OSC: Israeli Press on Obama’s Cairo Address

The USG Open Source Center translates key passages from the Israeli Hebrew press responding to President Obama’s Cairo address to the Muslim world. The Israeli far right accused him of Holocaust denial for recognizing that Palestinians have suffered from Israeli policies.

Israeli Press Views Obama’s Cairo Speech, Note ‘Limited’ Time Frame for Netanyahu
Israel — OSC Summary
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Document Type: OSC Summary

The Israeli Hebrew-language press on 5 June carries numerous commentaries critiquing President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech on 4 June. Many writers note the positive aspects, such as the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, the Jewish people’s right to a homeland after centuries of persecution and the Holocaust, and the need for the Arab world to recognize Israel and halt violence.

Some commentators, primarily on the right end of the Israeli political spectrum, deplore Obama’s perceived analogy between the Holocaust and the suffering endured by the Palestinians and accuse him of rewriting the Middle East’s history. As most authors see it, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been given a limited time frame to reshuffle his coalition in order to work together with Obama or see his tenure come to an end soon.

Netanyahu’s Choice: Reshuffle Coalition or Short Tenure

Ben Kaspit writes in “The Broker’s Dream” on page 2 of Ma’ariv : “Israel watched Obama fearful and crouched in a corner. Official Israel that is. Jerusalem’s response was feeble and lacking in imagination, as anticipated. Yeah sure, eternal peace is on its way, one could almost hear Netanyahu mumble from under Ya’aqov Katz’s moustache. Obama did not flinch from declaring yesterday, in the heart of Cairo, America’s unwavering friendship with Israel, but with the same breath made it clear that America’s expectations from this friend could no longer be postponed. His statements on the Holocaust could not have been delivered any better by Elie Wiesel. Nevertheless, immediately afterward he spoke of the Palestinians’ suffering.
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“Right-wing Israelis who are out to get Obama will use this fact to attack him. Left-wing Israelis who wish Obama well were not overly impressed. The American President had no intention of comparing the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust and that of the Palestinians as result of their Al-Nakbah; moreover, he cited the exact figure, 6 million. Nevertheless, in his new role as ‘honest broker’ (remember?), he saw fit to mention the traumas of both sides. And, as everybody knows, both sides have their share of traumas.

“Binyamin Netanyahu will have to come to a decision soon. It’s either ‘yes’ to Obama or ‘no’ to Obama, just as Yitzhaq Shamir once had to give an answer to James Baker. If Netanyahu wants to work together with the President, enter the history books, and give peace a chance, he will have to change his coalition and become a true leader — to undergo the process undergone by Menahem Begin, Ari’el Sharon and Ehud Olmert. It is doubtful that, given his personality and his family background, he is capable of such a change. If he chooses to curl up in a corner and defend Israel’s security interests as he sees them, then he is in for a tough, exhausting, and even a shorter than expected term in office. It’s his decision to make now. The deadline — early June. A hot summer awaits us.”

(Tel Aviv Ma’ariv in Hebrew — independent, second-largest circulation) Speech Not Easy for Israelis After 16 Years of US Indulgence

Reporting from Cairo, Nahum Barne’a and Smadar Peri write in “I Came. I Spoke. I Conquered” on page 2 of Yedi’ot Aharonot : “It was not an easy speech for many listeners in Israel. Not necessarily because of the content — but because of the emphases, because of the atmosphere in the hall and, mainly, because for 16 years we were indulged by two administrations that viewed Israel as the favored ally, sometimes the only one, between the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the shores of the Persian Gulf. The White House knew from the outset that the response in Israel would be somewhat sour, but it felt it had no choice: in light of the devastation left behind by eight years of Bush, the only way to try and rebuild American interests in the region was to court the Muslim and Arab world. If this came at the expense of the Israelis, so be it. It would always be possible to fix it (and Obama did, in the comprehensive interview that he gave immediately after his speech to seven reporters, one of them from Yedi’ot Aharonot).”

“Many Israelis most probably resent the surfeit of balance between the wrongs done to the Jewish people and Israel and those done to the Palestinians, between the tough decisions required of Israel and those required of the Palestinians. They lament the absence of a threat to use force against the Iranian nuclear program, and that the word ‘normalization’ (between Israel and the Arab world) was nowhere in the speech. In contrast, it is important to see the half full glass: Obama’s speech was meant to be a tool in the war against one enemy — Islamic extremism. It was directed not only against terror organizations, but also against the attempts by Muslim and Arab regimes to have it both ways — to spread religious incitement and to fund terror, and to be a legitimate member of the international community. This does not only threaten America but, maybe, primarily Israel.

“Moreover, one cannot help but admire a President who begins his term with an intensive effort to promote the solution to a problem that has been oppressing Israel since its inception. In the talk after the speech, Obama made it clear that he was only at the beginning of the road. He is not naive. He knows that it will take time until peace is achieved, if at all. Yesterday, he crossed the starting line.”

(Tel Aviv Yedi’ot Aharonot in Hebrew — independent, centrist, largest circulation) Obama Gives Netanyahu ‘Limited Time Frame’

Washington correspondent Orly Azulay writes in “Circular Deal” on page 4 of Yedi’ot Aharonot : “Barack Obama laid on the table in Cairo an offer Israel cannot refuse and one over which the Palestinians and Arab countries will justify their reputation as always missing the chance if they do not rush to grab it. Obama did not re-invent the wheel: There was nothing in his peace offer that someone else had not uttered before him. The novelty was in the dosage, the tone, and the show of determination.”

“Words can touch, and yesterday Barack Obama touched many hearts in the Middle East. However, his test will be in the actions, which is why he has already started to prepare: Next week, he will dispatch Mitchell to the Middle East to receive Netanyahu’s answers. After the election in Iran, US and Iranian representatives will sit down and launch their dialogue. He has taken the seat at the wheel of the engine: As far as he is concerned, the train is already on its way and this is the last call to Netanyahu. Come July-August, Obama will once again ascend the Middle East podium and present a plan that includes not only a working outline but a timetable. Obama is now giving Netanyahu a limited time frame, expecting him to join the new winds of his own volition before he is forced to cope with a whirlwind.”

Israel, Everybody Else Have ‘No Reason To Be Upset’ About Speech

Shmu’el Rosner writes in “Obama as Miss Hawaii” on page 7 of Ma’ariv : “Like the contender in the Miss Hawaii beauty pageant, Barack Obama yesterday stood on the podium and sought world peace. Only that — and a settlement freeze; no more is needed. The speech was eloquent, finely honed, splendidly constructed. But try to recall one line from it and you will find out that this is not so easy. Obama talked a lot, but cautiously, as one who does not want to spoil a festive occasion by saying something that might raise someone’s hackles, be controversial, or rub salt into a wound. Iran profited from this in the nuclear passage: Obama did not utter even one word that might be construed as a threat or even the shadow of a threat against it. Israel also gained: The US President felt that he had wrangled enough with us over the past two weeks and made do with a repetition of what everyone already knows. Israel has no reason to be upset about this speech. The US President went out of his way to expound on the commitment to its well-being, incorporating a reminder about the circumstances that led to its establishment. In fact, neither has anyone else reason to complain about Obama. He delivered a brilliant speech, but not a particularly interesting one. Its strength lies in the very fact that it took place.”

“Obama talked at great length, but provided little detail. How does he intend to go about attaining peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians without ‘forcing’ his will upon them? How ill he persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program? And will he support an Iraqi government from the outside even if the Iraqis do not have a ‘secure and united’ country, as he wishes to have? He provided no answers to any of those questions. There is no certainty that he has these answers. Either way, the Cairo address certainly did not cause great damage: Whether there will be a turning point or not will be determined by the success or failure of Obama’s policy. When Ronald Reagan beseeched ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall,’ this was a bold, aggressive, and controversial call. Yet even that speech would have seemed different in hindsight if the Berlin wall had not indeed fallen.”

Obama Told It Like It Is — But Only to Israelis

Ben-Dror Yemini writes in “Political Correctness” on page 4 of Ma’ariv : “This was a politically correct speech. According to Barack Obama, Islam and the West are one and the same. They both give equality to religions and to peoples, they both share the value of human dignity. And in general, it’s wrong for Americans to have stereotypes about Muslims, just as prejudices about Americans are wrong. Complete equality. Not that we’ve ever heard about huge demonstrations with signs ‘death to Muslims’ throughout the United States, as opposed to dozens of such demonstrations in Muslim countries. But this didn’t confuse Obama. He continued with his politically correct speech.”

“Obama proved that he is capable of telling the truth to people’s face — when it comes to Israelis. What he said about settlements was a fair and sincere statement, one that shows respect to Israelis, even if it angers some of them. When it comes to Muslims, however, the situation is a little more complicated: you need a lot of whitewashing, obfuscation, and political correctness before you get to the real stuff. On second thought, if that’s the price in order to tell the Muslims that they have to stop terror and recognize Israel as a Jewish state — then maybe it’s a price worth paying.”

Settler: Obama ‘First-Rate Racist’, Palestinian Suffering Analogy ‘Not Far From Holocaust Denial’

West Bank settler Beni Katzover, a former chairman of the Yesha Settlement Council, writes in “First-Rate Racist” on page 4 of Ma’ariv : “The US President did a good thing when he drew a comparison between the Jews’ suffering in World War II and the suffering of the Palestinians ‘in pursuit of a homeland,’ as he put it. Such a blatant distortion of history is not far from Holocaust denial. Making an analogy between the Jewish Holocaust and the Palestinians’ suffering is like comparing the victim with the murderer who failed to complete his mission.”

“Obama reiterated his desire for the establishment of two states for two nations in an apparent show of balance and equality between Jews and Arabs. Yet Obama ‘forgot’ that more than 1 million Arabs live in Israel, enjoying democratic rights that they cannot find anywhere among their brethren in the Arab countries. No one stands in their way when they build, even illegally, tens of thousands of homes, but we the Jews in Samaria are not allowed to live there, cannot build, and are prohibited from purchasing land. Obama, who is supposed to be sensitive to racism, himself turns into a first-rate racist. However, I believe it is ultimately all for the best: Such far-reaching falsehoods and such brutal, unbalanced pressure, will force us to go back to basics, to go back to our Jewishness and to our backbone, which have sustained us throughout the generations.”

Obama Rewrote History of Middle East, Singled Out Settlements as Obstacle to Peace

Yo’az Hendel, a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, writes in “Only the Settlers Stand in His Way” on page 8 of Yedi’ot Aharonot : “Obama’s speech in Cairo yesterday is an attempt to sell the Middle East dreams for a pot of lentils. Obama is preaching to the converted, appeasing the most appeased Arabs — those who get huge financial aid from him every year — while presenting unrealistic demands from the only country in the region that has completely identified with him without playing any honor games. The new liberal US President has no intention of telling others how to live their lives. Every country, he claimed, has the right to implement its kind of ‘democracy’ as it sees fit — every country but one.

“He had no words of condemnation for the horror regime in Saudi Arabia under the leadership of his friend, the enlightened King Abdallah; the torture installations in Egypt; the attitude toward Christians and women; the poverty, tyranny, and illiteracy in most of the countries in the Arab world. He talked about all these in a far-away language as though this applied to a distant planet that is unrelated to the goal of his journey. He produced a silver platter with a recommended US ideal that everyone is welcome to taste from — and, if they don’t want to, they may very well pursue their sacred tradition, whatever it may be. There was only one wrongdoing which the latter-day US prophet lamented, one phenomenon that he was not prepared to gloss over and move on the day’s other affairs — the settlements.

“With the help of some talented advisers, the history of the unattainable Middle East peace has been rewritten. Gone are the internal struggles between the Sunnis and the Shiites as the focus of the fire and blaze; gone is the Arab nations’ contempt for the Palestinians and their refugees, who roam all around the Middle East; and, to the chagrin of the Oslo people, likewise gone are even the generous Israeli proposals and the bursts of violence that came in their wake.

“What remains as an obstacle to peace, according to Obama, is only that minuscule thing on the hills of Samaria. The settlers, whose vast majority is busy building houses, planting trees, and raising children (conceived, apparently, as part of natural growth). They are the ones who are responsible for the Israeli-Arab conflict. It is opposite them that a real liberal President must remain unwavering. Had we not witnessed the consequences of the dismantling of the settlements in the Gaza Strip, somebody in Israel might have thought that this is true.”

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