Thursday, June 5, 2008

Reprint: Why I Still Support Obama

[Note to readers: I recently changed some things on the Magnes Zionist splash page (or whatever it is called), and I bumped from the "top post" sections, the post below, written over five months ago. I am reproducing it here for its "historical value" and because of Obama's AIPAC speech yesterday, which upset progressives. I will restore it to the "top posts" section later.

Needless to say, some things have changed in the interval, but my perspective on Obama has stayed the same. Since January I read Obama's books and became interested in the candidate and a more enthusiastic supporter -- but not because of his Middle East positions. The skepticism on that score has remained. But it is helpful to recall that Obama yesterday spoke the same way that he has spoken for a long time now.

My heart genuinely goes out to folks like Rob Malley, Rashid Khalidi, Ali Abunimeh, and Rev. James Wright, who now have to be tucked away in order for Obama to win the general election. I am particularly upset for Khalidi and Abunimeh, who had reason to believe that this guy would be different. Although they are grown-up enough to know to deal with their disappointment, it must hurt a little. It sure hurts me.]

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...

Obama realizes, as a REAL pro-Palestinian, that Palestinian suffering is due almost entirely to their own dreadful leadership that uses and abuses their arab citizens (just like the rest of the arab/muslim world). The sad fact is Palestinian leadership cares as much for their own civilians as the rest of world Arab/Muslim leadership cares for Palestinians (they're only fodder against Israel and nothing more). Obama seems to understand this. You don't.

Anonymous said...

You write: "To expect the Palestinians and their allies to have the clout in the US that the Jews have is wishful thinking."

Very true and lamentable, as is the fact that when it comes to matters of US policy towards Israel neither does the rest of the population.

Stephen said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't voting for marginal candidates in Israel, with its system of proportional representation, very different from doing so in the US, with its first-past-the-post system?


Anonymous said...

I would like to remind everyone out there of something I have stated before in many of these internet forums....

All Presidents of the United State follow more or less the same policy regarding the Israeli/Arab conflict. Their stated goal is to get a more-or-less complete withdrawal of Israel to the pre-1967 lines and creation of a Palestinian state. A President Obama would be committed to this just like all his predecessors. The problems begin when whoever the President is begins to realize that a peace agreement along those lines is just not achievable. At this point the problems like what to do about Arab terrorism or (l'havdil) Jewish building in Judea/Samaria come up.
Don't forget that the Arabs overwhelmmingly supported the election of President Bush in 2000, assuming he would follow the policies of his father. In fact, he has. He is the first President to openly call for the creation of a Palestinian state. When the big suicide bomber war began late in 2000, his administration openly pressured Israel not to respond, and the government, under the supposedly "tough hawk" Sharon obeyed and didn't respond. This led to something like 1000 Israelis being murdered and thousands more wounded, all the while "tough hawk" Sharon was saying "restraint is strentgh" and "we can't do anything about it because this is what I promised President Bush". Finally, after the Passover Night massacre of March 2002, Sharon was forced to act and he succeeded in suppressing the terrorism coming from Judea/Samaria, and Bush was also forced to acquisce (so would a President Obama in the same situation), but realizing that the world doesn't like this, he decided to destroy Gush Katif, betraying explicit promises given to his voters. Fortunately for those who don't like Israel, Gaza has turned into a non-stop generator of terrorism and rocket attacks. In resonse the government has made it pretty clear that it will not use force to stop it, but it did evacuate soldiers from the area (civilians living in the rocket fire zone are on their own). Thus Ahmedinejad and HAMAS along with HIZBULLAH can speak pretty confidenly that things are going their way. I am saying these things to show that the "progressive" claim that President Bush is "pro-Israel" or "anti-Arab" is simply not President has been a better friend of HIZBULLAH and HAMAS who have flourished since he came to power.
Add to this fact that Bush got rid of a bitter rival of Iran and Syria when he ousted the secular Sunnim regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and that Iraq will have pro-Iranian Shi'ite governments in the future. Also, President Bush insisted that the Palestinian Authority conduct elections which HAMAS won. HIZBULLAH has now gotten official veto power over all decisions of the Lebanese government.

In summary, it is hard to see how a President Obama can be a better friend to the radical Arab/Muslim movements than President Bush has been.

Anonymous said...

He may prove a point which in the long run is very good for Israel i.e A Democrat can become president without capturing the "Jewish vote.

Released from this burden, the US might pursue more rational policies toward Israel and prevent Israeli governments from getting away with their irrational and self-destructive ones.