A very insightful review of former President Barack Obama's new book as it pertains to Israel - by Dov Lipman:
|The former President in the Oval Office (JNS)|
(November 26, 2020 / JNS) I have never
criticized former U.S. President Barack Obama publicly—neither during my time
in the Knesset nor anywhere else—despite my having disagreed with many of his
policies. I am of the strong opinion that Israelis should not engage in or
interfere with American politics, and I regularly offer a blanket thank you to
all American presidents, including Obama, for their economic and military
support for Israel.
However, his memoir, A Promised Land, is filled with historical inaccuracies
that I feel the need to address. His telling of Israel’s story (at the
beginning of Chapter 25) not only exhibits a flawed understanding of the
region—which clearly impacted his policies as president—but misleads readers in
a way that will forever shape their negative perspective of the Jewish state.
Obama relates, for example, how the British were “occupying
Palestine” when they issued the Balfour Declaration calling for a Jewish state.
But labeling Great Britain as an “occupier” clearly casts doubt on its
legitimacy to determine anything about the future of the Holy Land—and that
wasn’t the situation.
While it is true that England had no legal rights in
Palestine when the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917, that changed just
five years later. The League of Nations, precursor to the United Nations, gave
the British legal rights over Palestine in its 1922 “Mandate for Palestine,”
which specifically mentions “the establishment in Palestine of a national home
for the Jewish people.”
The League also said that “recognition has thereby been
given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to
the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”
The former president’s noted omission of the internationally
agreed-upon mandate for the British to establish a home for the Jews in
Palestine misinforms the reader, who will conclude that the movement for a
Jewish state in Palestine had no legitimacy or international consent.
“Over the next 20 years, Zionist leaders mobilized a surge
of Jewish migration to Palestine,” Obama writes, creating the image that once
the British illegally began the process of forming a Jewish state in Palestine,
Jews suddenly started flocking there.
The truth is that Jews, who maintained a continual presence
throughout the 2,000 years that most were exiled from the land, had already
been moving to Palestine in large numbers way before then; considerably more
than 100,000 immigrants arrived in the late 19th century and beginning of the
20th century. Then, in the 1920s, high numbers fleeing anti-Semitism in Europe
could only find safe haven in Palestine, due to the United States having
instituted quotas in 1924 on the number of Jews who could enter America.
The number of immigrants rose even more in the 1930s, when
Adolf Hitler rose to power and began his conquest of Europe while the world
Historical context is important, and once Obama chose to
write about the history, he should have provided the full context and portrayed
the Jews as they were: a persecuted and desperate people searching for safety,
and not, as he implies, strong conquerors flooding into Palestine.
His claim that the new immigrants “organized highly trained
armed forces to defend their settlements” is also misleading. A more accurate
way to describe it would have been: “Because the Arabs in the region
mercilessly attacked the Jewish areas, the Jewish refugees had no choice but to
take up arms to defend themselves.”
Acknowledging that the Arabs were attacking Jews before
there was even a state of Israel is important historical context for
understanding the Israeli-Arab conflict.
A Promised Land recounts, as well, how the U.N. passed
a partition plan for Palestine in November 1947, by dividing the country into a
Jewish and Arab state, which the “Zionist leaders,” as he calls them, accepted,
but to which the “Arab Palestinians, as well as surrounding Arab nations that
were just emerging from colonial rule, strenuously objected.”
Obama’s use of “Zionist leaders” instead of “Jewish leaders”
plays right into the current international climate, in which it is politically
correct to be “anti-Zionist,” while unacceptable to be anti-Jewish. (In
reality, Zionism is the movement for Jews to live in their biblical and
historic homeland, so being against that actually is anti-Semitism, but that’s
for another discussion.)
The description of “Arab nations that were just emerging
from colonial rule” is a clear attempt to justify the Arab refusal of the U.N.
Partition Plan. Those poor “Arab nations” that have been suffering due to
outsiders colonizing their “nations” simply could not accept another “colonial”
entity, the Jews, entering the region.
But the truth is that with the exception of Egypt, which was
not colonized, none of the neighboring countries that rejected the partition
plan had been established states before World War I. Yes, the post-war mandates
of the League of Nations gave control in the region to the British and the
French for a few decades, but this was in place of the Ottoman Empire that had
controlled the region for centuries. Thus, the image of countries emerging from
long-standing colonial rule as a subtle attempt to justify their objection to
the Partition Plan is simply false.
Obama tells the story of the establishment of the State of
Israel in two sentences, which are nothing short of outright revisionist
history: “As Britain withdrew, the two sides quickly fell into war. And with
Jewish militias claiming victory in 1948, the state of Israel was officially
Wow. I don’t even know where to begin. The two sides didn’t
“fall into war” when Britain withdrew; the two sides had been fighting for
decades, with the Arabs—who rejected more than half-a-century of efforts to
establish a Jewish state in the region—attacking the Jews, and the Jews
defending themselves. When the British then left the area in May 1948, the Jews
made a very difficult decision to declare their independence based on the U.N.
Partition Plan, which gave the right for a Jewish state alongside an Arab
There were no “Jewish militias claiming victory.” There was
a unified Jewish army that formed the Israel Defense Forces, which knew that
the surrounding Arab countries would begin an all-out assault to destroy Israel
the moment its Jewish leadership declared an independent fledgling Jewish
state. And that is exactly what the Arab armies did. The new State of Israel
fought off that assault for months, emerging in 1949 both weakened and fragile.
Obama’s perspective on the formation of the State of Israel
no doubt affected his foreign policy regarding the Jewish state. If one sees
Israel as a colonial force occupying the land as a result of its armed
militias, then it will be treated as an outsider that wronged others to
establish itself as a state. The former president misleads others into
believing this, as well.
The most disingenuous sentence of Obama’s history of Israel
is in his description of what happened during the 30 years following Israel’s
establishment: “For the next three decades, Israel would engage in a succession
of conflicts with its Arab neighbors…”
What? I had to read that sentence many times, because I
could not believe that a president of the United States could write such
misleading, deceptive and damaging words about his country’s close ally.
Israel did not “engage” in any conflict with the surrounding
Arab countries. The Arab armies and their terrorists attacked Israel again and
again, and Israelis fought to defend themselves.
A straightforward history of Middle East wars involving
Israel yields this basic truth. Facts are facts, and the former president’s
misrepresentation of Israel as a country that sought conflict instead of
peace—one that willingly engaged in wars with the Arabs—does an injustice to
peace-seeking Israel and riles up anti-Israel sentiment.
Obama’s description of the 1967 Six-Day Way continues this
revisionism: “A greatly outnumbered Israeli military routed the combined armies
of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. In the process, Israel seized control of the West
Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula
from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria.”
Here he fails to address what led up to the war, when all
those Arab armies gathered along Israel’s borders and declared their intention
to wipe it off the map. He doesn’t describe Israel’s pleading with Jordan not
to enter the war, nor that Jordan altogether had no legal rights to the West
Bank, which it occupied in 1948 and annexed against international law in 1950.
Most significantly, Obama fails to mention Israel’s
willingness, immediately after the war, to withdraw from all the areas that it
won in its defensive battle in exchange for peace; and by extension, he also
fails to tell of the Arab League’s “Three Nos” in response to that offer: no
peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.
This omission serves once again to portray Israel as the
aggressive occupier that seeks conflict and not peace.
The former president continues with another outright
falsehood, which helps give insight into his policies regarding Israeli
settlements in the West Bank.
The “rise of the PLO (the Palestinian Liberation
Organization)” was a “result” of the Six-Day War he writes. That makes it seem
like the Palestinian liberation movement—including its violent and murderous
attacks against Israelis—was only a result of Israel’s taking control over the
West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
It strengthens the message that if only Israel would vacate
these areas, there would be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is
what spurs leaders around the world to suggest that Israeli settlements in
these areas are the obstacle to peace in the region.
But there is one flaw with this story and logic. It’s not
true. The PLO was established in 1964—three years before Israel was in control
of any of those “occupied” areas, and three years before there were any
What exactly was this Palestinian organization liberating at
that time? Is there any conclusion other than the liberation of the Jewish
state in its entirety? What other option could there be?
This is why the “Free Palestine” movement chants, “From the
river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” They are against the existence of
Israel anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They see
such a state as a colonial enterprise with armed militias grabbing the land of
others, just as Obama leads readers to believe when describing the formation of
The false description of the PLO rising after 1967 serves
the narrative that the “occupation” and the settlements are the cause of the
conflict, and this, no doubt, had a direct impact on Obama’s “not one brick”
policy, including freezing settlement construction, in an effort to bring about
peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Obama describes the failed Camp David accords of 2000, in
which former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians more
than 90 percent of what they were asking for.
“Arafat demanded more concessions, however, and talks
collapsed in recrimination,” he writes. But the talks didn’t simply “collapse.”
Sixty-six days later, Arafat unleashed the Second Intifada, in which 1,137
Israeli civilians were murdered and 8,341 were maimed by Yasser Arafat-funded
terrorists who blew themselves up in Israeli buses and cafes.
Don’t trust my word on this. Mamduh Nofal, former military
commander of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, revealed
that following Camp David, “Arafat told us, ‘Now we are going to fight so we
must be ready.’”
In addition, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said in September
2010 that in the summer of 2000, as soon as Arafat understood that all of
his demands would not be met, he instructed Hamas, Fatah and the al-Aqsa
Martyrs Brigades to begin attacking Israel. And Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of
Hamas founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, has verified that the Second Intifada was
pre-planned by Arafat.
Not only does Obama fail to accurately connect the Second
Intifada to Arafat’s not receiving everything the Palestinians asked for at
Camp David—demands that would have prevented Israel from being able to defend
itself against Palestinian terrorism—but he seems to place the blame for the
intifada on Israel.
He describes the September 2000 visit of Israel’s opposition
leader and subsequent prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to the Temple Mount in
Jerusalem as “provocative” and a “stunt” that “enraged Arabs near and far.”
But Obama neglects to mention that Sharon only visited there
after Israel’s Interior Ministry received assurances from the security chief of
the Palestinian Authority that no uproar would arise as a result of the visit.
In fact, Jibril Rajoub, head of Preventive Security in the
West Bank, confirmed that Sharon could visit the sensitive area as long as he
did not enter a mosque or pray publicly, rules to which Sharon adhered.
Even more incredibly, Obama describes the Temple Mount as
“one of Islam’s holiest sites,” making no mention that it is the holiest
site in Judaism.
An innocent reader who is unfamiliar with the region and its
history reads this and concludes that it was simply wrong for a Jewish leader
to walk onto a Muslim religious site. On the other hand, if he or she knew that
it is the holiest site for Jews, then they would more likely wonder why there
was anything wrong with Sharon’s having gone there—except Obama omits that
part, leading anyone to conclude that Sharon was in the wrong.
That omission, together with the exclusion of Arafat’s plans
for the intifada right after negotiations at Camp David failed, can only lead
one to conclude that Israel was responsible for the five years of bloodshed
during the Second Intifada.
Obama’s history lesson continues with the tension between
Israel and Gaza. Remarkably, he makes zero mention of the Israeli disengagement
from Gaza in 2005, when Israel pulled out all of its troops from the Strip
while forcing 9,000 Jewish citizens to leave their homes.
Anyone reading the president’s description of the wars between
Israel and Hamas would never know that Israel no longer “occupies” Gaza, and
that the Palestinians have been free to build a wondrous “Israeli-free”
Palestinian state there for the last 15 years. That omission is glaring.
Finally, Obama’s misleading words describing Israel’s
response to Hamas rocket fire on its civilian population only serves to inflame
and incite anti-Israel sentiment worldwide. That response, he writes, included
“Israeli Apache helicopters leveling entire neighborhoods” in Gaza—Apache
helicopters that he identifies as coming from the U.S., a subtle or
not-too-subtle questioning of whether the United States should be providing
Israel with military aid if it is used in this manner.
More importantly, what does he mean by “leveling entire
neighborhoods,” other than to imply that Israel indiscriminately bombs Gazan
neighborhoods, willfully murdering innocent people? And what human being on
Earth wouldn’t be riled up to condemn Israel for such inhumane activity?
The problem is that it’s false. Israel targets terrorist
leaders and the rockets that they fire into Israeli cities. Tragically, Hamas
leaders use innocent Palestinians as human shields by hiding behind them in
civilian neighborhoods, and by launching rockets into Israel from there and
from hospitals and mosques.
Israel does its best not to kill innocent people—even
airdropping leaflets announcing an imminent airstrike—and calls off missions to
destroy rocket launchers or kill terrorist leaders when there are too many
civilians in the area. Israel most certainly does not launch retaliatory
attacks that aimlessly “level” entire neighborhoods.
I have no problem with criticism of Israel. We can debate
the issues in intellectually honest discussions, and in the end, we may have to
agree to disagree about Israel’s policies. But no one should accept a book that
is filled with historical inaccuracies that invariably lead innocent and
unknowing readers to reach false conclusions. Such a devastating book has
real-life ramifications and consequences.
It is terribly disappointing. I surely would have expected
truth, accuracy and fairness from Barack Obama, America’s 44th president. But
the falsehoods and inaccuracies in this memoir only feed the theory that Obama
was, in fact, anti-Israel. Now, through A Promised Land, he seeks to
convince others to join him.
Dov Lipman served as a member of the 19th Knesset.