By Laurel Schwartz '15 Politics Columnist
On March 21—the first night of Passover—President Obama delivered a speech to a group of college students in Israel. His message was clear: Israel is about recognizing freedom, but revisions to how freedom is executed need to be discussed and implemented. Obama explained, “[The Exodus is] a story about finding freedom in your own land. And for the Jewish people, this story is central to who you’ve become.”
The president acknowledged that the main contention in viewing the Exodus as a solely Jewish story supporting a Jewish state is that the story has universal meaning. He explains, “[I]t’s also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering but also all of its salvation. It’s a part of the three great religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—that trace their origins to Abraham and see Jerusalem as sacred.” By acknowledging the signification of the experience for the Jewish population of Israel, he was able to assert that the experience holds the same significance for people of other religions.
Obama calls specifically on young people to help create peace in the region, explaining, “I’d like to focus on how we—and when I say we, in particular young people—can work together to make progress in three areas that will define our times: security, peace, and prosperity.”
In regards to security, The President asserted that Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza. He also included that Israel has a right to expect Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
In terms of peace, Obama acknowledges that Israel is at a crossroads that may require envisioning a new future for Israel. He expresses that peace in Israel may be directly dependent on recognizing Palestine: “And there is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiations, which is why, despite the criticism we’ve received, the United States will oppose unilateral—unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations. It has to be done by the parties. But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognized. And put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes.”
President Obama pointed to Tel Aviv as the key to prosperity in Israel, noting Israel’s accomplishments in regards to inventions and environmental action.
Obama’s speech was an overall success in Israel and around the globe. By asserting Israel’s right to exist and appealing to the innately Israeli rhetoric he was able to open discussions regarding other religiously affiliated countries’ right to existence in the same space.