approach wasn’t to hector Israel but to encourage it. Tom Wilson observed, “In this sense the sentiments Cameron expressed today are quite at odds with the increasingly thinly veiled threats coming from Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.” I also thought it as interesting that Cameron mentioned this:
On security, imagine a peace deal that would leave Israel more secure, not less secure.
Not a temporary deal, broken by Hamas firing rockets at you or Iranian proxies smuggling weapons through the Jordan Valley.
But a proper lasting peace that allows a strong moderate Palestinian government to end the fears of a failed state on Israel’s border.
A deal that means an end of all claims – and the end of all conflict.
It’s interesting that Cameron mentioned the Jordan Valley, as Israel has insisted that it needs to hold onto it for the foreseeable future. Palestinians have rejected Israel’s demand. Cameron, like Harper, expressed his outrage at the scapegoating of Israel:
An end to the outrageous lectures on human rights that Israel receives at the United Nations from the likes of Iran and North Korea.
An end to the ridiculous situation where last year the United Nations General Assembly passed 3 times as many resolutions on Israel as on Syria, Iran and North Korea put together.
No more excuses for the 32 countries in the United Nations who refuse to recognise Israel.
In the three speeches I see professions of friendship. In the cases of Prime Ministers Harper and Cameron, these statements come across as heartfelt and sincere. In the case of President Obama, his claims of friendship seem to serve as a justification for his lecture of Israel on the need to make peace.
[Photo: WorldNews / YouTube ]
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