What was Wrong with Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem

24 Mar



            It was master-crafted as an ingratiating speech by the world’s most important leader and the government that has most consistently championed Israel’s cause over the decades. Enthusiastically received by the audience of Israeli youth, and especially by liberal Jews around the world. Despite the venue, President Obama’s words in Jerusalem on March 21st seemed primarily intended to clear the air somewhat in Washington. Obama may now have a slightly better chance to succeed in his second legacy-building presidential term despite a deeply polarized U.S. Congress, and a struggling American economy if assessed from the perspective of workers’ distress rather than on the basis of robust corporate profits. 


            As for the speech itself, it did possess several redeeming features. It did acknowledge that alongside Israeli security concerns “Palestinian people’s right of self-determination, their right to justice must also be recognized.” This affirmation was followed by the strongest assertion of all: “..put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes.” To consider the realities of the conflict through Palestinian eyes is to confront the ugly realities of prolonged occupation, annexationist settlement projects, an unlawful separation wall, generations confined to the misery of refugee camps and exile, second-class citizenship in Israel, ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, and a myriad of regulations that make the daily life of Palestinians a narrative of humiliation and frustration. Of course, Obama did not dare to do this. None of these realities were specified, being left to the imagination of his audience of Israeli youth, but at least the general injunction to see the conflict through the eyes of the other pointed the way toward empathy and reconciliation.


            Obama also encouraged in a helpful way Israeli citizen activism on behalf of a just peace based on two states for two peoples. A bit strangely he urged that “for the moment, put aside the plans and process” by which this goal might be achieved, and “instead..build trust between people.” Is this not an odd bit of advice? It seems a stretch to stress trust when the structures and practice of occupation are for the Palestinians unremittingly cruel, exploitative, and whittle away day after day at the attainability of a viable Palestinian state. But this farfetched entreaty was coupled with a more plausible plea: “I can promise you this: Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.” There is some genuine hope to be found in these inspirational words, but to what end given the present situation.


            In my opinion the speech was deeply flawed in three fundamental respects:

                        –by speaking only to Israeli youth, and not arranging a parallel talk in Ramallah to Palestinian youth, the role of the United States as ‘dishonest broker’ was brazenly confirmed; it also signaled that the White House was more interested in appealing to the folks in Washington than to those Palestinians trapped in the West Bank and Gaza, an interpretation reinforced by laying a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl but refusing to do so at the tomb of Yasir Arafat. This disparity of concern was further exhibited when Obama spoke of the children of Sderot in southern Israel, “the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live.” To make such an observation without even mentioning the trauma-laden life of children on the other side of the border in Gaza who have been living for years under conditions of blockade, violent incursions, and total vulnerability year after year is to subscribe fully to the one-sided Israeli narrative as to the insecurity being experienced by the two peoples.


                        –by speaking about the possibility of peace based on the two state consensus, the old ideas, without mentioning developments that have made more and more people skeptical about Israeli intentions is to lend credence to what seems more and more to be a delusionary approach to resolving the conflict. Coupling this with Obama’s perverse injunction to the leaders of the Middle East that seems willfully oblivious to the present set of circumstances makes the whole appeal seem out of touch: “Now’s the time for the Arab world to take steps towards normalizing relations with Israel.” How can now be the time, when just days earlier Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of the most right-wing, pro-settler government in the history of Israel, selecting a cabinet that is deeply dedicated to settlement expansion and resistant to the very idea of a genuine Palestinian state? It should never be forgotten that when the Palestinian Liberation Organization announced back in 1988 that it was prepared to make a sustained peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders. By doing this, the Palestinians were making an extraordinary territorial concession that has never been reciprocated, and operationally repudiated by continuous settlement building. The move meant accepting a state limited to 22% of historic Palestine, or less than half of what the UN had proposed in its 1947 partition plan contained in GA Resolution 181, which at the time was seen as grossly unfair to the Palestinians and a plan put forward without taking account of the wishes of the resident population. To expect the Palestinians to be willing now to accept significantly less land than enclosed by these 1967 borders to reach a resolution of the conflict seems highly unreasonable, and probably not sustainable if it should be imprudently accepted by the Palestinian Authority.


                        –by endorsing the formula two states for two peoples was consigning the Palestinian minority in Israel to permanent second-class citizenship without even being worthy of mention as a human rights challenge facing the democratic Israel that Obama was celebrating. As David Bromwich has pointed out [“Tribalism in the Jerusalem speech,”] http://mondoweiss.net/2013/03/tribalism-jerusalem-speech.html Obama was also endorsing a tribalist view of statehood that seem inconsistent with a globalizing world, and with secularist assumptions that a legitimate state should never be exclusivist in either its religious or ethnic character. Obama went out of his to affirm the core Zionist idea of a statist homeland where all Jews can most fully embrace their Jewishness: “Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.” And with embedded irony no mention was made of the absence of any Palestinian right of return even for those who were coerced into fleeing from homes and villages that had been family residences for countless generations.

            Such a regressive approach to identity and statehood was also by implication attributed to the Palestinians, also affirmed as a a lesser entitlement. But this is highly misleading, a false symmetry. The Palestinians have no guiding ethno-religious ideology that is comparable to Zionism. Their quest has been to recover rights under international law in the lands of their habitual residence, above all, the exercise of their inalienable right of self-determination in such a manner as to roll back the wider claims of settler colonialism that have been so grandiosely integral to the Greater Israel vision and practice of the Netanyahu government. And what of the 20% of the current population of Israel that lives under a legal regime that discriminates against them and almost by definition is a permanent consignment to second-class citizenship. Indeed, Obama’s speech was also an affront to many Israeli post-Zionists and secularists who do not affirm the idea of living under in a hyper-nationalist state with pretensions of religious endowments.


            In my view, there are two conclusions to be drawn. (1) Until the rhetoric of seeing the realities of the situation through Palestinian eyes is matched by a consideration of the specifics, there is created a misleading impression that both sides hold equally the keys to peace, and both being at fault to the same extent for being unwilling to use them.  (2) It is a cruel distraction to urge a resumption of negotiations when Israel clearly lacks the political will to establish a viable and independent sovereign Palestinian state within 1967 borders and in circumstances in which the West Bank has been altered by continuous settlement expansion, settler only roads, the separation wall, and all the signs are suggesting that there is more of the same to come. Making matters even worse, Israel is taking many steps to ensure that Jerusalem never becomes the capital of whatever Palestinian entity eventually emerges, which is a severe affront not only to Palestinians and Arabs, but to the 1.4 billion Muslims the world over.


            In retrospect, worse than speech was the visit itself. Obama should never have undertaken such the visit without an accompanying willingness to treat the Palestinian reality with at least equal dignity to that of the Israeli reality and without some indication of how to imagine a just peace based on two states for two peoples given the outrageous continuing Israeli encroachments on occupied Palestinian territory that give every indication of permanence, not to mention the non-representation and collective punishment of the Gazan population of 1.5 million. Obama made no mention of the wave of recent Palestinian hunger strikes or the degree to which Palestinians have shifted their tactics of resistance away from a reliance on armed struggle.  It is perverse to heap praise on the oppressive occupier, ignore nonviolent tactics of Palestinian resistance and the surge of global solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, and then hypocritically call on both peoples to move forward toward peace by building relations of trust with one another. On what planet has Mr. Obama been living? 



56 Responses to “What was Wrong with Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem”

  1. Aaron March 24, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    As usual, 90% hyperbole and 10% substance. Falk always fails to tell the whole story and only picks the narrative that suits his agenda. There isn’t enough typeset to punch holes in all the falsehoods in your essay…………………..

    • Ray Joseph Cormier March 25, 2013 at 7:21 am #

      You are always free to offer your alternative vision. That’s what discussion is all about! There is no substance in your comment, only wind!

  2. Gene Schulman March 24, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Don’t pay attention to the Aarons of this world, Richard. They must be reading too much of J Street. Your essay is 100% on target. I don’t think our astronomers have yet discovered the planet on which Obama resides. I hope the never do.

  3. DorisV March 24, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    Thanks for an interesting summary of the speech and the situation. Do agree with what you say. Why a “jewish state”? Why do we keep dividing ourselves into religious camps? Time to realize that we live on a planet called Earth and that we have enough weapons to obliterate all of us. Give Peace a chance!!

    • Ray Joseph Cormier March 25, 2013 at 7:26 am #

      To this very Day Christ declares from the Mount: Blessed ARE the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.

      This transcends Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Atheism.

      Call NO MAN on earth your father. We have ONE FATHER who is in Heaven. Who could believe that?

      This perspective of Christ also transcends all religions.

  4. walker percy March 24, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Richard, et al.:
    Watching Obama’s speeches in Israel was deeply unsettling for me, because I have been a staunch Obama supporter and admirer, and so the cognitive dissonance of hearing him use vocabulary like “eternal” in describing the Jewish connection to Palestine was excruciating. I have since been thinking through his reasoning for taking this stance, and wondering what their game is. They are not ahistorical dunces like the last ones. This was a calculated decision to try to neutralize criticism of Israel at home, and to force those of us who support Obama, but are aware of the depth of Israeli malfeasance to stand down. I cannot accept that Obama is venal, therefore I must assume that he has a strategy in mind that does not include the US acting as a vassal state to its rulers in Jerusalem, of all places!

    Maybe I am just in denial, and I should accept the fact that the zionists have won, and the US will continue to unfairly protect and enrich Israel, in blatant disrespect to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, so terrorism will never end. The US will run out of money fighting one war after another to protect Israel from the deadly enemies they make wherever they roam. By that time, Israel will have built a real iron dome over their dumb homeland, but they will continue to kvetch in mid-dovin about the annoying scratching sound of the few surviving Arabs outside with their slingshots.

    What a beautiful world G_D is making for his chosen darlings!

    • Richard Falk March 24, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

      Walker: I am surprised that you were disappointed with Obama’s Israel visit and speech as it was
      only marginally more one-sided that his general approach to the two peoples. The tribalism was
      a bit gratuitous, over the tope, as was the sensitivity to Muslim sensitivities.

      With greetings,


  5. walker percy March 24, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    A vassal state is any state that is subordinate to another. The vassal in these cases is the ruler, rather than the state itself. Being a vassal most commonly implies providing military assistance to the dominant state when requested to do so; it sometimes implies paying tribute….
    from Wikipedia


  6. Björn Lindgren March 24, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Dear Richard,

    Thanks for clear-eyed comment on Obama’s visit to Palestine/Israel.

    It looks like the Nobel Prize winner in speech is living on planet Goldman Sachs. His behavior is pretty much the same in the US itself. While the U.S. falls apart in apathy and structural and open violence.

    The space for initiatives from Turkey also seems fading away. European countries sending weapons to the rebels, will pour more gasoline to the Syrian fire.

    Now the Palestinians have to go further on their own, launching long-term non-violent campaigns for a Palestinian state. Of course, they have to unite to accomplish the necessary conditions for this. It seems far away at the moment. And it will be a long struggle.

    At the horizon lurks an Israeli ethnical cleansing of the West Bank.

    Nevertheless, Spring will come.

    Cheers, Björn Lindgren

    • Richard Falk March 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

      Thanks, Bjorn. I always enjoy and agree with your comments! Richard

  7. monalisa March 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Dear Richard,
    thank you for your reflection on the present speech of the US president.

    When President Obama received the Nobel Price for Peace and his speech was all about war all alarm clocks were ringing in my ears.
    The next time was his speech in Cairo where too my alarm clocks rung.
    And this is the third speech where I am – as an European citizen – are alarmed.

    However, I was right from the beginning of his candidacy for president in some sort of scepticism how he would fulfill this position.
    And it seems that my suspicion, my way of thinking about some persons, even I don’t know them personally, had been right from the beginning.
    This because Obama had been within white people whereas he is colored. Being colored in the United States is different from much other states on our globe: colored people are right from the beginning “sanctioned”. Maybe all his way along his childhood and youth there had been some influence, so more or less an indirect one (this doesn’t mean that he wasn’t much loved by his grand parents and so forth) , about his person being colored.
    Being as elected president he is following the path of most white rich people when it concerns greed, wars, imprisonment, lies and – much much to regret – a way a person trained in the jurisprudence, trained what is right and what is wrong, trained which right people should have in their own dignity shouldn’t have been shown at all in the ways he did up till yet.

    Obama followed the path of his predecessors and all in all he showed the world a face of the USA which couldn’t be more devasteful as he didn’t stop immediately the infringements on peoples’ rights as well as wars (starting with korea), murder committed outside USA by Secret Services and imprisonment the USA is leading since the WWII. Instead that he took the chance to correct things he showed that he is just a puppet in the hands of the security complex like his predecessors (a very big and influential one in the USA!!) as well as the Pentagon/military complex and not to forget in the Israel Lobby. (It is the downfall of the USA that people being elected have to have so much support by big organizations, companies etc. that they can never feel free and independent when it comes to decisions!)

    I think we should trust and listen much much more to our natural inborn instincts which we accumulated over several thousand of millions of years when we have been developed as mankind and needed to take care for ourselves.

    Unfortunately the mainstream influence – too in Europe – is working for the oligarchy nowadays.
    And people in general are all too passive (as you already mentioned in your earlier essays) and actions will be take when it is too late (for example when drones will completely control the population).

    I feel so very sorry for the Palestinians being within the malstream of greed and power and
    denied of their rights.
    Isarels government rulers seem to have implemented much from Nazi Germany in their way how to rule their country. Committing crimes is the first sign of it, the second is the denial of rights of people within this country, the third is the Wall like the Berlin Wall when it had been built. Nothing learnt out of history.

    Take care of yourself


    • Richard Falk March 24, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

      Dear monalisa:

      you are as wise as ever, and perceptive beyond the normal!

      I think Obama’s timidity as a black man who has been invited to dinner at
      the plantation, and then is handed the keys to the mansion, does explain some of his behavior.

      It does seem very late in the history of this species to imagine a turn toward survival and decency, but we must not give up hope.

      warm greetings,


  8. madams12 March 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    THANK YOU RICHARD!!….But now, now that Defense News has posted their latest we can see that Obama brought his ‘special knee pads’ to Israel….as a reward (?) for saying “sorry” to Erdogan, apparently Obama will be “upping” the welfare check to Israel from the current measly $30Billion/2017 TO $40Billion /2027 ALONG WITH the increase from the pittance of $3.1 Billion to $4 Billion…with the encouragement to “do what you have to do to “defend” yourself with pre-emptive attack or whatever……..see this:http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130324/DEFREG02/303240005/U-S-Israel-Negotiate-Military-Aid-Extension?odyssey=tab (thanks to Jeff B!). /Miriam

  9. Fred Skolnik March 24, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    This is a really twisted response to a speech that was meant ro reestablish Obama’s credibility in the Israeli public and facilitate his efforts in the months to come to bring the two sides to the negotiating table. I am aware that nothing less than a speech that sounded like one of your blogs would have satisfied you but your way of thinking has gotten the Palestinians nowhere.

    As for the substance of your remarks, you still fail to grasp the fact that Israel is not an ethnic/religious state. It is a national state that is Jewish in the same way that France is French and Spain is Spanish, and in this national state the Arabs are a national minority whose primary identity is with the larger Arab world and that is the source of any discrimination they experience. Nonetheless, as polls have shown, they would not want to live under Palestinian sovereignty, which means that they understand that their life in a Jewish state is better than it would be in a Palestinian state – politically and economically – which is something that you and your readers apparently do not wish to understand.

    As for the rest, your understanding of Jewish and Arab claims in the Land of Israel is not based on any historical reality. The Arab-Israel conflict is a conflict between two nations or peoples claiming the same land. The only way to resolve such a conflict is through compromise. The only way to reach a compromise is through negotiations. Israel has publicly affirmed its willingness to enter such negotiations without prior conditions. This is the only path that will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. It may well be that you and your readers don’t want to understand this, getting more satisfaction from vilifying Israel, but it is precisely people like yourselves who encourage the Arabs in their intransigence by creating the illusion that if enough pressure is applied, Israel will be forced to compromise its existence. In the meanwhile, of course, the Palestinians will continue to live in misery. That doesn’t seem to trouble you in the least. When people are starving and there is a basket of food outside their door, the best advice you can give them is to open the door. For some reason, none of you has thought to do that.

    • Ray Joseph Cormier March 25, 2013 at 10:37 am #

      “you still fail to grasp the fact that Israel is not an ethnic/religious state.”

      How can you possibly think that when temporal Israel is recreated from the Bible? The only repetitive mantra is God gave the land to the Jews according to the Book. A Religious Book as a matter of Fact.

      Israel did not exist among the Nations for 3000 years. Ignoring all the realities on the ground of Today, Israel gives lip service to Peace but deals in idle words. By it’s actions and facts created on the ground, Israel surreptitiously recreates, slowly but surely, Eretz Israel as it existed 3000 years ago according to the religious Book.

      How can you so wilfully blind yourself to the reality Israel is a religious state, a Theocracy in origin, and in history?

      To claim God gave you the land on one side of the mouth, and say this has nothing to do with religion on the other is delusional!

  10. Mustafa March 25, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    While negotiating the sharing of the cake, Israel has been eating away at it for many years now. The precondition shouldn’t be a pause in new settlements, but a complete dismantling of all illegal settlements

  11. Ray Joseph Cormier March 25, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    It is said The Lord works in mysterious ways. Obama was supposed to travel by helicopter to visit Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ in Palestinian territory.

    A sudden, violent sandstorm forced the cancellation of that plan and Obama was left no alternative but to travel by road.

    He had no choice but to see the reality on the ground. He would have seen the separation wall, the check points that were kept open for him so he did not have to endure the daily indignities Palestinians must suffer in their own land. He would have seen the beautiful homes the settlers are building on the high ground and the contrasting poverty of the Palestinian homes.

    Seeing those ground contrasts may have left him with some haunting images that will begin to work in his subconscious. We can only hope!

    • Richard Falk March 25, 2013 at 7:59 am #

      Ray: An intriguing, interesting hope. Time will tell. Greetings, Richard

    • monalisa March 26, 2013 at 6:55 am #

      to Ray:
      Your point of view is very interesting.
      however, I think that when kids, children and growing-ups are indirectly influenced from outside they will when being adults not know why this or that will make them uncomfortable. This because most of our experiences in early childhood goes down directly into the subconscious where it isn’t easy to digg into when having reached a certain age.
      That’s why religions are teaching already little children some “basic rules” and – according to my experience living in the Middle of Europe and knowing exactly how children were and still are influenced by the Roman-Catholic church, some more, some less – therefore make sure that these “teachings” will remain for a long long time, usually life-long, within the individual’s subconscious.

      Obama will want to show that he can “do it better than any white man”.
      That’s in short what I think. And therefore I doubt very much that he will not even try to alter some relations to Israel. Its only “hot air” if it is perceived otherwise.

      Moreover, the fact is that even former US presidents are living very comfortable and no one had ever been put on trial for having given orders to murder several millions innocent people (inclusive women and children). Not to speak of all the devasted soil and sea.

      In short: he will have seen, he will feel uncomfortable but will put it aside.
      He will not lift any finger to help those who would be in need of help – neither US citizen nor Palestinians.
      I really wish I am wrong with my way of thinking.
      This could only change if he sees it as a very “plus”, a “fingerprint” of his presidency in order to go into history as a president being colored but with an instinctive path for having shown some exceptionalism compared to other US presidents.
      Maybe this could include helping the underprivileged, the millions of people living on streets already in the US or marking his mark on a population like Palestinians putting their “plight” onto a pedestal and forcing Israel to acknowledge its wrongdoings and to change it.
      Uptil yet no sign of something like this.

      Sorry, but I hope that you are right for the sake of all these innocent children ….
      I still hope it very very much …..


      • Gene Schulman March 26, 2013 at 7:18 am #

        Monalisa, I think you’ve got it just right. Although Ray’s analysis is good, I would contest whether Obama even has a conscience, let alone an unconscious which would allow him to see the “other” for what they are. He is a narcissist who has only one agenda – himself.

  12. Jim K March 25, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    Planet Zionism.

  13. walker percy March 26, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    After some reflection, I now think it is a mistake to take Obama’s comments in Israel at face value. If nothing else, he is a calculating politician, and is perfectly capable of pulling off a grand deception for strategic or legacy reasons. There must be a large group of smart people spinning what-if scenarios for every possible outcome in the Middle East in the White House. The disintegration of Arab societies makes our gov’t. very, very nervous and it should. Obama is aware of the complexities of these matters, maybe more than anyone.

    Obama is privy to a lot of information that we are not, and it would be a mistake to characterize his behavior as jejune. Possibly ill-conceived, but not ill-informed. Of course, he doesn’t personally believe the nonsense that european holocaust survivors who set up Israel and who initiated the main conflict that has caused so much unhappiness and pain for so many people to this very day, were direct descendants of biblical jews. You learn in 9th grade about how genetics work, and how after hundreds of generations, everyone is related to everyone else. So why would Obama make these patently ludicrous statements in public? Why would he reverse US position on settlements?

    My theory is that this performance was intended to win over evangelical republicans, who believe that Obama is the devil because he wants to destroy Israel. The cognitive dissonance of the comments on conservative websites last week was quite funny; people whose identity is constructed around hating Obama and loving Israel trying to wrap their brains around this overtly-zionist Obama. he is desperate about 2014 congressional race, and kinows he must get a democratic majority in both houses to be able to fix our budget problems, which take precedence over the latest outrage from our “friends” in Israel.

    As usual, the world is forced to spend energy and resources on Israel and its problem restraining 100 million ever-more desperate Arabs from killing them. Unfortunately, our President should be worrying about the looming “haircuts” to bank depositors in other European countries, and then to us.


    • Richard Falk March 26, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

      Walker: An astute assessment, especially the cool calculations, and the interplay between regional worries in the ME and domestic priorities, especially gaining a Democratic majority in both houses. Best wishes, Richard

      • Rabbi Ira Youdovin March 27, 2013 at 8:22 am #

        The only thing wrong with Walker Percy’s “astute” assessment is that it cannot be supported by any discernable evidence. If President Obama is so desperate to court the evangelical vote in the 2014 Congressional elections, why is he pushing for same-sex-marriage, abortion rights, Obamacare and other items that are an anathema to evangelicals? Besides, repeated studies have shown that foreign affairs have little impact on Congressional elections, as the Constitution assigns primary responsibility for these to the executive branch of the U.S. government.

        Rabbi Ira Youdovin

  14. Rabbi Ira Youdovin March 29, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    To: Gene Schulman, Jose Mas, Bjorn Lindgren

    I begin by thanking you for your thoughtful well-intentioned posts, which create an opportunity for what I hope you will accept as a thoughtful response.

    1. Regarding opposition to Israel as a Jewish State, I must ask what you understand by “Jewish State”? To be sure, some Jews seek to make Israel into a theocracy ruled by religious law in which non-Jews and even liberal Jews are unwelcome. While their vision and actions are assuredly horrendous, they constitute a small minority whose significance is magnified by sensationalist media. In the highly unlikely even that they seize control, you will find me and many other Zionists on your side of the barricades.

    Before making dire predictions about Palestinian Israelis, one must examine in non-polemical terms the current status of Palestinians who comprise 20% of Israel’s citizenry. It would be disingenuous to suggest that they have full equality, But it’s no less misleading to portray them as downtrodden and oppressed. In fact, they enjoy a standard of living and human rights, including franchise, that exceeds that of their siblings in most other middle eastern states. (N.b. This is not an endorsement of the status quo. Many Jewish and Jewish-Palestinian human rights organizations in Israel and throughout the world are fighting for improvement. Israel being a Jewish state does not preclude its being a pluralistic democracy. )

    Apropos, it must be remembered that ultra-Orthodoxy (or Haredism) is by no means the only expression of religious Judaism. Nor is it the largest. More on this in a moment.

    Moreover, one must consider the alternatives. Some, including Prof. Falk, advocate for a “bi-national secular state.”” But isn’t this This pretty much what the western allies tried as they went about re-organizing the defeated Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires following WW1. What they got were mash-ups like Yugoslavia that held together so long as a ruthless dictator held sway, but eventually disintegrated into bloody civil war. If one wants a preview of a bi-national “Israelstine” a decade or so down the road, look at Syria today. Or Iraq. Or Lebanon. It’s not a pretty picture.

    Besides, while the notion of a bi-national state is almost always directed at Israel, one must ask how the Palestinians feel about it. Would they be willing to abandon their struggle for an independent Palestinian state? I think not.

    2. Regarding the notion that Jews worldwide march in lockstep with Israeli government policy: this is a canard rooted in deliberately spread misinformation that can be easily discredited if one is willing to look at the facts.

    In the recent presidential election, 70% of American Jewish voters voted for Obama although Netanyahu clearly favored Romney.

    Polls repeatedly show that a substantial majority of American Jews favor a two-state solution with a substantial Israeli withdrawal from territory occupied in 1967 and negotiated land swaps from inside the Green Line to compensate for the land taken.

    Those who dissent from Israeli government policy are not afraid to speak out. It is the long-held official policy of national Jewish groups such as the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish organization in North American comprising 1.5 million members of more than 900 affiliated congregations. J Street, a highly visible Washington lobby, advocates against the Occupation. Smaller groups such as Americans for Peace Now, T’ruah, and many others do the same. Yes, we are denounced by the hardliners. But we continue to speak out.

    Note to Jose Mas: I’m among the dissenters. I first signed a petition opposing the Occupation in the mid-1970’s, and have been speaking and writing against it ever since.

    In Israel, many Jews and Jewish groups work to end the Occupation and correct inequalities inside Israel. Rabbis for Human Rights actually sends Jewish volunteers to help West Bank Palestinians harvest their dates.

    Which brings us to a final point: Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Israelis want to end the Occupation. Why that hasn’t happened as yet is fodder for another post. But I don’t want to abuse my welcome by making this one even lengthier than it already is.

    Rabbi Ira Youdovin

    • Gene Schulman March 30, 2013 at 5:58 am #

      To: Ira Youdovan

      What I understand by a “Jewish State” is one that is beholden only to its Jewish population. By definition it cannot be democratic. I agree that the ultra-Orthodox do not make up the majority of the population in Israel, but they do wield a very strong political influence. The current government depends highly on their votes to remain in power. In order to garner those votes, their demands must be heeded, ergo the strong settler movement.

      Imagine if the American constitution referred to the U.S. as a Christian state (which actually might not be far off), how would you react to that? The beauty of America is the separation of religion and state, which permits not only freedom to believe, but also freedom from religion.

      As for the Palestinian Israelis, it is not that they might be less downtrodden and oppressed than their brethren in the occupied territories. The question should not be comparative with those, but rather their co-citizens in Israel. They do not have the same rights as Jewish citizens; in where they can live, in education, in freedom to marry and bring their families to live with them, less access to jobs, etc., etc. And they are constantly under the threat of having their citizenship taken away and being “transferred” out of the country. Just ask Avigdor Lieberman and others of his ilk, who are actually proposing such a measure. And I would add, it is not only the Palestinian Israelis that suffer this discrimination, but many of the oriental Jewish citizens It is well known that Israel is a European, Ashkenazi Jewish creation and is governed by such to the degradation of its black (Ethiopian) and other darker skinned oriental indigenous Jewish population (current Miss Israel notwithstanding).

      Your understanding of history is not much better than your understanding of the American constitution. It is the Western powers that have created the “mash ups” of Yugoslavia and Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. These territories were divided into spheres of influence to be controlled by the very Western powers that won the war. Yugoslavia escaped by joining the non-aligned nations, but its recent disintegration was aided by American and other NATO powers. Speaking of being disingenuous, Iraq and Syria and Libya were stable states with thriving economies, and although there was dissent among the religious sects – Sunni, Shia, etc. a certain modus vivendi applied until the Western powers decided to break these states up in order to exploit their natural resources, thus bringing chaos to the region. Though Messrs Hussein, Khadaffi, et al. may have been authoritarian in their governance, these states and their populations thrived. Indeed, it is not now a pretty picture.

      In my humble opinion, a bi-national state including all the citizens of Palestine/Israel is the only way to bring peace in the region. I believe that this is the only just way. It is much too late for the creation of a separate state for the Palestinians. The existing powers of Israel will not have it. They prefer to ethnically cleanse all of the Arab population.

      Finally, I am afraid that so long as the U.S. and Israel share a common vision of how the Middle East shall be controlled, there is little hope for peace, and the slaughter will continue. If I were religious man, I would ask for god’s help. But I have lived long enough to know “god is not in his heaven” and all is not right with world.

  15. Richard Falk March 26, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Mr. Sanger: My blog is no longer open for this sort of polemics on the Israel/Palestine conflict. There are many other more important venues to carry on these discussions.

  16. Richard Falk March 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Mr. Skolnik: My blog is no longer open for this sort of polemical responses that insult either me or others who submit comments. There are many other venues for this sort of debate.

  17. Miriam Zablah-Bandes (@ZMimiba) March 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    thank you so much for your article, it states so clearly what I thought of O´s visit and could not phrase.

  18. Rabbi Ira Youdovin March 27, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    Prof. Falk,

    While no-one can oppose an effort to bring civility to this or any blog, I must respectfully ask why standards are not being applied uniformly to all posts?

    I refer specifically to posts by Rehmat, Walker Percy and others, which are insulting to Jews, as well as non-Jews who are assuredly appalled by statements like Percy’s recent, “We know that the chosen folks are big on revenge.” This allegation is so woefully lacking in supportive historical evidence that it must emerge from some deep-seated animus toward Jews.

    I agree with your point that criticism of Israel, including harsh criticism, does not necessarily reflect anti-Semitism. But Mr. Percy crosses the line when he blames Jews, posing as Russian oligarchs, for the current financial crisis in Cyprus, which he predicts will lead to the collapse of the world economy, ignite WW3 and engender a “spasm of judeocide that is about to happen will make the h-caust seem mild.” But that’s what they want, apparently. And finally, the peroration: “What a beautiful world G_D is making for his chosen darlings.”

    Prof. Falk, it’s your blog so you’re entitled to run it in any way you wish. But perhaps readers are entitled to an explanation for why statements like this pass your civility test.

    Rabbi Ira Youdovin

  19. monalisa March 27, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    to Rabbi Youdovin:
    Nowadays many people know seconrd, third and even more foreign languages. This includes the Hebrew language.
    However, even not knowing the Hebrew language one is able to buy the religious book/s of your religion (Talmud etc.) in most of the spoken languages.
    So no problem for many people to read what had been written in the religious book/s of the Mosaic religion (starting at a time of approx. 350 B.C.) which you are as its clerk represent to the world.

    Moreover, Israels policy shows exactly what its wants: it wants war on all costs.
    Whereas I personally don’t like the sometimes aggressive tone in Walker Percys writings (and he should correct it) and his rose-toned glasses when it comes to Obama to neglect speeches by Israels government representatives (Netanyahou etc.) and therefore recorded, would be silly. Most states on our globe know Israels behaviour as well as its intention to create war whether it concerns Lebanon (see the years before) or Iran. It is no secret and blatantly served on a silver plate by Israels government to the world.

    PS: If you would read about nuclear weapons you would know that it could prove to be a danger to Israel itself if it chooses (and its political tone suggests it) to start a war with Iran with nuclear weapons.
    Its non inspected nuclear arsenal intents such thoughts. Even Israel doesn’t live on another earth or is able to go to another one in order to escape its own created desasters – in case of a nuclear war.


  20. Jose Mas March 27, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    Dear Richard,

    Your essay is definitely on target and I thank you for it. However, what you say has been said again and again by many Jews (from Israel and from the Diaspora) and non-Jews for decades. What you seem to accomplish is to be savagely attacked with, intelligent, but fallacious, and malicious arguments, founded on pure sophistry by those Jews in the USA who support Israel unconditionally. These Jews go as far as accusing you and others of being anti-Semitic.

    However, I feel that you (plural) invariably fall short by euphemistically calling the formulation and execution of joint Israel and USA policies a “Washington” problem. In my opinion, the problem is that some members of the Jewish and conservative Christian community in the US form a strong lobby in favor of all Israeli government policies.

    If you wish to be truly courageous, you have an obligation to denounce and expose these conservative and powerful groups who often do not act in the best interest of the Jewish and the American peoples. I suspect that there are more Jews that openly oppose the policies of the last conservative Israeli governments in Israel than in the United States. Most people in the US, who oppose the policies and actions of the US policies in the Middle East, especially in relationship to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are afraid to express their views. They do not want to be called anti-Semitic

  21. walker percy March 27, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Dear Rabbi,
    It’s been a while.
    I have been following events in Israel and Cyprus closely, and stand by my assertions. I find it both fascinating and terrifying that Germany is the force behind the Cypriot haircut, in which unscrupulous jewish industrialists, all of whom hold Israeli passports, are having their bank accounts seized and money transferred to Germany. Who would have predicted this turn of events, but really, once you spot the pattern, it becomes impossible to deny this jaw-dropping turn of events, and its ominous implications.

    What is the perverse impetus that causes humans to act as one, ouija board-like, spontaneously steering events and causing these horrifying episodes to recur with disturbing regularity. Imagine a world without holocausts, pogroms or shoahs, how advanced we could be by now if it wasn’t for this pernicious need to reset our civilization every so often. I agree with Mona Lisa that some of this atrocious behavior can be attributed to the exposure of very young children to repetitive indoctrination and mental torture through religion. But it is not an excuse. Even though no single individual is culpable (except William Kristol, of course), every zionist, regardless of how liberal, must be held to account. This time the cameras are recording everything and there will be no manipulation of the historical record after the fact. Beware.

  22. Gene Schulman March 27, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    To Rabbi Youdovin: I too am dismayed with some of Walker Percy’s remarks, and I have exchanged disagreements with him on other occasions. However, you must consider that it is Israel and the Zionist lobby that does most of the conflating, and it is hard to separate Jewish from Israeli thought and policies. If Israel insists on referring to itself as a “Jewish State”, then it must suffer the consequences. Of course, not all Jews are beholden to Israel and all do not support its policies or ideology. Unfortunately, if they don’t, they are considered anti-Semitic or self-hating Jews. It is time that Zionism is separated from Judaism. One is not necessarily the other. One can disagree with Judaism on religious grounds, but that is quite different from disagreeing with Zionism on political grounds. Let us try to understand the difference. As a teacher (Rabbi), it is your job to help bring this understanding, not to aid in the confusion.

    As for who is responsible for foreign policy in the U.S. government, you might like to go back and re-read the Constitution. The legislative branch legislates; the executive branch executes. Unfortunately, thanks to the judicial branch, that no longer seems to apply.


  23. monalisa March 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    to Gene Schulman,
    when reading of a “Jewish state” it reminds me always on the medieval Europe:
    the Roman-Catholic Church was omnipresent.
    It did or di’nt allow this or that.
    Composers had to obey and therefore many music pieces have religious titles (even if the music itself reminds/or gives other feelings/impressions.

    As for the people of Judaic/Mosaic belief: they had to suffer and had certain quarters allowed to live in. They had been forbidden a lot of to do, for example to have their own shops, to excel in craftmanships of those days. But they were allowed to lend money and make their profits out of it.

    Looking at Israel today reminds me that it does
    mimicking Nazi Germany in certain ways
    mimicking the medieval Europe where the Roman-Catholics had their say (politically and otherwise) and no other religion was officially allowed (which took centuries to change!).

    How sad that Israel has chosen such a political path.


  24. Gene Schulman March 27, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    To monalisa,

    I hate to be pedantic and keep recommending books, but your little essay brings up one I just finished reading yesterday, and is the perfect paradigm for your thoughts: “God’s Jury: the Inquisition and the Modern World” by Cullen Murphy. It is the history of the various inquisitions – Spanish, Roman, etc., right down to the present day. As one blurb has it; “It is a reminder, and we need to be constantly reminded, that the most dangerous people in the world are the righteous.” It seems to me that Zionism has inherited the mantle of carrying out the latest inquisition – against the Palestinian people. And the U.S. is a participant, on an even wider scale. Just listen to the righteousness in Obama’s talk.

  25. walker percy March 31, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Jose Mas
    I agree with you. The problem is that once you decide to stop willfully ignoring the truth of this situation, it is very hard to limit one’s speculations, leading to all kinds of dangerous conclusions (see my post below). What these US Jews and evangelicals don’t realize (yet) is that, once folks reveal themselves to be partisan and wiling to say or do anything for their side, human nature requires observers to start doubting every new statement they make. For example, once you find out that Israel participates in targeted assassinations of their perceived “enemies” and then shamelessly denies that they have done any such thing, until a few years later when they admit, yeah, we did that one, too (heh-heh), shouldn’t we being questioning every protestation of their innocence? Shouldn’t we start to wonder if they also assassinated other people whose murders were never solved, but whose deaths Israel, and by association, their US enablers, were seeking? We have already re-opened the Arafat case, should we do the same for Paul (Wexelstone) Wellstone ,who was investigating 9-11 in 2002, and who was blocking US invasion of Iraq with his vote in Congress? Who was Jack (Rubinstein) Ruby and why did he kill Oswald? Who really shot John Kennedy? Where does it end? What calumny will be revealed next, and how will these enablers continue to repress the horror of what they have done and are continuing to do? What explanation could William Kristol or Abe Foxman cook up if someone comes forward with definitive proof that Kennedy’s head was blown off in broad daylight by Jewish mobsters carrying Israeli passports? Could we restrain Americans from carrying out 21st century pogroms in the United States in revenge for the murder of our president?

    The sad truth is that Israel was founded by European holocaust survivors who must have been badly scarred by that experience. They came to the middle east immediately after witnessing the most horrifying atrocities. I imagine they were highly desensitized to violence and racial hatred, and when they set out to take the land from the Arabs, they used tactics that may have seem quite mild in comparison to what they had just experienced, but were appallingly violent and evil by today’s standards. They stupidly exposed their contempt for their Arab hosts, and communicated their personal feelings of genetic, intellectual, cultural and economic superiority to the inhabitants of the country to which they hoped to emigrate, making it impossible for them to remain there. Eventually, Israel will have to be dismantled or destroyed, regardless of what Obama says today. Their fate was sealed the moment Ben Gurion gave the orders to wipe out whole villages of innocent Arabs. It is just taking a very long time to accomplish this, thanks to the reckless enabling of venal American Jews and clueless American evangenlicals.

  26. Gene Schulman March 31, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    @ Walker Percy: No point in parsing your essay. You destroy its whole premise with your statement that Israel was founded by Holocaust survivors. If you’re going to stretch the truth to that point, how can you expect anyone to believe anything else you say?

  27. walker percy March 31, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    Gene, as I said, repressing obvious truths is a necessity for American Israel enablers. I guess you are equipped with permanent blinders that prevent you from acknowledging well-established facts, such as the existence of Aliyah Bet and other illegal schemes perpetrated by Irgun and Haganah to bring many European Jews desperate to flee the holocaust to Palestine. Of course, these blameless souls could have had nothing to do with Deir Yassin and countless other blood-curdling massacres of defenseless Arab women and children cowering in their homes, right? Please, if you have facts or arguments to present that support your position, I am waiting to be enlightened.

  28. Gene Schulman April 1, 2013 at 6:28 am #

    Walker, I am not repressing truths, obvious or otherwise. I fully recognize the evils Zionism has perpetrated on the Palestinians in its takeover of the “Holy Land.” What I am objecting to is your attempt to put the blame on the Holocaust survivors. The survivors were innocent lambs whose only crime was to survive. Most of those who did survive did not wish to come to Palestine, but whose situation was used as a post factum justification to create Israel. When those who did make it to Israel arrived, they were treated as second class citizens. It was the Zionists who did indeed collaborate with the Nazis hoping, not to save them, rather to populate the land. The Zionists actively worked to prevent the Western powers from accepting the Holocaust victims, potential and real, and divert them to Israel. There are many testimonies to these facts – too many to itemize here. One very important one, though, is the controversial book by Naeim Giladi, “Ben-Gurion’s Scandals: How the Hagannah and the Mossad Eliminated Jews.”

  29. walker percy April 1, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Thanks for your response, I will for sure check out the book by Naeim Giladi, it sounds fascinating. While none of us really knows what happened back then, your explanation does not hold water. First you say that holocaust survivors were not responsible for atrocities in 1948 (now could you know that?) and then you say that zionists needed them to build up the jewish “majority” in Isreal, so they pressured other countries not to take them after the war so they would be diverted to Israel. You characterize holocaust survivors as “innocent lambs whose only crime was to survive”. But how did they manage to survive? Perhaps by collaborating with the Nazis. I know we are not allowed to say anything bad about holocaust survivors, but I reject this prohibition. In the 1930’s European and American Jews doubled down in their aggressive behaviors, exactly as they are doing now in Israel. My thesis is that they brought most of their troubles on themselves, just like they are doing today, and probably just like in the string of prior shoahs, pogroms and holocausts, but no one is allowed to say that. Instead, we are all programmed to believe that there is an odd contagion that leads to irrational hatred of one group throughout history. If you insist that this storybook narrative is correct, and if you prohibit any counter arguments, you are simply ensuring that it will continue to happen again and again. If you are a Jew, it is your responsibility to the rest of world to finally admit that these repeated horrors are mostly an artifact of Jewish misbehavior, and it must be linked to the ethical framework and religious practices of Judasim itself, since that is the common denominator in all of these cases. There is no other rational explanation, and we refuse to accept that at our peril. That is the real existential danger we face as a species, and why our choice is simple. The existence of Israel, and its unfair support by the world’s remaining super-power, is at the heart of our difficulties.

    Remember how optimistic things seemed in the 1990’s? What happened? It is time to accept that 9-11, or something like it, was the inevitable consequence of our favoritism towards Israel, and terrorism will only stop if America withdraws its support for Israel. Instead, we are increasing that support dramatically, which only ensures more death and more economic calamity. Is it worth it? Why do we care about maintaining the “jewish character” of Israel? Why should it be treated in this special way that so infuriates the rest of the world? Maybe your strange insistence on the innocence of these “lambs” is a big part of the problem…

  30. Gene Schulman April 1, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Ah, Walker. Again you read things into my response that I do not say nor believe. You are only projecting what you want to believe.

    What I mainly object to in your view of things, is your painting Israel as representing all Jews. You fall into their trap of accusing everyone who criticizes Israel as anti-Semitic. Yes, criticize Israel, criticize the Zionists. But not all Jews are Zionists. Most Jews in the diaspora (I hate that word because it is not accurate, but it is the one accepted) prior to the founding of Israel did not approve of Zionism, and did not believe that an Israeli state would be good for Judaism. This you should know without my having to tell you (there are many, many books on the subject). Of course, the Zionist project was supported by many powerful Jews who had influence in Western political circles, and they had a political agenda. But it was not religious, and most Jews who identify themselves by their religion were perfectly happy where they had been living. The Holocaust became an excuse, and it was exploited by the Zionists (see Norman Finkelstein). I find it disingenuous on your part to say that the Jews brought it all on themselves. You seem to have a basic misunderstanding of the history of the Holocaust and prior, just as you do after.

    As an atheist, I do not consider myself Jewish and feel under no obligation to defend Judaism any more than other religions. But I do
    take exception when people smear all with the same brush.

  31. monalisa April 1, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    to Walker Percy:
    please, please read more different books on how the Zionism has been formulated and when. Read how USA collaborated with Nazi-Germany and that USA stepped into the war only because they smelled some sort of making profit and at the same time being able to get out of their own financial dilemma at this time prevalent, which in fact led to the same as Nazi Germany did: creating/producing war machineries and therefore giving people jobs.
    Zionism has been formed during the former century.
    To blame victims of the Holocaust for the present aggressions against Palestinians in Israel’s policy is simply some sort of being not having informed yourself more properly and refined.
    I as an European citizen and being born during the WWII know of what I am speaking/writing.
    With your remarks/posting above you just show that you are willing to do the same as Israelis are doing nowadays: to blame onto victims Israels’s own aggressions and murder which shows just to set oneself free of any responsibility.

    Victims are victims whereas the “ruling” politicans in Israel and how they have “their class formulated” you will see that the Ashkenazis are on the fromt burner. Ashkenazis are from the former Soviet states and had nothing at all to do and didn’t suffer by Nazi Germany.

    Inform yourself much more precise and just don’t blame people just because you think it is so. Most Holocaust survivors went to USA or Canada if they had enough money. The majority of Israels founders weren’t Holocaust survivors. Far too many were already there working in political ways (aggressive ones to be precise) before and during the WWII. The dilemma was with Britain and its vagueness.

    And there is another point misleading: being of the Mosaic Belief doesn’t mean being within the “frame of accepting Zionism”.
    Zionism is a quite recent created formula and has nothing to do with the religion of the Jews. The Mosaic religion is just – like quite often in other religions too for some purpose – a “holder”.

    PS: look at US politicans without rose-tinted glasses to see more facts.


  32. Gene Schulman April 1, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    monalisa: Just one correction. Ashkenazis include all Jews who lived in Europe, not only those from the Soviet states, but also those in Germany, France, Holland; Europe in general and North America. Those in Germany and France and Holland did not escape suffering from the Nazis. Only those Jews who lived on the Iberian peninsula – the Sephardis – are/were not Ashkenazi. Actually, Holland had a mixture of both, deriving from the Inquisition, when those who were driven from Spain and Portugal immigrated to the Netherlands. Most of the Ashkenazi in North America emigrated from Eastern Europe during the pogroms at the end of the 19th century. For the rest, I agree with your assessment that Walker should better inform himself through books. Another I would recommend is “Yiddish Civilization: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation” by Paul Kriwaczek, in which all of the above is described in exquisite detail.

    Cheers, Gene

  33. walker percy April 1, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    I read your response carefully, and I thank you for these thoughtful comments. While I respect your positions, and I do not accuse you of bad intentions, I do think you are wrong, and I hope you will suspend disbelief for a moment and consider my theory: that practice of Judaism as an organized belief system itself is what has caused many horrible events throughout history, and it is currently driving mankind toward its denoument, presumably in a giant spasm of violent death and economic catastrophe. This is the definition of anti-semitism, just so you know who you are dealing with.

    The problem with Jewishness is not the fault of individuals, but probably the result of a socio-evolutionary process that has given rise to and preserved this fiendish, self-perpetuating form of brainwashing that starts as a baby. Brain plasticity kicks in after the intensive memorization of the Bar Mitzvah, and the individual becomes a co-conspirator, bound by a code of honor to utter any lies, and perpetrate any violence if it leads to results that are considered “good for the jews”. Some children, known as “contrary sons”, fail to be properly imprinted, and they become enemies and outcasts of the tribe (herem).

    As you can see, I am far gone, well beyond any of the constraints that you and other well-meaning anti-anti-zionists could use to shut me down. It simply will not work, and I will go on expressing my disgust over the shameful behavior of these maniacs pretending to be old testament figures in the desert. What could they be thinking, year after year, harming these impoverished Arabs and stirring up a hornets nest that somehow never seems to sting Israel, only the rest of the world. Well, that can change very quickly. It’s like Mark Twain said about bankruptcy, it happens slowly, then all at once.

  34. Gene Schulman April 2, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    Do not bother to reply to me any longer, Whacko Percy. You have gone beyond the pale. This last post shows us what you really are; an ignorant, stupid, anti-Semitic, irrational racist, worthy of the company of the Nazis of 1930’s Nuremberg. I can’t imagine what Richard or others may think of you, but if this were my blog, you would be banned without further adieu.


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