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President Obama at the Israel Museum: Political Subtext of the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Screenshot from Ynetnews video of President Obama viewing the Great Isaiah Scroll with Israel Museum director James Snyder

President Obama‘s visit this morning to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, wasn’t a mere culture break from his whirlwind schedule of meetings with political leaders in Israel and, tomorrow, Jordan. Israeli officials also had a political agenda in bringing him to see the display of the Dead Sea Scrolls (specifically, the Great Isaiah Scroll, shown above), which are preserved and displayed in the museum’s most popular tourist attraction, the Shrine of the Book:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The President’s guide was the museum’s long-time director (whom you met in this CultureGrrl Video), James Snyder, formerly deputy director of the Museum of Modern Art.

In a conference call last Monday with American Jews (which I listened in on), Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, said this about the message that the Israeli government hoped to convey to the U.S. President through his experience of these ancient texts:

Viewing documents that were written by Jews 2,000 years ago in Hebrew, many of them holy texts…, effectively refutes the very widespread, popular Arab narrative that the Jewish state arose as a result solely of the Holocaust and that the Europeans had a problems with the Jews, so they exported it to the Middle East.

Here it shows that the Jews are native to this region, that the Jewish people are indigenous and have an unassailable right to self-determination here.

As Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner of the NY Times reported two days ago, “Many [Israelis] have never gotten over the speech he [Obama] made then [during his his 2009 Middle East trip, which skipped Israel] in Cairo, where he twice referred to ‘Palestine’ in the present rather than future tense, and insinuated that Israel was rooted in the tragedy of the Holocaust rather than ancient history.”

During his first visit to Israel since becoming President, Obama will be following in the footsteps of many other tourists (including me). Tomorrow he is to visit Mount Herzl, laying wreaths at the gravesite of Theodor Herzl

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

…and Yitzhak Rabin:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

He will also visit the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial museum:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

And just before leaving for the United States on Saturday, he will do what I was supposed to do on the last day of my November trip to Israel, but didn’t, because of my fears about the Hamas rockets that began hitting Israel on the last three days of my trip: He will visit the archaeological city of Petra, Jordan.

The Treasury at Petra
Photo by CultureSpouse

The first thing Obama did upon touching down yesterday at the airport in Tel Aviv was to view an Iron Dome battery, developed by Israel with U.S. funding. “Within an hour of its deployment,” in the words of Ambassador Oren, that particular battery of the high-tech missile-interception system had “brought down a Hamas missile that was aimed at Tel Aviv” during my fraught November stay.

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