Commentary Magazine


The Clue to an Awful Speech: Lying About History

Some (but regrettably not all) conservatives — who are supposed to pride themselves on fidelity to fixed truths and to history — grasped why Obama’s Cairo speech was so objectionable: it was built on a series of lies and distortions. By omitting historical events and setting up a false equivalence between current parties (not to mention between the Palestinians and enslaved African Americans), Obama sought to place himself in the position of dealmaker and help usher in the dawn of a new age of Middle East peace. But the opposite is true.

To his credit, Marty Peretz focuses on one of the lesser-discussed falsehoods in the Obama speech:

The history of Israel cannot be fathomed without understanding that it emerges from the Zionist idea (both ancient and modern), from the Zionist struggle (both ideological and with arms) and the Jewish response to Zionism which was successful in gathering of the exiles. After all, half of the world’s Jews now live in Israel and speak their revived-by-Zionism Hebrew language. The point is that if the president truly wanted to give an honest rendering of the conflict he wouldn’t have omitted this essential ingredient of the narrative.

[. . .]

Attributing the birth and development of Israel solely to the Holocaust is, then, simply wrong, egregiously wrong. Moreover, the presidential attribution justifies and reifies the Arab grievance that they are paying for Hitler’s crimes. Did the president imagine–I cannot believe he did–that this account might not soften Palestinian feelings towards their neighbors? This means it was both largely false and undermined Obama’s stated goals.

One can interpret this and the other egregious historical errors and omissions (Camp David, the withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza, the wars between 1948 and 2008 were all left out) as evidence of ignorance by the Obama administration. But that seems far-fetched. It’s not likely that Hillary Clinton has forgotten her husband’s 2000 peace plan efforts; it’s just impolite, I suppose, to bring it up.

It seems more likely to be a grand effort not to bother his listeners with too many inconvenient facts which might suggest we’re not on the verge of a new Obama era of peaceful co-existence. If one tells the whole story – of Zionism, of wars, of efforts to give the Palestinians their state, of brutality toward women in Muslim countries, and of the impact of a nuclear-armed Iran on the region – then Obama might not be so successful in his charm offensive. And the people who were annoyed with past American administrations for bringing these things up would now be annoyed with him. Where’s the popularity boost in all that?

Moreover, people might scratch their heads, wondering why he persists in his pose of moral equivalence rather than dealing with the fundamental issues: the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize a Jewish state, the lack of a viable negotiator with whom Israel can engage, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran which will blackmail its neighbors and the egregious violation of human (and specifically, women’s) rights by Israel’s neighbors. Come to think of it, why isn’t he?