Amb. Oren: Obama Misrepresented Israel-Related Contents of 2009 Cairo Speech

President Barack Obama’s claim that he sought to persuade the Arab world to stop viewing Israel as the root of all the Middle East’s ills in his historic 2009 Cairo speech is misleading, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told The Algemeiner in an interview published on Thursday. According to Oren, the president’s remarks “actually implied the opposite.”

At issue is Obama’s claim, shared during his latest interview with Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, that his address called on the Muslim world to “stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel.”

“We want to work to help achieve statehood and dignity for the Palestinians,” Obama told Goldberg, “but I was hoping that my speech could trigger a discussion, could create space for Muslims to address the real problems they are confronting—problems of governance, and the fact that some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity. My thought was, I would communicate that the U.S. is not standing in the way of this progress, that we would help, in whatever way possible, to advance the goals of a practical, successful Arab agenda that provided a better life for ordinary people.”

However, Oren pointed out that “The Cairo speech is the foundational document of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, and it is based on linkage: that everything in the region is linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and therefore if you solve it, you will solve the region’s problems.”

Oren, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013, added context to his charge. He noted that while in Washington, he often heard “linkage mentioned every single day. Even former National Security Adviser James Jones said that if God came down and asked to solve one problem, it would be the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was doctrinal.”

Another problem with the Cairo speech, Oren observed, was that it “gave Israel legitimacy based on the Holocaust – the same as the Arab narrative about why the Jews were given a state – and didn’t even mention the Sunni-Shi’ite divide or Iranian-Arab enmity, for example.” While the president mentioned the persecution of the Jewish people around the world and anti-Semitism in Europe, he never referred to the 2,000 year-old ties that bind Jews to the Middle East, which are routinely distorted and denied in the Arab world.

Oren also questioned Obama statement, made during his interview with Goldberg, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the Middle East leader he was most disappointed in. “Really?” Oren asked, adding, “Netanyahu is one of Obama’s ‘deepest disappointments’ as a Middle East leader? More disappointing than [Syrian President Bassar] Assad? Than [former Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad? Than [ISIS chief Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi?”

When prodded as to why Obama would make these claims now, Oren responded, “Maybe because his whole vision of and for the Middle has completely collapsed.”

In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal last year, Oren argued that the Cairo speech hurt relations between Israel and the United States. In June 2009, “the president traveled to the Middle East, pointedly skipping Israel and addressing the Muslim world from Cairo,” wrote Oren. “Israeli leaders typically received advance copies of major American policy statements on the Middle East and could submit their comments. But Mr. Obama delivered his Cairo speech, with its unprecedented support for the Palestinians and its recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear power, without consulting Israel.”

[Photo: Tomer Neuberg / Flash90 ]