During President Obama's town hall this afternoon in Tampa, Florida, a young woman asked a pointed question about Israel and human rights that stirred up the crowd and prompted a long answer from Obama.
She asked the president:
Last night in your State of the Union address, you spoke of America's support for human rights. Then, why have we not condemned Israel and Egypt's human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people and yet we continue to support financially with billions of dollars coming from our tax dollars?
Obama carefully avoided directly addressing any questions of human rights abuses by Israel or Egypt, instead choosing to frame his answer in the broader context of the troubled region.
He was quick to state that he "makes no apologies" for strongly defending Israel while also asserting that the Palestinians have rights as well:
Israel is one of our strongest allies. It is a vibrant democracy. It shares links with us in all sorts of ways. It is critical for us, and I will never waver from, ensuring Israel's security and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region. So I make no apologies for that. What is also true is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to because it is not good for our security and it is not good for Israel's security if you've got millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don't have an opportunity to get an education or get a job or what have you.
It's not until the end that Obama offers some reasoning which could be applied to the young lady's question. Re-starting the peace process and negotiations is difficult enough, the president says, without using "inflammatory" or "knee-jerk" language that could drive either side away from the negotiating table:
And so we are working to strengthen the ability of both parties to sit down across the table and begin serious negotiations. And I think that it's important when we're talking about this issue to make sure that we don't just knee-jerk, use language that is inflammatory or in some fashion discourages the possibility of negotiation. We've got to recognize that both the Palestinian people and Israelis have legitimate aspirations and they can be best served if the United States is helping them understand each other as opposed to demonizing each other.