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Obama: Bad for the Jews?

The presidential campaign of Barack Obama has generated heat regarding his relationship with the Jewish community and his views towards Israel. There exists much skepticism regarding the level of support he will extend to the American-Israeli relationship should he become president.

These concerns are valid and worthy of debate; they cannot just be dismissed by his supporters and by his campaign as “smears.” Scrutiny of Barack Obama’s history, foreign policy advisers, and own statements and plans should generate concern among American Jews.

By now, everyone know that Barack Obama was, for 20 years, a member of Trinity United Church of Christ — a church headed by Pastor Jeremiah Wright and a man whom he has described in his own words as a “moral compass,” “sounding board,” and “confidant.” Wright is also an anti-Israel activist who has used his pulpit to fulminate against Israel and has called for the ending of American support for our most dependable Middle East ally. Obama has elided the issue of whether he had heard these sermons or read the church magazine, the Trumpet, yet he stated in a 2004 Chicago Sun-Times newspaper article that he basically attended every Sunday service at the church. He also knew Wright’s anti-Israel views based on a Rolling Stone article about Wright and his own disinvitation to Wright before announcing his presidential run, correctly understanding that Wright would pose a political problem for him. He only disavowed Wright when Wright criticized him, not when Wright defamed Israel, whites, or America.

Wright also saw fit to have his church’s magazine carry an op-ed by a Hamas official accusing Israel of developing an ethnic bomb. Wright is also a supporter of the most infamous anti-Semite in America — Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has called Judaism a “gutter religion” and has called Jews “bloodsuckers,” and whom he bestowed an award upon last year. It was this award that prompted Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen to wonder why it was that Barack Obama could not and did not express any “outrage” over this award. Maybe because the relationship between Barack Obama and Louis Farrakhan is one that Senator Obama has sought to obscure because there is a tie.

Barack Obama chose to participate in Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March in 1995, when he was running for the state senate. As Jennifer Rubin wrote:

The Anti-Defamation League had pleaded with African-American leaders not to attend, citing not only Farrakhan’s role but that of Malik Zulu Shabazz, head of the New Black Panther Party, as co-convener of the march. Shabazz had a long history of anti-Semitic spewing as well, having told a university audience that Jews bear special responsibility for the slave trade and consider blacks to be “cursed.”

As A.M. Rosenthal of the New York Times wrote at the time, “To march with Louis Farrakhan in Washington is to strengthen a man who leads a crusade against whites and for resegregation, to march with his goon squads, to march with anti-Semites — to march straight into that swamp of hatred.”

Yet into the swamp went Obama.

When questioned about the relationship between Wright and Farrakhan, he did not respond directly; he certainly did not criticize, reject, or denounce the ties between Wright and Farrakhan or the award given to Farrakhan.

Two other close spiritual mentors of Obama should also cause concerns. Father Pfleger and Reverend James Meeks, both strong defenders of Farrakhan, have both made remarks about Jews that were offensive. Pfleger responded to news that Jewish members had resigned from a state board that monitored hate because a Nation of Islam member refused to denounce Farrakhan’s racism and anti-Semitism with the phrase “good riddance.” Meeks has spoken of “Hollywood Jews” corrupting morals in America.

The former Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayers, another friend of Barack Obama who served on two boards with him, is also a fierce critic of Israel — accusing it of practicing terrorism when it takes actions to defend herself from murderous attacks by terror groups.

How has Barack Obama responded to these relationships being revealed? He has claimed, “nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti-Semitism than I have” — which seems to give short shrift to Simon Wiesenthal, Elie Wiesel, Abe Foxman, Alan Dershowitz, and many others who have not remained silent in the face of anti-Semitism, let alone admit close ties to those who honor anti-Semites. He has also said that he has been in the “foxholes” in Chicago with his Jewish friends trying to heal the rifts between the African-American and Jewish populations. There is absolutely no proof of any of these claims. Aside from one ambiguous comment regarding anti-Semitism not being an effective tactic for ambitious African-Americans who hope to rise, there is no evidence that he has ever acted to prevent anti-Semitism in the African-American community, which has the highest anti-Semitism of any group in America. Did he ever discuss the anti-Israel beliefs of his pastor and church, which by far was the largest beneficiary of his charitable donations?

When he was on the board of the Woods Foundation, a charity with a broad mandate, Barack Obama could have funded efforts or groups that worked to heal the rifts that exist between the two communities. He did not do so. Instead the foundation sponsored and paid for anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian agitprop. This seemed in accord with Barack Obama’s own sentiments — since he was considered a friend of Palestinians in Chicago and was particularly close to Palestinian activist and ex-PLO member Rashid Khalidi. There is certainly nothing wrong with being considered a friend of the Palestinians — but was he active in pro-Israel efforts? No. Did he attempt to heal the rifts between the pro-Israel and Palestinian communities? No. Indeed he credited Khalidi with changing his own views and attitudes. That is not a good sign.

On the campaign trail, he also has had a worrisome habit of collecting supporters and picking advisers who not only are highly critical of Israel but also, for good measure, take a jaundiced view of American Jews who seek to have a voice in the foreign policy debate.

His earliest major financial supporter was George Soros — a critic of Israel and foe of the so-called “Israel lobby” who explored forming a counterpoint to such a lobby that would advocate policies that would be harmful to our relations with Israel. Soros also has relationships with a group of foreign policy advisers who seem to share his views and who subsequently became part of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team. (Soros funds the International Crisis Group, which has ties to Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Malley, and Samantha Power — see below.)

Zbigniew Brzezinski has played a role in his campaign and this has caused no small amount of angst among supporters of the American-Israeli alliance. Brzezinski has made a second career, after serving in the Jimmy Carter administration, of being a critic of Israel — having all but accused it of war crimes in Lebanon when it fought the Hezbollah terror group in the summer of 2006. He is a supporter of the “work” of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer — two academics who have accused the so-called Israel lobby of controlling foreign policy in America; their work was accused of being anti-semitic in the Washington Post article “Yes. It’s Anti-Semitic.” Lately he has been accusing American Jews of practicing McCarthyism in trying to silence critics of Israel in America.

Robert Malley has also played a role in advising the campaign. He is a fierce critic of Israel and has advocated accommodating Hamas, Syria, Hezbollah, Iran, and other rogues in the Middle East. He has also been criticized for lying in his book regarding the Camp David peace process during the Clinton years in order to place blame on Israel for its failure — a position radically at odds with the versions of what transpired at Camp David told by, among others, Dennis Ross and President Bill Clinton.

Samantha Power — who was his closest foreign policy adviser until being forced into a “virtual” resignation in the wake of comments about Hillary Clinton (“Monstergate”) — advocated the complete suspension of all aid to Israel and its redirection to “Palestine” as a way to force an agreement on Israel. Power also advocated the massive placement of American troops in Israel to enforce such an agreement. She has a long history of advocating policies that would harm the American-Israeli relationship.

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]