On Thursday evening, three days after the Israeli attack on the activists attempting to bring aid to the people of Gaza, Larry King interviewed President Obama on CNN. Towards the latter part of the interview, the President was asked about his thoughts on these events.
KING: Couple of other things. Former President Carter has condemned the Israeli raid against those ships in the flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza.Where do you stand in that? A former American president has condemned it.OBAMA: The United States, with the other members of the U.N. Security Council said very clearly that we condemned all the acts that led up to this violence. It was a tragic situation. You’ve got loss of life that was unnecessary. So we are calling for an effective investigation of everything that happened. I think the Israelis are going to agree to that — an investigation of international standards — because they recognize that this can’t be good for Israel’s long-term security.Here’s what we’ve got. You’ve got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns when they’ve got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel/Gaza border. I’ve been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people’s bedrooms. Israel has a legitimate concern there. On the other hand you’ve got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future.I think what’s important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity so that we figure out, how can we meet Israel’s security concerns, but at the same time start opening up opportunity for Palestinians, work with all parties concerned — the Palestinian authority, the Israelis, the Egyptians and others — and I think Turkey can have a positive voice in this whole process once we’ve worked through this tragedy. And bring everybody together to figure out how can we get a two-state solution where the Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace and security.KING: Premature then, to condemn Israel?OBAMA: I think that we need to know what all the facts are. But it’s not premature to say to the Israelis and to say to the Palestinians, and to say to all the parties in the region that the status quo is unsustainable. We have been trying to do this piecemeal for decades now. It just doesn’t work.You’ve got to have a situation in which the Palestinians have real opportunity and Israel’s neighbors recognize Israel’s legitimate security concerns and are committed to peace.
Many Democrats, especially Jewish-American Democrats, believe that this is an acceptable and even-handed diplomatic response to the recent tragedy.
What if President Obama was a non-Christian white man holding the office of President of the United States and he was interviewed on May 6 1963, just 3 days following the attack on civil rights activists in Birmingham, Alabama (wikipedia info on attack is below):
King: A couple of other things. Former President Eisenhower has condemned the use of high power water hoses and attack dogs by Birmingham officers against the students marching to the downtown area demanding equal rights.Where do you stand in that? A former American President has condemned it.Obama: My administration has said very clearly that we condemned all the acts that led up to this violence. It was a tragic situation. You’ve got injuries that were unnecessary. So we are calling for an effective investigation of everything that happened. I think Mayor Butwell, Commissioner of Public Safety Connor, and the rest of Birmingham’s leadership is going to agree to that – an investigation of Federal standards – because they understand that this can’t be good for their long term security and stability.Here’s what you’ve got. You’ve got a situation in which White citizens of Birmingham have legitimate security, economic, and moral concerns when they’ve got people of other races and religions protesting and boycotting in their downtown. I’ve been to that downtown and seen the effects it has had on local businesses. White citizens of Birmingham have a legitimate concern there. On the other hand you’ve got a system in place that is preventing Black citizens of Birmingham from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in voting and have opportunitites for the future.I think what’s important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity so that we figure out, how can we meet White Birmingham’s security, economic, and moral concerns, but at the same time opening up opportunities for Black Birmingham, work with all parties concerned – the NAACP, SCLC, Birmingham officials, Southern leaders, and others – and I think Northern leaders can have a positive voice in this whole process once we’ve worked through this tragedy. And bring everybody together to figure out how can we get desegregation where Black and White citizens of Birmingham can live side by side in peace and security.King: Premature then, to condemn Bull Connor and the other Birmingham officials?Obama: I think that we need to know what all the facts are. But it’s not premature to say to the citizens of White Birmingham and to say to the citizens of Black Birmingham, and to say to all the parties in the area that the status quo is unsustainable. We have been trying to do this piecemeal for years now. It just doesn’t work.You’ve got to have a situation in which Black citizens of Birmingham have real opportunity and White Birmingham’s neighbors recognize White Birmingham’s legitimate security, economic, and moral concerns and are committed to peace.
This reading is far from acceptable, even-handed, and diplomatic. On the contrary, it is condescending and offensive. To many people, in the United States and throughout the world who care about a just end to this dangerous conflict, President Obama’s answers to Mr. King were equally condescending and offensive.
If Presidents Kennedy and Johnson did not support civil rights activists and stand up to the terrorizing Southern officials, then African Americans might still be subjected to segregation. And President Obama never would have had the opportunity to be in the office he now holds. It is time for this President to stop being diplomatic and start supporting occupied people, as well as human rights activists, and stand up to terrroizing Israeli officials.
The Birmingham campaign was a strategic movement organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to bring attention to the unequal treatment black Americans endured in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign ran during the spring of 1963, culminating in widely publicized confrontations between black youth and white civic authorities, that eventually pressured the municipal government to change the city’s discrimination laws. Organizers, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. used nonviolent direct action tactics to defy laws they considered unfair. King summarized the philosophy of the Birmingham campaign when he said, "The purpose of … direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation".
In the early 1960s, Birmingham was one of the most racially divided cities in the United States, as black citizens faced legal and economic disparities as well as violent retribution when they attempted to bring attention to their problems. Protests in Birmingham began with a boycott to pressure business leaders to provide employment opportunities to people of all races, and end segregation in public facilities, restaurants, and stores. When business leaders resisted the boycott, SCLC organizer Wyatt Tee Walker and Birmingham native Fred Shuttlesworth began what they termed Project C (for "Confrontation" – added by author), a series of sit-ins and marches intended to provoke mass arrests. After the campaign ran low on adult volunteers, high school, college, and elementary students were trained by SCLC coordinator James Bevel to participate, resulting in hundreds of arrests and an instant intensification of national media attention on the campaign. To dissuade demonstrators and control the protests the Birmingham Police Department, led by Eugene "Bull" Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police dogs on children and bystanders. Media coverage of these events brought intense scrutiny on racial segregation in the South.
Not all of the demonstrators were peaceful, despite the avowed intentions of the SCLC. In some cases, bystanders attacked the police, who responded with force. Scenes of the ensuing mayhem caused an international outcry, leading to federal intervention by the Kennedy administration. King and the SCLC were criticized for putting children in harm’s way. By the end of the campaign, King’s reputation surged, Connor lost his job, the "Jim Crow" signs in Birmingham came down, and public places became more open to blacks.
The Birmingham campaign was a model of direct action protest, as it effectively shut down the city. By attracting media attention to the adverse treatment of black Americans, it brought national force to bear on the issue of segregation. Although desegregation occurred slowly in Birmingham, the campaign was a major factor in the national push towards the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in hiring practices and public services in the United States.