Thursday, September 22, 2011

Half-Truth For A Half-Loaf

President Obama's U.N. speech was a sad spectacle, even if it was utterly predictable, a kind of tribute to the militant defensiveness of organized American Jews (which I encounter in every lecture these days) and the limited attention span of American voters in general. It is discouraging to see a good man saying half the truth you know him to know in order to save half loafs you know he knows he might lose.

These half loafs, from universal health care to tax equity, are hardly trivial. The first took a century to enact, largely because of the obstruction of southern politicians who saw helping the uninsured as a way of taking from whites to help blacks. FDR pandered to them to hold his coalition together to enact such things as Social Security. So you can imagine why our first African-American president should want to pander to Democrats who fear Israel is a test. Clinton did precisely the same thing.

And yet you could almost hear Arab streets groaning when Obama spoke, and see him hearing them with his third ear. Funny, when he was first elected I thought he would save Israel from itself. Now I wonder if we are not finally getting a mounting opposition in Israel to counter the Netanyahu government's demagogy, which will help Obama.

A case in point is Ehud Olmert's op-ed in today's Times. It contains nothing that readers of this blog don't already know, but the timing is significant--and brave. Moreover, Labor has a new leader, Shelly Yachimovitch, who has been a kind of poster child for "quality of life issues" in Israel, and may just steal votes, not only from Kadima, but from Likud, if she maintains a populist appeal.

Of course the relevance of any new Israeli election depends on whether violence in occupied territories can be preempted. A new piece in Foreign Affairs by friend-of-the-blog Alvaro de Soto is worth reading, if only to help with that question. On to Friday.