Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Last week, a brief but violent flu kept me in the U.S. long enough to hear the Clinton-Obama debate. Supporters of Israel are wary of Obama for a number of reasons, some fair and some unfair.

1. Obama sounds like an evangelist selling pie-in-the-sky. This is true, at least at rallies, but irrelevant. Obama does what any candidate would like to do; he's just better at it. It should be noted that a person doesn't vote for the candidate that they imagine will do the best job. There is no reason they should: the chances of any individual's vote being decisive is zero. People vote to make a statement to themselves about themselves. Therefore, a candidate needs to sell himself/herself as the kind of person voting for whom makes a voter feel good about themselves. Besides, in the debates, where grandstanding doesn't work, Obama came off as way more authentic and substantive than Hillary.

2. Obama has insufficient political experience. This is pure demagoguery. I'd sooner rely on a politician with a bit of experience and the intelligence to learn from it than on one with vast experience bumbling through. One of the things that was painfully obvious in the debate is that Obama is way smarter than Clinton.

3. Obama is indulgent of radical anti-semitic Blacks. And I'm indulgent of racist Jews. They're my people. But this would in no way affect my policies. In the debate, Hillary attacked him for only "denouncing" Farrakhan, but not rejecting his endorsement. To which he correctly responded that Farrakhan hadn't offered anything for him to reject, but if she thinks "reject" is a stronger word than "denounce", then he rejects as well. I personally would like to do a lot more than just "reject" Farrakhan, but I couldn't help but feel that Obama made her sound like a cliche-monger.

4. Obama doesn't get the whole Middle East thing. This one is probably true. There are two views of the Middle East. According to one, radical Muslims want to murder infidels and conquer the world, with Israel at the top of their list. According to the other, Muslims have grievances and the key to peace in the Middle East is addressing these grievances. The former is the truth and the second is liberal dogma. This disconnect is common to all but the most hard-nosed Scoop Jackson democrats and Obama is certainly no exception. By the time he and his liberal friends are done engaging and dialoguing, we could be under the mushroom cloud.

5. Obama keeps some really bad company. This one is true, too. But I don't mean the pastor of his church (see 3) or Zbigniew Brzezinski or Rob Malley, with whom he doesn't have a substantive relationship. But I am worried about Samantha Power, whom Obama says is a leading advisor and who is definitely bad news for Israel; Antoin Rezko, a Syrian makher in Chicago politics with whom Obama has done some shady deals; and the Palestinians at the Arab American Action Network, for whom Obama was instrumental in raising money. One of the AAAN guys, Ali Abu Nimah, writes the following at the Electronic Intifada site:

Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "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 The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"

And in a recent interview, Abu Nimah says:

I knew Barack Obama for many years as my state senator -- when he used to attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time. I remember personally introducing him onstage in 1999, when we had a major community fundraiser for the community center in Deheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. And that's just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation.


Blogger Ben Bayit said...

Now that Israelis have spent more than a decade and a half of accepting what Ruth Wisse calls the politics of substituting a wish for reality, does it really make any difference at all to us who the President of the US is?

12:46 PM  
Anonymous harrykann said...


Re: your observation that Obama doesn't get the whole Middle East thing:

You nailed this precisely on point, and that is exactly what worries me about Obama. I don't know which is more dangerous: people who are too naive (or ignorant) so as to not get the whole Middle East thing, or leftists such as the New York Times who probably do get the whole Middle East thing although they will never admit it because their hatred of Israel is so intense that they would rather bash Israel than acknowledge the truth. Interesting, that during the course of the past 32 years, Jimmy Carter morphed from the former (i.e. naive, but incompetent, ignoramus) into the latter (i.e. a repugnant and vicious anti-Semite).

What worries me most is that while Obama may be indeed be sincere and well-intentioned, nevertheless he reminds me of Jimmy Carter's 1976 candidacy. As you alluded to in your post, the world would be a very different (and much safer) place today, had the Democrats nominated Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson as their presidential candidate in 1976, rather than Jimmy Carter. As we all know, Carter was the most incompetent U.S. President in history -- he stood by idly (and cluelessly) while our faithful ally, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown (only to be replaced by an extreme Islamist regime whose terror-mongering activities have destabilized the world to this very day), he watched helplessly while U.S. civilians were held hostage for 444 days, he emasculated U.S. intelligence services, he reversed years of solid U.S. foreign policy by bashing Israel without reason, he drove the economy into the tank with usurious interest rates coupled with sky-high unemployment, and he was helpless in the face of the developing energy crisis. In brief, Carter was all image, with no substance, and we all (i.e. the U.S., as well as the civilized world) consequently suffered for it.

My fear is that Obama is the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Obama mouths the image-flattering buzzwords, and he is trying to be all things to all people, without articulating any substantive solutions or policy to back it up.

I see no reason why a thinking person would vote for him.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous psacman said...

Ben -
Thanks for giving me yet another reason to vote for John McCain. And thanks for giving me some real ammunition against the "pay no attention to the man beneath the turban" crowd. It's always interesting to hear what candidates have to say when they think nobody's listening.

3:57 AM  
Anonymous bar_kochba132 said...

I moniter the blogs of several Jewish "Israel bashers", such as MJ Rosenberg, Richard Silverstein ("Tikkun Olam"), Tony Karon ("Rootless Cosmopolitan") and Phil Weiss ("Mondoweiss") and they all think Obama is the mashiach. Weiss likes him because, as an anti-Zionist, Obama will serve as an example of a "multiculturalist who transcends ethnic identities" and who will teach the Jews to give up their "narrow, parochial attitude". The others like him because they believe he will "free himself from what they call the AIPAC/Likudnik/Neo-con/Christian Fundamentalist mafia" that is supposedly coercing Congress and the President to carry out policies that are "too pro-Israeli" and "too anti-Palestinian" (i.e. these guys believe the fault that there is no peace is all Israel's and any demands by the US for Arab compliance with existing agreements are unreasonable due to the "occupation", "the settlements", "Israeli militarism", etc.). They believe that he will be able to impose a peace agreement that on Israel that this "Mafia" has been preventing up until now. Obama did use one of their favorite code words when he said to be "pro-Israel" doesn't necessarily mean "pro-Likud", even, of course, if the Likud wins an election.
I think we can expect an Obama administration to follow the lines of Jimmy Carter---the draw away from America's allies and to "reach out" to enemies like Iran and Syria. Thus, I think there is reason to worry, not so much because of bilateral relations (after all, it will become to him or any other President that the reason there is no peace is because of Arab intransigenc), but because he, like Carter, will transmit a feeling of American weakness and withdrawal from confrontation which will embolden Israel's most radical enemies.

1:51 PM  
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

Regarding Barack's 'indulgence' of hate-mongering racist clergymen, I'd like to think that I'd cancel my membership to the shul if my rabbi started talking like that.
I understand that he does good as well, and that Barack 'embraces' that good, but at a certain point, one crosses a barrier from 'man with flaws' to 'despicable man'.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Yeah, I wrote this before the tapes of Wright came out. I had thought it was just the occasional idiotic remark, not a clear and consistent pattern of psychosis.

11:17 PM  

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