President Barack Obama has made an unprecedented demand on Israel, Jewish leaders said Thursday, after the president called for Israel to redraw its borders to where they were in 1967 before the Six Day War. One rabbi said Obama was, in essence, asking for "ethnic cleansing" of thousands of Jewish families.
“It’s immoral in that basically the president of the United States is asking that 500,000 people who live, work, and raise families around Jerusalem – Jewish families – that they be uprooted, resettled, deported from their homes, have their families broken,” Rabbi Aryeh Spero, founder of Caucus for America, told CNSNews.com.
“The president of the United States is asking for ethnic cleansing,” said Rabbi Spero. “It’s ironic that the president, who speaks in humanitarian tones regarding the Palestinians, doesn’t have any humanitarian concerns toward 500,000 Jewish people and families that will be uprooted and deported from their homes.”
Obama made the demand on Israel during a speech on the Middle East, delivered at the State Department on Thursday, as a way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Spero believes Obama was not being honest.
“Every time Israel relinquishes land on the altar of peace, it gets not peace but rockets,” Spero said. “This has been played over and over by the Palestinian Authority, then with Yasser Arafat, with Hamas. He knows what will happen with the Israelis, and yet it doesn’t seem to bother him.”
“I’m just very disappointed that my president seems to be so indifferent to the plight of the Jewish people in Israel,” he said.
Though Israel has given up land to Palestinians in the past because of pressure from the United States, no U.S. president has asked this much, said Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America.
“It’s par for the course, but not to this extent,” Tannenbaum told CNSNews.com. “In other words, other presidents have also pressured Israel with the hope of achieving some kind of peace. But considering the history and considering facts on the ground, no president has been as severe as President Obama.”
However, Tannenbaum thinks the proposal is a non-starter primarily because the borders have never been the issue.
“The suggestion is going to die, this is not going to work,” he said. “It won’t go anywhere. If you notice, there was an attack on all the borders of the state of Israel. There was an attack on the 1967 borders. The problem with Israel for the Palestinians is the very existence of the state of Israel -- not its borders -- but that it exists at all. They will not rest until there is no Israel.”
But Spero is not so sure the proposal will just go away, even without support from Congress.
“While he [Obama] can’t force the Jewish people out of their lands, he can certainly pressure Israel to the point where it finds itself in a very insecure state of affairs,” said Rabbi Spero. “He could without certain military weapons and parts that are needed for Israel’s defense. So, it’s a tremendous amount of intimidation and pressure.”
Israel expanded its territory after the Six Day War defeating Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel gained the West Bank, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula (the Sinai was returned to Egypt in a deal brokered in 1978). Since 1967, and most notably in the early 1990s, Israel gave up significant amounts of land for peace to the Palestinians. The conflict has nevertheless raged onward.
“The reason Israel today is bigger than it was in 1967 is because the Arab countries united in an attack against Israel,” Tannenbaum said. “Miraculously, Israel fought them off and won. Now Israel has returned a majority of the West Bank and Israel has returned the Gaza Strip. There still is no peace. So at this point, returning more land is counterproductive and is not the answer. And the president is wrong in his plan.”
On the eve of a visit to the U.S. by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the timing of the announcement seemed calculating, said Rabbi Yehuda Levin, a spokesman for the Rabbinical Alliance of America.
“I’m not a political Zionist,” said the rabbi. “I have my problems with the state of Israel and the things that they do that flies in the face of our religious traditional heritage. Nevertheless, in terms of security for human beings, one has to be totally concerned. I have many family members and extended family members and fellow Jews in Israel and I’m concerned for their safety.”
“I’m just prayerful that the Congress of the United States will respond to the Jewish people and residents of Israel that the position of one human being as president does not reflect what the country feels,” Levin said.
Obama recognized the negotiations would be a challenge because of the agreement between the Fatah, the leading Palestinian political party and the terrorist group Hamas, but he reaffirmed America’s relationship with Israel.
Still the speech has sparked concern and widespread coverage.
“We welcome the president’s recognition of Israel’s security needs and that Hamas cannot be a partner in the peace process, but a call to a return to 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations, even with ‘land swaps’ is a non-starter, when at least half of the Palestinian rulers are committed to Israel’s destruction,” said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in a written statement. “The road to peace has been clear for a long time -- direct negotiations between parties who recognize each other's legitimacy.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla), in a statement released after the president’s speech, said: “This proposal is a slap in the face of our friend and democracy’s only ally in the Middle East: Israel. As a nation, we should support and promote freedom and democracy in the region, but we should not do so at the expense of Israel. That land belongs to Israel – period.”
“Based on archeological evidence and historical right, that land belongs to Israel,” said Inhofe. “As I have outlined several times before, Israel is a strategic ally to the United States that acts as a roadblock to terrorism. Every other country in that region hates Israel and would stop at nothing for Israel’s destruction just as they would stop at nothing to see our own destruction.”
“President Obama’s speech today kowtows to the very forces that hate us,” said the senator. “I will try to address all these issues on the Senate floor next week to refute President Obama’s message today.”