Culture

Exile and the prophetic: Obama’s Robben Island

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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.

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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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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.

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… Read more »

“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… Read more »