‘We are you and you are us’
President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel seemed to accomplish many things: He calmed skeptical Israelis who doubted his commitment to their security, he focused world attention on the Israel of high-tech achievement and economic stability, and he laid to rest — for the moment, anyway — the tensions with Benjamin Netanyahu that often seemed to transform Mideast coverage into a reality show.
But perhaps the most important accomplishment of the two-day visit was the affirmation of what the Israeli government called the “deep and multifaceted relations between Israel and the United States.” The president emphasized that “unbreakable bond” in his March 21 speech in Jerusalem. “[W]e have built a friendship that advances our shared interests,” he declared. “Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa. Together, we share a focus on advancing economic growth around the globe, and strengthening the middle class within our countries. Together, we share a stake in the success of democracy.”
That shared commitment, he continued, extends beyond realpolitik to include both countries’ core values — as nations of immigrants, diversity, faith, law, entrepreneurship, and innovation. He also described, in an important gesture toward intergroup understanding, how the Passover story resonates with African-Americans — a “powerful tale,” he described it, “about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity — a tale that was carried from slavery through the civil rights movement.”
Obama hinted that it won’t be all handshakes and smiles in the months and years ahead, but Israelis at every level — from the street to the President’s Residence — seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. In presenting Obama with Israel’s Medal of Distinction, President Shimon Peres echoed his fellow leader’s words. “When it comes to values, we are you and you are us,” he said. “On occasion, when we were alone, you stood with us so we were not alone. We were alone together. We shall never forget it.”