In Israel, Obama's Blunders Precede Him
In his first year as president, Barack Obama committed not one, but two disastrous errors during a Middle East trip -- both in a June 4, 2009 address to the Muslim world from Egypt.
The first humongous mistake is well-known -- Obama, while in the region, conspicuously omitted Israel from his itinerary. It's a snub that still rankles Israelis, and it's apt to cloud his upcoming trip to Israel. But there's nothing he can really do about it. It's history. And it can't be expunged.
The second huge mistake -- largely forgotten -- was what he actually said in his Cairo speech. In pushing for a two-state solution, Obama put both Israelis and Palestinians on an equal scale as far as their respective claims for statehood are concerned. To achieve this unreal feat, he had to erase four millennia of Jewish ties to the Holy Land. And that's what he ended up doing.
Here's how he described Israel's claim: "The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust."
In other words, Israel's right to the land is an offshoot of the Holocaust. Guilt-ridden Europeans, it would seem, made up for the murder of 6 million Jews by planting a Jewish state in the Holy Land. It's Israel as a colonial post-Holocaust implant. Not only was this grossly inaccurate, but it put Obama in the same league as Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who justifies his call to eradicate the Jewish state with a monstrous lie -- that Israel is a European colonial implant that resulted in the displacement of indigenous Arab people with far longer histories in the region.
This, of course, is falsified history on a grand scale. While the Holocaust produced greater urgency in establishing a Jewish state, Zionist roots and Jewish ownership claims antedate the Holocaust by several millennia.
The Old Testament validates Israel's right to the land some 4,000 years ago when, according to Genesis, "The Lord said unto Abram: 'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great, and be thou a blessing. And Abram took Sara his wife and Lot his brother's son, and all the substance they had gathered, and the souls they had gotten in Haran, and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came. And the Lord appeared unto Abram and said: 'Unto thy seed will I give this land.'"
In effect, Abraham was the first Zionist.
The question now is whether Obama can correct this gross omission and finally acknowledge to Israelis that not only does the Bible provide a deed to their land, but also that modern archeological discoveries throughout Israel back up this promise with historical and empirical evidence that have left an indelible imprint for thousands of years.
At a White House meeting with Jewish leaders, Obama got straightforward advice to reset and correct his blunder in Cairo. In a report on that meeting, the Washington Post portrayed Jewish leaders urging the president "to correct an early diplomatic misstep when he appeared to trace Israel's historic claim to a modern state to the Holocaust rather than the Bible" ("As trip to Israel nears, Obama hears agenda items critical to Jewish leaders" by Scott Wilson, March 8, page A9).
For his own part, Scott Wilson, a former Washington Post Jerusalem correspondent, also recalled that Obama's Cairo speech "appeared to locate the modern state of Israel's right to exist in the Holocaust rather than in the period outlined in the Bible."
So it would seem that Obama finally could be on the right historical track if, during his Jerusalem visit later this month, he substituted the Bible for the Holocaust as the real genesis of Zionism.
Well, not quite. Pointing to the Bible as the fundamental undergirding of Jewish nationhood would be a big step forward for Obama. But as history, it would still fall short -- at best a single or a double, to use baseball jargon. If Obama were aiming to score a homer, he would have to add evidence more attuned to secular minds in the 21st century. And there's plenty of that as well -- especially in Jerusalem where archeology and the Bible validate each other.
Or Obama could point as far as Rome and the Arch of Titus with its frieze of Roman legionnaires returning triumphantly from their destruction of the Jewish Temple, carrying the Temple's golden seven-branch menorah. That happened 2,000 years before the Holocaust.
Why is all this crucial as addenda to the Bible to support Jewish sovereignty? For one thing, from Mahmoud Abbas on down, Palestinians keep denying any historic Jewish ties to Jerusalem, clinging instead to the anti-Jewish Ahmadinejad formula that Israel is a recent colonial implant. For another thing, physical archeological evidence is as crucial as -- if not more so than -- biblical accounts in an increasingly secular world. If non-believers shrug off biblical evidence, they cannot avert their eyes from a profusion of graphic empirical evidence.
When Obama delivers his major address in Jerusalem, it will be interesting to hear whether he realizes the huge errors of his 2009 Cairo speech and how far he is willing to go to give the world a full account of Israel's sovereignty claims -- backed up not only by the Bible, but also by irrefutable empirical evidence.
In other words, will Obama finally deliver a historically kosher speech?
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.