Rabbi Hirschfield on Obama's Israel policy, 1967 borders and more

May 25, 2011

Discuss Obama's Middle East policy, particularly when it comes to his calls for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians based on boundaries that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, with Rabbi Brad Hirschfield. Rabbi Hirschfield will take readers' questions regarding Obama's proposal, why the boundaries are a good or bad idea, how it affects the Jewish community and more. Ask your question now!

Related: Democrats join Republicans in questioning Obama's policy on Israel.

Everyone is responding to President Obama's remarks on the Middle East, to PM Netanyahu's response, both to the President and to the world.  Seems to me that it has become a giant Rorschach test in which people see what they already believe -- not a process likely to bring any positive change. 

Personally, I think that the President was largely on target and that Netanyahu missed a real opportunity, even if some of his objections are fair.

Do you think Palestinians have a right to security in the land swap discussions?

absolutely.  but just as absolute are the security needs of israelis.  that does not preclude any particular set of borders, and actually is what i think is meant to be achieved by a committment to basing, not concluding, talks on what the President said -- pre-67 borders, with land swaps, not a return to the map on june 4, 1967.

From a political standpoint, does Bibi's speech actually give him room to move away from the hard-right ultra orthodox and to the center. Israeli supporters everywhere were tripping over themselves to compliment his performance. His popularity is probably shooting up and by having a stronger unity government, he would be less at the will of these hardliners, which would give him more room to negotiate if the opportunity arose.

interesting, if too-hopeful for me, perspective.  i think that the time has come for all sides to stop manuevering as if their intent is to secure the support they need to make the peace they say they want.  instead, how about everybody getting their intent and their actions to align, whatever that might mean, and however upsetting or encouraging that might be, and moving from there?

I have lost all faith on Obama re: this issue. He failed to even say that a PA with Hamas can't be funded, which is going to happen with or without his approval via congress. He failed to talk about the right of return and the realities that surround it. It seems like whenever the majority of the US realizes that we should be supporting Israel, he tries to turn up the pressure on the government, almost out of spite for Bibi. He acknowledges that it is tough to negotiate with a group who want you irradiated, but that Israel should still try. This is a laughably bad double standard, it would be like African American's from the 1960's trying to open up peace negotiations with the Klan.

appreciate the sentiment, but not sure about the analysis.  the president actually said that the burden is on abbas and the PA to explain how israel should negotiate with people sworn to israel's destruction, as hamas certainly is.  why not take him at his word, and agree to pursue things as he suggested, but insist that the presient join israel in waiting for a real answer to that question. 

The problem with reaching peace between Israel and Palestinians is that reasonable minds have been able to come up with solutions. Yet small extreme factions that dissent have always been able to destry any agreement. To me, the question I wish to pose to you is how do we get to a point where extreme groups will no longer be able to effectively veto any peace agreement. Or, perhaps, to you, I should be posing a different question?

the extremes, as you call them, hold sway because people allow them to.  if there was genuine will to solve this on both sides, it would be solved. right now, the vast middle actually allows the extremes to act as their representatives, making progress impossible, without throwing the extemists to the side. 

more generally, we need to be careful about who we call "extremists" because too often it is simply acceptable code for those with whom we disagree.  feels good, because it defines "us" as reasonable, but not very helpful to go that way.


Why is the American Jewish community unable to see that the systematic oppression of the Arabic community using the justification of "they want to destroy Isreal", is no different than the oppression of Native Americans who refused to "cooperate" with their own destruction?

not sure what you mean by "systematic oppression of the arabic community".  there are about 500 million arabs and about 15 million jews, of whom fewer than half live in israel.  if however you mean that israeli security cannot serve as an excuse for the rights of palestinians (a few million people) to establish a state of their own, i agree.  i would caution however that your hyperbolic language is among the things which makes it very hard to make that case to many supporters of israel's equally legitimate right to exist.  if you don't agree about that right, then actually their may be good reason why people committed to a genuine two state solution may find it difficult to engage with you on this topic.

There seems to be some dispute as to what "pre 1967 borders" actually means. How/can people get on the same page in regards to what the borders were. With regard to Hamas, at one point I recall Andrew Young being fired from the US State Department for "secret talks" with the PLO because they were classified at terrorist and opposed the existence of Israel. That is no longer the case. Can Hamas not be moved?

there is no disagreement about what "pre-1967 borders" means.  there is however a willingness on teh part of some, including it seems PM netanyahu, to ignore the rest of the President's assertion -- "with mutually agreed upon land swaps".

you are certianly correct about the possibility of change, and getting there requires people who talk to those "with whom we can't talk", with firing them, with rehabilitating their image if it turns out that they were right, etc.  it's all part of politics.  admittedly though, talking with people who purposefully target school children with anti-take missles, as hamas does, probably means that they will need to change a great deal before anything official is even within the realm of possibility.

Beyond semantics, are there any real substantive differences between President Obama's "1967 borders with agreed land swaps," and Netanyahu's position of "preserving settlement blocs"? Has the so-called rift been exaggerated and isn't it in Israel's interest to say the U.S position and Israeli position are in line, rather than highlight the difference between the two countries?

there are probably very real differences between the two sets of claims, but that does not negate your point which is that this is a disagreement between strong allies and making more of it, helps nobody.  i would have liked to see netanyahu make less of it, demand that others do likewise and workd out the real differences, as true friends do, within the circle of friendship.

Will creating a new Palestinian state will solve any-thing?

what's your definition of "solve"?  for me, it's simply a matter of wanting a jewish, democratic state of Israel, and not wanting to rule over millions of non-citizens.  as much as i love greater israel, that trumps everything else.  will that please all of israel's enemies?  probably not, but rapid progress toward two states for two people's is clearly a part of achieving the zionist dream -- one which was prodly jewish, unapologetically strong, truly democratic, and concerned about teh welfare of others.

I am mystified as to why this little, arid country holds such a huge sway over the Congress and political figures in this country. I think if you polled the citizens we would put this issue way down the list of priorities. So, why does Israel get such an outsized amount of attention and money from our politicians?

this will be the last question i answer, for today anyhow.  the answer to this wonderful question comes down to two words: hope and history.  there is probably no place in the world that holds as much history for as many people, and there is probably no place in teh world that serves as a symbol of hope for so many people.  that america cares so much is because there is also no place in such an important region, and few anywhere in teh world, that is as much like the united states as is israel.  two nations of immigrants trying to create something new based on maximizing freedom while remaining secure.  neither always gets it right, and there is much still to accomplish, especially in israel, but i think those are big reason why people care so much.

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Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by Beliefnet.com, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see www.bradhirschfield.com.
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