In Cairo, it seemed that President Obama publicly accepted the Palestinian narrative about the origin, and hence also the doubtful legitimacy, of Israel. Although hereferred to an “unbreakable bond” between Israel and America, Obama said that the “aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” and he specifically identified that history with the Holocaust. Obama said that denying the Holocaust was “deeply wrong.”
What he completely left out of his remarks was a much more fundamental connection between the Jews and Israel: a history of thousands of years of Jewish life, culture and statehood in the land now called Israel and also in what is now often identified as “Palestine” or “Palestinian territories.” Jews lived in Israel for centuries before there were any Palestinians to speak of. Jews were in Jerusalem a thousand years before the Christian Era. Arabs did not arrive in Jerusalem until the seventh century, some 1,600 years later. The holy city of Jerusalem is mentioned over 600 times in the Hebrew Bible but not even once in the Quran. In modern times, a Jewish majority in Jerusalem preceded the founding of Israel by about eighty years. Though subjugated and diminished, Jews continued to live in their ancestral land from the time of King David to the time of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Jews who immigrated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to what is today’s Israel did so when the area was ruled by Turkey and by Great Britain, not by anyone called Palestinians. Jews settled and cultivated the land not by conquest, not by ﬁre and sword, but by the prosaic and lawful acts of purchase, and they have certainly made the land ﬂourish.
By reducing the Jewish connection with the land of Israel to the singular tragedy of the Holocaust, Obama implicitly accepted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s view that whatever the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe (if anything) was being somehow compensated for by the seizure of Palestinian lands and the displacement of Palestinian people by “colonialist” Jews from Europe.
Obama’s descriptions of the Palestinians’ alleged suffering at the hands of Israelis were highly unbalanced, inﬂammatory echoes of Arab propaganda — certainly not examples of “telling it like it is.” The president spoke of “more than sixty years [... of] the pain of dislocation,” and said that “many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands.”
Reﬂections on Obama’s Cairo Speech
and Beyond by Alexander J. Groth
Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs III : 3 (2009)