Obama on Israel and the Jews: Actions don't match wordsOn Monday, I did a post in which I compared Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Hussein Obama to Jimmy Carter and suggested that the people chosen by Obama as foreign policy advisers are likely to lead him to take actions that will be to Israel's detriment. As a result, I questioned whether those who support Israel could support his candidacy.
Obama is seriously concerned about the prospect of losing the Jewish vote in the US elections. While the number of Jewish voters in the US is relatively small, Jewish Americans are characterized by a high rate of electoral participation, including both voting and contributing funds to candidates. Their concentration in large population states such as New York, Illinois, California and Florida gives their vote greater weight than would be the case if they were in smaller markets. And Jews generally vote overwhelmingly and unthinkingly Democratic in the general elections. The only thing that might put a stop to that latter trend is if Obama is seen (as I would argue that he is) as someone who is indifferent or hostile to Israel.
Obama has good reason to be concerned about losing the Jewish vote. In Florida on Tuesday, despite the fact that the State's Democrats were stripped of their delegates for holding their primary too early, large numbers of Jews turned out to vote. Those votes went 53% to Hillary Clinton (not exactly a friend of Israel either) while only 26% went for Obama (and 13% for John Edwards). Those numbers concern the Obama campaign.
Obama has attempted to solve his problem in two ways. One is through the liberal Jewish media, both in the US and in Israel. For example, in an editorial yesterday, Israel's Hebrew 'Palestinian' daily lambasted Israel's former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon for daring to speak out against Obama:
Not a year has passed since Danny Ayalon completed his term as Israel's ambassador in Washington, but he has already seen fit to criticize Barack Obama, who may well be the next U.S. president or vice president. In an article published in The Jerusalem Post, Ayalon wrote that during his two meetings with Obama, he got the impression that the Democratic candidate was "not entirely forthright" regarding Israel. Similar and even worse smears can be found in abundance in American blogs and e-mail chain letters.We'll come back to anti-Jewish statements in Obama's political record in a little bit, but first I want to put the second action Obama took on the table. The second thing Obama did was to hold a telephone conference with representatives of the Jewish media to explain his positions. In the telephone conference, he said all the 'right things' except on Iran.
While Obama was taking advantage of Martin Luther King Day to speak out against anti-Semitism among blacks, Jewish spokesmen were using racist language against him, solely because his father was Muslim. Since it is hard to find so much as a single anti-Jewish statement in Obama's political record, or even support for anti-Israel policies, his defamers base their arguments on the fact that his positions on the Middle East conflict are "leftist" - solely because he rejects the right's positions, which are more acceptable to some Jewish-American leaders.
Obama declared that he objects to a Palestinian right of return into Israel and to negotiations with Islamic group Hamas as long as it clings to its current stance, which rejects Israel's right to exist. He added that he will make sure to guarantee Israel's security should he be elected president.Nearly a year ago, I questioned whether Obama's positions on Israel were deeply-held or whether they were a convenience to get him elected in Illinois. In that post, which included the picture below of Obama and his wife with the late Edward Said, I cited an article by Ed Lasky from the American Thinker and one by Ali Abunimah from the Electronic Intifada. Here's Lasky:
"I've also repeatedly made clear that I'm committed to ensuring that Israel remains a Jewish state and that's why I've pledged my personal leadership in a process to establish two states living side by side in peace and security," he said.
Turning his attention to the Jerusalem question, Obama said that the contentious issue will be settled through talks between Israel and the Palestinians. However, Obama also noted that he supported dialogue with Iran, while charging that President Bush's Iran policy has failed.
The positive impact of these remarks was diminished somewhat later in his remarks when he spoke well of Rabin's outreach to Israel's enemies (allowing Arafat to establish a terror empire in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) and Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza (that has since become a launching pad for thousands of rockets fired into Israel). These steps were also taken on the road to peace, yet, they have also led to more terror. I found myself wondering: Were these not worthy of being mentioned as being steps towards peace that were not reciprocated by the Palestinians?Ali Abunimah gives us a hint of where Obama's real loyalties may lie:
The Senator may well be testing a new tactic for his campaign, one that may well resonate with supporters of Israel: that the Iraq war has endangered Israel by empowering its major foe, Iran (and Iran's allies-Syria and Hezb'allah).
But he failed to mention that Iran's nuclear program has been going on for many years, and that it has been a supporter of Hezb'allah for years as well. All before George Bush became President.
Senator Obama also neglected to mention that Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel in the past with rockets, threatened to incinerate it, and handsomely paid for suicide attacks on Israel. He failed to note that Sunni powers, alarmed by the rise of Iran, welcomed Israel's actions against Hezb'allah, and that overtures have reportedly been made by Saudi Arabia to Israel.
These were astounding developments and should not be cast aside as inconvenient facts.
Yet his solutions about how peace can be achieved with Syria and Iran might give some pause: they consist only of stronger sanctions and negotiations.
Sanctions are fine - the stronger the better. But there are too many loopholes that permit them to be flouted. However, it has taken years for even the weak ones in place to be accepted by the United Nations. How many more years are to be spent in a fruitless quest to ensure the rest of the world deepens these sanctions and chooses to enforces them? (See the oil-for-food scandal for an example of how easily sanctions are evaded).
Negotiations have been tried in the past - by America, by European nations, and by the United Nations. They have often provided cover and time for Iran and Syria to become stronger adversaries. Many people have died during these negotiations; Iran's nuclear centrifuges have not stopped spinning while talks have gone on and on.
Although the Senator finds Hezb'allah violence against Israel worthy of being condemned he seems to ignore acts of Palestinian terrorism (merely talking of Palestinian "extremists" instead). He criticized Hezb'allah rocket attacks from Lebanon, but not Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza. He notes the destruction of homes by Hezb'allah but not the destruction of lives from Palestinian suicide bombings. He condemns Holocaust denial by Iran but is silent about Palestinian indoctrination of hatred among its children.
The double standard is chilling and disquieting. The remedy of more "jaw-jaw" and the near futility of sanctions (particularly when Iran is protected by strong commercial relations with various nations) are equally unsettling.
The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.And Abunimah suggests that Obama's courting of Israel supporters is insincere and just a matter of electoral convenience:
As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"
But Obama's gradual shift into the AIPAC camp had begun as early as 2002 as he planned his move from small time Illinois politics to the national scene. In 2003, Forward reported on how he had "been courting the pro-Israel constituency." He co-sponsored an amendment to the Illinois Pension Code allowing the state of Illinois to lend money to the Israeli government. Among his early backers was Penny Pritzker -- now his national campaign finance chair -- scion of the liberal but staunchly Zionist family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain. (The Hyatt Regency hotel on Mount Scopus was built on land forcibly expropriated from Palestinian owners after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967). He has also appointed several prominent pro-Israel advisors.Is Obama pro-Israel or is he looking to get elected? And if he's looking to get elected, will he have to be as pro-Israel on a national scale as he would have to be to stand a chance in the Jewish suburbs of Chicago? Clearly not.
Obama has also been close to some prominent Arab Americans, and has received their best advice. His decisive trajectory reinforces a lesson that politically weak constituencies have learned many times: access to people with power alone does not translate into influence over policy. Money and votes, but especially money, channelled through sophisticated and coordinated networks that can "bundle" small donations into million dollar chunks are what buy influence on policy. Currently, advocates of Palestinian rights are very far from having such networks at their disposal. Unless they go out and do the hard work to build them, or to support meaningful campaign finance reform, whispering in the ears of politicians will have little impact. (For what it's worth, I did my part. I recently met with Obama's legislative aide, and wrote to Obama urging a more balanced policy towards Palestine.)
If disappointing, given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama's about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power. Palestinian-Americans are in the same position as civil libertarians who watched with dismay as Obama voted to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, or immigrant rights advocates who were horrified as he voted in favor of a Republican bill to authorize the construction of a 700-mile fence on the border with Mexico.
Put together Obama's conversation with Ali Abunimah and his foreign policy advisers, and we have a real recipe for trouble for Israel.
At Commentary's Contentions blog, Eric Trager is also troubled by the combination I have just outlined, but for different reasons. Trager sees Obama overcoming his foreign policy advisers and presents a different standard by which he says that American Jews much judge Obama:
Yet one question remains legitimate: how can voters who care about the U.S.-Israel relationship be reassured that Obama’s staunchly pro-Israel declarations are not mere pandering? After all, Obama is on record as having called for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2000, just as the Palestinians commenced the Second Intifada following Camp David. According to Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah, Obama’s pro-Israel epiphany occurred shortly before his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign—an about-face for which Obama apologized to Abunimah. “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front,” Obama said at the time.
Obama’s apology to Abunimah—a major proponent of the one-state “solution”— indicates an unsophisticated view of American politics, in which success requires whispering sweet Zionist nothings to satisfy the almighty, one-issue Jewish electorate. Obama’s foreign policy advisers have similarly promoted this inflated vision of Jewish power. As my contentions colleague Noah Pollak has assiduously noted, Obama adviser Samantha Power has declared that sound Middle East policy might require “alienating a domestic constituency”—guess which one. His staff further features Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has defended the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that the U.S.-Israel relationship is the product of Jewish power politics, rather than strategic interest.
This mixture of prior statements and advisory influences suggests little regarding how Obama might act towards Israel if elected. Obama has repudiated Brzezinski’s call for dialogue with Hamas, while Power’s support for ending U.S. foreign military aid to Israel probably represents too radical a departure from historic U.S. policy to be taken seriously.
Rather, Jewish concerns regarding Obama’s candidacy should focus on whether Obama and his posse view American Jewry as a stumbling block in the way of promoting U.S. interests in the Middle East. This is the insidious crux of the “Israel Lobby” thesis, and Obama’s prior statements to Abunimah—as well as the writings of Power and Brzezinski—are hardly reassuring.
I disagree with Trager's dismissal of Brzenzinski and Power. While he may have repudiated the call, I believe that Obama would push Israel to talk to Hamas - and would talk to them himself - especially if, as seems likely, Hamas retains control of Gaza and/or reaches another 'unity government' with Fatah. As to Power, the crux of her point in the article linked above was not cutting off military aid to Israel (and let's face it - that aid could be damaged without being cut off completely). Here's what she said:
I actually think in the Palestine - Israel situation, there's an abundance of information. What we don't need is some kind of early warning mechanism there, what we need is a willingness to put something on the line in helping the situation. Putting something on the line might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import; it may more crucially mean sacrificing -- or investing, I think, more than sacrificing -- billions of dollars, not in servicing Israel's military, but actually investing in the new state of Palestine, in investing the billions of dollars it would probably take, also, to support what will have to be a mammoth protection force, not of the old Rwanda kind, but a meaningful military presence. Because it seems to me at this stage (and this is true of actual genocides as well, and not just major human rights abuses, which were seen there), you have to go in as if you're serious, you have to put something on the line.Power continues to be a close Obama adviser. I think Trager is being too dismissive of the danger to Israel that Obama poses.
Unfortunately, imposition of a solution on unwilling parties is dreadful. It's a terrible thing to do, it's fundamentally undemocratic. But, sadly, we don't just have a democracy here either, we have a liberal democracy. There are certain sets of principles that guide our policy, or that are meant to, anyway. It's essential that some set of principles becomes the benchmark, rather than a deference to [leaders] who are fundamentally politically destined to destroy the lives of their own people. And by that I mean what Tom Freidman has called "Sharafat." I do think in that sense, both political leaders have been dreadfully irresponsible. And, unfortunately, it does require external intervention, which, very much like the Rwanda scenario, that thought experiment, if we had intervened early.... Any intervention is going to come under fierce criticism. But we have to think about lesser evils, especially when the human stakes are becoming ever more pronounced.
Perhaps what ought to be most troubling to the American Jewish community is something exposed by Debbie Schlussel yesterday: Obama continues to maintain ties to Louis Farrakhan's radical Nation of Islam despite having - again - said all the 'right things.'
Debbie goes on to give extensive proof of Obama's continuing involvement with the Nation of Islam, and also discusses Obama's sudden 'conversion' to being 'pro-Israel.'
Responding to criticism by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, Barack Obama declared his strong opposition to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan:I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan.
Obama also went on to condemn his Church's award to Farrakhan and his minister's tight relationship with him.
But a former Obama insider says that Obama's sudden aversion to NOI and Farrakhan is belied by the fact that Obama employed and continues to employ several Farrakhan acolytes in high positions on his Illinois and U.S. Senate campaign and office staffs. I have verified that this person--who agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity--held a key position in the Obama campaign. The insider was so close to Senator Obama that they frequently personally discussed and exchanged direct e-mail messages on campaign and policy matters. This person is not connected with the Clintons and is not a disgruntled employee.
When Obama first ran for the U.S. Senate, he gave militant responses to the Chicago Jewish News about Israel. Obama denounced Israel's fence--which he called a "wall" and "barrier to peace"--to keep out terrorists and favored working with Yasser Arafat. When members of the Chicago Jewish community circulated his responses, Obama said that the answers were not his positions, but the work of a low-level intern. He submitted new answers. But that was a lie, the insider says. In fact, they were the work of Obama's Policy Director, Audra Wilson. Moreover, Obama told the insider that he blamed the Mideast conflict on the Jews:Debbie has much more to say on this issue - read the whole thing.Barack told me that he felt that Jewish community was too inflexible, and that was why the situation in the Mideast could not be resolved.This is the man who says in a new campaign ad that Hillary Clinton will say anything but change nothing. Barack Obama will say anything, but change his answers.
Who is Barack Hussein Obama? Where does he stand on issues that are vital to the American Jewish community and to Israel? If they knew the truth, most American Jews would not like the answers.
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