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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama: 'The Way We Were Are?'

Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Hussein Obama will speak to AIPAC on Wednesday in his continuing effort to persuade those Jews who have not yet had a lobotomy to prevent them from pulling the "R" lever in the voting both that they can really feel comfortable voting for him. But can we? This interview with 'Palestinian-American activist' Ali Abunimah from January 2008 ought to give us all pause. Let's go to the videotape and then I'll have a few comments (Hat Tip: Hot Air).

I've discussed Abunimah many times on this blog. But there are some things that bear repeating. Abunimah is not just a 'Palestinian-American activist.' This is from an article by Lee Kaplan that I blogged back in April:
But Ali Abunimah is more than just some “Palestinian activist” based in Chicago, the same location as Reverend Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ. He is, in fact, one of the founders of the fiercely anti-Semitic ISM Arab group Al Awda, the Palestine Right of Return Coalition. Abunimah is a high level international leader of the ISM for the Arabs who travels extensively between Chicago, Europe and Ramallah.

Al Awda in Arabic means “The Return,” and the group not only calls for the complete destruction of Israel, even denying Israel’s current existence on its website and urging boycotts against not only Israelis, but American Jews and their businesses, but also calls for specifically supporting Arab terrorists in Iraq who kill US soldiers. Among its more than 130 chapters across the US and Canada, Al Awda’s New Jersey chapter is led by a young woman named Charlotte Kates who has called Israeli children killed by suicide bombers “fair game.” The ISM’s Al Awda openly supports terrorism as “legitimate resistance” in ISM revolutionary lingo.

Al Awda’s anti-Semitism has also linked to neo-Nazi groups in promoting the boycott and divestment from Israel on American campuses and in the US business community. It became so virulent that the group was booted by the UC Riverside campus administration from holding an international conference on that campus last year. Ali Abunimah, even today, is featured on the Al Awda website supporting terrorism against Israelis because he considers that “nonviolence is overrated.” In short, Obama saw no problem being lobbied in the past by someone who openly promotes terrorism and discrimination against Jewish-Americans.
And unlike the infamous Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama hasn't even pretended to throw Abunimah 'under the bus.' Obama just professes concern about Israel's security. But is it real? People have questioned the sincerity of Obama's rejection of Wright - and with good reason. If so, what can we say about his 'ignoring' - and not even rejecting - Abunimah? How do we explain this statement by Abunimah?
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!"
And how do we explain this?
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.
Obama won't be asked to explain the statements above at the AIPAC meeting on Wednesday. He won't be asked to explain the picture below of himself and his wife Michelle with the late Edward Said and his wife. But the Jewish community needs to be asking itself whether we can support a man who until very recently was demonstrably more pro-'Palestinian' than pro-Israel, and whose claimed abandonment of that value scale may be solely a matter of political expediency. I submit that we cannot.

More on this story from Pamela, Midwest Jim and Yid with Lid.

Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line, and if we had the chance to do it all again, tell me would we? Could we?


At 11:52 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Politicians can and do rewrite their views. That's a luxury most of us don't have. Jews shouldn't judge Obama by his words; they should judge by his record. American Jews will overlook that because their article of faith is liberalism, not Judaism.


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