Obama: Bad for the Jews?
Barack Obama says he's a solid friend of Israel and its American supporters. But his actions and associates suggest otherwise.
June 25, 2008 - 12:35 am
She has also alluded to domestic interest groups with great financial power who exercise too much influence in the formulation of foreign policy in America. During a book tour earlier in the year, she complained that criticism of Barack Obama all too often came down to what was “good for the Jews.” Obama supporters might argue that she is no longer part of the campaign but it should give one pause to consider her his key foreign policy adviser, given her views towards the Middle East and towards American Jews. Such concern should be heightened because she has indicated that she may very well serve in an Obama administration — despite her “resignation” from the campaign.
His most recent top Middle East adviser is Daniel Kurtzer, whose own history and plans might generate some concern. He has been criticized for promoting the goals of the Palestinians at the expense of Israel’s security; he previously worked to enhance the status of Yasser Arafat; he has called for more push against Israel so as to provide a “balanced” approach; and — like a distressingly large number of Obama’s advisers — looks askance at “domestic interest groups” influencing foreign policy.
Merrill “Tony” McPeak — the vice chair of Senator Obama’s campaign and his chief military adviser — blamed problems in the Middle East on the influence of people who live in New York City and Miami whom no “politician wants to run against” and who exercise undue influence on foreign affairs in America.
Readers might note that I have focused not on Israel but on American Jews and how those closest to Barack Obama seem to have very problematic views towards them. But the candidate himself holds views that are problematic towards Israel and call into question his commitment to maintaining the strongest of relationships with the Jewish state.
There are Obama’s naïve (at best) views on outreach towards Iran — which, just a few weeks ago, he dismissed as a “tiny” nation that was not a threat.
He has singled out two figures demonized by anti-Semites, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, as being responsible for the Iraq War. This despite the fact that Perle was not in the government and George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld were the key figures and decision-makers.
His use of the term “separation barrier” or “wall” rather than the far more commonly used “security barrier” has apartheid-like connotations, echoing the slurs of Jimmy Carter. And he expressed his feelings that “nobody has suffered more than the Palestinians” — a remark which he and his campaign have tried to “make over,” though their attempts to “redo” it were caught by the highly regarded and non-partisan FactCheck.Org.
Other warning signs include his feelings that Hezbollah and Hamas have legitimate grievances; that he has refused in the past to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terror group; that he has stated that an Obama administration would have problems dealing with an Israeli government headed by a member of Israel’s Likud Party, thus interfering with the domestic politics of another nation (oddly, he seems to have no problems dealing with Iranian mullahs); that he would eviscerate American defense programs that are vital to maintain the qualitative edge that our allies, including Israel, enjoy over their adversaries; that, as president, he would convene a Muslim summit to listen to their grievances (the major ones would be the existence of Israel and American support for the same); and that the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians was an “open sore” that corrupted our foreign policy. Senator Obama seems to find the root of this conflict in the settlements — ignoring the ethno-religious nationalism and anti-Semitism that corrupt much of the Arab/Iranian world and that is the crux of the conflict. (Israeli removal of all settlements from Gaza has not resulted in peace.) Perhaps he has become inured to criticism of Israel — he has voluntarily chosen to expose himself and his wife and young daughters to it for years.
His seeming reliance on international institutions should also give one qualms considering the historic bias and hostility these groups have always shown towards Israel and, even worse, that they have been promoters of anti-Semitism, as documented by Professor Anne Bayefsky and others.
However, various views exist on the proper approach going forward in terms of our foreign policy. What can American Jews agree upon? One principle is that our leaders and their chosen advisers should not stoke the fires of anti-Semitism by making claims and charges that have precisely that effect. Too many people whose opinions Barack Obama values seem to hold views that do not provide much comfort regarding how they view Israel, the American-Israeli relationship, and American Jews.
In his efforts to calm the concern of many Americans who support our ally Israel, he has been on a charm offensive, giving a series of speeches in front of Jewish groups in politically important states, culminating in his much ballyhooed speech at the recent annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
He used inspiring words and eloquent rhetoric to try to reassure those in the audience of his sincerity when it comes to supporting Israel. He was warmly received, with the irony that many of his foreign policy advisers are harshly critical of the very type of activist for the American-Israeli relationship that was in the banquet room that night. He received his greatest applause when he announced that as president “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” This was the secular equivalent of manna from heaven to many in the audience. For two thousand years the return to Jerusalem was a dream that was symbolized in the Passover religious ceremony’s hopeful pledge of “next year in Jerusalem.”
Yet until Israel conquered Jerusalem in the 1967 war — Jordan was asked by Israel to refrain from hostilities; when Jordan was tricked into launching an offensive against Israel by its Arab “allies,” Israel was forced to fight Jordan and came into possession of Jerusalem and the West Bank — it was an unfulfilled dream that was more akin to a nightmare. Jordan had divided Jerusalem with barbed wire and other barriers; Jews and Christians not only could not reach or pray at their holy sites in much of Jerusalem and the West Bank, but these shrines were desecrated and destroyed by the Jordanians. Jews who went to pray at the holiest site of Judaism, the Western Wall, were stoned and spat upon by Muslim worshipers on the Temple Mount above them. When Senator Obama promised Israel that the city would remain undivided, he basically promised that the religious freedom enjoyed by all faiths would be preserved under Israeli sovereignty. Less than 24 hours later — after the applause had come and gone — he disavowed the plain meaning of his words and stated that the future of Jerusalem would be subject to negotiations. His attempts, and those of his adviser Daniel Kurtzer, to obfuscate the issue have caused additional jitters about his views, intentions, knowledge, naiveté, and experience.
Former Senator Rick Santorum has pointed out another problem with the AIPAC speech:
Military sales and cooperation in developing military technology are vital to our relationship with Israel. The most important cooperative program is missile defense. The worry is not just short-range missiles from Hezbollah, but long-range missiles from Iran and beyond.
Obama, however, has called for the largest defense cuts since the Cold War. He has further stated he will “not weaponize space” and has called for an end to missile defense development. Yet, at the AIPAC convention, he said: “We can enhance our cooperation on missile defense.” Hmm.
This pattern, “the Obama shuffle,” has disconcerted many Americans — as it should. Barack Obama says one thing in front of one group and reverses course in front of another group. He uses his oratorical gifts to persuade and assuage, but these promises and proposals vanish in miasma when faced with criticism or inquiry about the veracity of his promises (see his reversals on NAFTA and campaign financing). He promises to protect Israelis from their enemies, but he previously made an “absolute” promise to provide security for Iraqis, only to later abandon this promise when he called for withdrawing troops from Iraq — whatever consequences, including the possibility of “genocide,” might follow.
This is a quandary for those who care to scrutinize Barack Obama when it comes to many issues. But with Israel facing a genocidal threat, it is particularly troublesome for her supporters. With such a sparse legislative record, can they rely on just his speeches on the campaign trail — especially when he often contradicts his own words? Given that his own long history is marked by closeness to people with very problematic views towards Israel and that he has chosen a group of advisers who have very harsh attitudes towards American Jews, some concerns are warranted.
Yes, he still commands a great deal of support from the Jewish community. Four reasons can be advanced for why this is so: American Jews for a variety of reasons tend towards the Democratic Party (since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt); they too may have been inspired by his rhetoric and policies (most Jews are not single-issue voters; the future of Israel may just be one of many concerns, all of which have different weights); a just unawareness (promoted by an adoring media) regarding some of the problematic aspects of Barack Obama; and a yearning for reconciliation between the African-American and Jewish populations, a promise Obama made on the campaign trail.
But a promise that rings hollow when one scrutinizes the history of Barack Obama.
[This article is a rebuttal to the PJM piece here]