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Let Obama Discover the Unexpected Israel

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Golan Heights Vineyard

As Barack Obama prepares for his trip to Israel on March 20th—his first as President—he might consider taking the opportunity to correct common distortions about the Jewish state that his administration has, on occasion, helped to promote. Clearing away some of these persistent misunderstandings on the part of both policy makers and the public could strengthen America’s connection to its closest Middle Eastern ally, but also help the president make the peace process progress he clearly craves as a goal of his second term.

For instance, President Obama should acknowledge that too many Americans currently believe the following myths about Israel’s present and past:

*That Israel is a uniquely dangerous nation facing appalling levels of violence, and will only improve security by making major concessions to the Palestinians. In fact, Israel is one of the safer societies on earth with a murder rate much less than half that of the United States (2.1 vs. 4.8 per 100,000 population).  Since cracking down on Palestinian militants and building a security barrier beginning in 2003, Israel has experienced less than 190 homicides a year (including terrorist incidents), in a national population of 8 million. President Obama’s home town of Chicago suffered 535 murders last year—three times the killing, with barely one third the population. Moreover, the improvement in Israel’s domestic security has everything to do with smart policing and effective anti-terror strategies and nothing to do with appeasing Palestinians. Major Israeli concessions—like the Oslo Accords of 1993, the unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000, and the evacuation of Jewish communities from Gaza in 2005—produced only spikes in violence, not periods of enhanced calm or quiet.

That the Palestinians constitute one of the most wretchedly oppressed, destitute populations on earth. The truth is that Palestinian economic progress has been impressive by any standards: with a reported growth rate (in both the West Bank and Gaza) of 5.7 percent, compared to 2012 GDP growth of just 2.2 percent in the United States. Yes, too many Palestinians still languish in poverty but the percentage below the official poverty line in the West Bank (23.5 percent) corresponds almost precisely to the situation in nearby Egypt, recipient of nearly two billion dollars in annual American aid. The educational achievements among Palestinians also far exceed those in neighboring nations with an illiteracy rate (7 percent) generally acknowledged as among the lowest in the Arab world. Moreover, long before the vaunted Arab Spring, Palestinians chose their own local leaders in West Bank elections (since the 1970’s) while electing representatives to a national parliament since 1994. The difficulty in staging new elections after 2006 stemmed from the bloody split between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, not Israeli intervention.

That Israel emerged as a Jewish state and won international recognition as a direct consequence of the suffering of the Holocaust. Actually, the 52 nations of the League of Nations voted to endorse “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and to support “reconstituting their National Home in that country” in July, 1922 – a full 11 years before Hitler’s rise to power. At the beginning of World War II, well over half a million Jews already made their homes in the future state of Israel. The rapid population growth that saw more than a million Jewish immigrants in the first twelve years of the new nation’s independence came primarily from Jews fleeing Islamic countries (Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt and so forth) rather than refugees from Hitler-ravaged Europe. These “Oriental Jews” soon comprised the Israeli majority, outnumbering Holocaust survivors more than two-to-one.

Jewish settlers displaced the indigenous Palestinian population and practiced ruthless ethnic cleansing to wipe out a distinctive, well-established civilization. Far from driving Arabs away from the contested territory, the return of Jews to their ancient homeland drew tens of thousands of new immigrants from neighboring Islamic countries and saw massive increases in Arab population. Between 1919 and 1939, the Jewish population increased by 470,000 while the non-Jewish population (almost entirely Arab) soared by 588,000. Despite the undeniable suffering of Palestinian Arabs during major wars in 1948-49 and 1967, their numbers steadily increased. At the time of Israeli independence, 1.3 million Palestinians lived between the Jordan River and the sea; 5.5 million live in the same space today, including 1.6 million in Gaza under the rule of Hamas, 2.5 million in the West Bank under the rule of the Palestinian Authority and 1.4 million Arab citizens of Israel. For the first time in history, Palestinians have established an independent identity distinguishing them from their fellow Arabs. Prior to the establishment of the modern state of Israel, no one served as King, Viceroy, Sultan, Prime Minister, governor or Emir of a principality of Palestine, and no one other than Zionist Jews claimed the title “Palestinian.”

Israel is a desert, a parched, desolate land that struggles to support its teeming population. The most stunning revelation for most first-time visitors to Israel involves the green fields and lush pine forests that cover surprising stretches of territory, particularly in the north of the country. Since 1910, the Jewish National Fund has planted an amazing total of nearly 300 million trees in Israel, altering the landscape and even the climate. Jerusalem, at a mountainous elevation of close to 3,000 feet above sea level, receives average precipitation of 22 inches—well in excess of the 15 inches of Los Angeles. The economy’s wildly successful agricultural sector not only feeds the Israeli population but ships millions of tons of fruits and vegetables to the European Union.

If Barack Obama showed the courage and vision to depart from the standard itinerary of visiting dignitaries, he might make his own startling discoveries when he travels to the always surprising nation that Zionist pioneer Theodore Herzl described as the “Old New Land.” Instead of spending all his time meeting with big-shots, or making expected stops at the Holocaust Museum and sacred shrines of three great religions, he might explore less publicized portions of an unexpectedly spacious, varied landscape and even visit one of those well-established, peaceful Jewish communities that much of the world derides as “settlements.”  Aside from informing a more effective American policy in the Middle East, an unconventional trip to Israel by our tourist-in-chief could help shatter the notion of the Jewish state as a perpetually embattled war-on-terror theme park and convey the more accurate picture of a place of hope, happiness and relentless progress.


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Comments (10)

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  1. Robert Leland  •  Mar 4, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. However, in order to see what you see when you travel to Israel or what I saw when I visited several years ago, one must be willing to see it. It requires an open mind and some sense of curiousity; attributes missing in our president. He already “knows” everything he wants to know or will ever know.

  2. Lou Adams  •  Mar 8, 2013 at 10:17 am

    I don’t think Mr. Obama is inclined to partake of your information. May I suggest you find outlets in Europe to share this information, from what I read they desperately need to learn these truths.

  3. Michael Dean  •  Mar 8, 2013 at 12:34 pm


    I’m not sure if you;re being genuine or not. But President Obama holds no desire for “peace process progress” with regards to Israel. Though he does desire the appearance of same. This president has made it clear (to anyone paying attention) that he has nothing but contempt for Israel and the Jewish people. Even more so that the normal amount of contepmt he has for anyone who is not him. Even more than his contempt for Republicans. He just does not want us to know that… yet. But if he continues to amass power, there will come a day when he will boldly, and proudly, proclaim is distain for the Jewish state, and it inhabitants.

  4. RonCo215  •  Mar 8, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Clearly, Michael Medved believes facts are relevant. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jew/Israel haters do not! If they were willing to look at the facts, life would be totally different for Israel. I expect nothing positive to come from the presidents belated visit to Israel!

  5. Donna Solin, age 95  •  Mar 8, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Thanks for putting MY thoughts into YOUR words.

  6. Lana  •  Mar 9, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Mr Medved,
    You are an intelligent person who is usually on target with the facts, but do you really think this administration cares about facts, really? Sometimes Intelligence can block the common senses that show this administration is an enemy to America and Israel. If it walks like duck, quacks like a duck. “It’s a duck”. Forget all the words spoken, watch the actions. Do we really need more proof? These are the tares spoken about in prophesy. Whatever is good for the Western way of life, they will do the opposite. Liars, thieves and hypocrits doing everything possible to take away the blessings that our creator has given us. Please use some Visine so you may see more clearly. I say this with all due respect as I respect you and listen to your show daily.

  7. Donna Solin, age 95  •  Mar 9, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    I was THRILLED to see my comment on YOUR PAGE!!
    Thank you so very much!! I save and/or forward many of your articles., especially those that bring back memories of our trips to Eretz Yisrael.

  8. James  •  Mar 9, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Sounds good.

  9. Donal  •  Mar 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    Please all, read George Gilder’s recently updated “The Israel Test”. If Israel is decimated the world will lose so much crucial science , science we will all benefit from.

  10. Donna Solin, age 95  •  Mar 13, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Mr. President,
    Please visit the orchards, farms and factories in Israel.
    Hopefully, this visit will touch your soul as well as invigorate your mind.

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