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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Trying to figure out Obama

Barack Obama addressed an AIPAC convention on Friday, and what he said has left everyone struggling to figure out where he stands.

Haaretz has a feature called The Israel Factor, which ranks the candidates for the US Presidency based on where they stand on the US - Israel relationship. In the last poll, dated February 24, Barack Obama ranked dead last with a 3.88 (out of 10) rating. But you would never have known that from Friday's pandering to AIPAC:
It is important to remember this history—that Israel had unilaterally withdrawn from Lebanon only to have Iran supply Hezbollah with thousands of rockets.

Our job is to never forget that the threat of violence is real. Our job is to renew the United States’ efforts to help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors while remaining vigilant against those who do not share this vision. Our job is to do more than lay out another road map; our job is to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the region.

That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. That will always be my starting point. And when we see all of the growing threats in the region: from Iran to Iraq to the resurgence of al-Qaeda to the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah, that loyalty and that friendship will guide me as we begin to lay the stones that will build the road that takes us from the current instability to lasting peace and security.

It won’t be easy. Some of those stones will be heavy and tough for the United States to carry. Others with be heavy and tough for Israel to carry. And even more will be difficult for the world. But together, we will begin again.
What happened? And is it real? That apparently depends in part on how disposed you were to support Obama and the Democrats in the first place.

Shmuel Rosner at Haaretz has apparently been looking for an excuse to support Obama all along:
Barack Obama's big speech on Israel is now over, and as expected, the candidate made no secret of his support and dedication to the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. "My view is that the United States' special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction," were Obama's words to Haaretz last week. Today, he sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Giuliani. At least rhetorically, Obama passed any test anyone might have wanted him to pass. So, he is pro-Israel. Period.
Ed Lasky at The American Thinker is much more skeptical:
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?


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.
But all of that pales compares with Lasky's real issue with Obama:
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.
And at the radical Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah talks about how Obama learned to love Israel:
Obama offered not a single word of criticism of Israel, of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians.

There was no comfort for the hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza who live in the dark, or the patients who cannot get dialysis, because of what Israeli human rights group B'Tselem termed "one cold, calculated decision, made by Israel's prime minister, defense minister, and IDF chief of staff" last summer to bomb the only power plant in Gaza," a decision that "had nothing to do with the attempts to achieve [the] release [of a captured soldier] nor any other military need." It was a gratuitous war crime, one of many condemned by human rights organizations, against an occupied civilian population who under the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel is obligated to protect.

While constantly emphasizing his concern about the threat Israelis face from Palestinians, Obama said nothing about the exponentially more lethal threat Israelis present to Palestinians. In 2006, according to B'Tselem, Israeli occupation forces killed 660 Palestinians of whom 141 were children -- triple the death toll for 2005. In the same period, 23 Israelis were killed by Palestinians, half the number of 2005 (by contrast, 500 Israelis die each year in road accidents).

But Obama was not entirely insensitive to ordinary lives. He recalled a January 2006 visit to the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona that resembled an ordinary American suburb where he could imagine the sounds of Israeli children at "joyful play just like my own daughters." He saw a home the Israelis told him was damaged by a Hizbullah rocket (no one had been hurt in the incident).

Six months later, Obama said, "Hizbullah launched four thousand rocket attacks just like the one that destroyed the home in Kiryat Shmona, and kidnapped Israeli service members."

Obama's phrasing suggests that Hizbullah launched thousands of rockets in an unprovoked attack, but it's a complete distortion. Throughout his speech he showed a worrying propensity to present discredited propaganda as fact. As anyone who checks the chronology of last summer's Lebanon war will easily discover, Hizbullah only launched rockets against Israeli towns after Israel had heavily bombed civilian neighborhoods in Lebanon killing hundreds of civilians, many fleeing the Israeli onslaught. [This is an out and out lie. CiJ]

Obama excoriated Hizbullah for using "innocent people as shields." Indeed, after dozens of civilians were massacred in an Israeli air attack on Qana on July 30, Israel "initially claimed that the military targeted the house because Hezbollah fighters had fired rockets from the area," according to an August 2 statement from Human Rights Watch.

The statement added: "Human Rights Watch researchers who visited Qana on July 31, the day after the attack, did not find any destroyed military equipment in or near the home. Similarly, none of the dozens of international journalists, rescue workers and international observers who visited Qana on July 30 and 31 reported seeing any evidence of Hezbollah military presence in or around the home. Rescue workers recovered no bodies of apparent Hezbollah fighters from inside or near the building." The Israelis subsequently changed their story, and neither in Qana, nor anywhere else did Israel ever present, or international investigators ever find evidence to support the claim Hizbullah had a policy of using civilians as human shields. [Except that Israel did present evidence that Hezbullah terrorists were firing rockets from Qana. CiJ]
Abunimah makes it clear that Obama was in the 'Palestinian' camp at one time. (The man next to Obama in the picture at the top of this post is Edward Said). Is this a marriage of convenience on Obama's part?
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.

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.

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.
I'm inclined to side with Lasky. But in the hope that maybe there will be a pro-Israel candidate in the race on the Democratic side other than the flip-flopping Edwards, I'll withhold judgment for now.


At 8:00 PM, Blogger We're the ones who have to put up with them said...

To me, all their talk is just that. Show me their voting record baby! I use VoteSmart so I can see how they voted regarding Israel and various mideast issues. There are other sources as well - AIPAC used to publish one.

That said, it is nice to hear these sentiments come from Obama. Hope he meant them.

At 10:51 PM, Blogger Lois Koenig said...

I would not vote for him if he were running unapposed. He talks out of both sides of his mouth, and his cult of islam heritage scares me.

He is no more trustworthy, nor a friend of Israel, than Shrillery.

The Dems have a pathetic group of candidates, IMHO, and none are true friends of Israel.

Rudy is blunt, and has shown what he is made of. I will vote for him, and just hope he wins. We cannot afford the luxury of a weak, two-faced President post-9/11. And we need a proven friend of Israel..proven before they were in politics.

At 4:36 AM, Blogger M. Simon said...

Obama is a liar. He supports different positions to different groups. He is anti-war to his base. Pro war to Israel.

What he wants you to think is that he is sincere when he talks to you but lying to those others just to get votes.

Look up Obama Tony Rezko - to figure him out. The Chicago machine owns him.

BTW I voted for him over theocon Keyes. He was a communist then. He is a communist now.

At 4:38 AM, Blogger M. Simon said...

ny nana,

I'm leaning Rudi too!.

Re Obama: "Always be sincere, whether you mean it or not." Flanders and Swan

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Jack Steiner said...

I am skeptical about him.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Lois Koenig said...

M. Simon

They are starting the villification process against Rudy in the liberal press. There was quite a kerfuffle today over what his son said. Sad. He seems to have had 3 disastrous marriages, with Donnna Hanover teaching her kids to bad mouth their Dad, and the present wife being a harridan.

He is still the best hope for the USA and for Israel, in either party, and I am a Republican. After the Billaries, he is a breath of fresh air. It is going to be a very rough time til the primaries are over in '08.I fear they will be so down and dirty that the after-effects will be felt for years, and that the election in '08 will also be vile. I do think with a certainty that it will be 'Obama who'? by then.

And all this while the arabs watch with glee...until Guiliani is elected.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger M. Simon said...

ny nana,

Clinton and Obama are already in the mud together.

I was on the Netscape blog the other day listening to lefties tell me how much Republicans hate Rudi. "Social issues." I tried to explain that there was only one social issue that matters. The war. They weren't listening.

It was a hoot.

At 5:01 AM, Blogger cyberella said...

Get the facts on Obama's life and political career here- all backed up to links to his books and speeches.



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