It may be a case of chickens coming home to roost. I'm referring to Tim Russert's offensive questions to Barack Obama about Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan at this week's debate.
Yeah, yeah. I know that this is Tim Russert I'm talking about, a guy who has specialized in boorishness (especially toward Senator Clinton) during the entire campaign this year.
His idea of journalism is always the same: "gotcha." He surprises the candidate with some ancient quote or photo and then hectors him into an explanation. Every question he asks is designed not to produce a useful response but to knock her off her game and show the viewer that Tim (actually his team of researchers) has the ability to confuse the candidate. A stammering response is, for Tim, a hole-in-one. Essentially, Russert is in the oppo research business, not on behalf of any candidate but on behalf of his ratings.
This is not the place to discuss his disrespectful treatment of Clinton because it did not touch on Israel or Middle East issues. But Russert's attack on Obama did and this is an appropriate place to confront it.
The reason I refer to chickens coming home to roost is because I believe that Russert would not have mentioned Farrakhan if segments of the Jewish community had not raised this rather insignificant Muslim preacher into prominence. They did that by publicizing every nasty comment about Jews or Israel the man ever made, as if he had a huge following, was a candidate for high office, or was successfully instigating pogroms.
But that is what some segments of the community enjoy doing. It is as if our identity is only secure when we can point to enemies. Unfortunately, and predictably, our well-publicized responses to Farrakhan's attacks gave him national prominence he does not deserve.
In that sense, it is our own fault that Tim Russert asked Barack Obama about his non-existent relationship with Farrakhan. But it is Russert who asked the question and he is the one who needs to be called out for it. It is also worth noting that Farrakhan is seriously ill with cancer and has been out of the limelight for years -- at least until Russert decided to make him a story when he no longer is one.
Russert noted that Farrakhan had endorsed Obama at a recent prayer meeting and demanded to know, in a series of questions, "do you accept his support?" The question itself is ridiculous because it implies that Farrakhan's "support" for Obama is tantamount to Obama supporting Farrakhan.
It is obvious why Farrakhan "supports" Obama. Farrakhan is a black nationalist and would support any African-American running for President. Similarly, white supremacy groups will support John McCain if Obama is the Democratic nominee. Will Russert ask McCain if he "accepts" the support of the Ku Klux Klan? Of course not, because it is a stupid question although no less stupid than asking Obama if he accepts Farrakhan's support.
But the Farrakhan question was not just stupid. It was ugly, insensitive and disrespectful to Jews. It demonstrated Russert's obliviousness to the dynamite he was playing with: Jewish fears about anti-Semitism in the wake of the Holocaust. There are still thousands of Holocaust survivors among us and hundreds of thousands of their children and grandchildren. Today, in Iran, you have Ahmadinejad who denies the Holocaust took place while suggesting he might instigate another one.
It also was disrespectful to African-Americans, suggesting that every African-American can be held responsible for the actions or statements of every other (this is, of course, the essence of bigotry). It played on the racism of segments of the American public. And it poured fuel on the difficult, but improving, relations between African-Americans and Jews.
This is serious stuff, deadly stuff. But for Russert it was just an opportunity to pump up his ratings. Russert knows Obama does not share Farrakhan's views. (Would a young African-American have made it to the Senate from Illinois if he had?) Furthermore, Obama is a Christian and has no connection to Farrakhan.
Asking Obama to repudiate him is like asking me if I reject the praise the late Meir Kahane once bestowed upon me on the Larry King show. Why would I? Anyone who knows me understands that Kahane and I had nothing in common except our religion. Farrakhan and Obama don't even have that. End of story.
Following his Farrakhan line of attack, Russert went on to Obama's Protestant minister. Obama again said that he did not share his minister's views on anything but issues of faith (I don't share all of my rabbi's views either).
But Obama did not stop there. Although it was not necessary, he elaborated on his views on Jews and Israel. He said that he would not be in politics at all were it not for the support he always received from the Jewish community in Illinois. He called the Israel one "of our most important allies. " He said, " I think that its security is sacrosanct, and that the United States has a special relationship with Israel, as I myself do with the Jewish community."
He then added: " I would not be sitting here were it not for a whole host of Jewish Americans, who supported the civil rights movement and helped to ensure that justice was served in the South. And that coalition has frayed over time around a whole host of issues, and part of my task in this process is making sure that those lines of communication and understanding are reopened."
The bottom line is that Obama, like Senators Clinton and McCain, is a friend of Jews and Israel. But that won't stop his opponents in the community, from swearing on a stack of Bibles that one or the other of them hates Jews, Israel or both.
Remember the lies the people now maligning Obama told about Clinton when she ran for the Senate? If she wins the nomination, they will be repeating them and Tim Russert will be demanding an explanation for the Suha Arafat kiss despite Clinton's record in the Senate. For the haters, it's all fun and games -- although it is anything but for those of us who care about the Jewish people, about Israel and, above all, about America.
I really do not look forward to another eight months of this and I am not referring only to Russert. I refer to those circulating the hate emails in the Jewish community about Obama and Clinton. I refer to the Democratic operatives who are going to scour McCain's record to find evidences of some deviation from the Likud position on borders or Jerusalem or, God forbid, an expression of sympathy for Palestinian children caught in the crossfire. I refer to the attacks on Obama for having a Muslim-sounding name or on Hillary for that innocent and infamous kiss.
It's all garbage. There is no anti-Israel candidate running for President. The partisans of one party or the other who say that there is, and who distort and lie to "prove" their point, need to be told that their tactics are indecent and beyond the pale.
Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to resolve it is a legitimate subject for debate, using Israel or anti-Semitism to score against opposing candidates is not. Worse than that, it disrespects and insults our community.
But don't expect to stop receiving those hate e-mails anytime soon. No matter that they are nothing but lies, just like those e-mails everyone gets promising that a particular pill will enlarge a particular body part. The e-mails about the candidates are no different: lies for the gullible. They deserve the same response. Just hit "delete."
Published at TPM Cafe and as Those Hate Emails: Just Hit Delete, at Israel Policy Forum
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