Obama with Drama: Translating his comments on Israel’s Netanyahu from the Vulcan

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Now that Leonard Nimoy is most unfortunately no longer with us, Barack Obama is the primary exemplar in American popular culture of the maddeningly calm, excruciatingly logical way of speaking that Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry forever associated with the alien race, the Vulcans and the character Mr. Spock. Mr. Spock’s opposite was the plain-spoken, irascible Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley). Obama needs a little Bones-speak sometimes.


In an interview with The Huffington Post on Saturday, Obama reacted to the Israeli election campaign, the victory of far right wing Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, and his electoral rhetoric pledging no Palestinian state. What exactly he said, however, is a little obscured by Vulcan-speak, and here I offer a translation into plain, blunt English:

The Vulcan: “Well, I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, congratulated his party on his victory. I did indicate to him that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic. And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”

English translation: “For appearances sake I had to call that son of a bitch and pretend to congratulate him. But I let him know that his outrageous torpedoing of any Palestinian state has two consequences:

1. Israel isn’t a democracy any more– you don’t get to call yourself that if you plan to rule 4 million Occupied people with martial law forever.

2. The Palestinians and the Americans are not falling ever again for this two-faced lying bastard’s charade of “peace talks” that actually just provide a fig leaf to massive and expanding Israeli theft of Palestinian land. (And I’d just like to apologize to George Mitchell and John Kerry for putting them on that Judas Cradle, which we can now rename “Netanyahu Cradle.”

The Vulcan: OBAMA: “… the status quo is unsustainable. And … while taking into complete account Israel’s security, we can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That’s not a recipe for stability in the region.

HUFFPOST: “Is there any reason at this point to believe that he’s serious about a Palestinian state?”

OBAMA: Well, we take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”

English Translation: “Hell will freeze over before Netanyahu lets the Palestinian people go. But with all the turmoil in the Middle East, the Israeli creeping annexation of the Palestinian West Bank and permanent siege of the Gaza Strip are going to blow up in his face and in America’s. We don’t really care if he gets popped in the kisser, but the USA is not going down with the “INS Netanyahu.” Since he’s a roadblock in the way of a superpower achieving its policy goals, we’ll just go around the s.o.b. If we have to, we’ll haul his ass before the United Nations Security Council or the International Criminal Court.”

The Vulcan: “HUFFPOST: And what was your reaction to his warning on Election Day about Arab voters heading to the polls “in droves”?”

OBAMA: We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions. That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly. And I think that that is what’s best about Israeli democracy. If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also I think starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country.

English Translation: “Israelis of Palestinian heritage going to the polls in droves is bad? Netanyahu’s attitude toward Palestinian-Israelis makes 1960s Southern governors like George Wallace and Orval Faubus look like effing Nelson Mandelas in comparison. He’s creating a Jim Crow atmosphere, coding 6 million Israeli Jews as “white people” and putting all the other nearly two million Israelis under the sign of the N-word. That isn’t a democracy and if it is what Israel stands for now, no one but the other flaming racists and fascists in the world is going to be pro-Israeli. And you can imagine how I feel about the mofo basically using the N-word. You have to wonder if that’s his real problem with me.”

The Vulcan: “HUFFPOST: … “What impact do you think the Israeli elections are going to have on your ability to sell any Iranian nuclear agreement to both the American public and this Congress?”

OBAMA: “I don’t think it will have a significant impact. . .

What is going to have an effect on whether we get a deal done is, number one, is Iran prepared to show, to prove to the world that it is not developing a nuclear weapon, and can we verify that in an intrusive, consistent way.

And frankly, they have not yet made the kind of concessions that are I think going to be needed for a final deal to get done. But they have moved, and so there’s the possibility.

The other thing is going to be me being able to show not just the American people or the Israeli people but the world that, in fact, we have mechanisms in place that will prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And that the deal that is made not only is verifiable, but it also makes it much less likely that Iran is able to break out than if we have no deal at all. And that’s an argument that we are going to have to make, if we have a deal.”

English Translation: “That little piss-ant isn’t what’s standing in the way of a deal. It’s the Iran side’s unwillingness to accept terms we can sell to the Europeans. If Iran comes through, Western European corporations are going to descend on Tehran like revelers descending on New Orleans at Mardi Gras, and there won’t be a thing Nutty-yahoo can do about the collapse of international sanctions on Iran. We’re doing the Israelis a favor here by getting Iran under regular inspections and back under an NPT regime, and if they can’t see that they can go suck on a lemon.”


The Huffington Post interview:

Via Huffington Post

48 Responses

  1. Thanks, Dr Cole, for translating the “language of diplomacy” into regular human-speak! I hope your version is reasonably accurate. One wonders which “language” the President uses when he’s on the phone with “Nutty-yahoo” (Ben&Jerry’s least favorite flavor)

  2. Stephen Hatt

    Professor Cole, following you for some years now and always appreciative of your ability to convey, I have never enjoyed one of your postings more than this. It is positively spot on and brilliant. Where I have oft referred to Netanyahu as the world’s most disingenuous man, SOB works well too. Clearly, his re-election and the referendum he sees it as have major trouble written all over it for the U.S. Hoping for his defeat and a more reasoned voice replacing his, to his re-election and latest pronouncements, I now say good. Maybe now, Americans will finally wake up and finally see what a festering boil this man and his cohorts are, literally dragging America into constant, escalating and untenuous moral dilemma. Allies do not do that, but this Israeli leader has never been an “ally.”

  3. I shouldn’t be laughing about such a horrifying situation……………………………………………………but

  4. That was a great translation of what Obama is privately thinking. It is sad that he has to think what way, and act the diplomat, when dealing with a major irritant like Bibi.

  5. This translation is what makes “Informed Comment” an accurate title for your blog.
    Merely by reading this article, an open minded “uninformed” reader can be readily informed.
    I appreciate your skill Juan Cole. Thank you!

  6. Wonderful translation! Once again we are in a position of wondering if President Obama means it or not.

  7. Good stuff Dr. Cole! I was giving the angry black man translation as I was reading this…being the angry black man that I am :-).

  8. Once again I must ask why we still refuse to acknowledge that whatever may be happening in the negotiations with Iran, so long as we continue to lie about Israel’s nuclear weapons (and provide aid to Israel despite legislation forbidding such aid), the Israelis can continue to be confident that they “own” America. All this commotion will die down, and we’ll still be standing with whatever rightwing outfit is running Israel. Meantime, a democratic Jewish state is impossible by definition. If equal rights are granted to all, then what makes it Jewish? If there are no equal rights, what makes it a democracy? It doesn’t matter if Netanyahu ceases to make racist comments. The reality is still racist.

  9. But Netanyahu isn’t the real problem. He just happens to be the current political mannequin. If he were mercifully to disappear tomorrow the real problems – AIPAC. Sheldon Adelson and other Israel backers – would just get another front man who might prove to be worse. And, they will get away with their vendetta as long as politicians in the White House and Congress and mouthpieces in the mainstream media are prepared to sell their souls.

    The Palestinians and the Americans are not falling ever again for this two-faced lying bastard’s charade of “peace talks” …

    The Palestinians probably never really bought into Netanyahu’s charade, but there will remain many Americans who will.

    Hell will freeze over before Netanyahu lets the Palestinian people go.

    The original Zionist mission was to “transfer” the Palestinians out of the Palestine Territories. Ethnic cleansing remains the goal.

    • It’s really true. Netanyahu is just the face of the problem, in that he is the politician in Israel at the moment most sensitive to the situation, and the most able to giving the people there what they want.

      If he had a stoke and died tomorrow, his successor would have to respond to a nearly identical set of circumstances. They would not come with the baggage Netanyahu has accumulated in the course of his career, which which give them a nominally better situation with which to work, but only nominally better.

    • They still can still be prosecuted for violations of interational law. They may not have to ‘cooperate’ with the court when their soldiers commit massacres, but they’re still accountable as nations for their crimes!

    • The International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over any person – Israeli citizen or otherwise – who may commit a war crime on the territory of a member state – such as Palestine – and whom the internal justice system of the offender’s state is inadequate or unwilling to initiate criminal prosecution.

      • Is it the position of the UN that (a) a state of Palestine exists and (b) it and its people are subject to ICC jurisdiction? Does Israel accept (a)? I would guess not. Good luck serving a subpoena.

  10. Great translation and spot on.

    I’m new to your site, and I’m really enjoying it. Making a donation today.

    • ‘… What could come out of … [Obama’s] mouth = what the appeasing hypocritical Newspeak so-and-so should have been saying since 2009.

  11. This translation has got to go viral.

    Maybe Obama could issue a brief statement saying: “Juan Cole’s version is quite consistent with the my views and thoughts on the matter. Thank you Juan for scraping away my knee-jerk gravitas, and telling the American people what I really meant to say. And would you please stand by to help me out when I give my next AIPAC speech.

  12. Talking of translations, this is an excellent interpretation of Netanyahu’s recent lapse into honesty: An American translation of Netanyahu’s racist get out the vote speech by Annie Robbins – link to mondoweiss.net

  13. Sometimes I’ll admit I get annoyed with how deliberately measured and even keeled Obama is. But I know that’s how he has to be, because he is just treading a razor’s edge here. If he starts getting emotionally reactive and angry it’s going to be used against him. Remember how much better he looked than McCain when they were running against each other. McCain looked like a petulant, peevish child and Obama seemed like the adult. I think there’s a similar dynamic going on now, except compounded by the power of The Lobby and all its octopus tentacles stretching throughout news media, think tanks and various political offices etc. Add that to the fact that Americans, because of the sheer volume of misinformation and shoddy reporting out there, mostly have no idea what’s really going on in the ME. Most Americans get their info from Fox news, not Informed Comment or Lobelog. If Obama started describing what’s happening in precise terms, most Americans would probably think it sounded crazy. It wouldn’t compute.

    In the end, as much as I’d like to see Obama verbally bitch slap Bibi around, I’m sure Obama’s strategy is smarter: keep calm, and give Bibi just enough rope to hang himself.

    • Most Americans get their news from Fox? You give Fox too much credit. Most liberals do by constantly talking about them – it serves to build them up. More people still watch network news than cable news

      • Well, I hope you’re right. But my father, my grandparents, etc. It’s depressing. And anyway, network news? What. Like that’s so much better? Gimme a break.

      • Not that many Americans directly get their news from Faux-News. But, they have great influence in setting the framing for the rest of the media. They have much more power over the national discourse then the size of their audience would indicate.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth, for you sympathetic and sane response. II do hope Obama had a chance to read Cole’s delightful parody. I am sure he needs a good laugh. It made my day. Now back to the world where you can’t always shoot off your mouth, especially when you are president of the USA. Save that advice for the Monday Morning Quarter Backing where there is nothing to loose, and you can feel smart telling the coach what S/he should have done.

  14. Yes Kirk and Spock remain baffled and thanks for the translation, but sooner or later we will need a Klingon translation of Neocon/Zionist/Rapture dialect to help the Organians bring lasting peace! Live long and prosper!

  15. Thank you for the translation. It’s a great sanity-check for me; in particular pointing to the similarities to the Jim Crow treatment of the Palestinians. I thought I was the only one interpreting N’s rhetoric, behavior and actions as racist.

  16. Does the United States have to sell an agreement with Iran to the rest of the negotiating team or is it the other way around? There are moments when I think the Europeans (certainly the Russians and Chinese) may be willing to move ahead with an agreement but that the US, with the millstone of Israel around its neck, is the critical obstacle.

  17. I grew up in Mississippi in the 60s and 70s. The warnings about Arabs being bussed, the outsiders, the international conspiracy all transported me back in time. That stuff does indeed seem to turn out the racist vote.

  18. There are those who are excited because of the Huffington Post interview in which Obama expressed his disbelieve that Netanyahu was seeking a two state solution and also suggested that there might be a new response to Palestinian initiatives in the UN Security Council.

    But it is also important to recognize what else he said.
    He said that America remained committed to the security of Israel and that financial and security and military cooperation between the two countries would not change.

    He also said that he believes that Israel was founded on the basis of its historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland. Thus Obama again embraces the Zionist mythology of a two millennial long ‘homeland’ awaiting the ‘return’ of its children.

    He seems to be saying that his only problem is with Netanyahu and that everything else is just fine.

    Obama strikes me as woefully uninformed about undemocratic nature of Israel and of the many laws within Israel which privilege Jews and denies equal rights to the Palestinian minority inside Israel.

    He does not seem to me to even be keeping up with the day to day violence perpetrated against Israel’s Palestinian minority or of those living under occupation.

    • He said that America remained committed to the security of Israel and that financial and security and military cooperation between the two countries would not change.

      In other words it would be business as usual. And Netanyahu figured it would be.

      Obama strikes me as woefully uninformed about undemocratic nature of Israel…

      He is fully informed. He’s just still and probably always will be in thrall to the Israel lobby.

  19. Just send this one straight to Key&Peele for one of their Obama translator bits. Hilarious.

  20. Very well said. Had we put the investment made in endless foreign wars since WWII against democracy and socialism, into international humanitarian programs, we would have lifted the most unfortunate half of humanity from desperate poverty, providing them health and a decent standard of living, and we would have friends everywhere. Most of the present conflicts would have been avoided or much reduced. Instead we have enemies everywhere and declining security.

    It is true that the minority president presumed to care for the unfortunate is the most effective shill for oligarchy, and the woman secretary of state presumed to seek peace is the most effective warmonger. But the economic concentrations that did not exist when our Constitution was written have come to control our elections and mass media, denying us the very tools needed to restore democracy. They have waged war upon the US, the definition of treason in our Constitution. The US can restore democracy only by waging war upon itself. Jefferson said that “the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants,” and that is ever more clear today.

  21. Have always referred to Obama as the real Spock. Amazing to hear Richard Engel and Haas trying to spin this serious disagreement as a “personality” issue between BB and Obama on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Not as serious foreign policy disputes.

    MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski has really been playing hardball on Morning Joe the last couple of mornings on this issue. Scarborough is gone for now. She asked guest who will help her “cut through the bs” being repeated about BB ‘walking back” his pre election rejection of the two state solution. Of course many have been saying his actions speak louder than his words for years. All guest tried to flip the script and blame Obama for the breakdown. Mika asked “what are you afraid of?” No one took the bait. Well not even Mika. One guest on Morning Joe referred to the huge rift as a “dysfunctional horror show.”

    Chris Matthews had it going on his program last night. However he continues to repeat that if you go to Israel anyone can say anything about the conflict. Well except Palestinians. Chris Matthews clearly unwilling to even face that it is illegal to mention the Nakba.

  22. I would give anything to see this: after Obama is out of office, a forum featuring him, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, where they openly discuss the impediments a sitting president faces dealing with Israel. That is to say, well-intentioned liberals who knew the path to peace REQUIRED challenging Israeli policies, intransigence and mendacity. But who knew what they could and couldn’t do, much less say. And I would like them to speak with absolute honesty and candor.
    And that panel should be moderated by Juan Cole.

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