JERUSALEM — In the year since President Obama visited Jerusalem as Candidate Obama, much has changed.
Running for president, he of course leveraged his presence here to mobilize his supporters in America. Obama’s visit undoubtedly helped demonstrate his international savvy and further endeared him to the American voter. He spoke from the heart with his legendary eloquence of the dangers posed by terror from Gaza and Israel’s right to defend itself at all cost.
When Candidate Obama, then a U.S. senator, kissed the stones of our revered Western Wall and shed tears at the sobering Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, we were confident that were he elected, Israel again would have a true and trusted friend in the Oval Office.
Israelis therefore looked on with the same pride and admiration shared by untold millions of Americans as President Obama was inaugurated and assumed leadership of the world’s most powerful nation. Israel, like many in the global community of nations, was eager to witness the positive change heralded by his administration. On both the domestic and foreign policy agendas, the president’s pledge for a new direction gave hope that a new era was upon us.
Regrettably it quickly became clear that our good will and hopes were likely misplaced. Rather than looking to accommodate and truly understand Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, we began feeling new pressures within mere weeks of the Obama presidency.
Regularly overlooking or ignoring the realities of a decades-old war with our Arab neighbors, the main issue for President Obama seemed to become the growth of our settlements. Rather than address the real sources of distrust, the Obama administration focused on limiting the legitimate growth of Jewish communities. Ignoring these outposts’ role in our common struggle against terrorism and extremism, they sought to decide for us how and where our families could build and develop their towns.
We have no doubt that these statements and positions were motivated by a legitimate desire for progress, but they ignored realities and created obstacles between Israel and the Palestinians rather than removing them.
Israel is facing a grave and genuine threat. The Obama administration must understand that such an existential challenge commands our focus and resources. I refer to the very real threats of an Iranian despot who repeatedly has declared his commitment to Israel’s destruction. Dismissing historical truths of the Jewish people’s past tragedies and its legitimate rights to its own hard-earned homeland, this madman rants and rails and seeks to call into question — with classic anti-Semitic chutzpa — Israel’s very existence.
As a man of peace who will soon hold the title of Nobel Peace laureate, President Obama surely knows that the land of Israel and the Jewish people always have and always will be committed to true peace. Yet true peace requires concessions by all sides. And it must come with real commitments and sacrifices by those bodies who today bitterly oppose Israel.
As the president’s predecessors and hundreds of equally well-intentioned diplomats who have come before him can attest, most of our day-to-day realities cannot be appreciated from afar. The land of Israel and the tensions in its cities and on its borders are not easily understood from intelligence reports or maps or briefings alone.
This is a region that needs to be seen and felt. One needs to hear the sounds and speak with the people to genuinely comprehend the challenges — and opportunities — inherent in this volatile area.
So I appeal to the president to revisit this land and see just how much has changed in the past 12 months. President Obama agreed recently to attend a major American Jewish gathering in Washington [but had to bow out to attend a memorial for the victims of the shooting at Fort Hood] but this cannot and must not be a substitute to speaking to the people of Israel directly in Jerusalem. I am confident that such an experience will deepen his understanding immeasurably. Certainly, it will help him better formulate America’s vital positions concerning Israel and our neighbors.
But most of all, it will help Jews renew their faith that the White House and the American people truly understand our plight and are committed to helping us overcome it.
(Danny Danon is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament and chairman of World Likud.)