The White House is promoting the Obama trip to Israel with the video, above, which Adam calls “Ben Rhodes with Edward R Murrow microphone.” Rhodes, 35, the deputy national security adviser, would seem to be the guiding spirit of the trip. After he briefed the press last week, he promptly got star treatment in the Times, which noted that Rhodes had convinced Obama to ditch Mubarak two years ago.
Rashid Khalidi called that profile “wonderful” with irony, on an IMEU call this afternoon: “I seriously doubt that these people have a clue about what the Palestinian people go through,” he said. And another friend says that as Obama’s speechwriter on the trip, Rhodes will be channeling the prophets: “Prepare for an ecstasy of pandering on this historic visit. Obama is trusting Creative Writer Benjamin Rhodes (Master of Fine Arts, NYU) to break on through to the other side, but the competition is a serious challenge: Amos, Hosea and Ecclesiastes.”
I am trying to have a hopeful reading of the trip, and going over Rhodes’s conference call of last week (covered by Alex at the time), here’s my offering: The Obama administration fully understands that Israel’s regime is unsustainable, it has no faith in its leaders, and while it will pay homage to those officials, it is sending its form of a sharp signal by keeping Obama away from the Knesset and having him instead speak to Israeli youth.
“This really is the true purpose of the visit,” Rhodes says in the above video– to have a “very direct conversation” with young people. Read: Obama will go over the heads of the Israeli leaders to the young people, and tell them that their only future in the region is by making peace with Palestinians and building bridges with their neighbors.
Some selections from that White House call that support my reading follow (yes, leaving aside all the claptrap about the ancient homeland, the three wreaths, and Yad Vashem and the technological miracle, and leaving aside the grotesque parallel of the Israeli people and the Palestinian Authority).
Going over the leaders’ heads. Rhodes:
This is an opportunity for the President to speak directly to the Israeli people… [H]e is particularly looking forward to the opportunity to spend some time with the people of Israel and to tell them directly about what guides his approach to this relationship…
Here Rhodes recognizes that the Arab Spring is coming to Israel and Palestine, too:
the President has said, is that Israel, as it makes peace, is going to have to recognize the broader role of public opinion in peacemaking. In the past, the peace processes with a variety of countries and partners in the region were between Israel and individual leaders. And as you move towards more democratic, more representative and responsive governments, Israel needs to take into account the changing dynamic and the need to reach out to public opinion across the region as it seeks to make progress on issues like Israeli-Palestinian peace and broader Arab-Israeli peace…
Screw the Knesset; the emphasis is on the young:
What we told the Israeli government is that the President was very interested in speaking to the Israeli people, and that, in particular, he wanted to speak to young people. We obviously have a deep respect for the Knesset as the seat of Israeli democracy, and in the past, the President, again, has made clear the very significant attachment that we place on the fact that both Israel and the United States are democracy. But you also know that the President, around the world, has often spoken to young people. He spoke to young people, for instance, when he traveled to Cairo. And in this instance, we felt like bringing together an audience of university students from a broad range of partners that our embassy has in Israel would allow him to speak, again, not just to political leadership, who he’ll be meeting with on the trip, but to the Israeli public and Israeli young people.
So as we put together the schedule, what you see is a significant amount of time that the President will be spending with Israel’s political leadership, a significant amount of time that he’ll be investing in some very iconic cultural sites with the Israeli people. But the speech is a moment where he’ll be in a room with the Israeli public, and that really was our priority as we thought through what would make the best venue for the speech.
Obama will try and infuse these young people with hope, but in a distinctly regional context:
part of the reason to move forward in the pursuit of peace is to signal to the people of the region a seriousness and a common sense of purpose so that the issue does not just continue to be a divisive one in the region, but rather people can have a sense of hope in Israel and in the Arab world that peace is possible. So that’s the type of dynamic we want to support, one in which people have a sense of possibility rather than a sense that this is going to be a continued source of division.
More suggestions that Obama will tell the young people that they are part of the region, and that awareness is the only path to “true security.”
given this is his first trip to Israel as President, we thought that it was very important for him to speak directly to Israelis about the nature of the friendship between the United States and Israel, and the challenges that we’re faced with and, frankly, to lift up these issues, and look on the horizon a bit, too, because at any given time there are issues that we’re working very hard with the Israelis — regional security and counterterrorism, Iran, Syria — and the President will address all those issues in his speech. But I think he’ll also talk about where we’re trying to go together, what does true security mean for Israel, what is the goal of the United States and Israel in terms of bringing about prosperity and a lasting peace and security for our two countries. And again, there’s no substitute for being able to do that in Israel as the American President. As Dan said, it’s unique for an American President to go to Israel.
By the way, it turns out the New York Times is just as curious as I am about the composition of the ruling class:
The son of a conservative-leaning Episcopalian father from Texas and a more liberal Jewish mother from New York, Mr. Rhodes grew up in a home where even sports loyalties were divided: he and his mother are ardent Mets fans; his father and his older brother, David, root for the Yankees.
“No one in that house agreed on anything,” said David Rhodes, who is now the president of CBS News.
Intermarriage and empowerment– the modern Jewish American story.