Trying to Understand the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict
Just how difficult it will be to ever bring peace to the Middle East was made very clear to me today when I had an email exchange with Elliot Gershensen, President and CEO of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston (IM), about President Obama’s recent speech in Egypt.
It’s not that he and I disagree, in fact, we share very similar views about Obama, Israel and Palestine. Among other things, Mr. Gershensen oversees a massive Meals-On-Wheels program and a new but fast growing annual interfaith dinner dialogue. After receiving IM’s weekly newsletter I sent him an email praising his insightful critique of Obama’s recent speech in Egypt and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I also asked him if I could reprint it for the newspapers. He obliged but also sent me another review of Obama’s speech to “balance” his. This one was by Anne Bayefsky of the Jewish World Review, a conservative web site who contributors include such ultra-conservatives as Anne Coulter and Michelle Malkin. Ms. Bayefsky is both a human rights activist and Zionist. Both analyses were from very well educated leaders within the Jewish community, and yet they could not have been at further ends of the spectrum.
Mr. Gershensen wrote the following:
“President Obama throughout his measured speech touched on the major issues facing the Arab and Muslim world. His goal, as I read him, was not to preach nor condescend. But he did not waver in stating truths as he saw them.
“…The skeptics are fearful that these are naïve words and will provide opportunities for those who have evil designs on America to exploit what is perceived as weakness. President Obama has laid out the hopes for a better future. The challenges have never been greater and Obama is taking a great gamble. He is saying that it is possible for our country to wield its power and influence in more collaborative ways, not just militarily. Let's hope he is right.
“There are those who think he will sell out Israel, while there are others in the Arab world and elsewhere who feel that his words are just words - nice, but with no teeth.
“But he challenges each of us to look inward and to find the courage to chart a new course. A course with many contours and dangers, but a course (which), if successful...will lead to new possibilities.
“I am both fearful and heartened. Fearful that we humans are not capable of seeing the "other" as worthy of our respect and care. Heartened that we are being confronted with the brutal truth that we can not continue to hide from the damage done by our own fears and ignorance.
“We are living in unprecedented times. It will take extraordinary wisdom and luck to traverse this landscape unscathed. But perhaps, if we have the courage, just maybe Amazing things will happen if we have Faith in one another.”
On the other hand, here is Ms. Bayefsky’s analysis, significantly shortened for this piece.
“President Obama's Cairo speech was nothing short of an earthquake — a distortion of history, an insult to the Jewish people, and an abandonment of very real human-rights victims in the Arab and Muslim worlds. It is not surprising that Arabs and Muslims in a position to speak were enthusiastic. It is more surprising that American commentators are praising the speech for its political craftiness, rather than decrying its treachery of historic proportions.
Obama equated the Holocaust to Palestinian "dislocation." In his words: "The Jewish people were persecuted. …anti-Semitism …culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust…. Six million Jews were killed…. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland." This parallelism amounts to the fictitious Arab narrative that the deliberate mass murder of six million Jews for the crime of being Jewish is analogous to a Jewish-driven violation of Palestinian rights. “