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High words, low realities

High words, low realities

A mong some Muslims,” Obama declared in Cairo, “there is a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld… Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together.” This came at the end of a week in which the Israeli Knesset voted by a large majority (47 to 34) for a law that threatens imprisonment for anyone who dares to deny that Israel is a Jewish state. The private member’s bill, proposed by MK Zevulun Orlev of the “Jewish Home” party, stipulates one year in prison to anyone who publishes “a call that negates the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State.” “One can foresee the next steps,” wrote Uri Avnery, peace activist and former Knesset member. “A million and a half Arab citizens cannot be expected to recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. They want it to be ‘a state of all its citizens’ — Jews, Arabs and others. They also claim with reason that Israel discriminates against them, and therefore is not really democratic. And, in addition, there are also Jews who do not want Israel to be defined as a Jewish state in which non-Jews have the status, at best, of tolerated outsiders.” The bill now goes to the Legal Committee of the Knesset. Avnery says that within a few weeks or months it will be the law of the land. The bill, as Avnery notes, does not single out Arabs explicitly — “even if this is its clear intention, and all those who voted for it understood this. It also prohibits Jews from advocating a change in the state’s definition, or the creation of a bi-national state in all of historic Palestine or spreading any other such unconventional ideas.” Avnery concludes, “One can only imagine what would happen in the US if a senator proposed a law to imprison anyone who suggests an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.” There are fine words. There are facts on the ground, and they often strayed far from one another in Obama’s big speech. One 1,000-pound bomb or remote-controlled drone trumps 10,000 words on rhetoric about peace. As they drafted his speech to the Muslim world, President Obama’s speechwriters strove to suggest that cordiality towards Islam is soundly embedded in America’s cultural history. The first Muslim congressman, Obama confided to his vast audience across the Muslim world, was sworn into the House of Representatives with his hand on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran. No names were mentioned, but this would have been Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Democrat elected in 2006. At his victory-night rally, the local crowd shouted “Allahu Akhbar!” During the race, Ellison understandably downplayed past associations with the Nation of Islam. Obama also reminded the world that Morocco

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