Friday, July 09, 2010

Comparing Israel With The Civil Rights Movement: Obama vs. Condoleezza Rice

US President Barak Obama was interviewed by Israel's Channel 2. At one point, Obama traces his ability to identify with "the Jewish experience":
And my not just knowledge but sympathy and identification with the Jewish experience is rooted in part because of the historic connection between the African American freedom movement here in the United States and the civil rights efforts of Jewish Americans and some of the same impulses that led to the creation of Israel.
That's it--that's the whole comparison?

As everyone knows, Obama is an excellent and professional speaker--he doesn't spell out the comparison; he just lets his audience interpret the metaphor for themselves. Or maybe it's just Obama's emotional detachment.

And Shmuel Rosner is not impressed:
Doesn't fly with Israelis: the story about Jewish Americans working alongside African-Americans. This is very powerful with liberal American Jews, but is a story that most Israelis don't know much about and don't much care about.
On the other hand, remember when Condoleezza Rice made it much more personal when she made the same comparison, but in the other direction:

Like many of you, I grew up around the home-grown terrorism of the 1960s. The bombing of the church in Birmingham in 1963 is one that will forever be in my memory because one of the little girls who died was a friend of mine. Forty years removed from that tragedy, I can honestly say that Denise McNair and others didn't die in vain. They and all who suffered and struggled for civil and human rights helped to reintroduce America to its founding ideals. And because of their sacrifice, America is a better nation and a better example to a world where difference is still often taken as a license to kill.
But knowing what we know about the difficulties of our own history, knowing what we know about how hard it is to build democracy, we need to be humble in singing freedom's praises.
But we should not let our voice waver in speaking out on the side of people who are seeking freedom. And we must never, ever indulge in the condescending voices who allege that some people in Africa or in the Middle East are just not interested in freedom, they're culturally just not ready for freedom or they just aren't ready for freedom's responsibilities.
We've heard that argument before, and we, more than any, as a people, should be ready to reject it. The view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham, and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad and in the rest of the Middle East. [emphasis added]
At the same time, Rice was even more explicit with her comparison:
For Dr. Rice, the struggle of the Palestinians is analogous to that of the African-Americans for civil rights and she identifies with the Palestinians. She recalled what it meant to travel in segregated buses as a little girl in Alabama. She also compared the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to Reverend Martin Luther King, because, in her mind, both were committed to peace. According to reporter Aluf Benn, Rice views Abbas as committed to the struggle for Palestinian independence and, like Martin Luther King, opposed to terror and violence (Haaretz, October 16, 2007). Independently, David Bedein reported Rice's statements in The Bulletin (Philadelphia, October 17, 2007).
You can argue about the logic of her comparing Reverend King and Abbas--and many did--but Rice's comparison came across as heartfelt.

Listening to Obama, it just comes across as part of a new political tact he is taking with Israel, as he emphasizes direct talks between Israel and the PA instead of talking about a settlement freeze.

At least until after the mid-term elections.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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