Barack Obama's Dangerous Superficiality

Joe Biden arrived at COP26 and greeted Glasgow. He pronounced the city’s name ‘Glas-cow’ as in bow, cow, how, now, vow and wow. He did not pronounce it correctly ‘Glasgow’ as in low, mow, row and tow. None of his advisers had taken the trouble to brief him and he showed his ignorance of the COP26 host city. One week later, Barack Obama arrived at COP26. He also pronounced Glasgow in the same way as had Joe Biden. In the interim week no-one in the Democratic Party had thought to prevent a recurrence of the mispronunciation. Mistake one. Obama then used the phrase ‘emerald isles’ to refer to Britain. Mistake two. The phrase ‘emerald isle’ is used of Ireland, more specifically Southern Ireland or Eire. Mistake three. He then mentioned the word ‘bard’. In Scotland the bard is Robert Burns. Mistake four. Obama then quoted Shakespeare, the English bard. Mistake five. His quotation was apposite for dealing with climate change and global warming. “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” (Othello Act 2 scene 3) and all this with his gratuitous grinning self satisfaction.

Europeans have long been bemused by the insularity of Americans but Presidents and former Presidents are supposed to demonstrate excellence. Biden’s faux pas and Obama’s mistakes were picked up by social media and noted briefly in a few newspapers. They were not highlighted on the television news though. If Donald Trump or George W Bush had offered up such infelicities they would have been lampooned by all and sundry. In 2016 Barack Obama had advised Britain not to vote for Brexit warning us that we would be at the back of the queue for a trade deal. Public compliments are important but not as much as real political historical and contemporary ignorance.

In Barack Obama’s latest book ‘A Promised Land’ he shows a frightening lack of understanding of the Middle East in general and the Israeli – Palestinian conflict in particular. Chapter 25 deals with these issues. Jeffrey Goldberg sums up Obama’s position on Islamic jihadis as “If we’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to us”. In Cairo in 2009 Obama had said ‘America is not at war with Islam’. True. He did not add another truth. Islam is at war with America. So much self-assured naivety and blind spot understanding later applied equally and dangerously.

Dov Moshe Lipman is a rabbi, political activist, educator, author and sports enthusiast and is a former member of The Knesset. He has replied in detail to Obama’s ignorance, shallowness and partiality (published in ‘aish’, 2 December 2020). He writes that Obama omits the important historical fact that The League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, gave the British legal rights over Palestine in its 1922 “Mandate for Palestine,” which specifically mentions “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The League also said that “recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” Lipman thinks readers will conclude that the movement for a Jewish state in Palestine had no legitimacy or international consent.

He continues his critique. Obama writes “Over the next 20 years, Zionist leaders mobilised a surge of Jewish migration to Palestine,” creating the image that once the British illegally began the process of forming a Jewish state in Palestine, Jews suddenly started flocking there. In fact Jews had maintained a continual presence throughout the 2,000 years that most were exiled from the land, and had already been moving to Palestine in large numbers long before then; considerably more than 100,000 immigrants arrived in the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Then, in the 1920s, high numbers fleeing anti-Semitism in Europe could only find safe haven in Palestine due to the United States having instituted quotas in 1924 on the number of Jews who could enter America. The number of immigrants rose even more in the 1930s when Adolf Hitler rose to power and began his conquest of Europe while the world remained silent. Historical context is important, and once Obama chose to write about the history, he should have provided the full context and portrayed the Jews as they were: a persecuted and desperate people searching for safety, and not, as he implies, strong conquerors flooding into Palestine'.

Lipman continues ‘Obama tells the story of the establishment of the State of Israel in two sentences, which are nothing short of outright revisionist history: “As Britain withdrew, the two sides quickly fell into war. And with Jewish militias claiming victory in 1948, the state of Israel was officially born.” The two sides didn’t “fall into war” when Britain withdrew; the two sides had been fighting for decades, with the Arabs – who rejected more than half-a-century of efforts to establish a Jewish state in the region – attacking the Jews, and the Jews defending themselves. When the British then left the area in May 1948, the Jews made a very difficult decision to declare their independence based on the U.N. Partition Plan, which gave the right for a Jewish state alongside an Arab state’.

He continues, ‘The most disingenuous sentence of Obama’s history of Israel is in his description of what happened during the 30 years following Israel’s establishment: “For the next three decades, Israel would engage in a succession of conflicts with its Arab neighbours ….” Israel did not “engage” in any conflict with the surrounding Arab countries. The Arab armies and their terrorists attacked Israel again and again, and Israelis fought to defend themselves. Obama’s description of the 1967 Six-Day War continues this revisionism: “A greatly outnumbered Israeli military routed the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. In the process, Israel seized control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.” Here he fails to address what led up to the war, when all those Arab armies gathered along Israel’s borders and declared their intention to wipe it off the map’. He doesn’t say that Jordan altogether had no legal rights to the West Bank, which it occupied in 1948 and annexed against international law in 1950. Most significantly, Obama fails to mention Israel’s willingness, immediately after the war, to withdraw from all the areas that it won in its defensive battle in exchange for peace; and by extension, he also fails to tell of the Arab League’s “Three No’s” in response to that offer: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel’.

'The “rise of the PLO (the Palestinian Liberation Organization)” was a “result” of the 1967 Six-Day War Obama writes. The PLO was established in 1964 – three years before Israel was in control of any of those “occupied” areas and three years before there were any settlements. This is why the “Free Palestine” movement chants, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” They are against the existence of Israel anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea'.

'Obama describes the failed Camp David accords of 2000, in which former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians more than 90 percent of what they were asking for. “Arafat demanded more concessions, however, and talks collapsed in recrimination,” he writes. But the talks didn’t simply “collapse.” Sixty-six days later, Arafat unleashed the Second Intifada, in which 1,137 Israeli civilians were murdered and 8,341 were maimed by Yasser Arafat-funded terrorists who blew themselves up in Israeli buses and cafes'.

'He describes the September 2000 visit of Israel’s opposition leader and subsequent prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as “provocative” and a “stunt” that “enraged Arabs near and far.” But Obama neglects to mention that Sharon only visited there after Israel’s Interior Ministry received assurances from the security chief of the Palestinian Authority that no uproar would arise as a result of the visit. Even more incredibly, Obama describes the Temple Mount as “one of Islam’s holiest sites,” making no mention that it is the holiest site in Judaism. An innocent reader who is unfamiliar with the region and its history reads this and concludes that it was simply wrong for a Jewish leader to walk onto a Muslim religious site. On the other hand, if he or she knew that it is the holiest site for Jews, then they would more likely wonder why there was anything wrong with Sharon’s having gone there – except Obama omits that part, leading anyone to conclude that Sharon was in the wrong. That omission, together with the exclusion of Arafat’s plans for the intifada right after negotiations at Camp David failed, can only lead one to conclude that Israel was responsible for the five years of bloodshed during the Second Intifada'. 'Obama’s history lesson continues with the tension between Israel and Gaza. Remarkably, he makes zero mention of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, when Israel pulled out all of its troops from the strip while forcing 9,000 Jewish citizens to leave their homes. Anyone reading the president’s description of the wars between Israel and Hamas would never know that Israel no longer “occupies” Gaza'.

Lipman's critique is convincing. Obama's perspective is wrong. Yet he is allowed to publish such fake news and to be applauded for doing so. Gaza is now the property of Hamas, the internationally recognised terrorist group from where it leashes unprovoked missile attacks on civilian Israeli targets. The Hamas Charter extols the eradication of Israel. Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s Vice-President. He is pro-Palestinian. Biden is returning American Middle East policy to the Obama era, seeking to negate the more positive aspects of Donald Trump’s pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian interlude.

Obama's shallowness and misinformation are dangerous. They feed into, support and encourage anti-semitism. This is a growing phenomenon in the early 21st century. It has a strange alliance with Black Lives Matter for whom Jews are 'white'. BDS activism seeks to impoverish Israel by boycotting its exported goods, seeking disinvestment and advocating sanctions on behalf of oppressed Palestinians. Jewish speakers are being cancelled from universities. Jewish university students are concerned for their safety and for their lives. Now in Britain, once and long a refuge for Jews, some are afraid to walk the streets. Obama's narrative not only does not correct Israel's enemies, it does not even offer a balanced and responsible political evaluation of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

It is not just in geo-politics that Barack Obama failed to see the broader picture and deeper longer term consequences. As President he legitimised same sex marriage. This has led to competing rights and wants in ever decreasing circles of human sexuality alternatives. As Prime Minister David Cameron legitimised same sex marriage in England. He disrespected the Church of England’s Christian position and overruled its teaching while allowing it an exemption. He later said that this was his proudest political achievement. The same contortions present in America are now occurring in Britain. The wrecking of Christian family life is complete. The costs are prohibitive, social, personal, psychological, physical, generational and financial. They are now geo-political also as atheist China rejects ‘cissyness’ and Christian Orthodox influenced Russia disallows homosexual propaganda in primary schools.

The west / woke agenda is on top at the moment. But in other parts of the world it is not so. The Muslim world does not buy into the de-Christianised west’s social and moral free for all. Christian Africa, South America and Asia do not do so either. There is still a sense of ‘we won the war’ about Europe and America, a feeling that what we say must go and must be accepted by others throughout the world even though the Europe and America that previous generations fought and struggled for no longer exists. Obama’s vacillation over his red lines on Syria told Russia and China that America no longer had the stomach for a fight. The manner of Biden’s retreat from Afghanistan confirmed this. The 21st century has not so far proved peaceful. Why would it have? Human politics are combustible in every generation. Christian claims of God being in charge are not convincing. The Christian contract of redemption of life leading to good neighbourliness while on earth and with eternal life to follow is very much needed. It is like Jesus, a stranger in the world.

Robert Anderson 2017

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