Much has been made of President Obama's "on the other hand" transition, in his speech yesterday, from the Holocaust to the travails of the Palestinians. Some thought that he implied a kind of equivalence. But the appalling Tom Brokaw reminded us that it could have been worse when he asked Obama about his visit to Buchenwald on the Today Show this morning:
BROKAW: What can the Israelis learn from your visit to Buchenwald? And what should they be thinking about their treatment of Palestinians?Unbelievable. Obama, to his credit, squelched the analogy:
OBAMA: Well, look, there's no equivalency here.
Give Obama credit for that.
Now, if we could just disabuse him of the notion that the State of Israel is a direct result of the Holocaust. In May 2008, in an interview Obama did with Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic:
JG: Do you think that justice is still on Israel’s side?David Hazony writes about Obama's remarks about the Holocaust in his Cairo speech and notes an aspect of the Holocaust that Obama does not grasp:
BO: I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if you’ve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens. That makes it a fundamentally just idea.
...most Israelis and Zionists abroad carry a second narrative with them: The Holocaust teaches us that centuries of collective powerlessness lead to collective catastrophe. That no matter how alien this may feel after so long an exile, Jews can and must defend themselves, through a state and an army, as a precondition for survival, and as the basis of a national renaissance. In Israel, a tour through the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum ends with a celebration of Israel.Actually, confusing 'grace' for 'empowerment' sounds like a problem Obama has back at home in the US as well.
This is the side of the Holocaust you will not hear about from Barack Obama. The closest he can come to it is to suggest that the Jews deserved a homeland after so many centuries of anti-Semitism. Sort of an international act of grace that the Arabs will just have to come to terms with. This is not how the Jews view their own tragedy, however, nor is it the aim of their state, the foundations of which were already in place before the Holocaust happened. A state, not for mercy and respite, but for revival, empowerment, and the tools needed to chart our own course. What’s that word again? Freedom?
UPDATE: Melanie Phillips nails it:
The Jews' aspiration for their homeland does not derive from the Holocaust, nor their overall tragic history. It derives from Judaism itself, which is composed of the inseparable elements of the religion, the people and the land. Their unique claim upon the land rests upon the fact that the Jews are the only people for whom Israel was ever their nation, which it was for hundreds of years – centuries before the Arabs and Muslims came on the scene.UPDATE II: Jonathan Tobin points out the continuation of Obama's comment, which tends to negate the positive note of his immeidate answer to Brokaw. In response to the previous question about what Ahmadinejad could learn from Obama's trip to Buchenwald, Obama answered, "He should make his own visit. I have no patience for people who would deny history. The history of the Holocaust is not something speculative." Yet Obama now goes on to say after commenting that there is no equivalence between the Holocaust and the situation of the Palestinian Arabs:
But I do think that given the extraordinary moral traditions of Judaism, the potential power of empathy that arouses out of going through such historic hardships that - that will ultimately give the people of Israel the strength and purpose to seek a just and lasting peace. And I believe that will involve creating two states side by side with peace and security.Tobin notes the extent to which Obama contradicts himself:
Though moments earlier he had said he had no patience for those who deny history, that’s exactly what he did when he spoke as if the people of Israel had yet to try to seek peace. He was, in effect denying the fact that it was the Jews who accepted the principle of partition of the land into two states for two peoples in 1937 and 1947 before the State of Israel was even born. He was denying that it was the people of Israel who reached out to the Palestinians and attempted to make peace with them in 1993 with the Oslo Accords and various follow-up agreements later that decade (including two signed by current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu). And that it was the Israelis who offered the Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem at Camp David in July 2000 and a few months later in Taba. And that Ehud Olmert offered them even more last year after the Annapolis summit.As opposed to Ahmadinejad, Obama does not deny history--he merely glosses over it when it is inconvenient.
Obama was so quick to speak in a patronizing tone about what Israelis should learn from their own religion (which apparently Obama thinks he knows better than they do), he forgot to mention that it was the Palestinians who rejected peace each and every time and responded consistently to Israeli peace offers with war and terrorism (a word that never passes the president’s lips any more).