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June 18, 2008
Did Barack Obama disparage his trip to Israel?
Barack Obama's views towards Israel have elicited much controversy over the last six months involving his relationship with his pastor (and "sounding board", "moral compass" and "confidant") Jeremiah Wright, his activities with pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel groups in Chicago, problematic foreign policy advisers (who, for good measure, take a jaundiced views of American Jews as well as Israel) and his own foreign policy opinions and actions (Iran is a "tiny nation" that he dismisses as a threat, his outreach efforts towards Iran, his shifting positions on designating the Iran revolutionary Guard as a terror group, and more).
Yet, Congressman Robert Robert Wexler (D-FL) had the audacity very early in Barack Obama's Presidential campaign to hail him as someone who "loves Israel" based on a few days' trip Senator Obama took to Israel last year (his only trip to the Middle East).
How does this square with other facts that have come to light -- especially from Barack Obama himself?
Aside from the above points, what has Barack Obama said about his trips overseas and the impact they have had on him, the insight and knowledge and appreciation (let alone "love") that these trips have generated?
In fact, he has been quite dismissive of these trips.
During his primary campaign, he spoke:
Senator Obama has been on three such trips as Senator: to the former Soviet Union, to Kenya, and to the Middle East (in nine days, he visited Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan -- with a focus on Israel -- 5 days spent there).
Now, it would be odd for a man who presumes he is fit to be President to disparage his visit to the former Soviet Union (a key power he will have to deal with and one that is exquisitely sensitive to slights coming from America -- Putin is a nationalist above all who blames America for the chaos that followed from the downfall of Communism), his trip to Kenya had a strong emotional effect on him as Kenya was his father's homeland (he met members of his extended family there) and he touted AIDS relief work there.
Does that leave his excursion to Israel as the one being ridiculed and disparaged by him when he dismisses the value of such trips as a Senator?
If so, does he really "love Israel" as is claimed by Robert Wexler?
This claim can also be questioned when listening to Barack Obama's own words when he reflected on this trip in a podcast from the airport when he was preparing to leave Israel. He speaks of traveling through the "Palestinian territories" (prejudging the final status of these lands); talks about the "separation barrier"* (with its apartheid connotations, as opposed to the more common and accurate designation as a "security fence") and states that he believes Israel was strong enough to deter all threats, that Israel "possesses such superior military forces, that they don't really have enormous vulnerability in a conventional sense. There is no risk of invasion by its neighbors" -- thus implying that it could take risks for peace (this was before Hezbollah's attacks on Israel -- which tended to show the opposite).
Much of Senator Obama's discussion revolved around the contrast between a militarily strong Israel with a booming economy and the suffering of Palestinians ** He did blame some of the suffering of the Palestinians on Yasser Arafat (who was alive at the time) and Palestinian leadership. But the lingering image he took with him was a strong and prosperous and militarily strong Israel, and Palestinians suffering behind a "separation barrier".
Given that Barack Obama disparages such trips overseas, and given his depiction of the five days he spent in Israel and among the Palestinians, can we truly take to heart Robert Wexler's over the top claim that Barack Obama "loves Israel".
If one can have qualms about this statement, then can we question other claims made by Robert Wexler regarding Barack Obama and his views towards the Middle East conflict?
* "The separation barrier is a major bone of contention between Palestinians and Israelis at this point. In most portions it's a high fence that appears temporary and could be moved if the peace process and negotiations go forward. In some places it is a wall -- a high barrier that can't be breeched and certainly looks permanent."
** As you travel through the West Bank, you get a sense of the differences between life for Palestinians and Israelis in this region. Palestinians have to suffer through the checkpoint system, the barriers, the fenced-in wall that exists just to get to their jobs, often times to travel from north and south even within the west bank. It's created enormous hardship for them -- there is high unemployment and the economy is not doing as well as it should.