No Change You Can Believe In - Israel Is All Wrong About Obama's Visit

President Obama's arrival in Israel with no new peace proposal to offer is reassuring to many Israelis. They should be worried instead.

President Obama's March 20, 2013 visit of an Iron Dome Battery in Tel Aviv, Israel
President Obama's March 20, 2013 visit of an Iron Dome Battery in Tel Aviv, Israel
Dominique Moïsi


PARIS “Thank God, Obama is coming without a peace plan!” As the president of the United States arrives in Jerusalem, the Israelis seem to be torn between relief and ironic resignation.

The visit – which would have been perceived as of considerable significance had it happened in March 2009, after Obama was elected for the first time – is lackluster at best, having lost most of its emotional and strategic importance.

Four years ago, the Israeli “peace camp,” the U.S. and Europe were waiting fervently for the new president to come to Jerusalem. With the support of key personalities from the American Jewish community and some Arab world leaders, Obama would have found the right words to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together on the road to peace.

His speech at the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) would have had the same impact for the Middle East as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. His eloquence as well as his meaningful economical and strategic arguments would have broken down the wall of distrust between the people – and this would have all happened in the holy city of Jerusalem. But the dream never became a reality. It was probably already just a dream in 2009, a pleasant illusion – far removed from the real world. In 2009 the U.S. didn’t have the will nor the means to impose peace on Israelis and Palestinians, who believed less and less in a two-state solution.

In March 2013, the situation is even worse. People don’t expect much from Obama’s visit, but this is not out fear of being sorely disappointed. The truth is that in the past four years, all the indicators of hope have veered to their lowest level. Is Obama’s 2013 visit a sign of the U.S.’s new international status, the beginning of a world characterized by the U.S.’s powerlessness instead of its influence? There is no passing of the baton. In the absence of America, no one else is picking up the slack.

Because of international, regional and local changes, the situation is much more complex today than it was previously. From the local aspect, Israel has hardened its stance in the last few years. Two months ago, Israel voted against the ruling coalition, but it was not a vote in favor of a moderate center, nor was it a vote for resuming negotiations with the Palestinians. It was first and foremost a societal and economic vote to denounce the inequalities between rich and poor, religious and secular.

As for the deeply divided Palestinians, they seem closer to a third intifada than to the negotiation table. President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas, whom Obama is scheduled to meet in Ramallah on Thursday, has never been so weak politically.

Paradigm shifts

From a regional aspect, the instability created by the Arab Spring is not conducive to change. “We shouldn’t be adding complications to an already unmanageable situation,” a former high-ranking U.S. official tells me. In other words, the best thing to do is to keep one's energy for other more pressing issues, where there is still time to do something. The Iranians want the nuclear bomb too much, while the Israelis and Palestinians don’t want peace strongly enough. So let’s focus on Teheran.

Paradoxically, as the U.S. and Israel are slowly drifting apart, they are both converging in the same direction – Asia. Israel is tempted to turn to Asia, while the U.S. considers it a strategic priority.

Israel is still strategically dependent on the U.S., however the “sequestration” might have an impact on the military assistance doled out by Washington. The U.S. meanwhile is trying to reduce dramatically its energy dependence on the Middle East.

Are the Israeli leaders aware of this paradigm shift? A few months prior to the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Prime Minister Golda Meir, while in Washington, assured Richard Nixon that “Israel’s situation had never been better.” Israel’s former security chiefs have a very different point of view. In the Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers, they express their worries for the long term. They say that in the absence of a peace treaty with the Palestinians, time is not on Israel’s side. The Israelis, they say, are comfortable with the status quo, while the rage of the Palestinians has intensified because of the constant humiliation they are enduring.

Obama arrived in Jerusalem without a peace plan. This shouldn’t be perceived as a relief, but as a worry for Israelis.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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