Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Different Speeches for Different Audiences

Apparently, "the left" is disappointed with President Obama's UN speech, which focused primarily on chastising the international community for its obsessive focus on Israel and its deliberate apathy towards that state's security and legitimacy needs. They wanted to see a more aggressive push by the President towards restarting negotiations.

Whatever. First, the Obama administration has hardly been quiet about pushing for a return to the negotiating table. I'm not sure why it was particularly important that he lay out a 12-point plan before this particular body. Much like how the President's pressure on Palestinians apparently doesn't count because it wasn't sufficiently public, apparently it is valid practice to ignore the administration's tireless efforts to return the two parties to the negotiating table because it is merely being plastered over the front page of every newspaper in America, rather than at the UNGA.

But more importantly, forums matter, and this was a speech that the UNGA diplomats needed to hear. The fact of the matter is that one of the major obstacles to a just peace between Israel and Palestine is that a substantial portion of the international community rejects in principle basic things like "Israel shouldn't be destroyed" or "it's bad when suicide bombers blow up cafes in Tel Aviv". That norm has been for too long unchallenged, and it is a great thing that the President took it upon himself to break that streak. While Avigdor Lieberman's approval fills me with shame, it is notable that President Obama gave what Ha'aretz is calling "probably the warmest pro-Israel speech ever given at an annual UN General Assembly meeting by any U.S. president, bar none." This is a body that doesn't hear many such speeches, and it needs to.

Not every forum is like the UN, of course. Not every relevant location to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a place where Israeli concerns are systematically marginalized and the Jewish people are routinely denigrated. In other places, it is the Palestinians who are marginalized and ignored, and in those places people need to be informed of the legitimate aspirations and true suffering of the Palestinian people. And in other locations, the problem isn't really lack of awareness of either side's plight, but a simple need to get people back in a room together. And in those places, that's the message that should be sent.

But the UN is a specific audience, with a specific character flaw that needed to be picked out. It's not the only thing President Obama should do, but in this forum, before this audience, it was the right speech at the right time.

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