January 29, 2008
The Audacity of Questioning Obama's Commitment to IsraelBy Richard Baehr and Ed Lasky
Recently, American Thinker has published two articles exploring the issue of how firm the support might be for the American-Israel relationship in a Barack Obama Administration. The analysis delved into Obama's past and his very strong bond with Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Jr., his early and strong support from George Soros, and particularly, his foreign policy team. The articles have provoked a fierce response from certain Obama supporters.
Prominent Democrats have expressed qualms regarding his foreign policy choices -- including Martin Peretz and Alan Dershowitz (who called for Zbigniew Brzezinski, an ardent critic of Israel and the putative Israel lobby, to be replaced). These American Thinker articles were the culmination of hours of research and analysis, discussion and debate. What evolved reflected a concern among us regarding the future of the America-Israel relationship.
The articles prompted much discussion -- we were gratified by expressions of support for our inquiries; and took to heart some of the criticism that was also received. Perhaps the analysis could have mentioned some of the well-publicized positive steps Obama has taken in this area. As he began his Presidential campaign, Obama expressed support for Israel's right to defend herself. He stated:
These were welcome remarks, and received no small amount attention among those concerned with the America-Israel relationship.
His recent actions -- speaking out against anti-Semitism during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and his drafting of a letter to the American Ambassador to the United Nations calling for the United Nations Security Council to take into account rocket attacks against Israel when dealing with the events in Gaza are also positive. So too, in his conference call on Monday with reporters from Haaretz and Jewish papers, Obama reiterated his support for Israel as a Jewish state, appeared to oppose a Palestinian right of return, and did not support talks with Hamas at this time.
The purpose of our inquiry was to bring to light information that had been given far less publicity. Certainly we have not been alone in wondering what the consequences would be for the American-Israel relationship should Barack Obama win the Presidency. As the Politico reported, his rhetoric has “chilled some supporters of Israel”
Widespread Concern Over Obama's Positions
Senator Obama's appointment of Zbigniew Brzezinski as a foreign policy adviser "worries Israel supporters" . His deep bond with Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Jr. (who has close ties with Louis Farrakhan -- a notorious anti-Semite elicited a critical column by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen -- a column which seemed to open a window for others to come forward.
Cohen is a liberal Democrat, and calling him a part of the vast right wing smear machine, as National Democratic Jewish Council Executive Director Ira Forman called Lasky in an ad hominum attack column released Monday won't work any better than labeling Alan Dershowitz and Martin Peretz as right wing smear artists for the deep concerns they have expressed about Obama's foreign policy team. Forman makes no attempt to offer any defense of that foreign policy team in his article. Nor has any other Obama defender who supports Israel made such a defense to this point. .
Those concerned about Obama and Israel include:
Former Israel Ambassador to America Daniel Ayalon (Who Are You Barack Obama?) wherein the Ambassador expressed concern regarding Obama's approach toward Iran and also, based on his own personal experience with Obama dealing on issues concerning the American-Israel relationship, stating that he was left with an "impression that he was not entirely forthright with his thinking";
Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, who also took on Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul in this column;
Jerusalem Post Editorial Page editor Saul Singer (Obama's Mixed Record on Iran );
The New York Post;
Writer Hillel Halkin (Obama Gets Israel Wrong);
An American Jewish Committee internal memo questioned Obama's potential approach to Middle East policy;
Commentary Magazine writer Noah Pollak criticized Obama's appointment of Robert Malley and Samantha Power as foreign policy advisers. Pollak notes in a recent post that Power (a key and very public foreign adviser to Senator Obama) echoes the views of Zbigniew Brezenski in calling for "special interest groups" influence over foreign policy to be abolished. Power has also called for the elimination of foreign aid to Israel and its redirection to "Palestine", as well as the massive imposition of US military forces in the area to bring about and enforce a settlement (where, of course, they could find themselves easy targets and be subject to propaganda attacks as another imperial foray into the Middle East).
The blog Powerline has also raised questions regarding Obama;
Slate magazine writer Mickey Kaus has long wondered why Obama and his close relationship with Pastor Wright has all but escaped any media scrutiny and has pointed out that Wright's racial divisiveness is in sharp contrast to Obama's campaign mantra of unity. Many other very credible commentators have raised these issues and others. Yet critics of Lasky's articles have all but ignored the criticism arising from these quarters.
Now why do we bring these people into the discussion? To show that there are serious questions that a wide variety of commentators, including a former Ambassador, have regarding Barack Obama and Israel.
The Obama Foreign Policy Team
Either Obama, or someone with his campaign, is responsible for the selection of people who have become part of his foreign policy team. As documented in the Lasky articles, many of the foreign policy team members have long histories of extreme hostility to Israel. Their track records contrast sharply with Obama's public statements on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. If Sen. Obama is as supportive of Israel as he claims to be in his own statements, did he know the positions of the various foreign policy team members as he appointed them? If he was not responsible for the selection, then maybe that suggests his judgment as far as delegation in these mattes leaves something to be desired.
The collection of writers we have listed above who have also raised issues on Obama and Israel rebuts criticism that our inquiries were off base and unjust. In some instances, we question whether those criticizing even bothered to read our articles
For instance, JTA journalist Ron Kampeas, in an article discussing the noxious emails circulating about Obama and his background, wrote that one of the articles "insinuated the rumors while denying them"
In fact, as Kampeas noted, the article expressly said that the suspicions regarding Obama in the emails were "overheated and unfair". That statement was made because it was true and it was heartfelt.
Those emails are egregious and Ed Lasky wanted to draw a clear line behind his article and those emails, a distinction that seems to have eluded Kampeas and critics. Kampeas plucked a few sentences of a long article analyzing many aspects of Barack Obama's career and relied on a few remarks from the ever-partisan Ira Forman, who mischaracterized the thrust and nature of the article.
Similarly, Hilary Leila Krieger in her JTA column "Wooing the you-know-whos" wrote this regarding a critic of one of the articles:
It is unclear whether Ms. Krieger herself ever read the article in question. Did she just take the word of the un-named Democratic operative who claimed that the article highlighted Obama's ties to anyone holding anti-Israel positions and anything critical of Israel? This is a demonstrably false smear.
Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Jr.
We don't think it is beyond the realm of fair play to question the close ties that have long existed between Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright. This is not just anyone to Obama: Wright is his "spiritual mentor", his "sounding board", his "inspiration". Obama has credited Wright as being the source of many of his beliefs and thoughts. He was not just "anyone". Nor are Wright's statements regarding Israel mere criticism. They are harsh and unbalanced denunciations.
The media has regularly criticized the ties that candidates have with controversial people. Need we remind anyone of Rudy Giuliani's relationship with Bernard Kerik (over which much ink has been spilled)? Meanwhile Wright and his church escape scrutiny of their own controversial "Black Value System". A double standard at work?
Another paradox: supporters of Barack Obama will tout his "long record of support for Israel". Yet, just as frequently, others will point that he does not have a long record at all -- having emerged from the Illinois State Senate a mere three years ago -- and that alone brings discomfort to people and influences their judgment of him. However, there are specific reasons to be concerned, and these were dealt with in American Thinker articles and through the work of many others who write for the publications linked above.
Krieger and her "Democratic operative" imply that the article is "all lies". The article is well-supported by the facts and relies heavily on previously published material from impeccable sources (check the URLs). There is something almost incoherently contradictory about that blanket criticism: if it were all lies, it should not take much energy at all to refute. What will take a lot of energy is spin -- trying to obscure the truth by spinning the facts.
Much of the criticism arises from the Jewish community. The Jewish community has long supported the principle that an informed electorate is crucial to the exercise of democracy. That is why we have debates, that is why we have inquiries -- because we believe that knowledge is imperative when we make our choices in the voting booth. At American Thinker, we have long criticized Ron Paul, a Republican, for his associations with people who peddle anti-Israel propaganda and for his own questionable positions regarding Israel. The purpose of the articles on Obama was to inform and to educate and to bring to light legitimate concerns that had for the most part been ignored and obscured.
Jonathan Tobin, a columnist and Jewish Exponent editor, wrote an article a few days ago regarding the controversy arising over inquiries into Obama's views of Israel. The column also raised some of the concerns we and others have over the future course of American foreign policy.
In the "Audacity of Criticism" Mr. Tobin rightly took a stand against the scurrilous emails circulating about Obama and his upbringing. But then he went further when he wrote in his concluding paragraphs:
Tobin then addressed the criticism that emerged from the left regarding Cohen's column.
Tobin believes we should be probing of his takes on foreign policy and that we need to be:
We can think of no better words than those to represent our own take on concerns regarding Barack Obama.
Richard Baehr is political director of American Thinker.