Friday, May 29, 2009

Obama, Settlements, and Cairo

Barack Obama's surprisingly hardline stance against Israeli settlements has been cresting as he approaches his eagerly awaited Cairo speech to the Arab world. It is looking more and more likely that he will give a tough criticism of the settlements in the forum. And I hope he does. Because I assume that it will come paired with a forthright call for the Arab world to battle its own internal demons, particularly anti-Semitism. And that's a trade I'm more than glad to see made.

Barack Obama's best speeches share a common theme: hard calls for introspection. The Philadelphia race speech was a notable one. His Atlanta speech, which I called his best of the campaign season, was another. But for that move to work, it can't be a lecture -- it has to come from a position of empathy, respect, and understanding. Arabs (among others) are justifiably angry that the US has been an insufficient bulwark against the settlement enterprise. A firm Obama stance saying that they will no longer be tolerated will be big news. But in doing so, he will build upon his personal popularity and allow him the space to honestly and forthrightly demand that the Arab community look inward at the hatred many of its members have preached towards Jews (not Israelis, not Zionists, but Jews) for decades.

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