Commentary Magazine


Re: A Meeting with Actual Leaders

I have received some additional information regarding the comments by David Harris at today’s meeting. While I understand they will be published in full, I can share some highlights.

He prefaced his remarks by stating they were meant as a critique from a “friend,” but his disagreement with the president’s Cairo speech was blunt. It began: “First, in his Cairo speech, the President implied that the Holocaust was the primary reason for Israel’s creation. That is unfortunate – and factually incorrect.” He went on to explain that this is important because Arabs to this day have “long challenged Israel’s legitimacy by arguing that it is a Western implant in the Middle East, created to appease the conscience of a Europe with Jewish blood on its hands.”

Harris also took issue with Obama’s juxtaposition of “the Palestinian condition with that of black Americans and other suffering people ‘from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia.’ ” He declared this was a “regrettable equivalence” that ignores that much of the Palestinian suffering is “self-inflicted,” meaning their leaders have not served their own people well.

Finally, Harris criticized the president’s call for action by “only one country” (Israel), citing Obama’s directive that “It is time for these settlements to stop.” While acknowledging that settlements are an issue, Harris was clear in rejecting the notion that they represent the underlying cause of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He explained that now the Palestinians have taken Obama’s comments as a license to do nothing.

Harris was not present at the White House meeting last week, and that is a shame. Had he been there and spoken directly to the president, it might have provoked some self-reflection on Obama’s part. Perhaps the president’s staff will give him a copy of Harris’s remarks. His bold, candid, and historically accurate words should be taken to heart. Moreover, Harris’s example of “speaking truth to power” is one that should be emulated.