Thursday, May 26, 2011

Do you have a lot of free time on your hands?

Here is another e-mail thread discussing the current Bibi-Obama bruhaha. I've changed everyone's name but my own. I've also done a fair amount of editing. You may feel like reading it through, skimming it or ignoring it. Its up to you.

Unless you're Gabi. Gabi should read it. Just saying.

Forwarded conversation
Subject: "Elections have consequences #94,756" or "Is there really a difference between the Parties on Israel"?
From: X
This of course includes your current home
From: Y
Why X, are you saying Obama wants Israel to go back to what famed (Labor Party) Israeli diplomat Abba Eban called “Auschwitz Lines”?

Shocked, I am. Shocked and surprised.

From: Z

From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
Good for krauthammer! A few quibbles, but overall he approves of the speech and sees it as a continuation of W's policies. He is quite right. 
By the way If you talk to people at the israeli embassy, they are less concerned with these ambiguities that he called attention to. The best way to understand these dynamics is to talk to the people in the middle of them, like embassy officials or aipac leaders. It's worth going to Washington and talking to the players if you have the opportunity. Gives you some healthy perspective I think. 
Sent from my iPad
From: Y
Actual question (not trying to make a point),
Why is bibi so pissed?
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
From: X
Why is Yossi Beilin so happy? (see NYT today)  I think he called the speech unprecedented and new direction, etc.
From: Z
It seemed to me that he was mocking of the fact Obama was so critical of the Bush doctrine and now has basically been forced to embrace it because facts on the ground have changed and he really has no choice. Its amazIng how the tone has changed now, didn't the left, Obama included, chastize Bush for the muslim world hating us because of Bushs policies?
Also Krauthammer is critical of the Israel/Palestinian portion of the speech as are most conservatives. Its a clear shift in US attitude/rhetoric - sounds more and more like Carter every day.
Subject: Re: "Elections have consequences #94,756" or "Is there really a difference between the Parties on Israel"?
From: Michael Naftali Unterberg <>
Date: Fri, May 20, 2011 at 6:04 PM
Bibi said why he was upset. He wanted clearer statements on borders, right of return and Hamas. He said he wants clearer statements on things we agree on. He got one out of three from Obama. Both agree that they agree on most of the substance. 
Who cares about Beilin?  Perhaps he sees Palestinian statehood coming closer. Sure sounds exaggerated to me.  
I am more interested in substance than side choosing. If beilin wants to recast AmAan policy to suit his views, that's his right. I try to use as little bias as I can to understand things as they are. I find that to be a helpful tool. 
Anyway, your argument is with krauthammer, not me. Although I do agree with his assessment. 
Sent from my iPhone
From: Y
This is very far from science, so side choosing is far from irrelevant. Substance in this area has a way of evaporating, so who obama batted his eyelashes at and who he cold shouldered matters as much as what words were spoken.
From: X
Personally, I kind of think the Prime Minister of Israel's reaction is somewhat relevant.  I find it to be a very helpful tool to gauging his reaction and understanding the significance of the Obama's speech
From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
Who cares what’s bothering Krauthammer? If he is surprised at how much agreement there is with bush doctrine, I can't see where that's such a bad thing. And his quibbles with the israel part are fair. 
I feel pretty assured that the ambiguities that concern him are not matters of great concern. Off the record the administration is quite open with the israelis that raising the settlements was a huge blunder, and krautheimer caught this and read into it properly. Having been aware of the administrations position, I was not surprised. 
I also noticed that he never mentioned Auchwitz, Carter or any other panic points.
There are certainly hard and traumatic times ahead for the state of israel. Thats the matzav. If it feels better to blame AmAa for that matzav, I don't have a particular problem with that. 
But i do think that blaming AmAa for israels problems is about as valid as blaming israel for AmAas problems in the middle east. And I'm sure you noticed that Obama isn't doing that. Didn't you?
Beilin is not prime minister. I thought Bibis points were fair and reasonable matters of concern, and was relieved that they were about messaging rather than substance. Weren't you?
Sent from my iPhone
From: Y
Until something is signed, nuance matters, personal relationships between leaders matter. Read the histories of previous accords if you have any doubts. Plus, in foreign policy a president is kinglike, and who he likes or dislikes matters a great deal.

From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
Sure, but there are only a few details left after tabba in 2001, so there isn't that much wiggle room anyway. And hardly an Auschwitz senario.
Shabbat shalom! on my way to shul
Sent from my iPhone
From: Z
Weren't you a critic of Bushs involvement in the Muslim world? Why are those policies suddenly ok now?
So basically we need to let Obama bully Israel into doing what he thinks is the right thing to do and predetermine the fate of the negotiations? No other President has been more one sided towards the Palestinian position - and in my humble opinion that should disturb anyone who cares about the safety and future of Israel
From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
And I disagree. As does aipac and the Israeli embassy
Shabbat shalom
Sent from my iPhone
From: Z
Which spokesman of the Israeli embassy spoke to you. And told me they weren't upset with the speech. It seemd Bibbi was very upset, I would imagine he represents a fairly 'official' source of Israeli reaction, doesn't he?
From: A
A selection of worthwhile reads on the latest Obama - Netanyahu clash:
Ynet, on some of the behind the scenes maneuvering before the speech (Hebrew - 2nd part in particular about Dennis Ross):,7340,L-4071781,00.html
Shmuel Rosner, former Ha'aretz Washington correspondent, on questions for the coming days:
Rob Satloff, Director of the Washington Institute for Near East policy:
Shavua tov,
From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
Here is a really good summary of reactions. 
Personally, I agree with jeff Goldberg and see the speech as pretty much an articulation of Clinton and bush's position. (although in his other piece, I think he's giving Netanyahu too hard a time, accusing him of hissy fits. I think he's doing what he needs to do, and kudos to Obama for sitting still while Bibi gave him a public lecture. The clip is worth viewing. I can't remember seeing a president allowing himself to be treated that way)
I think that Glenn Kessler makes a compelling case about shifting diplomatic language, but in the big picture still see things goldbergs way.
As catapano's piece makes clear, people read these things differently. Might I recommend to those who feel that their particular perception makes them a truer Zionist (or something) than those with a different perception, that this is a complicated matter. Do I need to explain this further? Basic Jewish and AmAan values, it seems to me, make this a rather obvious point. People can disagree about a speech and it's implications without losing their cred as a Jew or Zionist. I believe that further explication of this point should be beneath all readers of this email. 
We are all concerned for israel as it heads into rocky waters. Neo-cons see the world as a struggle of good over evil. Progressives see humans as essentially good, and it is the work of civilization to create the structures that will make them their best. Both are important paradigms, yielding valuable insights that wise people should attend to. 
The historical record finds proponents if both world views getting calls wrong. I remember Kristol and Will and others excoriating Reagan for reaching out to encourage glasnost and reduce our nuclear arsenal. They used analogies to Munich 1938. It was Reagan's genius to see outside of his usual paradigm in order to recognize a unique opportunity. Will and Kristol, et al ended up with egg on their face, and remained intelligent writers worth reading. 
I, for one, certainly feel it should be beneath me to have to argue my Zionist Bona fides, sanity or personal IQ, simply because my politics differ with some else's. I can supply the names of the people I spoke to when I return to Cleveland. I'm bad with names and my notes are at home. Also, I voted for Bush/Cheney in 2004. Does that prove anything one way or the other? I think not. Although I disagreed with many of their policies, I always refused to be disrespectful to their administration, and told liberal friends that they should do the same.
I personally think that describing this, or any, AmAan administration as being anti Israel is a cruel injustice to a firm ally. AmAan interests will cause conflicts with israel, as they did for regean, ( eg. AWACS & bittburg) Clinton and both bushes. This issues today are existentially vital, and we can get carried away in our anger at AmAan policy. But both sides of the political spectrum, believe in deep support for israel and express this in far more than talk. 
We Jews owe AmAa much, and should be respectful in how we talk about it's leaders. and to each other.
I trust that we  agree on these points above all others. I am not calling out anyone for anything in particular. I am, however, sounding a note of caution for future submissions.
Sent from my iPad
From: B
I had the opportunity to listen to/watch Obama's entire speech. I don't know how realistic democracy is for all those countries in turmoil, in fact, its probably just wishful thinking, but i hope i'm wrong. 
On the whole, I thought the speech was thoughtful, balanced, etc.
However, with regard to Israel, I was disturbed by his continued use of the word "occupation" and obviously his statement about the 1967 borders, which, in the context of the whole 50 minute speech, actually seemed completely unnecessary and totally out of place. There may be no naphka minah given the notion of land swaps in the context of prior deals, but why evoke it at all? Seemed like a misstep. 
And I never have understood "occupation". That always upset me. Obama eats lunch every day on land previously settled/owned by the Pawnee and Piscataway Indians, until they were all slaughtered or forced to leave, but no one refers to Washington D.C. as "occupied territory." 
Are people blowing all this way out of proportion? YES. It's a little ridiculous at this point. In fact, his speech to AIPAC, which I also listened to in its entirety, was very positive. He bent over backwards to show support and then went out of his way to qualify his remarks at the State Department regarding 1967 borders. 
So where does all that leave us. I have no idea. I also read all the articles A sent out and the ones the rest of you sent out and they are all over the board trying to figure out whether the speech was good or bad and what it meant in total, etc. 
Ultimately, my fear lies in Obama's true feelings regarding Israel and the Jews. They are too personal to be really known, and he's all over the map when he speaks publicly. He's very intelligent and thoughtful, but this goes deeper than that, and when push comes to shove, what he believes in his heart has to matter on some level. 
Rabbi Granatstein has been giving doom and gloom speeches for months now, and this past shabbat spoke about how Obama dislikes Bibi in a severe way and visa-versa and that there is nothing we can do about it but pray. 
I don't like to believe its all doom and gloom, because its worthless to think like that. And based on what I've read, the fight between Bibi and Obama has also been exaggerated. 
Bottom line - no one has any idea what Obama really believes and the best we can do is pray that he does have our back. 
Silver lining - this could cause housing prices to fall in the efrat, which would be good for Z in the short term and the rest of us long term  :)
From: A 
This piece by Omri Ceren gets to the crux of the issue:
There have been a lot of arguments and counterarguments regarding President Obama’s statement that Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking should proceed using Israel’s 1949 armistice lines as a starting point. Some claim that the position reflects decades of U.S. policy. Others claim that it’s a break from past administrations but is consistent with this one’s peacemaking. Yet others claim that it goes beyond all previous AmAan stances, and that it represents a “borders first” approach that hasn’t been seen in the Oslo era. For each of these claims there are also arguments on both sides—given that the Obama speech stipulated this and not that—predicting what effect will be had on the peace process.
If only there was an objective way to evaluate how Obama’s demands on Israel are playing out in the context of Middle East diplomacy. Some way to check—again, objectively—whether as this morning there are more barriers or less barriers to the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Quantitatively, as it were.
Conveniently, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has now released a statement, transforming Obama’s border guidelines into preconditions for renewed talks. Until recently the Palestinians had no problem negotiating without those preconditions. It was widely recognized that the Palestinians were trying to get to Obama’s position—a final status agreement structured around the 1949 lines plus land swaps—but that they would have to negotiate to it and make concessions along the way. Now Erekat is insisting that “there is no point talking about a peace process” unless Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu accepts the final Palestinian position as everyone’s starting position. Since that’s not going to happen under any circumstances—nor should it—we are again in a situation where President Obama’s de-facto advocacy for the Palestinian cause has made peace more difficult to achieve.
All of this nonsense was easy to explicitly predict. This film has played before. In 2009 the White House decided that construction in Israeli settlement blocs so eroded Palestinian trust that the poor dears were unable to negotiate. The Palestinians, who had for years been quite able to negotiate while that construction continued, were forced to follow President Obama’s lead and insist upon a settlement freeze as a new precondition. They couldn’t let the U.S. president out-Palestine the Palestinian president. Abbas would later complain that Obama’s settlement stance came from the White House and pushed the Palestinians out on a limb—before leaving them there. Three times.
At this point, I’m genuinely unsure whether the Palestinians are pleased with how Obama is tilting negotiations in their direction, or just kind of confused about what it is that he thinks he’s doing.
From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
Good piece. Of course, erekat has been saying that for the last several weeks. Here's a good example.,7340,L-4069637,00.html
That guys a schmuck.
Solid points,B. In terms of occupation, Obama eats lunch on land where e everyone is a citizen with rights, including a right to vote, and on land that is legally US soil. Yehuda and shomron were never annexed and legally declared Israeli soil. There are 11 million people living between the meditaranian and the
Jordan river. 7 million are citizens of a state. 4 million are citizens of nothing.
This is not to say that the blame falls on israel for this problem. But it is a problem and I'm not sure why occupation isn't an accurate description. Israel runs military control of land that is not legally israel, and the majority of it's inhabitants hate israel. I'm not sure that "disputed" describes it better than occupied.
I didnt think that I was talking about nuance, and don't think it was my point at all. I think the nazis were wrong, if that is helpful. 
Perhaps my point could be made clearer if I call attention to the Klien halevi piece that A sent. He claims that the Palestinian state is both an existential necessity and an existential threat to the state of israel. That being the case wouldn't you expect diverging opinions about such a knotty problem? 
Some in this correspondence are hoping that this Gordian knot will remain tight, others are hoping it can be sliced open. And I'll bet both sides have feelings that go the other way as well.
So how about everyone drop the "my side is smarter and righter than your side" stuff. I prefer Bs style of " I liked this but not that, agree here but not there" style. Or As "I think this is the lay of the land" style. I find them preferable to the "my pundits and politicians represent truth and yours either do not comprehend reality or are evil." 
I hope these clarifications are helpful.
I disagree with rabbi granastein. Successive American administrations have shown that the us can have little affect when the inertia is not coming from the players themselves. I'm not sure how much of a difference any of this will have. I think the real issues are between Netanyahu and Abbas. Obama is doing what he thinks is best to get them to work together, and Surprise! It isn't working.
I am still unimpressed with the administrations naiveté, although it does seem to be dwindling. This may be why Dennis Ross plays an ever growing roll in the white house. Buy I see no evidence of malicious intent, and plenty against it, so I bristle when people claim otherwise. 
And I'm still amazed that Obama let Bibi lecture him on camera. Diplomatically, that's a powerful gesture. And I don't think he lied when he called us q great people, or when he said that AmAa is unswerving in its dedication to israels security. 
Although I think this problem is so complex that his attempts will avail little, I am still amazed by the suspicion with which our president is regarded. When he disagrees with you, why assume that he is anti-goodness? We should bristle when people do that to our president. Wether we voted for him or not. 
I guess I'm just unnuanced, but I assume the best of all our AmAan leaders, however profoundly I may disagree with particular positions. I was raised to believe that patriots do that as an AmAan value. 
I fear for the coming months for israel. I think there are smart people trying their best in israel and AmAa to protect her. They are humans and will therefore make dumb mistakes. And as Bibi said, there is little room for error. Ultimately, only Hashem can help us, and only He knows what the right moves are. This may lack nuance, but I think it true. Other than these simple facts, I think we should all show some intellectual humility when expressing our opinions. 
Sent from my iPhone
From: Z
Rabbi G, who I do not always agree with when it comes to politics, pointed out that Obamas speech was fair. He, however pointed out the awful disdain that Obama has towards Netanyahu, which he is extremely worried about. He drew comparisons to Carters hatred towards Menachem Begin. He fears that the current presidents treatment of the democratically elected prime minister of the only democracy in the middle east is extremely dangerous especialy in light of Europes, already tough stance that has existed for a long time. He also mentioned Bush seniors relations with Shamir.
I think most of us on the conservative side of the map feel the same way. While I still believe the US is still Israel best ally, I am fearful of Obamas 'balanced' approach to a conflict that in my opinion is not one that should be dealt with a 'moral equivalency' of equal demands for both sides. Security and recognition of Israel should be first. Trying to force Israel to make concessions in negotiations, by declaring what the final borders should be before negotiations even started is in my opinion wrong and unproductive. With Fatah and Hamas reaching an agreement, the Presidents stance at this point in time is even more perplexing, its almost as if he is rewarding the palestinians for their deal with Hamas.
I had voted for Clinton his first term because of my disdain for Bush seniors treatment and attitude towards Israel, I frankly agree with Rabbi G's assesment of Obamas general attitude towards Israel and its leader.
I would also like to point out that some of the comments that we hear from you, Michael, often come out sounding very condesending. It almost feels like most of the time you think us conservatives are dumb and closed minded. I think some or most of us just respond in a similar vain when we read some of your e-mails. I apologize if I may come across accusing you of not caring for Israel, I have no doubt you love and care for the state of Israel the same or more then me. I simply see things in a different light then you and am concerned with the direction our President is and has taken since taking office. I think that forcing positions on sides in a negotiations is a terrible move. Also, I truly do not think any arab nation is close to coming to a real peaceful solution witgh Israel. That day will not come until the education and internal messaging that are dissemenated to the arab people changes from the current hate mongering towards Israel. And Even the Egyptian peace is in danger of collapsing now.
This is especially true with the palestinians. And rewarding them with 1967 borders I believe is dangerous, since it will then just give more opportunities for terrorists to be that much closer to executing their plans. I would have thought that the Oslo fiasco would have taught us that we really do not have a real partner for peace. I hope I am wrong, but fear I am not.
From: Michael Unterberg 
I apologize for sounding condescending, it was not my intention. I was trying to explain why those who do not share your paradigm deserve respect. (See the subject title of this e-mail for example) But again, this is the problem with doing these by e-mail, tone becomes hard to control and falls to the eye of the reader. 
I disagree with Rabbi G. Brysynski is no Dennis Ross, and I don't think carter is Obama. Can you imagine carter televising being lectured to by BEgin? Unthinkable. By the way, the President's language on Hamas is still right on target, as far as I can tell. That's the one area he followed Natanyahu's request. 
I do not see peace as a possibility for generations, and think that the word should be stricken from the conversation. I agree with Ariel Sharon that the status quo is more dangerous to Israel's future than separation, and think that should be achieved as quickly as possible. I think AmAan Jews make a mistake when they reduce the possibilities to war and peace. 
I like Gadi Taub's term, "Mutual Unilateralism" as the only way to get two enemies to stop living together and sharing their lives. 
I am not sure how "moral equivalency" applies here. That term refers to those dicussing the "cycle of violence", and who equate Tzahal with Hamas. I don't think I am guilty of moral equivalency if I believe that the status quo is unsustainable both for Israeli and Arabs and should be changed. 4 million people with ni citizenship in any state is a problem for both.
If we want to blame anyone, ultimately Rav Soloveitchik blames AmAan Jews. If there were millions of AmAan olim, then there would be no problem. We can't annex Yehuda and Shomron is there are 6 million Jews and 5 million Arabs, which are the current numbers. If amAan jews lived in Israel it would be 12 million Jews to 5 million arabs, and annexation could have happened years ago. It is hard for me not to think of the Rav's warnings from 1956 during these trying times. 
Ultimately, Z, you and your family are part of the solution. We can certainly all agree on that. 
From: Z
Do you think the results of the seperation from Gaza were a success?
Do we not have a worse enemy in control of Gaza now as compared to pre-disengagement. Isn't Gaza getting mor arms by the day? Aren't there constant rockets coming out of Gaza towards Israel on a regular basis. How exactly has disengagement solved our problems in Gaza? Why would that model work any better in Yehudah and Shomron? And the 1967 borders means hardly any room between that line and the Ocean-that reality seems something Israel can never accept in my opinion.
The moral eqivelancy that I speak of is the fact that as a general norm, Liberals were are comfortable and encourage 'fainess' and equity in demaanding Israel give up land in order to get security. I believe that we should all demand security and recognition as the only precondition to negotiations, everything else should be determined by negotiations between the parties, but until those conditions are met Israels arm should not be twisted to give up anything.
I have read dozens of articles and all those referenced in these emails by A and michael - and none sum up my thoughts and fears better than Bret Stephens in today's WSJ - among the most amazing pieces of this is how people see the same event differently.  Here is Stephens:
  1. The Anti American President: By BRET STEPHENS
Say what you will about President Obama's approach to Israel—or of his relationship with AmAan Jews—he sure has mastered the concept of chutzpah.
On Thursday at the State Department, the president gave his big speech on the Middle East, in which he invoked the claims of friendship to tell Israelis "the truth," which to his mind was that "the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace." On Friday in the Oval Office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his version of the truth, which was that the 1967 border proposed by Mr. Obama as a basis for negotiating the outlines of a Palestinian state was a nonstarter.
Administration reaction to this reciprocal act of friendly truth-telling? "That was Bibi over the top," the New York Times quoted one senior U.S. official, using the prime minister's nickname. "That's not how you address the president of the United States."
Maybe so. Then again, it isn't often that this or any other U.S. president welcomes a foreign leader by sandbagging him with an adversarial policy speech a day before the visit. Remember when the Dalai Lama visited Mr. Obama last year? As a courtesy to Beijing, the president made sure to have the Tibetan spiritual leader exit by the door where the White House trash was piled up. And that was 11 months before Hu Jintao's state visit to the U.S.
When this president wants to make a show of his exquisite diplomatic sensitivity—burgers with Medvedev, bows to Abdullah, New Year's greetings to the mullahs—he knows how. And when he wants to show his contempt, he knows how, too.
The contempt was again on display Sunday, when Mr. Obama spoke to the Aipac policy conference in Washington. The speech was stocked with the perennial bromides about U.S.-Israeli friendship, which brought an anxious crowd to its feet a few times. As for the rest, it was a thin tissue of falsehoods, rhetorical legerdemain, telling omissions and self-contradictions. Let's count the ways.
For starters, it would be nice if the president could come clean about whether his line about the 1967 line—"mutually agreed swaps" and all—was pathbreaking and controversial, or no big deal. On Sunday, Mr. Obama congratulated himself for choosing the hard road to Mideast peace as he prepares for re-election, only to offer a few minutes later that "there was nothing particularly original in my proposal."
Associated Press
President Barack Obama arrives to speak at the AmAan Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention.
Yet assuming Mr. Obama knows what he's talking about, he knows that's untrue: No U.S. president has explicitly endorsed the '67 lines as the basis for negotiating a final border, which is why the University of Michigan's Juan Cole, not exactly a shill for the Israel lobby, called it "a major turning point."
Mr. Obama would also know that in 2009 Hillary Clinton had described this formula as "the Palestinian goal." Now it's Mr. Obama's goal as well, even as he insists that "no peace can be imposed."
Then there was Mr. Obama's use of his favorite professorial trope: "Let me repeat what I actually said." What followed was a rehearsal of what he supposedly said on Thursday.
But Mr. Obama's problem isn't, as he supposes, that people aren't paying close enough attention to him. On the contrary, they've noticed that on Thursday Mr. Obama called for Israel to make territorial concessions to some approximation of the '67 linesbefore an agreement is reached on the existential issues of refugees and Jerusalem. "Moving forward now on the basis of territory and security," he said, "provides a foundation to resolve these two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians."
Mr. Obama neglected to mention these points on Sunday, hence the telling omission. But the essence of his proposal is that Israel should cede territory, put itself into a weaker position, and then hope for the best. This doesn't even amount to a land-for-peace formula.
That's not all. Mr. Obama got some applause Sunday by calling for a "non-militarized" Palestinian state. But how does that square with his comment, presumably applicable to a future Palestine, that "every state has a right to self-defense"? Mr. Obama was also cheered for his references to Israel as a "Jewish state." But why then obfuscate on the question of Palestinian refugees, whose political purpose over 63 years has been to destroy Israel as a Jewish state?
And then there was that line that "we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric." Applause! But can Mr. Obama offer a single example of having done that as president, except perhaps at the level of a State Department press release?
What, then, would a pro-Israel president do? He would tell Palestinians that there is no right of return. He would make the reform of the Arab mindset toward Israel the centerpiece of his peace efforts. He would outline hard and specific consequences should Hamas join the government.
Such a vision could lay the groundwork for peace. What Mr. Obama offered is a formula for war, one that he will pursue in a second term. Assuming, of course, that he gets one.
From: Michael Unterberg 
And I take exception to this line: "What, then, would a pro-Israel president do?"
Again, the problem is not disagreeing, its saying that "either you agree with me or you're anti-Israel". (or is Stephens implying that Obama is completely Israel neutral?) I see his language in that sentence as angry, nasty and dismissive. Not to mention unhelpful and wrong headed. And if I disagree with Stephens assessment, am I not (according to him) pro-Israel?
By the way, Z, I do not retract my earlier apology. If I caused offense I am sorry. But I looked over what I wrote and I see compliments to Irving Kristol, George Will, calling Ronald Reagan a genius and praising the value of the neo-con perspective. I do not see how that portrays conservatives as "dumb and closed minded". I certainly do not see where I am more condescending than the subject title or Y's original response. I don't care that much, but it seems that if we are being cautious it should go both ways. If we are letting little jabs go, I am perfectly ok with that too. Let's just pick one standard. 
I'd also like you to take into account that it is neither easy or fun to debate 5 people by yourself, while traveling with your family, on your iPhone. I simply refuse to be one of the progressive Orthodox Jews who is afraid to express himself for fear of being branded a traitor. Make no mistake, there is a silent minority bullied by harsh rhetoric. One of the reasons I dislike living in an Orthodox Jewish community is that it assumes not only ritual values are shared, but often assumes political perspectives should be homogeneous as well. I am offended by that. As are many who whisper about it when they feel they are safe to do so. 
To be frank, I always wonder if I'm better off responding or not. Whatevs. Anyway, I don't mind being in the traitorous minority if it includes the Rav and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. 
In terms of gaza I believe in disengagement plus deterrence. It took till cast lead for the latter part which has word sort of. I think that's the best we can hope for. There is no bright shiny future ahead of us in the next few years, no matter what we do.
The debate is between those who think maintaining status quo is better, and those who disagree. NOT between those who are pro or anti Israel. The president included. 

I liked your email, and found many points well taken.
I’ll respond more fully in a bit. First, I appreciate how difficult it is to argue against a group of people alone, I’ve done it myself and it’s no fun. I especially appreciate it given that I’ve often lamented (ask dave) that there are no liberal orthodox jews to talk politics with (who are smart enough, knowledgeable enough, and frankly frum enough to count as an engaged and philosophically committed orthodox jew). Please keep responding. I’ve read and appreciated (I know three times w that word) all your posts in this discussion. I can tell you that at least for me, I often try to start things off w an outrageous post just to bring you into the discussion. (If there’s a special code word, I’ll use that instead in the future.) More to say substantively, but I wanted to say this first.

From: X
Maybe this is a semantic thing.  Stephens is saying, a pro Israel President would have equated things by requiring the Palestinians to ..........[fill in the blank, give up on full return of refugees, denounce Hamas, etc.]  just as he began by requiring Israel to cede  territory.  He didnt.  President Bush who I think was a Pro Israel president did do these things by refusing to deal with Arafat and obviously had no patience or tolerance  for Hamas.  
The opposite of Pro Israel need not be anti Israel - it could be neutral.  But I do not think the Israel case and the Palestinian case are equal.  If the Palestinians somehow guaranteed peace without doubt and no more violent means - there could be peace tomorrow and I would be the first  to advocate ceding territory and  land swaps.  Please dont unfairly accuse us of thinking you are a traitor or not pro Israel.  I do not for a minute think Obama is anti Israel - but I also do not think he is pro Israel.  
Also, nobody is calling you a traitor - God forbid - as Z rightly stated your love for Israel is unquestioned.  We obviously differ on what is best for Israel.  Some like Goldberg, see no change - People like Stephens see all kinds of problems and serious ones.  Those that agree with stephens (like myself) are alarmed because we see Israel as threatened.  You may feel like this is ultimately a good thing (despite some potential dangers)
From: B
Separately, I am surprised that you like this article so much. Of all the things we read, i find this to be short and unhelpful.

I just read your most recent post, which address my main issue with the article - the title. I think that gives Obama far too much credit.

In the context of his overall speech at the State Department, i found his thoughts on the egypt, tunsia, etc. to be coming from a place of far more understanding that his statements about israel. Meaning, his attempt at democracy in those countries in only slightly less ridiculous than peace in Isarel, but at least he spoke intelligently about it.

With regard to Israel, when you juxtapose all the things he's said, I now truly believe he is lost. Again, no one knows what he believes in his heart, if anything, and that's a scary proposition, but only slightly less scary is the idea that he seems to be contradicting himself, backpedaling, and otherwise unsure of the right move.

Will all this prove to be disastrous? god willing it wont, but I see this more as a person who is trying to do something, and unsure of the best course of action.  

If they go back to 67 borders with swaps or whatever, and war breaks out, Obama, because of his overt statement on the issue (which was unprecedented) will go down as one of the worst Presidents in history. Don't you agree? So I think he will do what he can to avoid that, while also trying to walk some ridiculously fine line to appease the growing hatred of Israel and the jews worldwide.

Could he have ignored the Israel issue altogether? I guess not, but that's where I don't know enough about politics or foreign policy to really claim to know anything on that issue. 
Wishing I was with you in the Bellagio....B
From: Michael Unterberg 
Thanks, Y. Much appreciated. I really wasn't complaining about your post, just asking for the same leeway as you. I hope that was fair. By the way, I will argue again that those liberal democrats are out there. Their just afraid to talk. 
Thanks, B!
X, to say that any AmAan administration is Israel neutral, (which I suggested in my earlier response) seems to me unfair. As Netanyahu said in his Aipac speech, support for Israel does not divide AmAans, it unites them. (see more relevant Netanyahu quotes below. We all agree that we should take what the PM says seriously.)
Here's the rub: I don't think its unfair to say you are critiquing my loyalty to Israel if you say that the position that I believe in is at best Israel neutral. Your defense is a reverse of the ad hominum fallacy. "I wasn't talking about you - just what you think and believe." I see what Obama is trying to do as a genuine positive attempt. (almost certainly doomed to failure) And I am not neutral. 
I am not sure what it means to say that the Israel and Palestinian cases aren't equal. To me, Israel is more important. 4 million humans under Israeli control that are citizens of nothing is a threat to Israel as a Jewish Democracy in our homeland. The fact that many among that 4 million are active war criminals, and many more (if not most) of the rest support their crimes against our people only makes this challenge greater. 
I happen to agree with the last three administrations and many (if not most) Israelis that this status quo poses an existential threat. The best solution is to allow Fayyadism a chance to run a (somewhat) democratic state. It will most probably fail and become a terrorist homeland. Tzahal will have to treat it as they treat Hizbolla and Hamas, with powerful deterrent force. This will go on until the Palestinians kill the terrorists and demand a stable future. 
This is my outlook, my paradigm. It does not involve fair or unfair, reward or punishment. It takes the facts in and looks for the best solution. This is the third administration in a row telling the patient that an amputation is needed to save the life of the patient. 
And here's the kicker: everything I am saying is arm chair general thinking by some dope in Cleveland which is all SO much easier said then done. The devil is in the details, and I have no idea of how this will work out. 
But, if I may be so bold, doesn't that last paragraph apply to all of us? I mean that not to be condescending, and I'm obviously including myself. It is simply why I think intellectual humility makes sense when discussing complex issues. I m sure people feel this humility, I just wished that it was expressed more openly in the Orthodox Jewish world. 
Anyway, here's some Bibi Aipac quotes. He's smart. 
PM Bibi said last year: "I am confident that in pursuing these goals, we have the enduring friendship of the United States of AmAa, the greatest nation on earth. The AmAan people have always shown their courage, their generosity and their decency. Time and again, AmAa has stood by Israel's side against common enemies. From one President to the next, from one Congress to the next, AmAa's commitment to Israel's security has been unwavering.
In the last year, President Obama and the U.S. Congress have given meaning to that commitment by providing Israel with military assistance, by enabling joint military exercises and by working on joint missile defense. So too, Israel has been a staunch and steadfast ally of the United States.As Vice President Biden said, AmAa has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel."
This year: "My Friends,
Israel and AmAa have drawn from this deep wellspring of common values.
We have forged an enduring friendship not merely between our governments but between our peoples.
Support for Israel doesn’t divide AmAa.
It unites AmAa.
It unites the old and the young, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans—and yes, Joe Leiberman, it even unites Independents—
This broad support for Israel is a source of great strength for my country.
Since Harry Truman, Israel has looked to AmAan Presidents to stand by its side to meet unfolding challenges of a changing world.
President Obama has spoken about his ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.
He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented.
He spoke of that commitment not just in front of AIPAC, but in two speeches heard throughout the Arab world.
And President Obama has backed those words with deeds.
I know these are tough economic times.
So I want to thank the President and Congress for providing Israel with vital assistance so that Israel can defend itself by itself.
Thank you for supporting the Iron Dome missile-defense system.
A few weeks ago, Hamas terrorists in Gaza fired eight rockets at Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva.
The rockets never reached their targets.
Iron Dome intercepted them...
From: A
Could all this have been avoided if the President had opted not to preempt Netanyahu? 
That was partly Stephens point - the speech itself was intentional
Michael, First, I definitely agree with your last paragraph, and am glad I am not the one making these difficult choices. I also want to point out that I am vehemently opposed to a lot of the idiocy that goes on in many modern/yeshivas orthodox communities, such as what I heard happened at YICG this pat Shabbat… Apparently Rabbi B started talking about Obama and someone screamed out ‘Yimach Shmo’ .. the Rabbi shrugged his shoulders and said ‘I didn’t say it…” That is simply not acceptable, disgusting and inappropriate – of course I didn’t expect Rabbi B to react any differently….

In regards to your point to X, it seems to me like you are arguing that we can disagree on the President’s position at all or for that matter on any topic we may disagree about. We obviously think the President is wrong as it relates to our belief system or political outlook and you think the opposite. I think we respect you enough that we do not assume you have any less care for the safety and security of Israel then we do, but at the same team we still do not agree with Obamas position. I do not believe in giving the current Palestinian regime any more chances to prove themselves by giving over any more land – we did this in Oslo through a mutual decision and we did it in the disengagement and I think we all can agree that both were failures. So I don’t see a need to bargain with more land that will in my (non army General) opinion risk Israels security further and lead to more military intervention and in turn lead to more international condemnation with another Goldstone – and then we are back at the same point again, but with less bargaining chips for the next time we are expected to make concessions.  I do not think the President should dictate to Israel what they should do when it comes to its future you think he has a right to do so as you believe he has Israels best interest at heart – I am not convinced of that completely but I know you think he does and I can respect it without needing to agree with it.

Last point regarding those liberal democrats – I am the ‘pariah” amongst all our chevra here in Cleveland. I often complain to my wife that I feel like ‘my city has been taken over’ .  All my Conservative friends left me here on my own. I am regarded as that ‘crazy’ Conservative here in Cleveland amongst a vast majority of my friends here that are Liberal Democrats. Its nice for me once in a while to be in a discussion like this where I am not the lone Conservative voice. So I guess I am saying I feel your pain J

From: Michael Unterberg []

Thanks, Y. Much appreciated. I really wasn't complaining about your post, just asking for the same leeway as you. I hope that was fair. By the way, I will argue again that those liberal democrats are out there. Their just afraid to talk. 

From: Michael Naftali Unterberg 
Ha! I hadn't thought of it that way, Z! I feel ya bro!
Sent from my iPad
Maybe neutral is not a good word.  As is painfully obvious I do not have time to write clearly.  Maybe neutral is not a good word.  I dont think Obama is anti-Israel but I also dont feel he has any warm feelings towards Israel and I agree with Stephens that Netanyahu was sandbagged "by an adversarial policy speech" that treated Israel differently than it did the Palestinians.  I also think that Israel and the Palestians behave morally very differently than Israel.  I think objectively, that the terror techniques used by the Palestinians should be the number one thing addressed and spoken about before Israel is called to do anything.  That the PA has reconciled with Hamas should have elicited a response from Obama that said something like "Once the Palestinians have clearly rejected terrorism as a technique - and begin speaking in Arabic the way they speak in English - and Hamas changes their charter - then it will be time for Israel to make its painful concessions to 1967 territory with land swaps, etc.  The fact that Israel is being asked to deal with the PA that has reconciled Hamas and that its supposedly moderate leader has said absolutely despicable things about Israel - is unacceptable - And then Obama gets up and says Israel should make territorial concessions to such an entity???? Its absurd and ass backwards.  Contrast that with George Bush who said after the weapons boat was captured by Israel that he would not deal with Arafat anymore - to me, that is a pro Israel response (and a morally clear one at that)
As for your argument about questioning your loyalty - you are creating a straw man - I am not saying your position is Israel neutral.  And i am not quite sure what else I could do to convince you I think you have Israel's best interest in mind.  I just think you are fundamentally wrong about what is in her best interest.  You may think its best for Israel to apply pressure, you may think its best to negotiate with whomever there is to negotiate with (I used to agree until I learned from Oslo and Gaza).  You may think the demographic solution requires us to deal with PA/Hamas.  I dont have a better answer, but we have been down your road before and it hasnt ended well.  I said about GAza what you are now saying - let it fall to terror and then we could treat it like a hostile entity - been there done that - Israel didnt respond for years and when they did - they had to respond with their hands tied behind their back.
I appreciate your realpolitik approach - my problem with it is it was tried and failed with Oslo and Gaza.  only now the stakes are bigger and the borders will be smaller.
I am all for intellectual humility - and I recognize its complicated with no good solutions.  This whole debate started around Obama's remarks - which I found unhelpful to be publicly voiced, poorly phrased and poorly timed.  I think either Obama would agree that his remarks were poorly stated (if they werent, why the firestorm and his need to clarify ad nausea um at AIPAC) or it was well planned indeed which I find even more disturbing and further bolsters my argument that we have had much better friends in the white house (Clinton and Bush)
Well said X.

From: Michael Unterberg 
I'm sorry if I created a straw man. In my defense the article that you said expressed your views was titled "The Anti-Israel President." I gave Stephens the benefit of the doubt that he didnt really mean it till he said "if Obama was pro-Israel" which I took as a confirmation that he meant the title literally. (although I did mention the possibility of being Israel neutral if you look back there) I then assumed, X, that position was included when you endorsed the article. That was an assumption, I suppose, and perhaps I should have asked for clarification. So I apologize, but think I came by my misimpression honestly. I also totally relate to your point about it being hard to write while travelling. 
As for your position, I have a few issues where I disagree. Four points:
1) You must admit that we all remember past presidents in a bit of rosey light. Clinton HATED Netanyahu. After a Bibi harangue, Clinton turned to Aharon X Miller and said, (I believe I'm quoting here) "Who the f@#% does this guy think he is? Which one of us is the f@#%ing super power?" Yet I think you correctly identify him as a friend of Israel. He used to aggravate me with his cycle of violence BS rhetoric, and he pushed Netanyahu HARD. Remember Netanyahu packing his bags and storming out of camp X, only to be called by at the last minute? (Patrick Moynahan told his aide X Luchins that that was an act, and that AmAa and Israel always do that dance to sucker Arabs. This always makes me wonder) Clinton LOVED Rabin. In his autobiography he says something like that he loved Rabin more than any other man he ever met. He also pushed Netanyahu to hand over Hevron. And Hillary hugged Suha. Friendship is complicated. I do think we look at the Clinton administration as friends of Israel in hindsight, but there was plenty of complaining at the time. To quote Rush, "Plu ca change, plu c'est la meme chose". Or to quote Shlomo, there is nothing new under the sun. 
2) Bush was definitely Israel's friend. I remember clapping when he blasted Arafat after the Karine-A debacle. But he didn't listen to Israel about either Palestinian elections, or that disturbing the Iran/Iraq equilibrium would endager Israel and the west. I think these two missteps, the second in particular, have placed our state in grave danger. Well meaning friends do that. And do you remember the cries of conservatives at Annapolis? Yikes. Check some out:,7340,L-5095,00.html. I think Bush gets a free pass on this stuff like Obama gets a free pass from liberals on Libya or much of his anti-terror policy. This is the same type of inconsistency. Where are the anti-war protesters when there is a democratic president? And why are conservatives not crying that Bush wasnt Israel's friend for pushing Israel to give up the West Bank in a year back in 2007? Again, friendship is complicated. So it is always more productive to challenge particular policies than question an AmAan's commitment to Israel. 
3) Your analysis of what is backwards and what is forwards does not account for what is probably the bigest game changer since Oslo, and that is Fayyadism. As we speak, major Nation States are building full fledge Palestinian embassies in preparation for the new state in September. The other Barak, Ehud, calls this a looming diplomatic tzunami, and I am inclined to agree. Certainly, ground has shifted under Israel. Many real politik thinkers see what Homer Simpson would call a crisitunnity (crisis/opportunity) here. Tzippi Livni argued at Aipac that September demands that we make sure we are behind the creation of a Palestinian State, ASAP. I've been disappointed with her opposition rhetoric, but she is from the Sharon camp and so her view is consistent. Imagine Israel keeping Tzahal in a declared foreign country. Barak and Livni seem to agree with Obama, in part because of the building success of Fayyadism. Your description left out the danger of this looming disaster.
Of course, the neo-con paradigm sees Fayydism as just another tactic of a mortal foe, and the progressive one sees it as the greenest of shoots in the Arab spring. And, as usual, I am too cautious to accept either approach. But I do think it needs to be dealt with. From a Sharon perspective, speeding up disengagement makes sense.
Mind you, the administration has really had Bibi's back on unilateral statehood and negotiating with Hamas. But the building pressure of Fayyadism is being ignored by Bibi, and I think that the sandbagging was to push him out of his inertia. Stupid move.
4) Again, I think Israel failed to offer deterrence for way too long after disengaging from gaza, a mistake they cannot afford to make again. I assume they wouldn't. Risks no matter which way you turn. 
P.S. I'll add one more point, mostly to B. I never understand why its hard to "know what's in his heart". I think leaders say who they are and what they think. And their actions usually confirm it. Read and watch Bush or Clinton to see what is in their hearts. Or, for that matter, Hitler, Bin-Laden or Haniyah. Same for Obama. Read "Audacity", or his speech that pissed off the silly Nobel committee defending just war, and watch his anti-terror policy and support of Arab democracy speeches. I am wary (and weary) of all of the "who can know this man" talk. He is a person like Bush or Clinton, and can be understood both as well and as poorly.
I'll add this. He's an optimistic gambler. He thinks, like all progressives, that any change will help break bad status quos. Sometimes he ends up looking stupid because of this. The only examples that comes to mind at the moment is when he allowed the Office of the Commander in Chief to be belittled in failed attempts to get deals with Korea or the Olympics in Chicago. He seems to think that if he puts his shoulder to the grindstone a pushes things to change, they can be fixed in the ensuing chaos. Its a style that is maddening in its failures and its successes, and its in betweens. It sure paid off with Bin-Laden, but imagine if he had not been home or if the team failed! It would have been his Bay of Pigs. Damn we were lucky that time. (we were less lucky when Bush used a similar style in Iraq) Part of Obama's arrogance is that he thinks he is charmed enough to usually come out the winner. But then, find me a president who isn't arrogant.  
Howard Kohr says this style, the pushy gambler, explains his approach to Israel/Palestine as well. Obama is a person, not a mystery. Like Bush and Clinton and everybody else. 
William Daroff, former Bush advisor, tweeted this goldberg article that expresses it clearer than I did. Here is the tweet
William Daroff (@Daroff)
Sent from my iPad
I think this is alarmist because israel will not build in many areas that are essentially reserved for palestinians and their future state and could at any point pull a gaza on our terms. On the other hand israel could continue populating the gush and other parts of the shtachim that will further re-enforce Israeli majority.  Goldberg speaks of entanglement, but no government is building up around Ramallah and shchem etc.
Sent from a mobile device
A liberal's view of bibi's speech (see below article). Very educational - in what it says about the author and his allies. This guy is NOT typical of a democratic politician, but is typical of actual philosophical liberals, who make up an important part of the base of the Democratic party. That doesn’t mean everything, but it doesn’t mean nothing. It’s important to understand where the two ideologies stand. The below article is from (liberal); check out for various love letters to Israel/bibi. I understand that he’s on israel’s side “saving it from itself”, but the tone is so nasty – Israel doesn’t need that kind of help. Look him up, if you doubt he’s a mainstream guy. This point is also relevant to our discussion in that I believe Obama is not just a democratic politician, but in his heart and philosophy, a liberal. No sin that, of course, but it has to inform his feelings toward Israel. And remember, Rosenberg (jewish) kind of likes Israel (maybe); many, many liberals far prefer the Palestinians, and not just the crazy ones, not by a longshot.

The reason I bring all this up, is because it informs my/our suppositions about Obama’s relationship to Israel, and his motives relative to it.

(Of course Truman was pro-israel; don’t know kennedy, but he was no liberal anyway; Clinton definitely had tiffs with bibi, but everyone knew he cared for jews and Israel; but carter and obama are foreign policy liberals [and liberals in general], and have no proven track record of warmth for Israel to counteract their philosophy.)

From: Michael Unterberg 
No proven track record? And we're back to 2008. To lump Obama with extreme fp liberals you have to ignore:
1) His nobel speech
2) doubling down in Afganistan
3) Getting Bin-Laden
4) Continuing Bush's war on terror without changing methods much
5) Keeping Guantonimo
6) Opposing Palestinian Unilateralism
7) Relying on Clinton advisors in general and Ross in particular
8) selling bleeding age military tech to Israel, including the planes they would use in Iran
9) Inviting Bibi to lecture him on TV and speak to a joint session
10) Pounding the hell out of Lybia
11) His reported love for JSOC and its operations
12) The fact that liberals are always disappointed in him 
etc., etc.
You can say that he doesn't believe in these things, but does them out of political necessity, but then why would that matter? Unless he is waiting to spring his liberal trap on day, but that veers to far into conspiracy theory for me. 
A nasty silly op-ed that is mad at democrats and republicans both bears little light on this question. I could just as well argue that since Gingrich and BEck are mainstream, I think that Bush secretly thinks that the current administration endagers America as much as fascism and communism, and that the Egyptian coup was guided by communists working with jihadists to create a new caliphate. Or that the Ryan plan is social engineering. I would rather let the man himself have his say, then judge him by his words and deeds.
I think these arguments are tenuous, and are driven by the need to defend a paradigm. I have explained why my method of assessment is different. 
And David, in terms of population entanglement, the map disagrees with you. 35% of Jews in Yehuda and Shomron already can't be drawn into Israel on a disengagement map, even on the most favorable terms to ISrael. And there are ALREADY built up Jewish homes around Rammalah, Shechem, etc. For one example, Itamar is practically a suburb of Shechem. Anyway, Goldberg's (and Sharon's) number problem looms. Even though it doesn't fit the paradigm. 
Am I the only one who feels that we are far enough down the rabbit hole here? E-mails are all over the place. Should we drop it? Would you like to start a blog with various positions stated and defended? I know I can't keep up with doing this in a way that I find sufficiently articulate. I find it hard to communicate in sound bites, but I can't keep up writing meggilot. So, if I go silent, please don't take it as disrespect. I still think I'm better than all of you, and you are all completely wrong, and everyone should be just like me. (Just kidding, but who the heck is reading this far anyway?)
Anyway, thanks for a good one guys. 
Your post deserves a longer response, but before I forget, amongst those 12 items on your list are some good points. (Number nine in particular, not so much, cause: a) Bibi just lectured, sans invitation, and b) Boehner invited Bibi to speak to congress, not obama; but that’s a quibble). I did read the whole post though, and speaking only for myself, I agree this has probably run its course.

Also, generally speaking, carter is a good example of someone who seems to have been one way in office due to political necessity and then another when he was unfettered by that position. I’m not necessarily arguing this is true of Obama, but even if I did, who cares what’s in his heart, if you’re right and his actions in office are mainstream? So I won’t argue that. More later (which I don’t know if you’ll read cause you’re done w this thread J, but I’ll write anyway).

From: Michael Unterberg 
Sounds good!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Free Mind

As the school year ends, I often think about what habits of thought I want my students to embrace. I just had about 10 free minutes, so I used them to look up a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005. Good move.

It came recommended by the wise and talented Sarah Glidden. Last Sunday, she spoke to our Write On For Israel students about the graphic novel that she wrote, describing her evolving understanding of Israel on a birthright trip. As usual, Amnon Ophir made another great call in bringing in a terrific speaker. She really role modeled intelligent conversation as a powerfully effective form of advocacy. After all, is there a better way to get people to see the complexity of the conflict in the Middle East than listening and speaking about it reasonably? She's way cool.

Anyway, one of the students asked her about her favorite quotes and authors, and she referred to David Foster Wallace. (of whom I know little) She quoted a story he told at the graduation mentioned above:

"There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'". 

I found a full transcript of the speech, and found it to be rich and insightful thoughts about how we think. I also found an abridged version. (but I think the full one is worth it) While its sad that the mind that expressed these ideas eventually destroyed itself, I don't think that detracts from the value of their wisdom. 

All you need to do is free up the 10 minutes to read it.