HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

November 24, 2008
An Open Letter to Obama...
and the President-Elect, the Middle East, and History

James Adler


1.  The Open Letter to Barack Obama

We realize how many problems you have to solve. But we hope you will remember that 9/11, homeland security, Iranian and Arab suspicions or hostility, hatred of the US (--much worsened by Bush policies--), the so-called "clash of civilizations," Islamic anti-West radicalism, the Iraq War, unforgotten US interventions in Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- that is, US partisan interventions in the Middle East -- are all interconnected and ultimately one nucleus of problems.

I hope you will reassure Israel about its security, and just as much the Arabs and Palestinians and Iranians that you also support their pride and dignity, as well as Palestinian rights, and that you will make an utmost priority to create an atmosphere for Israeli and Palestinian concessions and do your first and best to resolve once and for all the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And that you will respect the both Iranian and the Arab and Islamic world, while continuing to respect Israel and the American Jewish people, and Jewish world, just as much as you always have.

Along with the American and world economy and the environment including climate change, this nucleus of problems is surely your biggest priority.

With a complete end to both the Iraq War and the Israel-Palestinian conflict, imagine how much there would be lessened militancy and anti-Americanism, and, how much else in the world-- how much else in world affairs, security affairs, and comprehensive US foreign policy-- would fall completely into place for you.

Again this isn't a long and cumbersome and shapeless wish-list of many foreign policy items that will tug you and your administration in many different directions, but instead just basically one nucleus of problems and one trajectory toward solutions.


2.  Obama, the Election of an African-American, and the Middle East

It is noteworthy that among the few important world capitals, on election night nearly all were the scenes of dancing in the streets in celebration of Barack Obama's victory, with the conspicuous exception of Tel Aviv, Israel.

And yet American Jews voted nearly 4-1 for Obama.  The proportion of the Jewish vote for Obama and against McCain was the second highest of any American religious or ethnic group, second only to the African-American vote.  In fact: If America was mainly a nation of Jews; that is, if American Jews made up most of the 300,000,000 people of America -- in other words, if America was primarily itself a Jewish state -- then Barack Obama would have won by even much more than he already did, in what would have been a nearly 4-to-1, coast-to-coast, popular national landslide.

Conservative blogger and columnist Shmuel Rosner recently went from Ha'aretz to a more congenial home for him at the rightist Jerusalem Post.

And now. On the idea, that Bradley Burston at Ha'aretz and others have proposed, that the election of Barack Obama would be similar to Israel's election of an Israeli Arab Prime Minister, Rosner's retort is-- "Give me a break."

With all due respect to Rosner, with whom I almost always disagree, but admire: I believe that the American election of Barack Obama as President is similar to what the imminent Israeli election would be like of a first Arab Prime Minister of Israel-- except much more. In other words, that the improvement would be even more helpful and historic for Israel than Obama's promises to be for the United States.

Theodor Herzl, in his classic Zionist novel, "Old/New Land," envisioned that Israel would have an Arab Prime Minister and Jewish President.

And how could the election of an Israeli Arab as Prime Minister fail to improve -- transformatively -- Jewish-Arab, and Israeli-Arab, and Israeli-Iranian relations?

Try to imagine the improvement if the Arab and Muslim worlds suddenly had to confront an Arab-Muslim Prime Minister who had just been elected predominantly by the Jewish people of Israel.

How could this not instantly improve everything - recognition, respect, peace, security - to an unimaginable degree?

A pipe-dream maybe.  But we also know what Herzl said about dreams becoming reality. And, as David Horovitz, the Editor of The Jerusalem Post, concluded a recent column, in a different -- but perhaps not completely unrelated -- flight of hope about the recent splendid concert visit of Beatle Paul McCartney to Israel:

Imagine.


3.  Obama, Cynicism, and Hope

The Middle East's problems did not come about in a day.  It seems to me we owe it to ourselves to help the President Elect.  How?  If by nothing else, then, as the bottom line the foregoing of cynicism.  And also with our good will.  And the generous assistance of trust and patience. With our forgiveness for some of the errors, misjudgments, and frustrating and even sometimes infuriating zigzags that undoubtedly he will end up making.

And above all: The greatest gift we can give him, and that which he will need most of all in order to be able to accomplish anything at all, is the ample and sufficient and forgiving allotment of that most hard-won of all commodities called-- time.

May we let our hopes more comprehensively to take flight? We live on the border of disbelief and cynicism, and optimism and hope.  The cynicism was brought on not by Obama but instead has long preceded him by the disappointments about the world to which we have borne witness during our whole lives and expanding backward into longer swaths of history.  But it seems to me that the tension along our border between disbelief and our hope, precisely because our hope has been lifted up in the imminent presidency of Obama, is now more acute and poignant than ever.  The border -- between disbelief that the world could be made substantially better and the hope that it soon will be -- has been remarkably brought out by a parodic imitation of our newspaper of record, the New York Times, at the link http://www.nytimes-se.com/. When there, also be sure to click and follow the links inside this issue-- of next year's "July 4, 2009" edition of "The New York Times."

The "Thomas Friedman" column is especially unmissable.

Again, at http://www.nytimes-se.com/.

We are at an odd time, with both almost unprecedented economic worries, and a presidential post-election period of euphoria and joy -- all in a weirdly anomalous and ongoing concurrence.  This fake Times is not only both poignant and hopeful, but also gives us bundles of plain old much-needed laughter.


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