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Jewish Journal

Analysis of Obama’s rhetorical style

by Orit Arfa

March 5, 2012 | 8:51 pm

While many analysts focus on the veracity of President Obama’s claims of his pro-Israel record, I’d like to focus on his rhetorical style. A careful analysis of Obama’s speech at AIPAC will show that he is extremely ambiguous—perhaps purposefully so—enabling him to appease both opponents and fans alike. He often uses lofty words—like “dignity,” “democracy” and “freedom”—but essentially robs those words of any meaning, paving the way for policies steeped in moral relativism at best, tolerance of evil at worst.

He starts his trend of using words without meaning when he applauds the students present for “engaging deeply in our democratic debate.” A debate over what issues? And what makes a debate democratic—just the fact that two people can freely argue? We can interpret this to mean that pro-Israel students should take into account all sides of the so-called debate about Israel’s right to exist. It can be argued that anti-Israel rants by professors and students on campus are part of this “democratic debate.”

He upholds President of Israel Shimon Peres as a model of “empathy for our fellow human beings.” Unfortunately, empathy can also be reserved for Arabs who think they can kill women and children to express their upset about the existence of Israel. Commitment to life is a higher value than empathy. Alongside empathy, Obama touts a commitment to “human dignity” and “freedom.” Many Arabs and Islamists feel their human dignity is slighted by the existence of Israel. Furthermore, many Palestinians believe freedom means living under a terrorist dictatorship. He must specify what accounts for human dignity and freedom for those words to have real meaning in this context.

He claims that the shared interests of the US and Israel include: “security for our communities, prosperity for our people, and the new frontiers of science.” Who can argue with these values, but are they really the heart of our shared interests? What about our moral values: a commitment to individual rights and to prosperity earned through hard work (as opposed to handouts), and science that contributes to our quality of life (as opposed to the pseudo-science of global warming, for instance)?

He expresses his commitment to Israel’s security. But what about Israel’s success? He describes the close military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the US as well the US provisions of advance technology to Israel so that Israel maintains a qualitative military edge. This does not preclude the possibility that the US provides less advanced technology to Israel’s hostile neighbors. We are not privy to the type of military cooperation that exists between the US and Israel, which may serve to reign Israel in. So while Israel can maintain a qualitative edge, it may not always maintain a quantitative edge. Obama praises his support of the Iron Dome System, a defensive machine that shoots down rockets. While this is a vital technology, what about the military tools and machines that would enable Israel to neutralize the Islamic terrorists before they can even strike?

And now for the most abused word of all: peace. He makes no apology for pursuing peace, but it seems that this peace involves negotiating with an Arab leadership that can’t stand Israel at its core and the moral values that Israel represents. Who doesn’t want peace? True peace? But peace can’t be negotiated with terrorists and history has shown that Israel’s peace overtures have been answered with violence. Peace can, however, be achieved through removing the threat of violence from Israel’s anti-Semitic neighbors through all means necessary. If Obama aspired towards true peace, he would have taken this opportunity to condemn the recent Fatah-Hamas alliance, which he has not done until now. He would also have insisted that the PA stop preaching Jew-hatred in its schools, media, and mosques; arrest terrorists who kill Jews; and stop idealizing terrorist killers by naming sports teams, arenas, public squares and streets after them. He would have withheld any more financial aid until it did so.

Obama’s commitment to ensuring Iran doesn’t get the nuclear bomb is praiseworthy, but he is not resolute on America’s intention to use force to stop Iran, if necessary, or his intentions to support Israel should Israel decide to attack Iran alone. He says that when it “comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.” This is double-negative speak. All options may be on the table (although we can only deduce that they includes American and Israeli force), but that doesn’t mean he would use them. It could also be interpreted to mean that he would negotiate that Israel give up her nuclear arms in exchange for Iran stopping its program.

He further goes on with his empty rhetoric to say these are challenging times. How are they challenging? What are the specific challenges? What is the nature of US and Israel’s enemies? Does Obama even believe we have enemies? He uses the language of gray—leaving the public unable to understand his motives, intentions and moral principles.

He ends up sharing his personal bonds with the Jewish people, which include sharing books with President Shimon Peres, participating in Passover seders, and being inspired by the concept of tikkun olam. But we don’t know what books he shared with Peres; we don’t know what kind of freedom those seders celebrated (Jewish freedom or the kind of vague freedom he lauded above?); we don’t know how he interprets tikkun olam (perfection of the world), which to some Jews means a “social justice” that has Jews empathizing more with their enemies than with their own.

He concludes by saying that the US and Israel agree on the big things—the things that matter. But we still do not know what really matters to Obama, specifically.

Obama is mindful of the proverb “A man is judged by his deeds, not his words.” In this case, we certainly can’t judge him by his words—or can we?—because they are completely vacuous.

To learn more about the ZOA and our upcoming events in LA, go to www.zoawest.org. E-mail me at oarfa@zoa.org.

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Orit Arfa’s ZOA blog

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