Critique of Obama and 1967 by Rabbi H.D. Uriel Smith

Here is an article Rabbi Uriel Smith of Lexington, Kentucky, critiquing Obama’s statement on Israel and the 1967 borders. While I don’t agree with Rabbi Smith on Obama, he offers a crucial insight into the importance of Arabic for Israelis. Jewish writers and cultural leaders have written and spoken in Arabic for centuries, but Mizrahi immigration to Israel did not produce a continuation of this tradition. Israelis (and Jews) forgot or rejected their Arabic heritage. For Israel to function successfully in a primarily Arabic-speaking Middle East (except Iran and Turkey), Israelis will have to adopt not only Hebrew, English and (perhaps) Russian, but Arabic as well.

Thanks to Rabbi Smith for taking the time to make this important point. Rabbi Smith has a wide range of interests, with extensive knowledge of Israel, the Middle East, and Judaism. He also has a background in physics and has spent considerable time investigating the stage theory of thinking.


“Based on 1967 With Mutually Agreed Swaps” Equals Gridlock

by H. D. Uriel Smith

In 2002 Michael Walzer identified four Israeli-Palestinian wars that were conducted simultaneously (Arguing About War [New Haven & London: Yale Univ., 2004], 113):

  • The first is a Palestinian war to destroy the State of Israel.
  • The second is a Palestinian war to create an independent state, ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
  • The third is an Israeli war for the security of Israel within the 1967 borders.
  • The fourth is an Israeli war for Greater Israel, including the settlements and the occupied territories.

This helps us understand the Israeli situation, but it does so by simplifying it in various ways. Thus, these four wars have intermediate sub-wars, such as those manipulating the boundaries. Next, the tactics of war include diplomacy, spying, smuggling, building and demolishing houses and farmland, both legally and illegally, and manipulating the news media, as well as guerrilla war and rocketry. The simplification furthermore conceals the manipulations of outsiders from the west and the east, including the Quartet supposedly guaranteeing the Oslo Road Map, Iran, and the Arab League, each with its own prejudgements, promotions, and plans of action. Finally, it treats Israel as the main force in the area, and thus responsible for all the peace delays, even though both sides of the conflict, Israelis and Palestinians, always have had very few viable options, and all these options were mutually contradictory.

President Obama in his May 19 speech outlining his administration’s policy on the Middle East, and in his May 22 speech to the AIPAC Policy Conference stated that negotiations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement should quickly start again, with the 1967 armistice lines serving as the basis for a future land-swap. In effect he declared the first and last of the wars identified by Walzer to be illegitimate. However, his formulation involves a whole series of obfuscations. The armistice lines were never legal borders. The proposed land-swaps were never capable of being equitable swaps. The “1967” date is really a 1949 date. And, since when Israel captured the West Bank only Great Britain and Pakistan had recognized Jordan’s annexation of that area, the question whether the area was “occupied territory” remained from the start under legal dispute. All that President Obama did was to join the other members of the Quartet in trying to ram mutually contradictory half-truths down the throats of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, instead of guaranteeing the Oslo Road Map to peace, the only path to peace that already had been agreed upon by all sides. In short, his formulation set a road map to gridlock.

Scholars have long ago shown that when there is a long-lasting dispute the strongest participant in the dispute is blamed for prolonging the dispute. So, by forcing Netanyahu to protest publicly President Obama’s program (“the mouse that roared”) America is reinforcing the caricature of Israel’s responsibility for holding back the peace prospects.

Nevertheless, there is a path to peace, though it is slow and will take a long time to succeed. The troubles in Northern Ireland took many decades to be overridden. The recent visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland should have reminded us that it took ninety years since a British monarch could again visit Ireland. Both President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan have visited Israel.

In order for there to be peace between Israel and its neighbours Israel will have to remain strong, with a military edge over its neighbours. It will have to maintain an economic edge, continually developing scientific, engineering, and humanistic studies with practical applications at the forefront of human endeavours. And it will have to be capable of communicating easily with its neighbours.

For the last requirement to succeed, Israel will have to become trilingual, much as the Jewish inhabitants of the Holy Land were at the end of the Second Temple period. The Israelis already learn English, French, or Russian, so that they can speak “computerese” and do business in foreign markets. The Israelis should also routinely learn Arabic. More completely bilingual (Hebrew and Arabic) primary and secondary schools have to be developed. The Misrahi (Oriental) Jews should start learning Judeo-Arabic in their yeshivot (rabbinical academies), just as the Ashkenazi yeshivot use Yiddish. In this way they can learn the classical texts of Rav Saadia Gaon, Bahya ibn Pakuda, Judah Ha-Levi, and the Rambam (Maimonides) in their original language. Each party in the Knesset should as a rule have half of its members being trilingual, speaking Hebrew, Arabic, and at least one other language. (This would in some ways be similar to the Canadian official bilingualism, where both English and French are official languages.)

Since the foundation of the State of Israel Arabic has been an official language in Israel. However, in February 24 this year, a draft bill was debated proposing the abolishment of Arabic as an official language. On the other hand, in March we had news that Palestinians are trying to flood the Knesset emails with letters in Arabic containing “information about the Palestinian issue.” So extremists on both sides are trying to harm the regular communications of official Israeli business. It is time to recognize that only through communication on all levels that peace can be promoted.


See also my essays on Obama and the 1967 boundaries:

For Part I, see

For Part II, go to

For Part III, go to

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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.

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