How Obama’s Nobel Speech Will Play in Israel
Was it naïve about Israel, or was it tough-minded?
The Israel-Palestine conflict was mentioned directly only once in President Barack Obama’s Nobel speech this morning, and still fairly vaguely at that. Yet the reference has already provoked some interesting discussion. Toward the close of the address, Obama said:
And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities—their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we’re moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.
Poltico’s Ben Smith supposes that Israelis might feel insulted by Obama’s casting them as tribal, even primitive, as well as implicitly placing them on the same plane as the “Arabs.” But Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s top political guy, takes a different view. Many Israelis, he says, “especially on the right, would see this as Obama finally realizing that (from the Israeli perspective) the dispute is not ‘just about’ borders and can’t we just split the difference and all get along … but that the Arabs just don’t want the Jews around and don’t want to settle the conflict.” It is bizarre to think that a Nobel Peace Prize speech—guaranteed to be read years and years from now—is still grist for the usual political close-read mill. Yet as Obama was careful to remind the world, he is first and foremost a politician, “a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation.”