Obama's speech, AIPAC's problem
05/20/2011 - 09:02
James Besser

 President Barack Obama's “Cairo II” speech yesterday may have complicated life for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), whose annual policy conference he will keynote on Sunday.

In his speech at the State Department, Obama advocated an Israeli-Palestinian agreement with borders “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

That reflects what has been implicit in U.S. policy for a long time, but the language about the 1967 borders is new – and opponents of Palestinian statehood and of active U.S. involvement in pushing both sides to the table are predictably incensed.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has called on AIPAC to rescind its invitation to Obama – like that's going to happen – because of his speech “promoting and supporting the establishment of a Hamas/Fatah/Iran terrorist state on the Auschwitz 1967 indefensible armistice lines.”

I'll say this for ZOA: its leaders pack a lot of rhetorical bombs into a single sentence. (The Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a statement, used similar language).

The ZOA position reflects a real problem for AIPAC: how to control a faction in the convention hall that regards Obama's speech as a virtual declaration of war against the kind of Jewish state they want.

Politico reported the other day that as before previous policy conferences, AIPAC sent out an email to delegates saying the group's goal is to “have every speaker, honored guest, member of Congress, Senator, and administration official who joins us feel that we have done everything we can to extend our hand in friendship.” 

Even before the speech, there was great concern at AIPAC HQ that Obama would provoke some less- than-friendly responses. You can bet that concern has been redoubled since yesterday.

It seems to me that Obama speech didn't really change anything, policy wise. Using that language – the 1967 borders – was undoubtedly meant as a strong signal to the Arab and Muslim world that Washington is still serious about pressing for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and a signal to Netanyahu on the eve of his Washington visit.

But yesterday's speech offered no clues about what the U.S. plan might be, which is why Jewish pro-peace process groups, while praising the speech, weren't very thrilled by it because they suspect there isn't one.

Still, it's a problem for AIPAC – whose goal isn't to support a particular ideological position in Israel (such as: no more land for peace) but to promote strong U.S.-Israel relations. You don't do that by embarrassing a president who offers to keynote your conference.

It's interesting that while ZOA went on a tear about the speech, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee – both pretty much icons of the pro-Israel center – mostly praised it.

The AJC focused on Obama's comments about the recent Fatah-Hamas unity agreement:

“The president also stated clearly his concerns about the recent agreement between Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Abbas, and Hamas, which rules Gaza and has been designated by the U.S. and EU as a terrorist organization,” the group said in a statement. “The president challenged Palestinian leaders to provide 'a credible answer' to the question of 'how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist.'”

ADL leaders called it a “compelling speech on the priorities for American policy in the Middle East” and said “We applaud his strong outlining of the principles which motivate that policy, including supporting the universal rights of free speech, equality and religious freedom, opposing the use of force and political repression, and promoting political and economic reforms.”

The group also praised Obama's “clear articulation of the moral and strategic connections between America and Israel. We support the President’s vision of a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement with strong security provisions for Israel, and a non-militarized Palestinian state. We appreciate his direct rejection of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and his understanding that the Hamas-Fatah agreement poses major problems for Israel.”

Somehow I don't that's going to have much impact on those activists at the AIPAC conference on Sunday who see Obama's words about 1967 borders as a frontal attack against their vision of Israel.

view counter

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


It seems as if Obama got his views concerning Israel from Louis Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright. It also is worth noting that Obama is the first Democratic President to not have a Jewish cabinet member since Harry Truman. In truth, Obama seems to have a problem with Jews.

He is the most hostile-sitting US Pres toward Israel in history. His rhetoric Thurs was no different then Yasser Arafat's. Tiny Israel is the only democracy in the Muslim world (1.6 bil people) whose citizens are free, whose scientists, inventors and physicians, are on the cutting edge, and have made numerous discoveries to slow down debilitating and often fatal diseases for the betterment of mankind. Her leadership in the field of technology is second to none. For this US Pres to condemn, lecture and disrespect our only ALLY in that huge and dangerous strategic neighborhood ad nauseam (two and a half years +) is an outrage. The 82+% of Jews voted for Obama, an individual with no paper trail of positive accomplishments disregarded his proven lack of knowledge of history and compassion for the Jewish people and the Jewish Homeland. There are profound challenges for Israel supporters and activists in the US and international community. Obama's 20+ years of practicing Islam (before jeremiah wright), and his uncanny ability to recite Koranic verses by heart, serve as the foundation of his non-stop mistreatment of Israel.

If he comes down wholly on the side of Israel due to historical and misguided bias then the status quo is only prolonged, and how's that working out? not very well is it! So in order to find resolution something needs to change, and Obama being the intelligent courageous person he is has decided to stick up for what is fair! Well done Obama!

unfortunately it seems as if Louis Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright influenced him on this issue. It is also interesting to note that Obama is the first Democratic President since Truman to not have a Jew in his cabinet

The has come for the ADL to decide if they are a democratic organization or a Jewish organization. Their leadership has been unable to decern that some days you cannot be both.

I am so shocked, so simply shocked. I thought that Obama was pro-Israel. He said he was, didn't he? Wow, please don't tell me that the tooth fairy isn't real either, my poor heart will break into a million pieces.

Dear Mr. Besser,
The discomfort at AIPAC will not only be from ZOA folks. I am going to the AIPAC Policy Conference: I will not applaud for President Obama. While I'm unlikely to boo, icicles will be eminating from my soul to Mr. Obama's.
I suspect he'll have many thousands of such icicles to content with.
Bruce Birnberg

In light of President Obama's speech why in the world would any one who wants Israel to remain free ever vote for him or is party again. Clearly the Republican Party has been a far better friend to Israel than has the Democrat Party of Obama and Carter. It is time the Democrats learn not to take this block of voters for granted as they do African Americans! I hear lots of objections to Obama's speech by Republicans--where are are friends in the Democrat Party???

What is so frustrating, and scary, is that, still, so many Jews don't understand that Obama is no friend of Israel - never has been.

Of course AIPAC can not uninvite him (as much as that would also send a clear messege), however, members can express their response by not applauding for him when he enters. The chance of this happening: 0%

Netanyahu is putting many of the 70% of the American Jews who voted for President Obama in the last election and who support Israel (and a two-state solution) in a very uncomfortable position. Jeffrey Goldberg is no Philip Weiss or even Peter Beinart. He's right in the middle, maybe to the right of the middle and his post this morning: Dear Mr. Netanyahu, Please Don't Speak to My President That Way" is telling.