The former US president spoke to Pod Save America – a podcast and YouTube channel which describes itself as a “no-bullshit conversation about politics hosted by former Obama aides – about the violence in Gaza.
Israel declared war, placed the Palestinian territory of Gaza under siege, launched air strikes and then began a ground operation. Gaza’s Hamas-led health ministry claims at least 9,770 Palestinians have been killed since the war began.
Amid growing calls for a humanitarian pause, international protests calling for a ceasefire, and an increase in antisemitic (and anti-Muslim) hate crimes, Obama explained why he believes the conflict is so divisive.
He said: “If there’s any chance of us being able to act, constructively, it will require an admission of complexity and maintaining what – on the surface – may seem contradictory ideas, that what Hamas did was horrific, and there’s no justification for it.
“And what is also true is that the occupation, and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable.”
There was a brief round of applause at this point, before Obama continued: “And what is also true is there is a history of the Jewish people that may be dismissed unless your grandparents, or your great-grandparents, or your uncle or your aunt, tell you stories about the madness of antisemitism.
“And what is true is that there are people right now who are dying, who have nothing to do with what Hamas did.
“And what is true, I mean, we can go on for a while.
“The problem with social media and TikTok activism and trying to debate this on that, is that you can’t speak the truth.
“You can pretend to speak the truth. You can speak one side of the truth. And in some cases, you can try to maintain your moral innocence.
“But that won’t solve the problem. If you want to solve the problem, then you have to take in the whole truth and you then have to admit nobody’s hands are clean.
“That all of us are complicit to some degree.”
The conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs stretches back a very long time, but it reached fever pitch in the 20th Century.
With Britain’s backing, Israel officially became the world’s only Jewish state in 1948 – meaning both Israelis and the people who lived there before, known as Palestinians, started to fight over the same land.
Obama continued: “I look at this and I think what could I have done during my presidency to move this forward?
“As hard as I tried – I’ve got the scars to prove it – but there’s a part of me that’s still saying, ’Well, was there something else I could have done?′”
The US is known to have a special relationship with Israel, and is arguably its largest ally.
While he was a prominent supporter for Tel Aviv during his time in the White House, Obama did criticise Israel’s decision to cut off food and water to Gaza in October, saying it could “harden Palestinian attitudes for generations”.
Back on Pod Save America, the former US president explained that we should “not just looking backward but looking forward” when trying to resolve the Israel crisis.
He continued: “And that can’t happen if we are confining ourselves to our outrage.
“I would rather see you out there talking to people, including people who you disagree with, if you genuinely want to change this, then you’ve got to figure out how to speak to somebody on the other side and listen to them and understand what they are talking about and not dismiss it.
“Because you can’t save that child without their help – not in this situation.”