Obama’s trip to Israel: A long time in coming

The President will not address the official parliament of Israel, the Knesset. While much of the Arab world continues to struggle through bloody civil wars and authoritarian governments, the Knesset is a body that consists of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Druze and Ethiopians, all elected freely in a region where free elections are never quite free.


By Aaron Marcus | March 25, 2013

Almost 1,400 days after President Barack Obama stood in front of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and hundreds of leaders from the Arab world in Cairo he is finally making his way to Israel. In that infamous Cairo address, Obama spoke of “daily humiliations” Palestinians are forced to withstand due to “occupation” and at one point compared their lives to those of slaves in the pre-Civil War South. He made no reference at all to the Jewish significance of Israel and less than two years later became the first President to outwardly call for Israel to return to the indefensible 1967 borders. Obama’s antagonism toward the greatest U.S. ally in the Middle East reached a tipping point when a Brooklyn, New York congressional seat held by Democrats for 89 years saw a Republican win largely on the President’s stance toward Israel.

This rude awakening for the Obama administration helped the President “evolve” on the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the hostile rhetoric and actions from the President began to cool as he entered election season. During his 2012 re-election campaign, Obama was questioned as to why he had visited the Middle East on several occasions, yet continuously failed to visit Israel. The president promised during his campaign that if re-elected he would visit Israel, which brings us to his current trip. Obama has kept his campaign promise to visit Israel, but he hasn’t stopped campaigning. His trip is nothing short of a public relations gambit intended to discount claims that he is not serious about the strong relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

But this trip, just like any other, comes with certain Obama caveats.

The president did not address the official parliament of Israel, the Knesset, like his predecessor George W. Bush did. In a time when the American public questions President Obama’s commitment to Israel, it seems obvious that he would accept an invitation to speak before the legislative body of the only true democracy in the Middle East. While much of the Arab world continues to struggle through bloody civil wars and authoritarian governments, the Knesset is an ecumenical body helping to promote cooperation among differing religious faiths that consists of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Druze and Ethiopians, all elected freely in a region where free elections are never quite free. This would have been an opportunity for the president to speak to the Israeli people, much as he spoke to the Arab world in Cairo in 2009, informing them that the U.S. is by their side in the fight against radical Islam and terror. President Bush jumped at the chance to speak in front of the Knesset and the Israeli people make it clear that in the fight against terrorism the U.S. and Israel would act as one. He said, “Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you.”

This is surely a missed opportunity for President Obama to show solidarity with the people of Israel, who face dreadful violence from all borders as well as an existential nuclear threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran. When dealing with the Arab world, it is important for U.S. leaders to make it obvious where the country stands. Symbolism is extremely important to the Arab world and the failure of the President of the United States to take a similar stand with Israel can be seen as America taking a new course in dealing with Arab aggression against Israel.

Supporters of the president will say this is nonsense, and that his schedule merely didn’t permit a speech before the Knesset. Unfortunately, the president’s actions once again speak louder than his words. Just days before his trip to Israel, President Obama met with leaders of the Arab – American community in a closed door meeting. According to a participant of the meeting, President Obama said there was no point in pushing a peace plan believing that Israel is unwilling to make concessions to the Palestinians.

This failed logic from the president shows once again his inability to properly asses the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel has time and time again made concessions to the Palestinians. But, each time, they have been met with cries that it is not enough. The truth of the matter is that it will never be enough. Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are not the problem and never have been. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was created in 1964, three years before the Six Day War, when Israel took back portions of historical Israel. The problem was and always will be the fact that Israel exists at all.


Aaron Marcus is a campus coordinator for the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.