Wait - Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, is coming to the Ramadan dinner hosted tonight by President Barack Obama?
After reading this in Talking Points Memo, I paused to make sure I read it right.
There's nothing surprising about the now-annual tradition of a White House Ramadan dinner; started by President Bill Clinton and continued in George W. Bush's White House, this practice has become a thoughtful but regular part of the calendar in Washington. But Israel's ambassador joining representatives from numerous Arab and Muslim countries to break the Ramadan fast?
I believe that such a powerful gesture breathes new life into the words Obama gave voice to in Cairo, but more on that in a bit.
It actually makes great sense for Israel's representative to have a seat around the Ramadan dinner table. Israel is home to well over a million Muslims, and it's a country - unlike those around it - that provides real religious freedom. While many of the world's Muslims may not know it, the Jewish State actually funds many mosques and the printing of Korans. So when viewed in this light, Ambassador Oren's presence is completely kosher.
The president and this administration of course know this, and extending this invitation is a public recognition of these facts. More importantly, Israel's unprecedented inclusion in such an event reflects Obama's ultimate vision of inclusiveness - and it presses representatives of Arab states to sit and break bread with Israel's ambassador. Let's face it; ambassadors from some Arab states were probably not too thrilled to learn that Israel was joining in on a big night with the president. The White House is clearly demonstrating its commitment to stand by first principles, including advancing the cause of peace.
So how does a simple dinner invitation help bring the president's Cairo address to life? Let's take a look back.
In Obama's landmark Cairo speech, he proposed pressing the proverbial "reset button" on the relationship between the United States and the world's Muslims. The president suggested that by focusing on mutual respect and through listening to one another, we could begin our relationship anew. And elsewhere in that same speech, the president spoke eloquently about the need to pursue peace between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world. He also talked clearly about the U.S.-Israel relationship, asserting again - for all the world to hear - that "America's strong bonds with Israel are well known," adding that "this bond is unbreakable."
Inviting Oren gives further life to these words.
The White House is reminding the Arab and Muslim world that Oren represents a country that is home to many Muslims, and which provides religious freedom to many more. And as the president said in Cairo, there is both a hope and an expectation that all sides can break bread together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. And most importantly, the administration will use each opportunity to bring the parties together.
To the vocal minority of American Jews who have concerns about Obama when it comes to Israel, I say the same thing I would say to American Muslims who have their own concerns that this president is too close to Israel: re-read the Cairo address, as it will continue to serve as a roadmap for this administration. And that's good for America, good for Israel, and good for the Muslim world as well.
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