Exile and the prophetic: Obama’s Robben Island

Israel/Palestine
on 8 Comments

This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

The goal posts in the Middle East peace process keep moving as our Secretary of State’s couples therapy has failed again.  Instead of today or tomorrow the hope now is to get that dashing couple, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas, to a common table before the UN Geneva meetings in September.

Does it matter if they sit together now or then?  Jump-starting the peace talks is like waiting for the Palestinian Authority to collapse or perpetually warning that the Two State solution is almost dead.  These death watches will stretch out over the next decade.

Meanwhile our President is making nice in South Africa, visiting with Nelson Mandela’s family and admonishing the world that the best way to honor Mandela is to embody his values in our own life.  Well said Mr. President.   Where are his values found in your life?

Even in Africa, everyone knows you’ve let things slide.  And in the Middle East, well the best we can say is that you didn’t do much different than your predecessor.  True, you wound down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that George Bush started.  However, you enflamed many during your Presidency and made the American presence in both countries permanent. 

While it seems you don’t have the appetite for military intervention, you also don’t have the strength to block the interventionist appetites of the hawks in Congress and the military.  You’re like a policeman directing traffic who gives conflicting signals to drivers on both sides of the road.  It’s confusing – and dangerous. 

On Israel/Palestine, your two engaged envoys, George Mitchell and John Kerry, have failed miserably.  Their failure is directly related to what you didn’t give them to offer – justice for Palestinians.

What are we to conclude about your character that you so movingly invoke with regard to Nelson Mandela?  Politically, you lack the foundation for strong and effective action.  Your moral tone is rarely matched by your political initiatives. 

Overall, history will judge your Presidency weak and ineffective.  The most positive aspect will rest on your first campaign for President.  Your election signaled a crossing of the color barrier unique in American history.

What you didn’t want to be remembered for – being the first African American President of the United States – is what history will remember you for.  Significant, but as I’m sure you would agree, not enough.

In your memoirs, perhaps you will lament that you didn’t stand up to Israel and its lobby and tell Jews what we needed to hear – that Palestinians had a homeland taken from them, that Palestinians have a history and that Palestinians deserve a real state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Yet why lament while you’re still breathing Presidential air?  Why not instruct your Secretary of State that it’s time for some tough love.

Accept Nelson Mandela’s character as your own and risk the American equivalent of Mandela’s Robben Island’s prison cell.  Speak the truth about the history and future of Israel/Palestine.  Then do something about it. 

You’re visiting Robben Island right now.  Announce your tough love there – from Mandela’s cell.

Make it your letter, akin to another hero of yours, Martin Luther King, Jr., from the Birmingham/Robben Island jail. 

What better time to honor Nelson Mandela who knew that South Africa’s freedom would never be complete without Palestinians being free.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of Burning Children: A Jewish View of the War in Gaza which can be found at www.newdiasporabooks.com

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8 Responses

  1. Citizen
    June 30, 2013, 12:19 pm

    He told the Cape Town audience Mandella showed what one can do alone, yet he told the Jewish students in Israel no politician can do anything unless they are pushed to do so by the grass roots. Would he miss one golf game to do something alone, as a leader, rather than a mere politician? Does he see his own contradiction? He wishes to be seen as a Mandela, while feathering his own nest as any cheap Chicago politican?

    He said in S Africa, if you send out a little ripple of hope, it can gather, and tear down the mightiest wall. Well, he certainly campaigned on hope…but has that turned out to be even Hope Arkansa’s Bill Clinton’s?

  2. HarryLaw
    June 30, 2013, 1:19 pm

    According to Franklin Lamb Ramallah has been flooded with threats from Blair, Kerry and King Abdullah amongst others, to cut off funds and scrapping the 4 billion pound economic and development package, God knows what else they will threaten if Abbas goes anywhere near the ICC, apparently Fatou Bom Basouda has been urging the Palestinians to formally sign up to the court. Even if the US threaten all the terrors of the earth, and they will, Abbas must hold firm until the UN in September and then give the US and Israel both barrels, apply for all the other agencies and the ICC, otherwise all is lost.

  3. just
    June 30, 2013, 1:34 pm

    Super article, Marc.

    I sure wish that President Mandela and Archbishop Tutu would give him a public talking to, but they are far too genteel.

    “On Israel/Palestine, your two engaged envoys, George Mitchell and John Kerry, have failed miserably. Their failure is directly related to what you didn’t give them to offer – justice for Palestinians.”

    Hillary also failed, but perhaps it is because she was only “engaged” with Israel.

  4. Keith
    June 30, 2013, 5:14 pm

    MARC ELLIS- “While it seems you don’t have the appetite for military intervention, you also don’t have the strength to block the interventionist appetites of the hawks in Congress and the military.”

    Are you Channeling Phil? What is with you diehard liberals that can’t accept that Obama is every bit as bad as he appears to be. Why does it make you feel better to pretend that he is essentially good, but lamentably weak? No appetite for intervention? Get serious. Uncle Sam is still responsible for death and destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has expanded to Libya, Syria, and much of Africa. All alongside neoliberal oppression at home. Below are two quotes and links to authors with a different perspective.

    “Barack Obama is a master trickster, a shape-shifter, and a methodical liar. The man who has arrogated to himself the right to kill at will, anywhere on the globe, accountable only to himself, based on secret information and classified legal rationales, now says he is determined that Washington’s “perpetual war” must one day end – sometime in the misty future after he is long gone from office.” (Glen Ford)
    link to blackagendareport.com

    “…the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, targeted assassinations, illegal, unwarranted intervention, all of these, now under Obama, as the continuance and intensification of the work of his predecessors, for which he must therefore take full responsibility (even more so, since the previous contours of policy were well-known, and he willingly followed suit), places the US in the unenviable position of representing a society almost alone, by its action, in combining domestic repression and foreign aggression, becoming the more integrated the further each is pursued, in order to cover up the other…. Obama plots hegemony, hegemony by every available means, starting from the modernization of the nuclear arsenal through the pursuit of paramilitary operations on a grand scale and global in scope” (Norman Pollack)
    link to counterpunch.org

  5. just
    June 30, 2013, 5:18 pm

    “In your memoirs, perhaps you will lament that you didn’t stand up to Israel and its lobby and tell Jews what we needed to hear – that Palestinians had a homeland taken from them, that Palestinians have a history and that Palestinians deserve a real state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

    What’s he got to lose by telling the truth that you so eloquently expressed? He’s not running again and it’s past time that he comes “out” if he truly believes in justice.

    Maybe he really doesn’t….

  6. James Canning
    June 30, 2013, 6:47 pm

    Obama has far more US troops in Afghanistan today, that were there when O entered the White House. Colossal blunder.

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