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The Day In Israel: Thurs June 4th, 2009

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There is tension in Israel ahead of US President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo, as the Israeli government hopes his outreach to the Muslim world does not come at Israel’s expense. Israeli officials have said they will be listening carefully for clues as to where Obama was steering this policy.

Methinks there are already plenty of clues.

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

10:18PM: 4 terrorists and a funeral: These upstanding gentlemen were photographed at the funeral of Riyadh Azdin, who was killed today in a PA-Hamas gunfight.

Can you guess which side they’re on?


Here’s your answer:

Masked Palestinians from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade are seen in the street during the funeral of security officer Riyadh Azdin who was killed in an exchange of fire with Hamas militants in the West Bank village of Majdal Bani Fadil, near Nablus, Thursday, June 4, 2009. Palestinian police killed two Hamas militants in the West Bank town of Qalqiliya on Thursday after the men opened fire at security forces who had surrounded their underground hideout, officials said. The operation was part of an intensifying crackdown on Islamic militants in Qalqiliya. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

Yep, they’re Mahmoud Abbas’ people. Which makes them the “moderates.”

9:55PM: The head of the UN team investigating Operation Cast Lead, Judge Richard Goldstone, has told reporters he was amazed by the damage caused by the operation, and added that the Israelis were not cooperating with the committee, despite the fact that they had been told cooperation was for their own good. So I’m guessing his findings are not going to be too objective.

8:56PM: I am paying the price for not commenting on the speech earlier, since many have already made many of the points I would have made.

In short, I think the speech did enough to satisfy the average person who’s concept of peace in the Middle East revolves around the notion that all that is needed is for all of us to make nice and get along. Obama is a very articulate speaker who certainly acknowledged grievances on both sides, and did not appear one-sided (although he did seem to pander excessively to the Muslim audience – “Muhammad, peace be upon him”?) I think this approach would have resonated with most people.

However, for anyone who really understands this region and the real causes of the conflict, his speech completely missed the mark, and indicated a continuation of the US’ flawed approach to Middle East peacemaking. And as has already been mentioned by others, there were some very troubling aspects, which betrayed an obliviousness to the history of this region and the nature of the conflict.

Some examples that come immediately to mind (but by no means exhaustive): his equating of Jewish suffering with palestinian suffering (the latter being mostly brought on by their own actions); his belief that the ultimate palestinian goal is to have a state (which to anyone who bothers listening to what the palestinian leaderships says to its own people is clearly not); his reference to palestinian “resistance through violence and killing” rather than terrorism; and his reference to the make-believe state of Palestine.

In short, while I certainly do not subscribe to the view that Obama is an anti-Semite, this does not make his views any less dangerous. He may be well intentioned (which I believe he is), but it brings to mind that place to which there’s that well paved road.

(I realize that there will be many of you who disagree with this analysis, but I am willing to bet those of you who do, do not share some fundamental beliefs with me regarding the Middle East conflict).

8:00PM: Some interesting comments from Ira Stoll.

What an awful speech. Among the problems, one was the president’s claim that there are “nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today.” The true number is probably less than half that, as this page details.

Even when Obama was trying to be nice to Israel, he was tone deaf: “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” he said. The missing words were those usually present in such passages about shared democratic values and strategic interests.

The sections about the Palestinian Arabs were even weaker. He said of the Palestinians: “For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation.” This buys into the claim that it was 1948, not 1967, that was the original tragedy for the Palestinian Arabs, and feeds the idea that the Palestinian Arabs have a claim to all of Israel, not just the West Bank and Gaza.

Then he said, “Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end.”

This places the Palestinian Arabs as the victims, equating their plight to that of enslaved American blacks, Poles subjected to Communist tyranny, or blacks under apartheid. In these analogies, the assumption, just barely left unsaid, is that Israeli Jews are the oppressors. Never mind that that doesn’t accurately portray the moral or historical situation. It isn’t even accurate. Violence is not a dead end. American slavery was ended by the Civil War. “America’s founding” was accomplished not by a peaceful insistence on ideals but by a war of independence. And, sadly, were it not for ongoing terrorist attacks against American and Israeli targets, President Obama would not be in Egypt comparing the Palestinian Arab cause to that of the captive nations of Eastern Europe or American blacks.

During the campaign I had actually defended Obama against those who felt he would be a disaster for Israel. This speech makes me think that may have been a mistake. The only chance now is that this speech will be mere rhetoric, like so much in the Middle East, intended only for public consumption. But if Obama really means it, it is bad news for the Jews in Israel and America, not to mention for American national security.

7:47PM: Solana hearts Obama.

7:38PM: Charles of LGF is another who thinks Obama’s speech was “pretty good..”

7:25PM: 3 more palestinians have been killed in the latest PA-Hamas fighting.

7:22PM: Doesn’t this photo just speak volumes?


“It’s like all our Ramadans have come at once”

Meanwhile, the description that appeared with the photograph when I uploaded it was as follows:

** ADDITION TO GIVE EXPLANATION AS TO WHY MILITANTS ARE WEARING MASKS ** Palestinian militants from the Popular Resistance Committee wear masks to conceal their identities from the camera as they pose with their weapons while watching the televised speech of US President Barack Obama in front of journalists at a training base in Gaza City, Thursday, June 4, 2009. Quoting from the Quran for emphasis, President Barack Obama called for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims” Thursday and said together, they could confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)

I’m glad they clarified it, because I actually thought they wore masks to protect their faces from the television’s radiation.

7:12PM: Ha’aretz use the following headline for its report on Israel’s official response: Israel praises Obama speech, but says its security paramount

I wouldn’t quite say Israel was praising his speech.

5:37PM: And now for the official statement from the Israeli Government:

The Government of Israel expresses its hope that this important speech in Cairo will indeed lead to a new period of reconciliation between the Arab and Moslem world and Israel.

We share President Obama’s hope that the American effort heralds the beginning of a new era that will bring about an end to the conflict and lead to Arab recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, living in peace and security in the Middle East.

Israel is committed to peace and will make every effort to expand the circle of peace while protecting its interests, especially its national security.

5:35PM: Now for some blog reactions.

Ed Morrissey thought it was surprisingly good.

Michelle Malkin was less impressed.

Elder of Ziyon has pointed out some of the troubling parts of Obama’s speech. As does Yid with Lid and Soccer Dad.

Gateway Pundit sees it as an “apology speech.”

I am sure I am missing many others. Feel free to leave some more links to blog reactions in the comments.

5:18PM: Yet more reactions:

“There is a change between the speech of President Obama and previous speeches made by George Bush. But today’s remarks at Cairo University were based on soft diplomacy to brighten the image of the United States.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

“He was very generous in his comments about Islam’s contributions to civilization. … There also hasn’t really been any other Western leader who has expressed such commitment to fighting negative stereotypes regarding Muslims.”

Chandra Muzaffar, president of the International Movement for a Just World think-tank in Malaysia.

“It’s one of the most important speeches ever delivered, a key speech for changing the climate in the Middle East. Israel will make a big mistake if it ignores it and doesn’t use it to generate a new dialogue with the Muslim world.”

Yuli Tamir, Labor MK

“I don’t trust him. He’s just trying to apologize to Muslims because of what America _ or really Bush _ has done in the past. He’s promising to be different. But that’s all it is, a promise. We want action.”

Wahyudin, the director of a hard-line Islamic boarding school in Jakarta.

“This vision is so out of touch with reality. … You can have your speechwriters find every good thing a Muslim has every done. But more modern history is that the Muslim world is at war with the Western world.”

Aliza Herbst, 56, a spokeswoman for Yesha, the West Bank settlers’ council.

4:35PM: In case you missed Obama’s speech, here it is in its entirety.

4:10PM: Some reactions from the terrorists:

“Speaking about a policy of pursuing a war against extremism and working towards two states for peoples on Palestinian lands is no different from the policy of his predecessor, George W Bush.”

Ayman Taha, Hamas spokesman

“The Islamic world does not need moral or political sermons. It needs a fundamental change in American policy beginning from a halt to complete support for Israeli aggression on the region, especially on Lebanese and Palestinians, to an American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and a stop to its interference in the affairs of Islamic countries. We have not seen any change in US policy towards the Palestinian cause.”

Hassan Fadlallah, Hizbullah “lawmaker”

3:58PM: More Israeli reactions:

“(Obama) was right to say that extremism is the world’s enemy.”

“The Israeli society – Jews and Arabs, religious and seculars – must find a way to embrace this sentiment and mirror it to the Palestinians. Two-states for two people is the solution we are committed to.”

– Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman (Labor)

“Obama completely overlooked that fact that the Palestinians have yet to abandon terror. The Israeli government is not some overlapping excess of the US administration.”

“We have to draw the line when it comes to the natural growth of settlements.”

– Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi)

“The American president introduced a new approach. His leveled commitment to both the Israelis and the Palestinian was evident and he will have to take pragmatic moves to prove his words.”

MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al)

“The State of Israel is paying the price for its leaders’ defeatism.”

“Hussein Obama chose to affirm the brazen lies of the Arabs over the stammered Jewish truth.

“It is time for Netanyahu, like (former prime ministers) Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, to stand as a proud right-wing leader and reject the doctored version of history Obama tried to dictate today.”

Samaria and Binyamin Settlement Committee

3:54PM: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly called for a special consultation immediately after Obama’s speech was over.

3:52PM: And now for some Israeli reactions to Obama’s speech:

“Obama makes a shocking parallel between the destruction of European Jewry and the suffering that the Arabs of Israel brought upon themselves when they declared war on Israel.”

“If Obama does not understand the difference between them, perhaps he will understand it better when he visits the Buchenwald concentration camp in the comings days. And if he doesn’t understand it even there, then Islam will once again teach it to him, just as it taught his predecessor on 9/11.”

“Obama spoke more from his own heart and less from genuine understanding of the direction Islam is taking around the world. Whoever thinks that the establishment of a Palestinian state will stop the war in Darfur, India, Chechnya, and Europe will apparently soon learn that Israel is not willing to be the ‘pound of flesh’ that he wants to throw to the Muslims.”

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union)

“The Zionist vision of the rebuilding of the Land of Israel is stronger than any president or government. We outlasted Pharaoh, and we will outlast Obama.”

“The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

“Everyone can now see that Obama is not interested in Meoz Esther, but in Jerusalem. “

MK Michael Ben-Ari

“I fear an erosion of the traditional American commitment to Israel’s security needs and its very existence and independence. Our response must not be to cave in, but rather to have dialogue with and persuade the Administration, while waging an emergency call-up of all the resources of Israel and the Jewish nation.”

MK Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home)

“Obama’s speech was very professional and peace-seeking. But he quoted our Sages, which he attributed to the Quran, and the same Sages and sources have spoken of the Jewish People’s right to this land. Just as he said that the State of Israel will not disappear, the same is true about the settlements in Judea and Samaria.”

“Though the speech was not inflammatory, I am sure that it will give a push to the settlement effort throughout Judea and Samaria, and we will grow even stronger than the five percent growth rate we already enjoy.”

Col.(ret.) Moti Yogev

3:48PM: Some palestinian reactions to Obama’s speech:

“His call for stopping settlement and for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and his reference to the suffering of Palestinians … is a clear message to Israel that a just peace is built on the foundations of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

“President Obama’s speech is a good start and an important step towards a new American policy.”.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas

“I have followed the speech closely. There are many positive points.”

“There is a difference between his policy and Bush’s policy. I see a change in the U.S. foreign policy discourse. But the problem is still on the ground.”

“Would they achieve a Palestinian independent state? If he does that, that would be a relief and good for all parties.”

Mahmoud Ramahi, Hamas legislator

2:09PM: The speech is over. I will give my thoughts later, since I don’t currently have the time. But the floor is open to all of you. What did you think?

1:55PM: The live stream is cutting off for me. But you can read the entire text of Obama’s speech here.

1:49PM: Obama’s getting a fair bit of applause.

1:46PM: Obama: Any nation, including Iran, should have right to access peaceful nuclear power.

1:45PM: Obama just quoted a story from the Quran and said “Muhammad, peace be upon him.”

1:43PM: Obama: The Arab states must not use the Arab-Israeli conflict to distract the people from other problems. It is must be a call to action.

1:42PM: Obama: The PA must build institutions for its people. Hamas must recognize their responsibilities to play a role in fulfilling palestinian aspirations. They must put aside violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

At the same time, Palestine’s right to exist must not be denied. The US does not recognize the legitimacy of existing Israeli settlements. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Progress in the daily lives of palestinian people must be a critical part of the road of peace, and Israel must enable this.

1:40PM: Obama: Palestinians must abandon violence. He just referred to “resistance through killing.” Not terrorism.

1:38PM: Obama: Both peoples have suffered. Only resolution is for aspirations of both sides to be met, through two states whereby both Israelis and palestinians live in peace and security.

1:37PM: Here we go. Obama’s now talking of the suffering of palestinians under occupation and is calling their situation “intolerable.”

1:36PM: Obama is talking about the Holocaust. “Denying the fact is baseless, ignorant and hateful.” He”s also just taken a subtle swipe at Ahmadinejad.

1:35PM: Obama is now talking of the unbreakable bond between the US and Israel.

1:30PM: Obama’s speech from Cairo is currently streaming live here.

9:38AM: If you thought Madonna constitutes the most undesirable likely visitor to Israel this year, think again.

9:08AM: Dudu Topaz, Israel’s answer to OJ Simpson (except he never killed anyone as far as we know) has tried to commit suicide.

5:52AM: One of the benefits of the Fatah-Hamas infighting is that the palestinians are admitting to things we have been claiming for a long time. Such as Hamas’ use of people as human shields.

And as the next story shows, these “human shields” are not always acting as such against their will.

The two Hamas militiamen killed earlier this week by Palestinian Authority policemen in Kalkilya initially used a local woman as a human shield during the seven-hour gun battle before she herself threw a grenade at the policemen, PA security sources said on Wednesday.

The woman, Amal, is the wife of Abdel Nasser al-Basha, the owner of the house where the two Hamas men, Muhammad Samman and Muhammad Yassin, had been hiding.

The sources claimed that an investigation by the PA security forces into Sunday’s bloody standoff showed that the three PA security officers who died were killed by a hand grenade that the woman lobbed at them as they tried to enter the house.

“The Hamas gunmen were hiding behind the woman, who surprised the police officers by throwing a hand grenade at them,” the sources told The Jerusalem Post. “This is not the first time that Hamas has used women or children as human shields.”

The three officers were killed in the initial stages of the raid that was carried out by PA security forces on the house, the inquiry revealed. Their bodies lay inside the house until the operation ended seven hours later.

Amal’s husband was also killed during the shootout. She is reported to have been seriously wounded, with doctors forced to amputate her right arm.

Amal has been placed under arrest at the Kalkilya hospital where she is being treated, eyewitnesses said.

A PA security official said that the woman would be charged with killing the three police officers. “She will be put on trial,” he said. “She could face the death sentence if convicted.”

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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