For me, Obama’s speech at AIPAC yesterday was on the same level of rhetorical and political brilliance as his much-vaunted 2008 “race speech.” I’m really not sure quite how he did it, but he managed to strike an impossibly perfect balance between statements of political necessity:
The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.
There’s a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab World — in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe. And that impatience is growing, and it’s already manifesting itself in capitals around the world.
I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a President preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy. I don’t need Rahm to tell me that. Don’t need Axelrod to tell me that. But I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination.
and moral conviction:
The Talmud teaches us that, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.” And that lesson seems especially fitting today.
For so long as there are those across the Middle East and beyond who are standing up for the legitimate rights and freedoms which have been denied by their governments, the United States will never abandon our support for those rights that are universal.
And all this while repeatedly bringing the AIPAC audience to their feet in applause.
If I had any doubts about the power of this one speech, the reaction of the leftist blogosphere – where the criticism of Obama’s efforts in Israel/Palestine has been witheringly critical of late – was the ultimate indicator.
Here’s Phil Weiss:
Today’s speech by Barack Obama to AIPAC was a historic speech, maybe the most remarkable speech he has ever given. For a masked and calculating man, it was incredibly sincere. For just below the politically-hogtied phrases and praises for the Israel lobby that controls his future, it was filled with rage. When he spoke over and over of a Jewish democratic state and then said that the world was changing, and spoke about that Jewish state upholding universal values that Americans also share, I heard vicious irony: You want a religious state, you have the power to demand it of me, because you are the Israel lobby, well time is running out on you.
Yes, he gave AIPAC the usual Israel boilerplate. He’ll veto a unilaterally declared Palestinian state, etc. But all that stuff is standard and subject to change as situations change. However, the overarching message was the necessity for two states and the unsustainability of the occupation.
And AIPAC applauded. Strongly.
The President did a masterful job. The neocons are outraged. And I expect that Netanyahu, seeing AIPAC’s reaction to their President, will cut his losses and back down.
Bravo, Mr. President. You even brought out the best in AIPAC.
Even Ali Abunimah, in a post that otherwise excoriated US policy in Israel/Palestine, grudgingly admitted that Obama’s speech contained “a number of interesting elements” and “a hard-headed realism about the deep trouble Israel is in.”
Now, however, the real test begins. I’ve made no secret that I believe we’ve passed the point of no return on a two state solution – and I continue to fear that for all of his political courage, Obama’s efforts are arriving too late. As I write, Israel’s settlement juggernaut continues apace, making a mockery of Obama’s stated hope for a “sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state.” Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s political strategy is patently obvious: keep building settlements, stall Obama as long as possible, cozy up to his personal congressional friends, and do what he can to stoke the fires for a Republican victory in 2012 that will make all this unpleasantness just go away.
No matter how impossible the odds, however, I remain in awe of Obama’s speech, if only that he proved a sitting President does not need to roll over for the Israel Lobby. Could we venture to hope that AIPAC’S financially-driven stranglehold on American foreign policy, its craven bullying of politicians, and its “Israel right or wrong” myopia is now being exposed for what it really and truly is?
Click on the clip above for the entire speech. The good stuff begins at about 14:00 or so.