March 22, 2007
Barack Obama and IsraelBy Ed Lasky
[editor's note: a substantially new and more complete article on the subject by Ed Lasky can be found here.]
Senator Barack Obama has become the rarest of politicians: a man who has seemingly come out of nowhere to ascend to the top rank of Democratic Presidential candidates. He has parlayed a unique life story, capitalizing on personal scandals that have destroyed his opponents, with an inspiring speaking style and heartwarming platitudes, to generate a great deal of support among Democratic partisans and independents.
His success is even more impressive when one considers that he has very little record to run on. He has been a United States Senator for only two years and much of that time has been spent promoting his books and his candidacy. However minimal, the fact is that he does have a record; not an easy one to uncover, yet a record nevertheless and one that should give pause to those who support the American-Israel alliance.
Obama's spiritual mentor
Obama has given a great deal of credit to the influence his church and his minister have had upon him. While his campaign has called his church the United Church of Christ and thus characterized it as just one of many mainstream churches within that denomination, it is in fact the Trinity United Church of Christ and follows a particularly Afro-centric view of Christianity, emphasizing a Black Work Ethic, commitment to a Black Value System, and an allegiance to all Black Leadership that follows the Black Value System. A brief review of its philosophy shows that this is not your everyday Christian parish and perhaps accounts for his campaign's dropping of the name "Trinity" when discussing his church membership.
This racialist belief system stands in stark contrast to Obama's rhetoric regarding the need and desirability of racial and religious inclusiveness. The church's principles seem to belie Obama's platitudes about the need for all people - of whatever race or religion - to come together as one. Recall this excerpt from his now legendary 2004 Democratic National Convention speech:
"There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America"
Given the anti-Semitism that is sadly so often associated with other leaders and groups that have emphasized black separatism and empowerment (think Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton) perhaps some qualms might be warranted, particularly given some of the actions and statements of the Church's minister.
Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. is the long-time Pastor of Obama's church, and Obama has credited him as being an inspiration and guiding light for him. He is a spiritual mentor to Obama and coined the term the "audacity of hope" that Obama has essentially made a theme of his campaign as well as the title of a book. He also has, in the words of the Chicago Tribune, a militant past.
Moreover, Pastor Wright has beliefs that might disturb some of Obama's supporters. He is a believer in "liberation theology," which makes the liberation of the oppressed a paramount virtue. The language of liberation all too often veers off into anti-Jewish rants. For example, one of the founders of the movement, Gustavo Gutierrez, has stated that the infidelities of the Jewish people made the Old Covenant [between the Jews and God] invalid." Pastor Wright is also a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, and in 1984 traveled with him to visit Col. Muammar al-Gadaffi, an archenemy of Israel's and America and a firm supporter of terror groups.
Wright has also been a severe critic of Israel. In his own words,
The Israelis have illegally occupied Palestinian territories for almost 40 years now. It took a divestment campaign to wake the business community up concerning the South Africa issue. Divestment has now hit the table again as a strategy to wake the business community up and to wake Americans up concerning the injustice and the racism under which the Palestinians have lived because of Zionism.
The Divestment issue will hit the floor during this month's General Synod. Divesting dollars from businesses and banks that do business with Israel is the new strategy being proposed to wake the world up concerning the racism of Zionism. That Divestment issue won't make the press either, however.
Once this history came to light, Obama started publicly distancing himself from his spiritual mentor, disinviting Wright from various Obama campaign events. Wright rationalized his current persona non grata status by stating that otherwise
Pastor Wright is not the only person from whom Obama tactically distances himself during political campaigns.
Obama's anti-Israel friends
Ali Abunimah is a well-known Chicago-based activist for Palestinian causes. He has a harshly anti-Israel attitude. He has also written that he had met Obama about half a dozen times at various Palestinian and Arab-American events, including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which the late Edward Said was the keynote speaker (there is a photo of Said with Senator Obama and his wife).
Edward Said was a severe critic of Israel; he developed a school of study about the Middle East based on denunciation of so-called "Orientalism" that has influenced many Middle Eastern professors to take an anti-Israel view. The entire field of Middle Eastern studies has been so corrupted that Congress has raised an alarm about federal funding going to professors with an anti-American, anti-Israel agenda. These are the ideological heirs of Edward Said.
Abunimah recently wrote an article critical of Obama's very recent and somewhat lukewarm outreach to the Israel's supporters. He wrote that years ago Obama had been forthright in his criticism of American foreign policy and had called for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israel conflict. But Abunimah detected a change as Obama began his Senate run. He met Obama at an event that occurred in the midst of the Senator's primary campaign for Senate. Abunimah writes,
Obama said, "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 Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"
Could Obama's outreach to the pro-Israel community during his Presidential run just be a reprise of his actions during his Senate campaign? True, Abunimah may not be the most reliable source, but the picture of Obama together with one of Israel's harshest critics in America, Edward Said, gives scant reason for comfort regarding Obama's true beliefs.
Obama as Senator
Most candidates for the highest office in the land have a long legislative or executive record to run on. Since Barack Obama has been a U.S. Senator for only two years there is not much of a history that can be relied upon. He has very little experience on foreign policy. One of his supporters, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (who strongly believes that America is too close to Israel and needs to reevaluate its relationship and who has been roundly criticized for manipulating information and) has absurdly written that in foreign policy, Mr. Obama
He lived in Indonesia between the ages of 6 and 10. By his own admission, he was a “Jakarta street kid”. Does this unique qualify him over other contenders to run the foreign policy of America? How many great American Presidents have not lived overseas when they were children? All of them-however you may choose them. So one has to look at his brief record in the Senate and pronouncements he has made that may shed light on his views.
Most Congressmen have a solid legislative record on bills considered important to the American-Israel relationship-after all, most Americans have a very favorable view towards Israel. Most legislative acts regarding the American-Israel relationship are uncontroversial-which is the reason one often sees such votes as being supportive of the alliance between the two nations. He has, to repeat, been a member of the Senate for all of two years and his record is thus very thin in this regard.
However, Obama has already compiled one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate (even more liberal than Ted Kennedy) and a great deal of his most fervent support has come from the left-wing of the party, who have turned against Hillary Clinton. As many have commented - including Democrats Martin Peretz and Lanny Davis - this is precisely the wing of the Party that has been increasingly corrupted by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activists. Of course, Senator Obama is an individual and holds his own views and one should not impute the views of some of his supporters to him. Nevertheless, it is not improper to look at the base of his support, either.
But what are his views?
One disquieting aspect comes from his career as a state senator. He took a decidedly very soft approach on bills dealing with drug, gang and gun control issues and many feel this will become fodder for his critics. A man who takes a soft on crime approach towards criminals may give some qualms when trying to foresee how he will deal with those who commit terrorist acts-especially those who justify their criminal acts as acts of “liberation” (see above).
In an interview he gave prior to the U.S. Senate primary election with the Chicago Jewish News published in March 2004, when asked about the Israeli security fence, Obama replied: “the creation of a wall dividing the two nations is yet another example of the neglect of this Administration in brokering peace.”
The security fence has saved the lives of many innocent people: terror attacks against Israelis have plummeted. After suffering waves of suicide bombings, losing more than 900 people and after suffering thousands of casualties, Israel learned that indeed “fences can be good neighbors”. One wishes that Senator Obama could appreciate the toll that this endless wave of terror had on the men, women and children who had to bear it. Furthermore, it is not a wall (except for a small part, comprising less than 5% of the length) and there are not two nations involved in the dispute-there is no Palestinian nation, as of yet.
Ben Shapiro of The Conservative Voice noticed something rather distrurbing, indicating Obama's fundamental attitude toward the handling of terrorists.
One other aspect of Obama's support that is cause for some discomfort is the fact that he has the seal of approval from Jimmy Carter and billionaire George Soros-both influential and powerful people who take an unseemly glee in trying to undermine the American-Israel alliance.Soros has been funding powerful 527 groups, donating to candidates and others-such as Wes Clark-who are severe critics of Israel, and has tried to organize a lobbying group designed to erode support for Israel in America. He recently wrote an essay harshly critical of the ties between America and Israel. Some Democratic politicians-since he is a major supporter of the Democratic Party-have recently distanced themselves from that particular essay. Some politicians denounced Soros’s views personally - Congressmen Wexler and Engle; Senator Obama campaign spokeswoman did so.
Are we also to be concerned that Congressman Neil Abercrombie-who has one of the worst anti-Israel records and refused to support Israel efforts to defend itself from Hezbollah, was close friends with Barack's father and has been a lifelong friend and supporter of Barack's? People are often judged by the company they keep and the quarters from which they receive support.
For all the lofty sentiments and inspiring rhetoric propelling his career, at times Obama has been compelled to actually address the issues that a President may face, and there are grounds to be concerned.
He recently gave a speech before a group of supporters of Israel, at an AIPAC meeting in Chicago, that left many nonplussed. This speech was, in part, prompted by his knowledge that a panel of experts in Israel considers him to be the candidate that would support the state of Israel the least. While his supporters naturally heaped praise, when a more careful analysis of the speech is made, there is very little of substance regarding his support for our ally, Israel.
He stated that efforts to achieve peace with its neighbors “begin with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel”. Is this a breakthrough for Senator Obama as it has been so hailed? Israel is the only true ally of America in the region, a fellow democracy and a Western nation. Shouldn’t Senator Obama believe that such a commitment to its security be important as opposed to security for Hezbollah, Hamas, or Iran, or any of the anti-American dictatorships that plague the region?
He criticized Holocaust deniers. That is certainly not such a radical position (unless you live in Iran) yet then advocated more talks with Iranian President Ahmadinejad-who not only denies the Holocaust but also promises a new one to come. He noted how Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon led to the rise of an enemy on its northern border. But then he seemed to be encouraging Israel to make even more such gestures. For instance, he praised past Israeli leaders for gestures of peace they have made towards the Palestinians-but refused to recognize that these previous moves have just led to more violence and death for the Israelis. For instance, the Oslo Accords led to the rise of a terror empire in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza has led, a la Lebanon, to another base of terror-this time on Israel’s southern flank. Yet Senator Obama seems to ignore this recent history while calling for a repeat of past mistakes. Does he not see that the Palestinians have just pocketed these gains and used them to empower terrorists? Not a good sign.
This was not a gaffe on his part but seems to reflect a view that the Israelis should bear the burden and take the risky steps for peace. Shortly after his Chicago speech he appeared before a group of Iowa Democrats, during which he showed a disturbing lack of familiarity regarding the basic principles that the international community has agreed must guide future diplomacy between the Israelis and Palestinians (the so-called Road Map).
Or perhaps it was that among Democratic partisans he felt a greater freedom to disclose his views. He stated that the
"Israel government must make difficult concessions for the peace process to restart".
This position contradicts the key principle of the Road Map that states that steps must be taken by both the Palestinians and the Israelis in parallel. Israel, contrary to Obama's views, is not responsible for taking the first steps to restart the peace process.
Furthermore, Obama stated that he supports a resumption of aid to the Palestinian government (there has been a non-stop flow of humanitarian aid) provided the government "renounces terrorism." This also ignored the few simple conditions that the international community has laid down for such resumption of aid to continue: not only must the Palestinians renounce terrorism, but they also must stop it (Arafat repeatedly denounced terrorism in English, while praising and planning for it in Arabic); Palestinians also must respect and abide by previous agreements made with Israel and they must accept the right of Israel to exist. These conditions Senator Obama would seemingly waive as long as Palestinians made noises about "renouncing terrorism" - which they certainly have experience doing!
If Obama professes ignorance of these conditions, that would come as a telling shock: not only have they been repeatedly announced in the media and on Capitol Hill, but Senator Obama serves on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations! Has he just been to busy promoting his books or his Presidential campaign to learn about these basic diplomatic principles involving one of the most heated issues of the day? When George W. Bush was asked during his first campaign in 1999 who the President of Chechnya was or the name of the new leader of Pakistan, he was widely ridiculed for not having the answer at his fingertips. Yet, when Senator Obama does not know the principles of the Road Map or the few simple words that are the conditions for aid to be resumed to the Palestinians, he gets a free pass. He is apparently the Teflon Candidate.
Senator Obama also stated during his Iowa trip, "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people" which not only ignores the Israelis who have been terrorized and killed for years but also ignores refugees from the genocide in Darfur or the daily terror the Iraqis are experience from Muslim on Muslim violence. Instead, by identifying the Palestinians as suffering, he implicitly seems to be blaming the Israelis for their plight (though he did mention their own government failures).
His moral compass seems a bit out of kilter: In another recent speech, he declared our enemies are not
"just terrorists, it's not just Hezbollah, it's not just Hamas, it's also cynicism"
How can one possibly equate that elastic term cynicism with terror groups that have killed thousands of innocent people and have guiding charters filled with hate and calls for violence? Similarly, his use of the now discredited term "cycle of violence" displays an approach that equates Palestinian terror attacks with Israeli defense actions. If Obama were true to his rhetoric of peace and the need to come together, why has he remained silent about Palestinian textbooks that teach children to hate and that celebrate martyrdom? (Even Hillary Clinton has done so)
Perhaps this reflects a worldview that Barack Obama has developed from his own history.
Obama began his career as a community activist, working to help poor residents of a public housing project to get asbestos removed from their buildings. He later labored on behalf of other disadvantaged people. This activity was a life-altering experience for him and he is clearly proud of it. Will this history predispose him to the view that Palestinians are the weaker party in their dispute with the Israelis (ignoring hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world who support them-let alone much of Europe)? The aphorism "if you are a hammer, everything seems like a nail" comes to mind. Will he absolve them of their own responsibility for their situation and place the blame mostly or solely on the Israelis? Will his views converge with those of many in Europe who place the blame for the Palestinians plight on the Israelis? Will he come naturally to favor the Palestinians over the Israelis? There are reasons to at least wonder.
Some may offer in support of Obama that he is a tad inexperienced and has yet to appreciate the complexities involved in the Middle East. This may very well be true. However, if this is the case, does he have the foreign policy credentials that qualify him to be President (regardless of Kristof’s assertion that he accumulated such credential between the ages of 6 and 10 in Indonesia)? He should be, prepared, especially after serving two years on the Senate Foreign Relation Committee, to explain current American and international policy regarding one of the most important foreign policy issues today. Furthermore, why does almost every off the cuff remark he makes-remarks that spring from his heart as much as from his brain-have an anti-Israel slant? Anyone see a pattern here? Anyone? Are these actually closer to the nature of the policies he would follow as President?
Barack Obama has enjoyed a wave of early popular support that seems to break with all the traditions of politics in America. Despite a meager record to run on, with virtually no executive experience, he may very well become President. His story is eerily similar in many ways to the story of Chance the Gardener, the main character in the book and movie, Being There. In that story by Jerzy Kosinski, a man literally comes from nowhere to become a Presidential candidate.
The key to his success: a freshness, a lack of record to run on, the constant repetition of simple feel-good platitudes that lull listeners into a sense of trust and induce in them a yearning to believe.
No wonder Barack Obama is so popular among denizens of Hollywood: they certainly have an eye for those who can create an image, can generate a buzz that compels others to suspend their disbelief, and who can induce a trance-like stargazing.
But the fact is that Barack Obama does have a record to run on and it is a record that should be of concern to those who support America's relationship with Israel.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.