Friday, June 12, 2009

Judea Pearl: Why Israelis Are Cool on the Obama Speech

On Wednesday, on this blog, I said the following about President Obama's Cairo speech: "[I]t took considerable courage to tell a predominantly Moslem audience in Egypt that the Holocaust occurred and any attempt to deny it discredits Israel's critics. Would that he had said the same thing regarding the historical ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel!"

UCLA Professor of Computer Science Judea Pearl is the father of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl, who was murdered by Islamist terrorists. Professor Pearl is the President of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, founded in memory of his son to promote cross-cultural understanding. In today's Wall Street Journal, he makes essentially the same comment about President Obama's speech, and identifies it as one of two factors that have caused such a cool reception to the speech in Israel.

Professor Pearl first notes that while demanding that Israel end settlement activity, the speech made no demands on the Palestinians. In particular, President Obama did not call for the Palestinians to stop anti-Israel incitement in their media and schools.

But even more telling was President Obama's approach toward the legitimacy of Israel's existence. Like other commentators, Professor Pearl criticizes the implication in the speech that the sole historical rationale for the creation of the State of Israel was the Holocaust, as opposed to the millenia-old ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. Professor Pearl writes, "Who else defines Israel's legitimacy that way? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does. Iran sees Israel as a foreign entity to the region, hastily created to sooth European guilt over the Holocaust. Israelis consider this distortion of history to be an assault on the core of their identity as a nation."

Professor Pearl views the failure of President Obama to publicly recognize the historical legitimacy of the existence of Israel to be a lost opportunity:

An affirmation of "Israel's historical right to exist," based on a 2,000-year continuous quest to rebuild a national homeland, is what the region needs to hear from Mr. Obama. The magic words "historical right" have the capacity to change the entire equation in the Middle East. They convey a genuine commitment to permanence, and can therefore invigorate the peace process with the openness and goodwill that it has been lacking thus far.


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