How did Obama’s hard truths play in Cairo? Over at Politico, Roger Simon notes that his speech, at times, “fell flatter than a piece of pita bread.” And when the president did move his audience to applause, it came at predictable moments. For instance, when Obama spoke of outlawing torture, “applause and whistles of approval” followed. But on other topics–9/11, confronting and isolating “violent extremists,” America’s “strong bonds” with Israel–silence.
Meanwhile, Obama’s speech was received with mixed reviews in Israel as well. During his blunt remarks, the president had said that the Palestinian people “endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation” and remarked that their plight is “intolerable.”
Analysts on Israeli television stations criticized the American president for failing to mention the word terror in his speech even once, opting instead to use violence. While the professionalism and conviction Obama delivered his speech was praised by some Israeli officials, others felt the president’s reference to the Holocaust followed by a direct passage where he spoke of the suffering and humiliation of the Palestinian people was hurtful and unnecessary.
A group of Israeli settlers had particularly–and predictably–harsh words for Obama:
“Hussein Obama gave priority to Arab lies, which have always been told with determination and daring, at the expense of the Jewish truth, which has been said in a weak and unconfident voice.”
Here in the US, Obama’s address is, unsurprisingly, playing a fair bit better. In a release, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee says:
The President’s speech in Cairo is one of the first major steps in improved relations based on “mutual interests and mutual respect.” Of the many issues addressed by the President, many in Arab and Muslim communities in the Middle East and the United States waited anxiously to hear his remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. ADC commends his approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict which recognizes the 60-plus years of suffering and dispossession that Palestinians have experienced.
Furthermore, his continued commitment to end torture, close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, support women’s rights and safeguard the civil rights of all persons protected by the Constitution, projects an image of American values which is held in high regard, not only by Arabs and Muslims, but by people throughout the world.
That Obama’s speech would evoke a range of reactions was a given. He certainly made it a point to challenge all parties involved to take a deeper look at their own beliefs and wasn’t expecting to exit the stage to a worldwide rendition of Kumbaya. Obama made clear that his remarks were just the start of a much longer conversation. “No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point,” he said. “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another and to seek common ground.”