Obama Can't Help Himself: Lectures Israelis on Empathy

Obama Can't Help Himself: Lectures Israelis on Empathy

President Barack Obama visit to Israel was going well until a speech to students in Jerusalem Thursday. The speech itself was a success until Obama chose to lecture Israeli students about having empathy for Palestinians:

And put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own — living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements, not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day.

Lack of Israeli empathy is not the problem, nor is “fairness.” Palestinians suffer today because of the poor decisions of their leaders, the manipulations of Arab rulers, and the basic lack of empathy by Palestinians and the world for Israeli civilians. 

Israeli empathy for Palestinians led Israelis to seek peace at great risk in the 1990s. If Obama’s words might have been appropriate then, they are certainly inappropriate today, after a decade of suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and de-legitimization.

What seems to bother Obama the most is that Israel has found military means to protect itself from Palestinian terror: “It can be tempting to put aside the frustrations and sacrifices that come with the pursuit of peace, particularly when Iron Dome repels rockets, barriers keep out suicide bombers, there are so many other pressing issues that demand your attention.”

Obama, like many on the left, would evidently prefer a weakened Israel, more eager to make concessions.

Israeli students have been on the forefront of the struggle for peace. They have also been the first victims of terror, including at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It is not empathy they lack, it is mutual empathy. The correct audience for Obama’s remarks would have been Bir Zeit University in the West Bank.

Normally, it would be considered rude for any U.S. president to accuse young people in a foreign nation of insensitivity, particularly when that nation has already done so much for peace. But Obama treats Israel with unique condescension, as do some of the American Jewish advisers around him, who are culturally worlds apart from their Israeli cousins. 

It is easy to sit thousands of miles away and look down on those who live their lives in the shadow of Palestinian terror. Given the reality that Israelis struggle with every day, it is amazing that they show as much empathy to Palestinians as they do–providing humanitarian aid and medical services to the people of Gaza even in the midst of war, for example.

Obama also relies on a false conceit: that Jews will be outnumbered by Arabs west of the Jordan River without a separate Palestinian state: “Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”

Yet Palestinian demographic trends are wildly exaggerated and, especially if Gaza is removed from the picture, there is no chance for what Obama predicts to come true. The demographic threat is a staple of left wing analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but it just is not true.

Obama’s remarks mar what otherwise would have been a praiseworthy visit. He has reversed some of his most objectionable policies, and gave Israel a clear green light to defend itself against Iran, preemptively if necessary.  

But beneath that shift, Obama retains his former bad instincts. He acknowledges Israel’s ancient history and origins but does not understand its current predicament. Like others on the left, Obama sees the conflict through a prism of “fairness” rather than fact.