I was drinking beer with my friend Baha' the other night when the US presidential election came up. Baha' is an educated, left-wing Palestinian guy who lived in the US for a while. Like a lot of Palestinians, he is sympathetic to Barack Obama, preferring him over Hilary Clinton, but is puzzled about Obama's views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
If Obama is supposed to represent "Change", Baha' asked me, why doesn't he stand up to the Israel lobby? Why not make a complete break with the old politics?
It's a fair question, and a complex one. It's also a question that's been underlined in the last few days with Obama's repeated statements about the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel.
Obama (or his ghostwriters) even published a drooling, sycophantic opinion piece in one of Israel's more right-wing newspapers on Friday:
As the festivities surrounding Israel’s 60th anniversary get underway, Israelis can be forgiven if they don’t feel in an entirely celebratory mood. With terrorism and rockets from Gaza, a serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, hostages held by Hamas, and too many of its neighbors playing tired old games rather than working toward peace and security, Israel can at times feel like a nation facing enormous challenges. It is, but is also much more than that. It is precisely at this moment that, despite the challenges, Israelis should take stock of what they have built, and their hearts should swell with pride. And it is also at this moment that Israel’s friends around the world should raise their voices in a chorus of support. Because Israel has more than just friends -- it also has legions of admirers. I am proud to be one, and I know that millions of Americans join me in saluting the State of Israel and its vast array of achievements over these past 60 years.
Writing from where, I am, in occupied Palestine, this is truly vomit-inducing stuff. Even many Israelis will feel patronized that Obama "forgives" them for having critical thoughts about the situation their country is in.
Obama makes no mention of what international aid organizations agree is a humanitarian crisis created by Israel's blockade in the Gaza Strip, or the or the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank.
The article is utterly ahistorical at best, making its first factual error in the second sentence in referring to the "terrorism and rockets coming from Gaza." There have been two suicide attacks inside Israel in recent months: In February, an Israeli woman was killed by a Palestinian bomber in the town of Dimona. The Palestinian attackers came from Hebron, in the West Bank. The shooter who killed eight Israelis at a West Jerusalem Yeshiva in March came from East Jerusalem.
(OK fine. It's possible that Obama was referring to the suicide shooting attack at Gaza's Nahal Oz fuel terminal in April, which killed two civilian workers. Fair enough. Or he's referring to a general sense of 'terror' emanating from Gaza in the form of homemade rockets. But you see my point – the attackers in the only two bona fide 'terror attacks' in the last year did not come from Gaza.)
Obama continues in this gushing over-the-top manner for almost 700 words, praising Israel's "world-class military" (never mind that it was paid for by the US), and ends by saying he hopes to "preserve and expand upon [the US'] unique relationship with the Jewish State." He also meekly suggests continued US support for "Arab-Israeli peacemaking."
Exactly WHY Obama is saying these things is a complex question of causality that I'll deal with in another post. What's interesting is exactly WHAT he's saying in this article. Interestingly, Obama's op-ed makes exactly zero concrete policy commitments, or even policy suggestions. It's all marshmellowy campaign-talk intended to shore up his support among Jewish Americans and counter the racially-coded insinuations of his opponents, who would make him out to be an Israel-hating Hamas-supporter.
The bottom line, for now, is that we can still hope that Obama, as president, would be able to affect some break from the status quo, that perhaps his willingness to sit down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will one day also extend to Ismail Haniyeh.