Obama again and again and again

Is Barack Obama good for Jews? Kind of a crude formulation, to say the least, but in the past few weeks there has been an instructive dance between Obama and the “is he good for Israel/Jewish” forces. Now, with the extremely close primaries, the Obama issue becomes, for good or ill, extremely pressing.

Beyond the self-ghetto-ization of such a question, the first issue to consider is that in the US there are no negative political consequences for being as right-wing as possible on all things Israel. Similar to being pro-death penalty, which Obama is, it’s an easy call for the campaign managers/strategists to, at the very least, appear to be pro-Israel.(Whatever the nature of such a position may actually be- what often passes for ‘pro-Israel’ is deeply anti-Israel). In an effort to shore up his pro-Israel bona fides, the rising presidential candidate has recently written to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, imploring him to not be biased against Israel (as Israel engages in collective punishment by strangling Gaza, an action whose impact on Palestinians is not only unconscionable, but which actually further endangers the people of Sderot, who are also victims in this game.) (See Muzzlewatch, Jan. 30th).

Further, Obama has demanded an end to Palestinian violence as a pre-condition to any talks, a recognition by Hamas of Israel’s right to exist, no Palestinian right of return, with no mention of the decades long US-supported occupation. Pretty standard fare for the unambiguously “pro-Israel.”

Yet there seems to be all sorts of trouble for Obama. Questions have been raised about his long time relationship to the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which awarded a prize to Louis Farrakhan in November, 2007. Although Obama has continually denounced anti-Semitism and called the award to Farrakhan “an error in judgment,” questions still persist.

Some have wondered “will he be another Jimmy Carter” and Obama’s call for diplomatic engagement with Iran (what can this wild man be thinking!!!!) has been met with deep suspicion. Worse, there have been rumors about his “pro Muslim” sympathies based on spurious connections to his upbringing and name. At present, the whisper campaign has had its intended affect, many in the US with pro-Israeli sympathies simply don’t want to “risk it.” As the Forward editorial details:

“Published reports and word-of-mouth from New York to Miami suggest that considerable numbers of Jewish voters will not back Obama, because they’re not sure he’s not their enemy. The rumors may be true or false, they reason; Obama may or may not be a secret Muslim radical. But why risk it? If there’s any danger of anti-Semitism, the thinking goes, you err on the side of caution. You don’t take chances.”

Such thinking will most probably persist no matter the spectacle of establishment American Jewish power coming to Obama’s defense.

A target-rich environment for Obama bashers

In addition to the strange pairing of his Christian church attendance and Muslim sympathies, the larger question remains, why all the fuss? What’s wrong with being Muslim or connected to Muslims, is that different from being Christian or Jewish or Mormon? The dual targets of anti-Muslim and anti-black bigotry are low hanging fruit for those who want to cast aspersions, either implied or overt.

There are other “negatives” at play here as well. Because Obama has argued for a two state solution (like PM Olmert), has consulted with former Carter cabinet member Brzezinski and Middle East negotiator Robert Malley, and appeared on panels with Edward Said, right-wing elements both within Israel and the US consider his positions anathema/leftist. Indeed, the American Thinker discusses a virtual who’s who of the right wing “Israel right or wrong” who question Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides.

In the end, it’s really not clear what being pro-Israel actually means. Despite American Jews’ marked leftward political leanings, does it mean being pro right-wing Israeli positions? pro Israeli citizen? anti-occupation (withdrawal to the green line, right of return, Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital)? or being for a one state solution (advocated for by people on the left and right) or confederation?

Some may think that typical “pro Israel positions” that do not seek a just solution to the occupation are actually anti-Israeli in the extreme. Others may disagree, but the spectacle of someone running for the Presidency in the richest, most powerful nation on earth being held to the standards of the most rightwing positions of a tiny country which is determinately carrying out settler colonialism, seems absurd.

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