Obama, Einstein, and Jerusalem
US President Barack Obama has some things in common with Albert Einstein, such as a basic liberal attitude and a Nobel Prize, but the differences are more telling.
Like Obama, Einstein shared the liberal desire to perfect the world – what Jews refer to as “tikkun olam” – literally, “fixing the world.” This idea was at the heart of President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem, and it is basically a messianic idea.
Preaching pure messianism can be dangerous. That is why Obama should think a bit of Einstein, who tempered his ideals, and hopes as high as the heavens, with a levelheaded – even conservative – view of the facts on the ground.
Einstein wanted a nuclear weapon-free world, but when he saw what Hitler was doing, he helped America develop an atomic bomb. Einstein knew the difference between imagination and pretense. He could imagine a bomb-free world, but did not pretend that just talking to Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan would stop the war.
Like President Obama, Professor Einstein wanted peace, but when faced with unrelenting war, Einstein wanted to win. Just talking to dictators would not stop them.
Einstein hated war as much as does Barack Obama, but he also hated the slave camps, the burial pits, the show trials and the mass murder imposed by dictators of various stripes. Einstein knew that habitually trying to appease dictators was insane.
“Insanity,” Einstein famously said, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Obama wants Israel to try “the same thing over and over again.” He emphasized it in his speech to a carefully selected group of students in Jerusalem. That was the heart of Obama’s call for young Israelis to force elected leaders to take risks for peace.
“Peace is the only path to true security,” asserted President Obama.
History proves him wrong. Sometimes security can only be gained by beating down an aggressor and not making concessions. For 40 years the Golan Heights, where Israel made few concessions, has been Israel’s quietest front.
Israel won land only after being attacked, gaining all or part of Sinai in 1948, 1956 and in 1967, after Egypt attacked Israel by land, sea and air. Egyptian forces actually reached the outskirts of Jerusalem in 1948 and bombed Tel Aviv before being pushed back. Yet Israel pulled back from Sinai and Gaza after all three wars.
Today, the Muslim Brotherhood rules Egypt, and Hamas rules Gaza.
Both have ties to al-Qaida. Both constantly threaten Israel with war.
Hamas actually attacked Israel during Obama’s visit, firing rockets that landed in the town of Sderot.
There is a similar pattern on Israel’s northern front, in Syria and Lebanon. After being attacked in 1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982, Israel captured parts of those countries, but withdrew for promises of peace.
But there was no peace. Lebanon became a base for the PLO and Hezbollah, both coached by Syria and Iran.
Obama says talking brings security, but Obama’s record of “engaging” Syria and Iran shows otherwise. Iran sped up its nuclear program. Syria killed thousands, amassed chemical weapons, sought a nuclear bomb.
Israel stopped the bomb, but the chemical weapons may fall to Syrian rebels linked to al-Qaida.
Obama’s suggestion that Israel overlook history and take more risks with the Palestinians also flies in the face of common sense. Polls show most Israelis feel this is too risky, that Israel has made too many concessions to the PLO, a terror group that has repeatedly violated every promise and every agreement it has made.
That is why President Obama made his Jerusalem speech to a very carefully selected group of Left-oriented students brought from Beersheba. Polls in Israel have long indicated that most Israelis did not like Obama’s habit of pressing Israel to make more concessions and take more risks.
President Obama’s trip to Jerusalem reflects a change in tone and tactics, and most Israelis welcome the change.
Obama finally discovered Israel is a friend, a huge intelligence asset and America’s only reliable regional ally.
Israel is a solid anchor in a sea of sand littered by four years of Middle East policy disasters: shambles in Egypt, death in Syria, cover-up in Libya, surging Islamism in Turkey and frozen Arab-Israeli talks.
Many leaders ignore their own errors. Obama wants us to imitate them. He still speaks glowingly of his own 2009 speech in Cairo and the disastrous “Arab Spring.”
Albert Einstein would have called that insanity. Einstein was a scientist, and scientists learn from their mistakes. That is how they make discoveries.
Obama’s discovery of Israel as a friend is welcome news, and let’s hope for more, but we did not need an Einstein to tell us.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, wrote Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He reported and/or edited at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, and was Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security. He teaches at Bar Ilan University and next year will be Schusterman Visiting Professor at The University of California, Irvine.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post.