The speech that might have been

Good Afternoon, Members of the Nobel Committee:

I stand before you today profoundly honored and deeply humbled by the distinction you wish to bestow upon me. I recognize this gesture as your endorsement of my goals to create a more cooperative and respectful society of nations, to address the scourges of poverty and ecological irresponsibility, and to work toward the establishment of a global community devoted to freedom, equality, and peace. I truly appreciate your intention of using the long-standing reputation of the Nobel Peace Prize to bolster my own prestige in achieving the realization of these goals.

However, in good conscience I must confess that my stated aims and objectives cannot compare to the concrete and inspiring accomplishments of those other nominees whom you have overlooked by selecting me. While my intentions may be lofty, and may indeed have already contributed to an increased atmosphere of collaboration among the nations of the world, they fail to qualify as true achievements.

It is unfortunate and embarrassing that I am not the first to be awarded this honor without having met the criteria that objective reason demands. Tragically, in recent years the selection of Peace Prize laureates has often failed to reflect the ideals of Alfred Nobel, who created this body so that he might be remembered for his contribution to world harmony rather than as the creator of dynamite – mankind’s first weapon of mass destruction.

Look back at some of the most incongruous winners of the past two decades. Yassar Arafat, arguably the 20th century’s foremost disseminator of terror. Jimmy Carter, whose purported efforts to broker peace with North Korea were revealed as an utter failure only weeks after receiving his award, and who has conflated the unconscionable travesty of apartheid with an Israeli system in which Arabs enjoy full rights as citizens and even hold elected positions in the national parliament. And Al Gore, whose propaganda campaign has turned questionable science and scare tactics into a cottage industry that misleads the public while increasing his own personal profit. Are these truly the heroes of our age?

Perhaps it is not coincidental that this ceremony has fallen out on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, the commemoration of the battle for substance over appearance and for spiritual illumination against the advance of cultural darkness, a festival originating from a people who, having taught the rest of the world the most fundamental values of human morality, remain the most maligned of all nations. If Alfred Nobel’s once-revered institution continues to allow itself to be usurped by proponents for the superficial and disingenuous principles of political correctness, moral equivalence, and social engineering, a great beacon of inspiration will be forever lost to our children.

I hope that by the end of my administration I will truly have earned the award you seek to bestow upon me. However, given that I was nominated within ten days of taking office, and that I have yet to prove myself as a successful leader, I have no choice but to decline this honor in favor of whichever candidate you choose from among the many people who genuinely deserve it.

Thank you.

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  1. #1 by Gail Atterman on December 14, 2009 - 5:30 am

    Bravo — That would have been some speech. One , at last, that I can respect, instead of the political bull I’ve been hearing from President Obama.

  2. #2 by Norm on December 14, 2009 - 10:51 am

    Here is a commentary ont he subject by the head of the AJC office in Israel. A different perspective

    MIDEAST BRIEFING: Chanukah Reflections on Justice

    Mideast Briefing: Chanukah Reflections on Justice

    By Ed Rettig, Acting Director, AJC Israel Office

    December 11, 2009

    President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize with a graceful speech for which he has already faced criticism from some on the left and right. He stressed the importance of maintaining a balance between deploying military power to defend justice, with the imperative to limit that use of power so that it does not exceed the parameters of justice, and thus keeps hope alive.

    President Obama’s depiction of that necessary moral balance is a presumably unintended and therefore all the more impressive, expression of the congruence between Jewish and American values. His speech should be widely read by Jews in the course of the Chanukah holiday, not least because they will recognize its theme. When they light their Chanukah candles, Jews will be enacting a ritual that teaches much the same lesson.

    To be sure, these are not only Jewish or American values. The president spoke for all and to all about what should unite, engaging us in a noble, indispensable common purpose: the pursuit of justice and peace. Yet, for American Jews his speech resonates with our people’s tradition and our national culture.

    Almost a century ago, Justice Louis Brandeis delivered a landmark speech where he put his finger on a fundamental congruence between the highest aspirations of American Jews as Jews and as Americans. “… The Jewish spirit, the product of our religion and experiences, is essentially modern and essentially American. Not since the destruction of the Temple have the Jews in spirit and in ideals been so fully in harmony with the noblest aspirations of the country in which they lived. America’s fundamental law seeks to make real the brotherhood of man. That brotherhood became the Jewish fundamental law more than twenty-five hundred years ago. America’s insistent demand in the twentieth century is for social justice. That also has been the Jews’ striving for ages….”

    We see the congruence when we contemplate the answer given by the rabbis of the early Common Era to the question of what is the deepest message of Chanukah. The core of the narrative of the Maccabean revolt against Hellenistic tyranny lies in the enduring presence of God on the side of justice. At first glance, the miracle of Chanukah appears magical. In reconsecrating the Temple, the Maccabis found only enough oil for one day, but it lasted for eight (i.e. until a new supply of pure oil could be produced). The deeper significance the rabbis passed to us is the message of hope in adversity. Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg has written: “The light of the menorah is the symbol of the light of God. The fact that the light burned even when it appeared that no supply was left is a perfect symbol of the eternity of God’s word.”

    That is to say, the lights of Chanukah tell us to respond with hope instead of natural human impulse to despair. The light burns even when the oil seems exhausted.

    Drawing on American tradition, President Obama quoted one of the great American men of God of the Twentieth Century, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to make much the same point:

    “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present condition makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

    The president then concluded: “We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that’s the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.”

    As Jews, we live in a time when it is too easy to despair. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians seems unattainable; the Iranian atom bomb looks more and more frighteningly inevitable. We face humbling challenges in building a society of civil justice in Israel, the United States, and other countries where we live.

    However, those candles we light at the darkest time of the year help re-frame our view of what is possible with God’s help. On the Sabbath during Chanukah we read from the prophet Zechariah who prophesied to the civil leadership of his day, Zerubavel, the Persian-appointed Jewish governor tasked with leading the return from the First Exile:

    “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubavel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6)

    Happy Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, from all of us at AJC Jerusalem!

  3. #3 by torahideals on December 14, 2009 - 11:35 am

    HaRav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l, said that Jewish holidays do not merely commemorate events but signal transformative moments in the development of the Jewish nation.

    The essence of Chanukah, Rabbi Weinberg explains, is mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, for preserving the cultural integrity of Torah Judaism. Hope is important, but it is only meaningful if it leads to informed, wise, and decisive action.

    HaShem helps those who help themselves, bringing success to our efforts when our motives are sincere and our choices are consistent with His will as revealed through the Torah and the teachings of the sages. Good intentions and blind faith constitute a recipe for disaster.

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