Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
President Obama’s Visit to Israel
With the holidays behind us, I now have the opportunity to share my views about U.S. President Barack Obama’s important visit to Israel.
First, I must correct what I previously wrote about him. In the past, I wrote: “Regretfully, it has become clear that Barack Obama is perhaps the most hostile president that Israel has ever faced.” I came to this conclusion as a result of his brutal pressure to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria, without which, he would not agree to help Israel in its struggle against Iran’s nuclear program, according to private conversations I had with various ministers, members of Knesset and publicly elected American officials. I do not know what the exact truth is, and perhaps they are correct – that in fact, he is one of the most dangerous presidents and his positions express a denial of the Bible and a lack of understanding of the roots of the conflict and its resolution. Recently, however, as a result of a meeting I had with somebody very close to him, I discovered that he truly feels a sense of friendship towards Israel and he is convinced that he is working on our behalf, in his own way. We witnessed this on his visit; despite the fact that it took place four years late, it was full of warm expressions of friendship and heartfelt gestures. How good it was to hear the president of the United States say in Hebrew: “It is good to be in Israel”!
In truth, after the first day of his visit, along with the joy over the wonderful friendship, I started to worry a bit that perhaps he would succeed in influencing public opinion to err after the golden calf of imaginary peace replacing a vision of true peace. However, after his speech in ‘Binyanei Ha’uma’ (International Convention Center), in addition to my sorrow over his views, I was a bit relieved. I realized that despite all the beautiful gestures and touching words, he missed the key points and failed to strike a chord with mainstream Israeli society. And thus, we reverted back to our usual situation – to all the same national and personal dangers with which we are accustomed to living.
Obama’s Speech in ‘Binyinei Ha’uma’
The keynote speech of a leader of his stature is written very carefully, with attention to what is said and to what is not said, and consequently, an examination of his speech can attest to the U.S. administration’s position.
The Humanitarian Bond
At the core, a tender friendship and recognition on part of the U.S. administration of the difficulties Israel faces, exists. “You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected your right to exist. Your grandparents had to risk their lives and all they had to make a place for themselves in this world. Your parents lived through war after war to ensure the survival of the Jewish state. Your children grow up knowing that people they have never met hate them because of who they are… an Israel that is surrounded by many in this region who reject it, and many in the world who refuse to accept it. That is why the security of the Jewish people in Israel is so important – because it can never be taken for granted… Today, I want to tell you – particularly the young people – that so long as there is a United States of America, (in Hebrew:)‘Atem lo levad’ (you are not alone).”
Misunderstanding the Roots of the Conflict
In one of the important passages of his speech - without which, his proposal to allow the Arabs to establish a state in the land our forefathers bequeathed to us is meaningless - Obama said: “Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people. Politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want – they're not so different from you. The ability to make their own decisions; to get an education and a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married and have a family. The same is true of the young Palestinians that I met in Ramallah this morning, and of young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza.”
Is this really what young Arabs want?! Obama has been the leader of the U.S. for more than four years now. He has encountered problems in Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Tunisia. Can he still claim that the young Arabs, perpetrators of upheaval in their respective countries, want the same exact thing that young Americans and Israelis want – freedom, jobs, good education for children, and rights?!
The truth is, apart from a thin layer of Arab society which accepts Western values, the majority is interested in a totally different political framework. Most Arabs want to preserve their religious and family values – of which, freedom and liberty are not a central factor.
What progress did Obama see in Ramallah or Gaza, granting them the right to an autonomous government? A new hospital they built? A new university they founded? How do they invest the bulk of their wealth – which comes mainly from the budgets of Western countries – if not in weapons, training, and fostering hatred of Israel and the entire Western world – hate for all those values Obama attributes to them. On an individual level, it is easier to live within a democratic framework, but this is not an ideal they strive for. Consequently, wherever Arabs set up a new government, they attack the values of freedom and liberty and dream of Islam’s victory over the West. How can Obama not see all this, despite all the means of intelligence and reports from thousands of spies, ambassadors, journalists and researchers at his disposal? The only explanation is that they are all captive to the delusional religion of a liberal peace which prevails and will triumph over all.
Believing the Libel against the Settlers
This is a clear example of how someone who is merciful to the cruel – even inadvertently – is destined to be cruel to the merciful. Obama has already accepted as truth, the blood libels about the settlers disturbing the innocent Arabs working in their fields. Doesn’t he have any intelligence agents who can give him a reliable report about what is really going on? Hasn’t he heard that Arabs can walk around safely in Jewish communities and neighborhoods, while Jews who go into Arab villages risk their lives? If and when Jews attack Arabs, it comes as a response to horrific terrorist attacks. And even then, such acts are condemned by the Jewish community – as well as the settler leadership. So how can Obama say: “It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands”?
Furthermore, he said: “It is not fair to restrict a student's ability to move around the West Bank or to displace Palestinian families from their home.” The only reason for restricting the movement of students is the need to prevent terrorism. And where did he come up with the story of Arabs being displaced from their homes? The only ones displaced from their homes were the Jews who were expelled from Gush Katif and Northern Samaria!
Comparing brigades of vile murderers - whose only hope is to shed Jewish blood and who receive enormous funding from their own leaders - to well-meaning people, who build their homes and thus provide sources of income and growth for the entire region, including the Arabs – is a complete distortion. After all, were this not the case, the Arabs of Judea and Samaria would be living just like their brothers in Syria and other Arab countries.
The U.S. Realizes that Sometimes Force is Necessary
When Obama has to protect U.S. interests, he sends troops to Afghanistan, and is not content with mere proposals of “peace” and “dialogue”. Why did he choose not to talk to Osama bin Laden, and instead, considers his assassination one of his greatest achievements? How is bin Laden any worse than all the terrorists surrounding us? Bin Laden’s anti-American tirades were no more malevolent than what the terrorists in our region say about us and about the West. This is also the official position of Hamas; members of the P.L.O. and the Palestinian Authority have spoken similarly and even write it in their children’s textbooks.
Historical and Religious Rights
Beyond his errors, the most glaring omission in Obama’s speech was his disregard of the historical and religious rights of the Jewish people, whose silent cries call out from every stone and mountain in the Land of Israel, especially in Judea and Samaria. This, in contrast to the hordes of Arabs who gathered here in the last hundred years, who, until forty years ago, did not even know they were a nation, and whose current national quintessence is nothing but organizing for the sake of waging an anti-Semitic, racist and repulsive war. And all those who support them are parties to this.
In his opening remarks, he said: “I have borne witness to the ancient history of the Jewish people at the Shrine of the Book and I have seen Israel's shining future in your scientists and entrepreneurs. This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated.”
He relegated our history to museums and the Dead Sea Scrolls. This was also reflected in his itinerary, which did not include a visit to the Western Wall, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Rachel’s Tomb, or the Tomb of Joseph. He did not visit Bet El, the place where our forefather Jacob dreamed the vision of the ladder, or Shiloh, the place where the Tabernacle resided for over three hundred years. He didn’t even visit an ordinary synagogue. The only religious place he visited was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
This is an example of his superficial perception of the State of Israel as a new, modern phenomenon, while ignoring the deep roots of our living faith, alive and burning for thousands of years; ignoring the days of our forefathers, our Kings, our Prophets, our Mishnaic and Talmudic Sages, and all the holy Jews who sacrificed their lives al Kiddush Hashem (for the sake of God), in order not to forget the Land, from which Israel is commanded to herald the redemption to the world.
True, he made an important visit to the holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, but this visit reflects a humanistic sentiment towards the Jews, devoid of any expression of the fulfillment of the vision of the Prophets, for which, and only for the sake of which, we sacrificed our lives.
The worst of all is that President Obama came with good intentions, as a true friend. He honestly seeks our best interests, and wants the United States to always stand alongside Israel and ensure its security and existence. And after all this, he says things that might actually cause serious calamities.
Most of the blame rests with us, for there are those amongst us who are hostages to a false religion, in whose name they swear, and to which they pray incessantly. It is difficult to expect the president of the United States to be more righteous than they are.
Nevertheless, we can take great comfort in the fact that in reality, the attitude in the U.S. is a lot more positive toward us. Seventy-seven senators from both parties have signed a letter calling on the president to stand beside Israel without reservation. Thereby, they express the public sentiment in the United States, as all the surveys show.
In order for the tikun (improvement) to indeed come about, so that the U.S. can play a positive role in all the storms that beset the world, it is essential to properly clarify the values of freedom and liberalism – to extol the good points in them and identify the faults. There must be a deep understanding of the various nations and the different values they express. We must judge them correctly – to see the good and discern the evil. If we can meet this challenge, we can work together with the United States towards tikkun olam (improving the world), as President Obama wished us at the end of his speech.