October 23, 2008
January 16, 2008
Barack Obama and Israel
By Ed Lasky
The ascent of Barack Obama from state senator in Illinois to a leading contender for the Presidential nomination in the span of just a few years is remarkable. Especially in light of a noticeably unremarkable record -- a near-blank slate of few accomplishments and numerous missed votes.
However, in one area of foreign policy that concerns millions of Americans, he does have a record and it is a particularly troubling one. For all supporters of the America-Israel relationship there is enough information beyond the glare of the klieg lights to give one pause. In contrast to his canned speeches filled with "poetry" and uplifting aphorisms and delivered in a commanding way, behind the campaign façade lies a disquieting pattern of behavior.
One seemingly consistent theme running throughout Barack Obama's career is his comfort with aligning himself with people who are anti-Israel advocates. This ease around Israel animus has taken various forms. As Obama has continued his political ascent, he has moved up the prestige scale in terms of his associates. Early on in his career he chose a church headed by a former Black Muslim who is a harsh anti-Israel advocate and who may be seen as tinged with anti-Semitism. This church is a member of a denomination whose governing body has taken a series of anti-Israel actions.
As his political fortunes and ambition climbed, he found support from George Soros, multibillionaire promoter of groups that have been consistently harsh and biased critics of the American-Israel relationship.
Obama's soothing and inspiring oratory sometimes vanishes when he talks of the Middle East. Indeed, his off-the-cuff remarks have been uniformly taken by supporters of Israel as signs that the inner Obama does not truly support Israel despite what his canned speeches and essays may contain.
Now that Obama has become a leading Presidential candidate, he has assembled a body of foreign policy advisers who signal that a President Obama would likely have an approach towards Israel radically at odds with those of previous Presidents (both Republican and Democrat). A group of experts collected by the Israeli liberal newspaper Haaretz deemed him to be the candidate likely to be least supportive of Israel. He is the candidate most favored by the Arab-American community.
Joining Trinity United Community Church
When Obama moved to Chicago and became a community organizer, he found it expedient to choose a Christian church to join. Even though his father and stepfather were both Muslims and he attended a Muslim school while living in Indonesia, suspicions based on his days as a child are overheated and unfair. Still, his full name alone conveys the biographical fact that he has some elements of a Muslim background.
Saul Alinsky, whose philosophy infused community organizing in Chicago, emphasized the importance of churches as a basis for organizing. There are literally hundreds of churches on the South Side of Chicago that Obama could have chosen from. He selected one that was headed by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Junior. The anti-Israel rants of this minister have been well chronicled. Among the gems:
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.
Jeremiah Wright, Jr.
Pastor Wright is a supporter of Louis Farrakhan (who called Judaism a "gutter religion" and depicted Jews as "bloodsuckers") and traveled with him to visit Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, archenemy of Israel's and a terror supporter. Most recently, as head of the UN Security CouncilGaddafi prevented condemnation of attacks against Israel. As Kyle-Anne Shriver noted,
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan received the "Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Trumpeteer" Award at the 2007 Trumpet Gala at the United Church of Christ.
Wright routinely compares Israel to apartheid South Africa and considers blacks "The Chosen People". Wright sees his role not just as a religious counselor but also as an educator and political activist. As part of his schooling, he has posted the following tutorial:
Q: How many UN resolutions did Israel violate by 1992?
A: Over 65
42. Q: How many UN resolutions on Israel did America veto between 1972 and 1990?
43. Q: How much does the U.S. fund Israel a year?
48. Q: How many nuclear warheads does Israel have?
A: Over 400
49. Q: Has Israel every allowed UN weapon inspections?
50. Q: What percentage of the Palestinian territories are controlled by Israeli settlements?
51. Q: Is Israel illegally occupying Palestinian land?
Tucker Carlson of MSNBC has called Pastor Wright a total hater and wondered why the ties that bind Obama to Wright have not been given greater scrutiny. Mickey Kaus of Slate has also wondered when the ties between Obama and Wright will receive more criticism, given Wright's seeming bigotry, which is in contrast to the soothing melody of unity that Obama has trumpeted on the campaign trail.
Some in the media have taken notice. The New York Times did have one front-page article on Wright by Jodi Kantor in which Wright was quoted as saying that should more information come to light about himself, "a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell". After the article came out Wright attacked Jodi Kantor, referring to her Jewish heritage in a way that might create discomfort.
This fear is why Pastor Wright was disinvited at the last minute from appearing with Obama when Obama announced his run for the Presidency. Wright admitted in a PBS interview that he understands this distancing from the Obama campaign since "he can't afford the Jewish support to wane or start questioning his allegiance to the Israel"
Wright has been disappeared by the campaign; Obama has replaced him with high profile white ministers who do not preach the racial exclusiveness and racial superiority that is a hallmark of Jeremiah Wright; however, they seem to share an anti-Israel bias.
Fortunately, bloggers and others have started to note the views of Pastor Wright (which also include an unhealthy does of racial exclusiveness, in Tucker Carlson's words) and . Finally these views may be crossing over to major media outlets. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen published a recent column that criticized the award to Louis Farrakhan of the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award -- an award that supposedly was granted to a man who "truly epitomized greatness". As Cohen noted, Farrakhan is not only a race-baiter but also an anti-Semite and a promoter of anti-Semitism. He falsely accused Jews of cooperating with Hitler and helping him create the Third Reich, has slandered Jews by his insistence that Jews have played an inordinate role in victimizing African-Americans (he has also called Jews "bloodsuckers"). Cohen questions why Obama has stayed steadfast in his allegiance to Pastor Wright over the years.
Obama has called Wright his spiritual mentor, his moral compass and his sounding board. He was the man who gave Obama the term, "The Audacity of Hope" after all. He was also the man who told Obama that there are more black men in prison then in colleges -- a statement that Obama parroted until he was told that it was false. What other "facts" has Wright taught Obama? Has he taught Obama to blame 9/11 on America because of our foreign policy?
Nevertheless, an Obama spokesman told the New York Times he is proud of his pastor and his church.The church also is the largest recipient of Obama's charitable donations. The pastor married Obama and his wife Michelle and baptized his two daughters. Obama has shown continued allegiance to a man who preaches racial exclusiveness, the superiority of black values over white middle-class values, and whose teaching contains anti-Israel diatribes. All these are sharply at variance with what Obama himself preaches on the campaign trail.
One should also note that the governing body of the United Church of Christ has taken a series of anti-Israel actions over the years. A broad coalition of Jewish groups have rebuked the Church for these actions.
Has Obama, the most famous and prestigious member of the Church and an inspiring orator who can move millions, taken steps to work with his church to moderate its anti-Israel invective? No.
He has been honored repeatedly by the church and has been its keynote speaker at various national assemblies. Has he called for change in the anti-Israel approach of the church? No.
For those who claim that Obama is the next JFK (an absurd claim and an insult to a revered President that was skewered recently) he is certainly not a Profile in Courage.
David Axelrod is Obama's chief political adviser, he is also the man who always comes out to explain that Obama (the master orator) did not really mean some of the offensive off-the-cuff statements he has made about Israel on the campaign trail (see below). Axelrod has also come out with the typical bland statements that Obama does not agree with all the things that Wright says and does. This is a lame defense.
Recall, this is a church and a pastor who Obama has relied upon to shape his views, to be his sounding board; the church is the largest recipient of his charity dollars; he proudly states that he admires the church and Jeremiah Wright, Junior. He prayed with Wright before he announced his candidacy for President. He is a beacon for Obama.
If a white candidate belonged to a church where the minister promoted an anti-black, anti-Semitic theology he would be roundly subject to criticism (assuming his candidacy would even be viable in the face of this background). Why should Obama get a pass?
As Obama took steps toward the United States Senate he found a very powerful sugar daddy who would help fund his rise: George Soros. The billionaire hedge fund titan began supporting Obama very early -- as befits a legendary speculative investor always looking for opportunities. Obama coveted support from George Soros and Soros responded -- along with many family members and probably the Soros ring of wealthy donors. Soros even found a loophole that allowed him and assorted family members to exceed regular limits on campaign contributions.
Soros is also a fierce foe of Israel, for years funding groups that have worked against Israel. He is also a man who has flexed his political muscle as a major funder of Democrat candidates and a slew of so-called 527 groups that are active in pushing their agendas (a reliance on international institutions, defeat of Republicans, Bush-bashing, Israel-bashing). He has also openly proclaimed his desire to break the bonds between America and Israel and has written of his desire to erode political support for Israel.
Soros also called for concessions to Hamas -- a terror group that has killed many innocent people and that has called for the destruction of Israel. When this came to light, some leading Democrats personally denounced Soros; Obama had a spokesman issue this rather bland statement:
"Mr. Soros is entitled to his opinions," a campaign spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said. "But on this issue he and Senator Obama disagree. Sound familiar? It is similar to the response the Soros campaign has given regarding Obama's close relationship with Pastor Wright.
This mild reproach did not prevent Obama from appearing a few weeks later with George Soros at a fundraiser.
Soros invests when he sees a large return as likely; he proverbially "broke the Bank of England" a few years ago speculating on the pound. Does he intend to break the American-Israel alliance?
"Blood on their hands"
Nor did anti-Semitism of another fundraiser seem to ruffle Obama or his campaign. A fundraiser was held at the home of Allan Houston, formerly of the Knicks, and a man who had previously very publicly proclaiming that Jews had Jesus' "blood on their hands" and were "stubborn". The American Jewish Congress protested and noted that Obama would not take any money from someone who had expressed the same sort of remarks about African-Americans. The very same spokesman who addressed the Soros controversy blithely dismissed the concerns of the Jews and said the campaign would not return the money or reject any of the contributions made by Houston.
Senator Obama's stands
Obama has been a Senator for only a couple of years. His supporters will point to a string of votes that are supportive of the American-Israel alliance (foreign aid, for example). These generally are not controversial and routinely pass by large margins, precisely because they support an ally and serve American interests.
However, Obama did introduce the Iran Divestment Bill along with two Democratic Congressmen (Congressmen Barney Frank and Tom Lantos). Given that Barney Frank is one of the most knowledgeable members of Congress and chairs the House Financial Services Committee and knows the financial industry well, would know how to craft such a bill. I suspect that Obama signed on as a co-sponsor for protective coloration, while Frank and fellow veteran Tom Lantos felt it could not hurt to have a rising star as a co-sponsor.
This bill would:
Require the U.S. government to publish a list every six months of those companies that have an investment of more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector. This comprehensive list will provide investors with the knowledge to make informed investment decisions as well as a powerful disincentive for foreign companies to engage with Iran.
Authorize state and local governments to divest the assets of their pension funds and other funds under their control from any company on the list.
Protect fund managers who divest from companies on this list from lawsuits directed at them by investors who are unhappy with the results.
Obama supporters and Obama himself trumpet this bill as Obama's efforts to somehow "sanction" Iran. This bill does not sanction Iran; it merely requires the government to publicize companies that invest in Iran's energy sector. Such companies are already listed various think tanks.
States and local governments are already divesting from these companies, so the second provision is superfluous. Protecting fund managers from lawsuits might be of help since we do live in a litigious society.
But there are grounds to doubt Obama's seriousness on the issue. He has openly advocated outreach towards Iran, a state that makes clear its genocidal intentions towards Israel, funds Hezbollah and terrorism against America, Israel, and Jewish targets around the world. Obama has seemed to excuse attacks against Americans by Iranian-supported terror groups because we have provoked Iran by trying to liberate Iraq (we are in their neighborhood) or as Barack has put it, Iraq is under occupation by America (which makes one wonder how he feels about Israeli settlements).
The bill languishes, not promoted or pushed; but does serve as a nice campaign prop every now and then.
Furthermore, there already are targeted sanctions in place now. They can be employed against Iranians and Iranian groups identified as being terrorists or terror groups. Yet when Congress voted to identify the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terror group-thus making it susceptible to sanction-Barack Obama was not just AWOL (as has been widely noted, Obama has a history of missing votes and avoiding unpleasant decisions) but harshly attacked his political opponents for voting to so designate the Guards as a terror group. This is absurd: the Guard has been implicated in terror attacks against Americans in Iran, Argentinean Jews in bombing attacks in Buenos Aires, and has bolstered Hezbollah in Lebanon. Designating this group as terrorists is crucial in weakening its power. Yet, Obama objected to characterizing them as terrorists. That does not bode well for how seriously a President Obama would deal with Iran or how supportive he would be of our ally.
Obama has called for withdraw from Iraq, which would destabilize the region and lead to a further expansion of Iranian power. He also introduced a Senate Resolution on Iran that strips President Bush of the authority to take military action against it. .
Unilateral nuclear disarmament for Israel
Obama has also called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons in the world and said that America, by not openly leading a campaign to end nuclear weapons is "giving countries like Iran and North Korea an excuse."
This is naïve beyond belief and is identical to arguments made in the Arab world that justify their pursuit of nuclear weapons because Israel has nuclear weapons. We all know how such a program would operate in the real world: Western, open nations such as Israel would be stripped of the capability of nuclear weapons; dictatorships, such as Iran, would continue to operate their secret programs.
Israel's nuclear arsenal has helped offset the strategic peril that comes from being surrounded by much larger nations openly declaring their goal of its destruction. Obama's call would unilaterally work to disarm Israel.
Obama has also blamed that "our neglect of the Middle East Peace Process has spurred despair and fueled terrorism" implicitly blaming Israel for terrorism and a sign that a President Obama would pressure Israel. Obama seems to ignore the roles that schools play in the Middle East in the teaching of hatred; the roles of mosques and Imams in stoking terrorism; the glorification of violence and martyrdom in the media; the role of jihad in the Koran.
He also was the only Democratic Presidential aspirant to sign a Senate Resolution that would ban the use of cluster bombs. These are the types of weapons used by Israel to counter massed attacks by Hezbollah, and are vitally important to her security; Hezbollah also used the same type of weapons. Does anyone think Hezbollah will refrain from using these weapons? How about suicide bombers who rely on similar types of "ordinance' to inflict mass casualties among civilians? Once again, high-minded rhetoric conceals an agenda of unilateral disarmament of the Jewish state.
Every Presidential candidate assembles a foreign policy team of advisers. A glimpse into the makeup of Obama's team has leaked to the media.
Martin Peretz of The New Republic -- a supporter of Obama and of Israel -- had this to say about Obama's Foreign Policy team:
"I have my qualms, as you may know, about Barack Obama, and most especially about what his foreign policy might be. If elected (and actually before he were to be elected), the first decision he would have to make would be who would represent him in the transition to power from early November to January 20. And, frankly, I get the shudders since he has indicated that, among others, they would be Zbigniew Bzrezinski (I don't know much about his son, listed as Mark, but I can guess), Anthony Lake, Susan Rice and Robert O. Malley."
Lake and Brzezenski both earned their spurs in the Carter Administration. The Carter era led to the fall of the Shah of Iran (a stalwart ally of both America and Israel), which gave birth to the Iranian revolution. We all know how well that has turned out. Jimmy Carter, of course, has led a very public campaign of vilification against Israel-defaming it as an apartheid state (a view that Obama's Pastor would concur with).
Anthony Lake has been all but retired for the last dozen years-living on a farm in the Berkshires. This makes one wonder what he is bringing to the table, other than his Carter-era pedigree and beliefs. He has been reactivated though-one of his roles seems to be as ambassador to the Arab-American community .
The appointment of Brzezenski elicited much dismay among supporters of Israel since Brzezinski is well known for his aggressive dislike of Israel. . He has been an ardent foe of Israel for over three decades and newspaper files are littered with his screeds against Israel. Brzezinski has publicly defended the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that the relationship between America and Israel is based not on shared values and common threats but is the product of Jewish pressure. Brzezinski also signed a letter demanding dialogue with Hamas-a group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and is filled with threats to Jews around the world.
After Hezbollah launched attacks against Israel in the summer of 2006, murdered Israelis and took hostages, Israel tried to get its citizens back by moving into Lebanon. Warfare resulted. Brzezinski wrote that Israel's actions amounted to the "killing of hostages" (the hostages being Lebanese caught in the battles). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-clemons/zbig-brzezinski-israel_b_25821.html
Brzezinski's son, Mark, is also on Obama's foreign policy team. Evidently the apple does not fall far from the tree. Mark recently co-wrote an op-ed advocating that America forge ties with Iran.
Susan Rice was John Kerry's chief foreign policy adviser when he ran for President. One of the major steps Kerry suggested for dealing with the Middle East was to appoint James Baker and Jimmy Carter as negotiators. When furor erupted at the prospect of two of the most ardent foes of Israel being suggested to basically ride "roughshod" over Israel, Kerry backtracked and blamed his staff for the idea. His staff was Susan Rice.
Drilling down further we have Robert Malley. He was part of the American negotiating team that dealt with Yasser Arafat at Camp David. He has presented a revisionist history of those negotiations since then: presenting a view that blames Israel for the failures of the negotiations. His version has been radically at odds with the views of Americans and Israelis (including the views of American Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross-also an adviser to Obama- and President Clinton).
He has spent years representing the Palestinian point of view, co-writing a series of anti-Israel articles with Hussein Agha-a former Arafat adviser. Palestinian advocate. These have appeared in the New York Review of Books a publication that has served as a platform for a slew of anti-Israel advocates from Tony Judt to the aforementioned George Soros to the authors of the Israeli Lobby book Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. Malley has also called settlements "colonies" -- implicitly condemning Israel as a "colonial" state. His writings have been so critical of Israel that the media-monitoring group CAMERA has a "dossier" on him. (CAMERA also has a listing for Brzezinski).
Then there is this disconcerting article in the Financial Times about Democratic Presidential candidates and Israel. One of the key advisers to one of the Presidential candidates admitted to some tactical moves to garner pro-Israel support in America:
"The plain fact is there is no upside for candidates to challenge the prevailing assumptions about Israel," said one of their advisers, who asked not to be named. "The best strategy is to win the White House and then change the debate."
One well-regarded blogger, Rutgers Professor Judith Apter Klinghoffer believes this adviser was Ivo Daalder, who was quoted throughout the article and who is one of the foreign policy advisers to Barack Obama. Professor Klinghoffer is skeptical about Daalder and his feelings towards the American-Israel relationship. .
A snapshot of Daalder's views: He has, like Obama, singled out Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz as being responsible for manipulating the levers of power to serve the interests of other countries (it bears reiterating, Perle had no official position in the Administration; Bush, Powell ,Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice-those were the decision-makers). Daalder has seemingly advocated talks with Hezbollah, Syria, Iran. Daalder stated that Israel's bombing of Qana (an attack targeting Hezbollah missile placements that resulted in civilian death) in the war against Hezbollah imperiled Israel's claim to the moral high ground. These and assorted other positions lend credence to Professor Klinghoffer's view.
Scott Lasensky has also been appointed a foreign policy adviser to Obama. This step should also be viewed with a gimlet eye. In a book to be published this month, he and co-author Daniel Kurtzer write glowingly of the George H.W. Bush and James Baker's approach towards dealing with Israel, but faulted Bush and Baker for inadequately derailing the pro-Israel lobby which was more skeptical of the push against Israel into Yasser Arafat's arms.
He has called for Islamists and Hamas to be brought into the "peace process," before this Mideast moment slips away.
He has called residents of Israeli settlements "obstructionists" He has been given the stamp of approval by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, a notoriously harsh anti-Israel group .
He was also used by CNN's Christiane Amanpour to castigate Israel in her widely criticized CNN's Jewish Warriors "documentary" -- a documentary that has been heavily criticized for its bias and factual errors)
Lasensky has been hosted by the activist group Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and will be hosted by Americans for Peace Now , both of which groups have been highly critical of Israel over the years.
He has recently called for aggressive American involvement in pushing for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians -- calling for the end of the incremental approach (which is "trust but verify" approach meant to test each side's honesty and ability to bring about peace). Abolishing it would be a foolish and potentially disastrous leap of faith into the unknown.
He has called for engagement with Iran.
The group for which he works, the Unites States Institute of Peace, was the key organizer of the Iraq Study Group that produced a report that has very troubling recommendations concerning Israel (James Baker, whose approach towards Israel Lasensky admires, was one of the two people who headed the Iraq Study Group).
Obama supporters might counter that Obama has a wide range of foreign advisers and seeks input from people with a variety of views. Most likely, Dennis Ross-with deep ties to the American Jewish community-will be headlined in this argument. However, it is unclear what role Ross has on the team. He is clearly angling to join what may be the next Administration in the White House. How likely is it that Ross, who served the Clintons (now Obama's opponents), will hold sway against the triumvirate of key Obama heavyweights: Lake, Brzezinski, and Susan Rice?
Obama and John Bolton
Conversely, Obama actively opposed the nomination of John Bolton as our Ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton's track record in support of Israel is impressive.
As Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Bolton took started a new project, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), that has played a very important role in preventing hostile nations (including those in the Arab world) from developing weapons of mass destruction. Boats were interdicted on the high seas, for example, when suspicions arose that they carried suspect cargoes. The PSI was also responsible for helping to put an end to Libya's nuclear program, which led to the unraveling of the A.Q. Khan nuclear weapons black market that has imperiled our friends in the region (and ourselves).
While at the United Nations, Bolton was a stalwart defender of American interests and those of our allies. He was also a firm supporter of Israel (next to Patrick Moynihan, probably one of the best) -- a thankless task given the pervasive anti-Israel bias at the UN.
Bolton has continued to support the American-Israel relationship after leaving government service -- for example, writing a series of op-eds, the latest of which support Israel's decision to bomb the likely nuclear plant in Syria.
Regardless of Bolton's evident talents and drive, Obama worked to derail his career. Was it his views that Obama objected to?
Similarly, Obama supporters might rely on the support Obama has drawn from various Democratic Jewish Congressman (Wexler, Rothman, Schiff among them) over the last year. These stamps of approval might be met with some skepticism (Wexler went so far as to talk of Obama's "love for Israel" based on a single tip Obama took to Israel when he began considering a Presidential run).
These Congressmen are well aware that Obama might be the next President-certainly it never hurts to have a friend in the White House. They are also Democrats who would want to bolster a fellow Democrat-particularly if it helps them with their own African-American constituents. Obama is a very compelling speaker -- he has campaigned for fellow Democrats across the nation. Having a chit with Obama might be very useful in during the endless campaigning these Congressmen will be facing in the years ahead
The team seems to reflect an approach that should come as no surprise.
Obama would place a great deal of reliance on international institutions -- the same international organizations that have opposed America and Israel for many years. Obama's approach towards the Islamic world indicates an approach form weakness, as if, to invert Osama bin Laden's dictum, people were attracted to the nicest horse. He would organize a meeting between Muslim leaders from all over the world and Americans so we can move forward with them as partners with "dignity and respect."
Partners? To be sure this may be flowery diplo-speak. But most of these are leaders who are responsible for spreading hatred throughout their societies: a hatred that manifests itself in violence.
We have shown respect and dignity in our actions in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and yes, Iraq, We have liberated millions of people from genocide and dictatorship-we have given much in the blood of our soldiers and the billions in aid showered on the Muslim world (as the oil kleptocrats spend their billions buying up our corporations). Where is the dignity and respect shown towards America from these Muslim leaders? His approach towards terrorism was eloquently expressed by Wall Street Journal writer Dorothy Rabinowitz who wrote that a President Obama's stance against terrorism would "consist largely of antipoverty programs, reassuring the world of our peaceful intentions, and attending Islamic Conferences."
Speeches and public remarks
There are those willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and rely on his speeches to give comfort. Most recently, the New York Sun took excerpts from a speech he gave to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Chicago last march. I was there, just a few yards in front of Barack Obama. His speech was desultory and lacking the spirit and energy that are a trademark of the gifted oratory of Barack Obama. He clearly seemed to be going through the motions. The content of his speech gave many listeners qualms, including me. Others have their suspicions about whether Obama truly believes what he is saying in his speeches before groups supportive of the American-Israel relationship. .
Beyond that, how valuable are a candidate's speeches for determining what his (or hers) true beliefs are? There are media reports that indicate he has "recalibrated his words about Israel and the Middle East" as part of his efforts to court the Jewish vote. So there are grounds for skepticism about relying on canned speeches as a guide towards divining Obama's true views. Obama is a skilled orator; he has shown an adroit ability to hide friendships that might harm him on the campaign trail. Why not also hide his views behind a smokescreen of aphorism and bromides?
I think a more accurate reflection of these feelings and ideas are found in unscripted, off-the cuff remarks. As Michael Kinsley wrote, a "gaffe is a mistaken utterance or action which actually reveals what a politician truly believes". Obama has a record of off the cuff remarks that are disconcerting. There is, of course, his well-known remark in Des Moines that "Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people" (which sounds like Pastor Wright is being channeled) that created controversy. He later tried to revise history by insisting he had said "Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership". However, the well-respected Fact.Check.org and the Des Moines Register newspaper (which has an audio record) dispute Obama's "redo".
He also has objected to Israel's security fence that has all but ended the suicide bombing campaigns that killed so many innocent people. In an interview in 2004 he stated:
"...the creation of a wall dividing the two nations is yet another example of the neglect of this Administration in brokering peace."
There are not two nations (at least yet) and the security fence is not a wall, it is a fence (only a small percent, less than 5% can be considered a "wall" and that is only because of space constraints and the desire to prevent sniper fire from the Palestinians).
His use of the term Cycle of violence" has caused ripples of concern for its intimations of moral equality between the Palestinians and Israelis; as has his elevation of "cynicism" as a core problem in the Middle East, rather than say, terrorism.
At an anti-war rally he stated that he was
"Opposed to the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in the administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throat" .
This is disturbing. Obama ignored the role of Colin Powell, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice and other movers and shakers in the Administration. But Perle (who never even served in the Administration) and Wolfowitz (who was a Deputy Secretary) have been lumped together by many anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists as Jews who led us into the Iraq War to serve the interests of Israel. Who has Obama been listening to? His moral compass, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Junior?
There are other remarks of Obama's that have struck others as being less than supportive of Israel. . Among them are words that put the onus on Israel to change the status quo in its relations with the Palestinians. He was the only candidate at the National Jewish Democratic Council conference that burdens Israel with that role.
There are grounds to be concerned that he would discard the "Road Map" that provides guidelines for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He has stated that the "Israel government must make difficult concessions for the peace process to restart." The Road Map places obligations on both sides to take steps simultaneously on the road to peace. Israel is explicitly not obligated to take the first steps. This confirms the views he expressed to the NJDC that he would place the onus on Israel in future peace negotiations. .
Shmuel Rosner, the Washington correspondent of the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, noted that that the prediction that Obama would be least favorable of any of the candidates toward Israel may partly be due to the fact that his "supporters come mainly from the left-wing of the Democratic Party and from the African-American community -- from constituencies which are traditionally not that supportive of Israel".
But Obama has on his own volition assembled his networks of friends, mentors, financial supporters and foreign policy advisers. In his judgment -- a judgment that he regularly trumpets as being superior to others - these people are worthy of advising him. There are among those friends and advisers key people who seem to display a great deal of antipathy towards the American-Israel relationship.
These are the constituencies and associates that should warrant concern among all those who care about a strong American-Israel relationship. His electoral success will send a message to all future politicians that they can willingly ignore the views of those Americans who value a close relationship with the sole democracy and our only true ally in the Middle East. We may see the ramifications of Obama's ascent in the years yet to come.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker