Obama at AIPAC: Too Much Room for Doubt

I was among the 7,500 pro-Israel activists who listened to Barack Obama's magnificently designed oration to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on June 4. On the riser with American and Israeli flags as backdrop and large screens projecting his image, Obama was grace and elegance personified. I felt the "magic" of those intense eyes and of words so inspiring, so full of hope and promise that I believed. Or rather, I tried. We all wanted to believe that standing before us was the possibility to heal our many wounds and allay our greatest fears.

AIPAC is a bi-partisan group that stands up for Israel, a nation that has been under siege  since the day it declared independence sixty years ago (and even before). Today Iran's leader Ahmedinejad is in hot pursuit of the nuclear means to "erase Israel from the geography" while his proxies, Hamas in the south and Hezb'allah in the north, engage in a relentless campaign of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. Add to the mix, an unending flow of attempted suicide attacks from the West Bank and the many wars in which Israel bore the brunt of military aggression from all of its neighbors and supposed "partners in peace," and the cries of outrage from the world community at Israel's attempt at self defense, and the unearned condemnation for Human Rights violations from even the most brutal regimes and the animus for Israel and Jews even from nations who have no Jews and the social acceptability of Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in progressive and academic circles. It is a siege. The threats are great, the enemies are numerous, and the wish for friends so intense that there is the danger of lapsing into wishful thinking.

So on Wednesday morning, we wanted to believe Barack Obama. Cheering his entrance, applauding enthusiastically as he played on the chords of our historical memories with references to "Tikun Olam, (repairing the world)," images of the liberation of a concentration camp and the clarion call of "Never Again," we ignored his dismissal of our real concerns about his anti-Israel friends, advisors, and statements. We let it pass when he called all of our misgivings "tall tales and dire warnings."

We wanted to believe him when he spoke once again of an unnamed camp counselor who spent a few weeks one summer telling a young boy from Indonesia and Hawaii about the Holocaust. These short interactions between volleyball and swimming lessons countered the messages of young Barack's Muslim schools. Thus from his childhood, Barack understood the "shared values and shared stories of our people." We in the audience willed ourselves to forget the dozens and dozens of sermons Barack attended, sermons in which Jewish history was not shared but replaced by a church whose basic philosophy is to remove Jews from the Bible.

We clung to Obama's words when he castigated

"those who would lay all of the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These voices blame the Middle East's only democracy for the region's extremism."

We clung despite our knowledge that the very voices he criticized were those of his closest acquaintances. Somewhere not far off, there was doubt.

We stood for a prolonged ovation when Obama pledged himself to a secure Israel with Jerusalem as it capital. It was only after we resumed our seats that some quizzical looks appeared. "Wait! Did he just promise the Palestinians "a state that is contiguous and cohesive?" Given the geography of the area, such a promise would divide Israel in half. And hasn't every U.S. President made the same empty promise about Jerusalem? We tried to believe Obama despite the realities of geography, but skepticism had already entered the room.

Obama then promised to do everything in his power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Should we not have trusted our own ears when we heard Obama clearly commit to unconditional negotiations with Iran's leader during his first six months as U.S. president? Or should we doubt him? He claimed the opposition was confusing the issue, yet we were perplexed by his muddled explanation to engage in direct negotiations if they can "advance the interests of the United States." Will he? Won't he? Just tell us and we'll try to believe.

For those of us who have been around for a while or have a passing knowledge of American history, it strained our credulity when the Harvard-educated Obama touted President Kennedy's successful negotiations with the Soviet leader Khrushchev as support for his own willingness to speak with Ahmedinejad. Does he not know that those meetings were followed by the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or does he equate our willing gullibility with ignorance? Doubt was now firmly seated even while many delegates were standing.

The audience, some of whom were civil rights activists in the 60's and most of whom yearned for racial and religious understanding and tolerance, eagerly embraced Obama's healing words.

"I will never forget that I would not be standing here today if it weren't for that [Jewish] commitment. In the great social movements in our country's history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder. They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together."

Yes! Yes! Yes! We were together then.  Some of us remember the civil rights marches and the times that our "voices joined together to end prejudice and combat hatred in all of its forms." Nobel words, words that deserve to be etched above a school entrance. During the ovation, I looked around and saw many standing but fewer clapping and even fewer smiling.

Was it doubt asking, "But why tell us? Why did he never speak those words to Reverend Wright or ask for permission to address his church and shout them as an antidote to the prejudice and hatred that plagued those halls? Why didn't he tell Ayers, McPeak, Power, Malley and his legions of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic friends and advisors, "I would not be standing here today if it weren't for the commitment of Jews for racial justice?"

Had he said those words at another less politically-advantageous time to a less receptive audience, there would be no room for skepticism. But he didn't. I want to believe him, I tried, but Obama has just left too much room for doubt.
I was among the 7,500 pro-Israel activists who listened to Barack Obama's magnificently designed oration to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on June 4. On the riser with American and Israeli flags as backdrop and large screens projecting his image, Obama was grace and elegance personified. I felt the "magic" of those intense eyes and of words so inspiring, so full of hope and promise that I believed. Or rather, I tried. We all wanted to believe that standing before us was the possibility to heal our many wounds and allay our greatest fears.

AIPAC is a bi-partisan group that stands up for Israel, a nation that has been under siege  since the day it declared independence sixty years ago (and even before). Today Iran's leader Ahmedinejad is in hot pursuit of the nuclear means to "erase Israel from the geography" while his proxies, Hamas in the south and Hezb'allah in the north, engage in a relentless campaign of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. Add to the mix, an unending flow of attempted suicide attacks from the West Bank and the many wars in which Israel bore the brunt of military aggression from all of its neighbors and supposed "partners in peace," and the cries of outrage from the world community at Israel's attempt at self defense, and the unearned condemnation for Human Rights violations from even the most brutal regimes and the animus for Israel and Jews even from nations who have no Jews and the social acceptability of Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in progressive and academic circles. It is a siege. The threats are great, the enemies are numerous, and the wish for friends so intense that there is the danger of lapsing into wishful thinking.

So on Wednesday morning, we wanted to believe Barack Obama. Cheering his entrance, applauding enthusiastically as he played on the chords of our historical memories with references to "Tikun Olam, (repairing the world)," images of the liberation of a concentration camp and the clarion call of "Never Again," we ignored his dismissal of our real concerns about his anti-Israel friends, advisors, and statements. We let it pass when he called all of our misgivings "tall tales and dire warnings."

We wanted to believe him when he spoke once again of an unnamed camp counselor who spent a few weeks one summer telling a young boy from Indonesia and Hawaii about the Holocaust. These short interactions between volleyball and swimming lessons countered the messages of young Barack's Muslim schools. Thus from his childhood, Barack understood the "shared values and shared stories of our people." We in the audience willed ourselves to forget the dozens and dozens of sermons Barack attended, sermons in which Jewish history was not shared but replaced by a church whose basic philosophy is to remove Jews from the Bible.

We clung to Obama's words when he castigated

"those who would lay all of the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These voices blame the Middle East's only democracy for the region's extremism."

We clung despite our knowledge that the very voices he criticized were those of his closest acquaintances. Somewhere not far off, there was doubt.

We stood for a prolonged ovation when Obama pledged himself to a secure Israel with Jerusalem as it capital. It was only after we resumed our seats that some quizzical looks appeared. "Wait! Did he just promise the Palestinians "a state that is contiguous and cohesive?" Given the geography of the area, such a promise would divide Israel in half. And hasn't every U.S. President made the same empty promise about Jerusalem? We tried to believe Obama despite the realities of geography, but skepticism had already entered the room.

Obama then promised to do everything in his power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Should we not have trusted our own ears when we heard Obama clearly commit to unconditional negotiations with Iran's leader during his first six months as U.S. president? Or should we doubt him? He claimed the opposition was confusing the issue, yet we were perplexed by his muddled explanation to engage in direct negotiations if they can "advance the interests of the United States." Will he? Won't he? Just tell us and we'll try to believe.

For those of us who have been around for a while or have a passing knowledge of American history, it strained our credulity when the Harvard-educated Obama touted President Kennedy's successful negotiations with the Soviet leader Khrushchev as support for his own willingness to speak with Ahmedinejad. Does he not know that those meetings were followed by the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or does he equate our willing gullibility with ignorance? Doubt was now firmly seated even while many delegates were standing.

The audience, some of whom were civil rights activists in the 60's and most of whom yearned for racial and religious understanding and tolerance, eagerly embraced Obama's healing words.

"I will never forget that I would not be standing here today if it weren't for that [Jewish] commitment. In the great social movements in our country's history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder. They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together."

Yes! Yes! Yes! We were together then.  Some of us remember the civil rights marches and the times that our "voices joined together to end prejudice and combat hatred in all of its forms." Nobel words, words that deserve to be etched above a school entrance. During the ovation, I looked around and saw many standing but fewer clapping and even fewer smiling.

Was it doubt asking, "But why tell us? Why did he never speak those words to Reverend Wright or ask for permission to address his church and shout them as an antidote to the prejudice and hatred that plagued those halls? Why didn't he tell Ayers, McPeak, Power, Malley and his legions of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic friends and advisors, "I would not be standing here today if it weren't for the commitment of Jews for racial justice?"

Had he said those words at another less politically-advantageous time to a less receptive audience, there would be no room for skepticism. But he didn't. I want to believe him, I tried, but Obama has just left too much room for doubt.