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.