+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Obama compares Israeli occupation to racial discrimination in U.S.

Netanyahu and Obama (flickr / Mark Israel, The Israel Project)

The speech Barack Obama gave this evening in Jerusalem was supposed to be the pinnacle of his visit. But actually, things worked out a bit differently. The most important comments the president made were just a few hours before the Jerusalem speech, while he was still in Ramallah talking with Palestinian officials.

Everyone was wondering just how much tough love the president was going to show his friend, Israel, during his Jerusalem speech. And indeed, there were a few moments. Condemning settlement violence was a first, for example. And although his criticizing the settlements and the occupation on the whole was crystal clear, it didn’t really pack any serious punch beyond that.

What did, though, was a comment he made in front of occupied Palestinians:

Those of us in the United States understand that change takes time, but change is possible. There was a time when my daughters did not have the same opportunities as somebody else’s daughters.

Powerful words. Maybe even a watershed moment. An African-American president comes to Ramallah and invokes the civil rights movement in the U.S. Without saying it specifically, he compares the situation of Palestinians under 45 years of occupation to blacks who suffered from racial discrimination. And he uses his own daughters in the process, making it personal. Showing his understanding.

That was his moment. A moment that unfortunately doesn’t seem to be taken seriously by either local or international media.

Now we have to see, after he leaves, what Obama will do with this recognition. Just because he may believe Palestinians are discriminated against, doesn’t mean he’s going to do anything about it. Or can do anything about it. Will he and new Secretary of State John Kerry begin a good cop-bad cop routine? Push for new “talks”? Another “process”?

Or will he let the Israelis and Palestinians figure it out for themselves? Seeing as how American diplomacy has so far failed to reap any successes for decades, he might be tempted to once again avoid this region as he did in his first term. Frankly, this just might be the wiser decision.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. Lou S,

      Obama asked the Israelis to put themselves in the Palestinian’s shoes. Did he asked the same thing of the Palestinians? I hate the Israeli settlement policy but I don;t think the Palestinians are ready or able to cut a deal and they never have been.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        “Obama asked the Israelis to put themselves in the Palestinian’s shoes. Did he asked the same thing of the Palestinians?” Well the Palestinians aren’t the ones occupying the Israelis. This is not a symmetric situation.

        Reply to Comment
      • Tim Arnold

        People need to separate Jews, Israel and settlers…. the latter would like to make the world think that any critisism of them is aimed at the former.

        Reply to Comment
      • Zephon

        How can a Palestinian walk in an Israelis shoe? He and she are not even allowed to walk on Israeli streets – much less take part in anything Israeli. Besides they aren’t Jews so to the Israeli it wouldn’t even matter if they even tried – they can’t win in ANYTHING. No matter what hoops they jump through – Israelis will NEVER be satisfied.

        And so they are confined to stay behind walls and the only Israeli contact they have are the IDF and settlers.

        So why would they walk in those peoples shoes?

        However an Israeli if he or she had the courage to; could drive past those red signs of fear mongering and walk in the shoes of a Palestinian. +972 has done so hundreds of times and so have Jewish scholars, intellectuals, scientists, thinkers, former IDF members, Israeli generals, and activists – but not the Israeli citizen.

        So many Jews have gone to the Palestinian side of the wall and none of them have anything to say other than how horrible Palestinians are forced to live – driving them all to fight for them even more.

        Because that is the act of a true righteous Jew who is honoring our ancestors by taking up the fight as their own – how could they not?

        But again Israelis who are Zionists won’t even try because of their firm believe that not only are Palestinians animals – they might as well have been born on an entirely different planet.

        I am a spiritual Jew which automatically makes me the Zionists enemy. I walked in a Palestinians shoes for just 16 hours – there is no way in hell I could take it for 65 years.

        And certainly not from my own kin.

        But Israelis continue to think they have the right to inflict that agony on their kin the Palestinians.

        All I can think of is when the time comes; there will be a reckoning for those who champion the oppressors and abandon the oppressed. But Jewish CONSCIENCE will prevail above Zionist ideology; because Judaism is just so much more than a political front.

        In the end, I don’t want the Palestinian walking in my shoes; I want the Palestinian walking in his own shoes on his own two feet – walking beside me.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >I am a spiritual Jew which automatically makes me the Zionists enemy.

          Said above only makes you a single-minded bigot. Automatically.

          Reply to Comment
    2. sh

      Ami, what you quote him as having said in Ramallah surely needed saying even if it was kind of obvious. But not in order to persuade Abbas to enter negotiations again. It defies all logic to expect serious negotiation to take place while the shape of what’s being negotiated is being altered by one of the parties as they speak. It simply doesn’t make sense. Yet one of the other things Obama said in Ramallah was that that’s what he expects Abbas to do.

      Reply to Comment
    3. What else could he do, SH? Israel is an important strategic ally in an unstable region, apart from the structural wedge of American Jews at home. He has effectively asserted (but WITHOUT saying so overtly), that the occupation has morphed from defense against on going atrocity to (apartheid like) discrimination–an inevitable outcome once security is established by the boot. His reference to duaghters says the obvious: those maturing under the occupation are not those causing the occupation. Sociologically, the logic of occupation must ultimately fail.

      Perhaps there are insentive plans for another round of talks. But the Israeli electorate has just been polled, and the resulting government has no ostensive interest in reigning in the settlers. So you wait.

      I would like to see talks on water reform (sewage and access) where the US keeps control over its contribution, Israel and the PA vetoing allocation only. While this might well mean nothing is done, at least the money would not go toward Israeli only defined ends.

      Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      Change would come a lot more quickly if Obama hadn’t been obstructing it.

      Reply to Comment
    5. XYZ

      No doubt millions of lives were irrevocaby altered by this Presidential speech. 50 years from now, the students who were present will tell their grandchildren that they actually heard the speech in person. Unquestionably the Palestnians will decide as a result of this speech to give up their demand for a right-of-return of the Palestinian refugees, they will now go on to make their regime a truly democratic one, HAMAS will give up their rockets and recognize Israel, Israel will agreee to give up the Western Wall and all its holy places in Jerusalem, and the WHOLE Arab world will now accept Israel wholeheartedly. All of this the result of a single speech by Obama. Next he will convince the Syrians who are slaughtering each other to lay down their arms. He will also oversee the installation of a secular, socialist democratic state in Afghanistan, where he has troops stationed. It is all truly breathtaking!

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ, if you were a Palestinian Bank resident your opinions would be quite different. Those nations with enough guns tend to think they have some kind of divine right for their actions–including the US. There is, however, a third path. Perhaps even your descendants will be glad it is there.

        Reply to Comment
    6. American

      I think that this writer correctly identifies the importance of the statement being made, but then misses the point: it doesn’t have to do much with any particular policy decisions. What it does do is give his sanction to the process of anointing a group as “victims of racism”. Whether the designation is correct or not doesn’t matter. Consider that America consists of many tens of millions of idiots who get their attitudes programmed into them by what their tv tells them to think. Has anyone seen how relentless promotion of gays by Hollywood has completely reversed the opinion polls?

      Once a group has been anointed as victim, anyone who opposes or criticizes or even questions that group will be branded as a “racist”. For decades, anyone who criticized a Jew for any reason was automatically branded as an anti-Semitic racist bigot Nazi. Therefore, the Zionists could do whatever they wanted.

      It will take a while to reverse things here, but the process just got a big boost. Once it gets rolling, it can hardly be stopped. It involves the lower mind only, not morality or principles. That’s why white Americans hold rallies for murderers, if the murderer is black and the victim is white.

      There are three billion reasons for Israelis to care about this stuff.

      P.S. There was hardly any U.S. coverage at all of Obama’s statement. That’s because the press doesn’t want to get between two victim groups… yet.

      Reply to Comment
      • American

        I should add that huge numbers of Americans are now completely fed up with blacks “playing the race card” – which means wanting to come out on top by claiming to be victimized by “racism”. For that reason, it would not be wise for Obama to make a similar public statement here. But that tactic would work when directed at particular subgroups.

        Of course, the blacks themselves never tire of getting special privileges that way. However, they resent when any other group tries to move in on their victimhood. (Similar to Jews demanding that Catholic nuns be driven away from Auschwitz.)

        Reply to Comment
        • Khaled Khalid

          In regards to “The Niggers”
          Over 400 years of the Lash scarring your back, working 18 hours a day is going to haunt your grandchildren. There was no quick merciful death for an African Slave. This was Capitalism at its most savage.
          A broken Spirit, Raped, Robbed of dignity and forbidden to read, they were taught to lower their eyes before a “White Master.” What must it be like to be raised as a Sub-Human Animal?
          If you call this Self Pity then there is some justification. And though Self Pity may not be an endearing quality it will take time to work through.

          However does this explain Zionists getting their kicks out of having the upper hand with the Palestinians? I pity any Jew who gets fun out of terrorizing, making life miserable for Palestinians.
          Israel may be holding Palestinians in the gutter but they have to be in the gutter themselves to do it.
          (And no, I haven’t forgotten the Holocaust.)

          Reply to Comment
    7. Americans know little to nothing of history, nor how what exists today devolves from what has been, and rarely see the connections between what has been, and what will be. President Obama is a good example of this. Speaking from the perspective of one whose Family was expulsed by the Jordanians from E. Jerusalem in 1948, for being Jewish (Having owned the property since a branch of the family returned after Roman Expulsions post the Bar-Kochba Revolt), Coming from this ancient Sephardi/Mizrahi Family, and being called an “Arab Jew”, what I will state is that the Israelis have treated the Palestinians, who refused the UN Mandate’s provisions for their Sovereignty, refused a Nation of their own, hoping to take what belonged to others. The Jordanians drove our family out, and Jews from all over the Islamic World had the same thing happen, expropriated and expulsed. If Israel had not been willing to take in the refugees, it would have been death. But then Jews dying is acceptable to the West, is it not? As it always has been? So this President wants “Fairness to Palestinians” well, maybe the “Palestinians” ought to consider accepting the right of the State of Israel to exist, and not be ruled by Muslims. Don’t put the American issue of racism on this very Levantine situation-there is next to no ethnic differences between the Israelis and Palestinians, but the cultural gaps between east and west grow…

      Reply to Comment
    8. Roberto K

      Obama compares Israeli occupation to racial discrimination in U.S.? No, he didn’t. That is just wishful reading.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Mikesailor

      Obama spoke out of both sides of his mouth leaving his audience mystified over just what he actually means. He speaks of racial discrimination and implores the Israeli Jews to show a semblance of humanity yet he also applauds the idea of a “Jewish” state which automatically negates the idea of universal political rights within Israel. How can you justify a state which bases political rights upon ethnicity or religion and then, crying crocodile tears, bewail the plight of those discriminated against? Israel is the poster child of the United States betraying its own ideals of democracy and equal rights, paying the bills of a parasite which somehow is dubbed a ‘strategic’ ally which apparently means a country which may spy against its benefactor but will never fight on its side.

      Reply to Comment
      • Joe

        My sentiments as well. The U.S. does grant to this troublesome country 3+ billion per year so it should mean that we should gave some influence over the behavior of our zionist friends but, with our compliant Congress, not much. When finally the good people of the U.S. fully comprehend the sordid story of the Nakba and the 1948 ethnic cleansing and village destruction, I would hope that there will be a realization that Zionism is antithetical to our values and revolt.

        Reply to Comment
    10. Just his precedence there representing America bad enough. Then he has to open his mouth and use his family for a comparison, to establish his remarks to be genuine. Why couldn’t he just stay there and show them how to walk on water.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Bill in AZ

      “Those of us in the United States understand that change takes time, but change is possible. There was a time when my daughters did not have the same opportunities as somebody else’s daughters.”

      Is that really a quote. Let’s fix that for the Knothead in Chief.

      “Those of us in the United States understand that change takes time, but change is possible. There was a time when my daughters did not would not have [had] the same opportunities as somebody else’s daughters.

      Reply to Comment

The stories that matter.
The missing context.
All in one weekly email.

Subscribe to +972's newsletter