Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why I Still Support Obama

I have no illusion that Barack Obama will be any better (i.e., worse) for Israel than Hillary or any of the Republican contenders for the nomination. When he gave the "pro-Israel" (i.e., anti-Israel) speech at AIPAC last March, I wasn't surprised. When he sent a letter last week to the UN Security Council claiming that the Kassam rockets had "forced" Israel to increase the siege on Gaza, I wasn't surprised either. If he manages to pull off the impossible and upset Hillary, he will sound more and more "pro-Israel" and less and less balanced. I would like to think that all this is just rhetoric to get elected, but I am more realistic than that. The best I can hope for is a return to the liberal-Zionist position.

As I have written here before, the "moderate" position in the Democratic party -- and, indeed, in the liberal press and much of America -- is liberal Zionist a la Clinton, Dennis Ross, etc. To expect the Palestinians and their allies to have the clout in the US that the Jews have is wishful thinking. To be a Palestinian moderate in this country, you have to appear to be either a liberal Zionist, or somebody who has no problem with Zionism. So Palestinian groups like the American Task Force on Palestine have to buy into the two-state solution a la Clinton or Geneva, whereas a voice like the Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah is considered extreme, at least for now. Abunimah wrote last March a very poignant article on Obama's conversion to a "pro-Israel" stance as he became a mainstream national politician. His tone was one of profound disappointment, since he knew Obama before the Chicago politician had to pander to the Lobby. But Abunimah wasn't surprised at Obama's conversion. Nor was I.

So why do I still support Obama?

For one thing, since I don't believe that US policy towards Israel will change in any event -- unfortunately -- then there seems no reason not to prefer a progessive like Obama over a liberal hawk like Hillary for other reasons.

Second, I have been told that one of my personal "heroes" -- Rob Malley -- has become associated with the Obama camp. Malley co-wrote with Hussein Agha the seminal NYRB article that challenged the Israeli spin on Camp David -- and that provoked the response from Benny Morris (one of my favorite bigots) and Ehud Barak (a bigot, without Morris's charm) to utter the infamous remark about Arab "mendacity".

But most important, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And Obama's enemies within the Jewish camp -- the liberal-hawk-neocon-chorus of zealots who advocate policies that destroy the Jewish state morally and physically, while they celebrate their tough-Jew mafia morality -- over here in the diaspora, of course -- are getting nervous about Obama. It's not that they don't want to go on record blasting the first serious African-American contender for president -- they abandoned all appearances of concern for social justice in favor of ethnic loyalty a long time ago. It's that they have to view anybody who considers the Palestinians to be human as an existential threat to the State of Israel. That is why they go after Jimmy Carter, who did more for the State of Israel than the world Jewish community ever did, or why liberal hawks like Richard Cohen, still smarting from Alvin Rosenfeld's chutzpah of coupling his name with that of Tony Judt, feel compelled to call Obama on the carpet for not actively dissociating himself from his Chicago church's minister. Look how the rightwing Jews went after Condi Rice for daring to compare the Israeli treatment of Palestinians with Southern discrimination against blacks (the Palestinians should be so lucky.)

I once wrote a column urging American Jews to vote Republican so that when a Democrat is elected, he would not have any political obligations to the Jews. That, of course, was a liberal fantasy. But more and more "pro-Israel" supporters will leave the Democratic party for the Republican, and that is just dandy in my eyes -- because there are a whole lot of progressive Democrats out there who are not Jewish, who support Israel and the Palestinians, and don't see why one people should get more than the other. When Jonathan Tobin, the rightwing Krauthammer-wannabee who edits the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, writes an article critical of Obama on Israel, how can any real supporter of Israel not vote for Barack?

No doubt true lefties out there -- and not wimpy liberals like yours truly -- will have a lot of reasons to find fault with Obama. They will back a marginal candidate with no hope of winning, and I am sympathetic with that...after all, that's what I do in Israel, when I vote for Hadash.

Still, if for no other reason, Obama needs support from progressives now across the board -- and Jewish progressives should be part of that rainbow coalition for change which gave him South Carolina.

We can worry about his "pro-Israel" positions later.


Anonymous said...


I voted for Ron Paul in the Republican primary in Early Voting for the 5 Feb IL primary. He puts America First and would basically leave it to Israelis and Palestinians to settle their problems on their own.

Anonymous said...

I see other so-called "progressives" like yourself such as Richard Silverstein and MJ Rosenberg are enthusiastic supporters of Obama. Of course those two live in the US and, presumably, they are interested in his American domestic policies in addition to what his policy towards the Middle East, but I am really curious why people think Obama can change anything? What does he have that the other don't have? Regarding Israel, no other President was willing to weigh in with so much effort in order to make "peace", and he failed, why should anyone think Obama will succeed? Regarding his domestic policy...well, the US is a country of a quarter of a billion people with a huge industrial and agricultural base that go back many years, and with VERY strong entrenched interests. In order to be elected President today, one needs hundreds of millions of dollars. Where does this money come from?..the "little guy" or these same entrenched interests who expect some sort of return for their "generosity"?
I am really mystified as to why these progressives should think Obama or anybody can really make the "progressive utopia" these people seem to expect.

Jerry Haber said...

David and BK

I don't know much about Ron Paul, or Obama, for that matter. Since I care about Israel, however, the last thing I want anybody to do is to leave it alone...the US has interests in the Middle East, and once it adopts a realist policy (a la Walt and Mearsheimer) things will change for the better for Israel, the Palestinians, and the US.

As for BK's comment...I don't think any intelligent person sees the possibility of utopian change, whether a Naderite or a Christian evangelical. But some presidents are better than others. Had Gore been president arguably we would not be Iraq, Iran would not have the power it now has in the region, and I doubt we would still be in Afghanistan. And did somebody mention action on global warming? So while there is no possibility of utopian change, there is the possibility of a good deal of change. Bush was successful in changing the ideological character of much of the Supreme Court. So I think who is in charge matters, even in a stable democracy such as ours (speaking as an American citizen.)

By the way, if you read my post, you could hardly infer that I am an enthusiastic supporter of Obama. I am not. If he is elected president, no doubt I will be as disappointed of him as my necon friends are of GWB. But voting is always choosing the least of the evils, is it not?

Diana said...

" the liberal-hawk-neocon-chorus of zealots who advocate policies that destroy the Jewish state morally and physically, while they celebrate their tough-Jew mafia morality"

I like you when you say things like that.

I voted for Obama this morning. Every vote is hope against hope; in my heart of hearts, I KNOW that this man recognizes what the real situation is because he has let slip the dogs of truth before. Of course he'll be hemmed in by what we call reality but there's the faintest glimmer of hope with Obama in the White House, while there is no hope if Hillary (or McCain) is there.

And, as an American, Israel isn't my only focus.

Jerry Haber said...

Rob Malley, it turns out, is not a player in the Obama campaign, and it is way too early (check date of this note) to talk about a Mideast advisory team. We can only hope that Malley, who works at the Belgian-based International Crisis Group, is called in as a consultant/advisor if Obama becomes president.