I have long been appalled by the craven genuflecting before the altar of vicious nationalism that appears to have become a required ritual for would-be Democratic Party presidential candidates courting what they see as the “Jewish vote.” Not only are they required to outdo one another in the extent of support they pledge for Israel; given that the element they’re addressing (right-wing Zionists who don’t reflect even the Jewish-American mainstream) is steeped in the toxic racism common to ultra-nationalism of all stripes, what they’re really required to do is outdo one another’s pledges of hostility towards the Palestinians. Kind of like that scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” where the basis for joining the People’s Front for the Liberation of Judea is your answer to the question “How much do you hate the Romans?”
And, it seems that in the case of Sentaor Barack Obama, the answer may be “Not enough.” That at least is the charge being leveled by some of this rabid nationalist self-appointed guardians of Jewishness. The New York Times reports the following:
Several Jewish conferencegoers said they were concerned by Mr. Obama’s remark Sunday in Iowa where, in a reference to the Middle East, he said, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” According to The Des Moines Register, Mr. Obama put the blame on the stalled peace efforts with Israel and on the refusal of the Palestinian government to renounce terrorism.
Mr. Obama has said in the past that both Israelis and Palestinians had “suffered” because of the lack of a peace agreement, and a spokesman said on Tuesday that Mr. Obama believed “the security of Israel should be America’s starting point in the Middle East.” Yet by singling out Palestinian suffering on Sunday, Mr. Obama could be tempting fate with some Jewish voters.
“Awarding first place in the suffering matrix is odious and infelicitous,” said Rabbi Steven Silver of Redondo Beach, Calif., after listening to Mrs. Clinton speak at a reception at the Aipac conference. “I think a lot of Americans would find that comment offensive, too.”
Mr. Silver’s son, Jesse, a college student who supports Mrs. Clinton, said he was spreading the word at the conference about Mr. Obama’s remark.
“It’s just clumsy of him to say that on the eve of the Aipac conference,” Jesse Silver said. “His inexperience is showing.”
Inexperience in what? In pandering to the cloud-cuckoo world of American right-wing Zionism? Go ask any Israeli who is suffering more, Israelis or Palestinians, and I guarantee you that 95% will say it is the Palestinians — the majority of them will probably blame the Palestinians themselves for that fact, but precious few would contest it for it is so blindingly obvious. “Odious and infelicitous” — where do they find these people?
Obama, of course, knows better. In an extended lament on how the Obama he once knew got drawn into the AIPAC sphere of influence, Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunima recalls a time when the Senator was far more inclined to engage with the plight of the Palestinians than he is now that he’s running for the Democratic nomination. (Abunima even published a picture that will surely be jumped on by Hillary’s cynical oppo research people, of Obama chatting over dinner with the late, great Edward Said — see below.)
Obama, in earlier times, sups with the late, great Edward Said
Obama’s swing from demanding an even-handed U.S. policy in the Middle East to being a pro-Israel hawk is well documented in the Jewish Week, and it seems the AIPAC crowd seems to suspect that he’s faking it. Seems Ali Abunimah doesn’t want to let Obama forget where he’s from.
If disappointing, given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama’s about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power. Palestinian-Americans are in the same position as civil libertarians who watched with dismay as Obama voted to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, or immigrant rights advocates who were horrified as he voted in favor of a Republican bill to authorize the construction of a 700-mile fence on the border with Mexico.
Here’s my advice to Obama: AIPAC is a right-wing body, even on the Jewish-American political spectrum — in Israeli terms, its orientation is strongly Likudnik, aligning it with the right-wing fringe in Israel, too. Close to 80% of American Jews, according to surveys see the Iraq war as a mistake. (As opposed to the AIPAC crowd and Israeli government, which continues to support it.)
So, when you pander to the AIPAC crowd, you are not reaching the Jewish-American mainstream (even though most of the Jewish-American mainstream is loathe to directly challenge the AIPAC crowd, for fear of being labeled traitors are worse by rabid right-wingers like Alvin Rosenfeld). Nor are you really helping Israel, because its only chance of surviving rests in its ability to make peace with its neighbors, and Israeli peaceniks will tell you that the support of the U.S. (egged on by the AIPAC crowd) for the most belligerent and hawkish positions on the Israeli spectrum is actually working against Israel’s ability to make the compromises it will have to make in order to achieve peace.
And nobody will think any less of you, Barack, if you choose to speak the truth, and what you know to be the truth, rather than half-heartedly embrace falsehoods that aren’t doing anybody any good. The right-wing Zionists aren’t going to support you no matter how hard you pander, and the liberal mainstream will respect honesty and consistency. Israel needs American leaders that can march it back from its own self-destructive impulses, rather than cheerleaders of its march of folly.Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m wasting my breath…