Sunday, March 30, 2008

McPeak, Obama and the "Israel Lobby": Why the Right is Wrong, Gidon D. Remba

A new tempest in a teapot has broken out over remarks from 2003 unearthed by a conservative magazine about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by Gen. Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, Senator Barack Obama’s campaign co-chair. The Republican Jewish Coalition claims that McPeak “blames American Jews rather than Palestinians” for the failure of the peace process.

The Obama campaign issued the following statement on McPeak: "Senator Obama's longstanding commitment to Israel is clear to anyone who has reviewed his voting record, read his speeches or looked at his policy papers. As he has said, his support for our democratic ally Israel is based on America's national interests and our shared values. Neither Senator Clinton nor Senator Obama agrees with every position their advisors take, and in this case Senator Obama disagrees with General McPeak's comments."

The RJC says this is not enough and that Sen. Obama should remove Gen. McPeak. The RJC calls McPeak’s comments from the 2003 interview “offensive” and in its second press release on the subject in 24 hours says that “more telling are the comments General McPeak made to The Oregonian on Wednesday, March 26 [2008] when he said he 'stood by his position that U.S. policy in the Mideast is influenced by pro-Israeli voters'"…The issue is not whether American Jews have any influence, the issue is who is to blame for the problems in the Middle East. General McPeak blamed American Jews in 2003 and he blames them still today. It is painfully clear he does not understand the offensive nature of these comments.”

McPeak’s sin is that he does not subscribe to the dogma that Israel is always the righteous victim and the Palestinians are nothing if not evil terrorists; that all right and good inures to Israel and all wrong falls on the Palestinians. The Republican Jewish Coalition, like the Israeli and American Jewish right, will countenance only the most simplistic Manichean view of the conflict: Israel is the innocent angel and the Palestinians genocidal demons. Israel can do no wrong, nor can any Israeli policy be objectionable or possibly dim the prospects for peace.

McPeak pointed to the role that Israel’s West Bank settlements play in obstructing a two-state solution, and the support Israel’s settlement project receives in some American Jewish quarters. These forces help to reinforce a laissez faire American approach to Israeli construction beyond the Green Line, even as US officials regularly bloviate about the “unhelpfulness” of Israel's long-running West Bank extravaganza. Gen. McPeak rightly challenged the central taboo of the Jewish right’s worldview. (Even some on the Israeli Labor party’s right-wing, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have bought into to this, in Barak's case, self-serving, black-and-white portrait.)

But once we acknowledge that US policy in the Mideast is influenced by pro-Israeli voters in the American Jewish community, as even the RJC admits, it’s hard to see why it should be offensive to grant that the way in which that influence is exercised does not always serve Israel’s or America’s interests. It would come as a great surprise to AIPAC, widely considered to be among the most successful and influential lobbies in Washington, that it, and the American Jews it represents, have no influence on US policy vis-à-vis Israel. But as far as the RJC is concerned anything an American Jewish organization lobbies for must ipso facto be as good for Israel and America as hummus and apple pie.

The RJC irresponsibly conflates McPeak’s acknowledgement of that political reality, and his criticism of the misguided policies it sometimes abets, with the recklessly flawed Carter-Walt-Mearsheimer view. (I’ve debunked both Carter and Mearsheimer/Walt in previous publications, while recognizing the grain of truth in their views). But this trio ill-served their own cause by giving a bad name to a well-founded thesis held by many staunchly pro-Israel Jews: that AIPAC and fundamentalist Christian Zionists often exercise their influence and that of the citizens they represent in ways that are harmful to Israel’s security, and may even clash with the Israeli government’s policies. To affirm this one needn’t swallow the wholesale warped worldview of Carter, Mearsheimer and Walt: that Jews have excessive influence on US policy, or that the "Israel lobby" or Jewish neocons betrayed the United States by goading American leaders to invade Iraq for Israel’s sake. But such is the RJC’s standard MO: tar all moderate and liberal pro-Israel Jews by collapsing their views into the most egregious and wrong-headed theories of the far left, and then attack the moderates for buying into the whole noxious mix.

In reality, American Jews do not have enough influence on US policy: the moderate majority is, in fact, not well represented by the mainstream pro-Israel lobbying organizations. It is therefore welcome news that, according to news reports, a moderate pro-Israel lobby is, at long last, now aborning.

Gen. McPeak told the Oregonian on March 26 2008 that “he worked closely with the Israeli military as an Air Force officer and considers himself a strong ally of Israel. But, he added, "the way to get to peace is to find some way out of the box canyon that Israel has built for itself with the West Bank settlements. . . . And it is just a fact that the [pro] Israeli vote -- or the Jewish vote -- is something that all politicians have to consider."

The American Jewish Committee’s Annual Survey of Jewish Opinion for 2007 (November 6-25, 2007) found that while 46% of American Jews favored the establishment of a Palestinian state “in the current situation,” 43% oppose. Let’s set aside, for the purposes of this discussion, how the wording of this question influenced the respondents’ replies, and take the result at face value. Other polls have shown broader American Jewish support for a two-state solution and a robust American role in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

This poll suggests that there is a significant minority of American Jews which opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. Given that American Jews are concentrated in major states like New York and Florida, and have among the highest percentages of voter turnout of any religious or ethnic group in the U.S., it is unsurprising that an administration which seeks to invest political capital into brokering a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement will need to be concerned about the significant minority of Jewish voters—particularly in those two states—who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, one of the primary outcomes of such negotiations.

Significant American Jewish opposition to US engagement in brokering peace negotiations is indeed a factor in the failure of the Bush Administration, and previous administrations, to become more actively involved in peace efforts, even now as it pursues the “Annapolis peace process.” But still, McPeak is wrong: the neoconservative ideology of the Bush Administration has been the overriding reason why for the last seven years it has not assumed an active role in backing or brokering Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Under that doctrine—held by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush—the US must first vanquish radical states like Iraq, Syria and Iran, sapping the Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists they underwrite; peace negotiations must be deferred until the radicals have been neutered by force of arms.

As it faces its final year in search of a legacy, left with the dismal results of its polices from Iraq to Iran, Lebanon and Gaza, the Bush administration--mugged by reality--has been forced to do an about face and, after seven years of malign neglect, had little choice but to get behind a new attempt at Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. This it has done despite the finding of the recent AJC poll that a significant minority of American Jews opposes the intended outcome of those negotiations: a two-state peace deal eventuating in a Palestinian state. The grand failure of its Middle East strategy after eight years is an awful legacy to bequeath the Republican party, this country, and America’s allies from Israel to pro-Western Arab states. Seizing even the appearance of triumph from the jaws of chaos and defeat trumps the wishes of a divided American Jewish public. The opinion of the wider American public as it enters a new presidential election, and the judgement of history, is a far greater burden to bear.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Obama National Campaign Co-Chairman Gen. Merrill McPeak Disputes Anti-Israel Charges from Republican Jewish Coalition, Shalom TV

March 28, 2008


March 28, 2008 (Fort Lee, NJ) -- General Merrill "Tony" McPeak, Senator Barack Obama's military advisor and national campaign co-chairman, responds to charges from the Republican Jewish Coalition of "alarming anti-Israel views" that warrant his removal by telling Shalom TV that he has "no criticism of Israel." Wednesday's RJC attack cites a 1976 Foreign Affairs article written by General McPeak that criticized Israel for not returning to the 1967 borders, and a 2003 interview in the Oregonian in which he blamed the lack of Middle East peace progress on the undue political influence of American Jews.

"This all stems from an article I wrote in the mid-70s, [and] I urge you to get the article," states General McPeak to Shalom TV's Mark S. Golub. "The Council on Foreign Relations has published it again on their Web site. I will happily buy you dinner anywhere if you can find those words in that article. This is baloney." "I decided a long time ago that I was on Israel's side," declares General McPeak. "I'm a long-term admirer of Israel and consider myself a friend of Israel." In an exclusive phone interview, the retired former chief of staff of the US Air Force notes that, even today, he has "fighter pilot friends and buddies in Israel who, I hope, are not alarmed by these scurrilous charges that I regard Israel as the bad guy in the Middle East."

General McPeak does suggest "it would serve everyone's purposes for Israel to remove itself from occupied territories in conditions that represent a negotiated solution agreeable to both sides. "What Israel security requires is peace with its neighbors, and a failure to get to a negotiated solution on the occupied territories has prevented peace. There's enough blame on both sides, and even blame for the United States. I would like the United States to play a constructive role to bring about progress in the [peace] process."

The general makes clear he does not hold Israel responsible for failing to return to the 1967 borders, and sees no moral equivalence between terrorists bombing Israeli restaurants and people who want to make peace.

General McPeak also feels that the American Jewish community has not acted inappropriately with respect to US foreign policy in Israel and the Middle East, saying that "American Jewry has some influence, just like [American] Irish have influence about Ireland policy, just like the National Rifle Association has something to say about our arms policy. "I don't object to interest groups or lobbying groups exercising influence. I think our government takes account of the various kinds of competing interests that are represented in our country, and then acts in a way that is consistent with our own best interest."

Regarding the RJC, General McPeak concludes, "you'll have to check with them [on] what they're trying to do here. Or with the Clinton campaign. This has the smell of politics, doesn't it?"

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Why I Quit My Shul in Protest--and Obama Did Not, by Gidon D. Remba

The firestorm which has erupted over outrageous remarks by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, evokes a time in my life when I too faced a moment of decision not unlike the one Obama's critics insist he failed.

Some five years ago, I and my family quit our synagogue in protest over the rabbi's deeply offensive sermons. Setting aside that I am not a candidate for public office, the differences between my situation and Obama's are instructive.

After settling down in the northern suburbs of Chicago, my wife and I left a synagogue soon after joining. At the baby naming ceremony for our then three-month old daughter, before hundreds of our guests, friends and family, the rabbi, in the days after the terrorist massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya, fulminated that Israel must now slaughter the Palestinians without mercy. Not the terrorists, but “the Palestinians.” This was followed by a paean to the superiority of Judaism over both Christianity and Islam, just the thing my non-Jewish friends who had never set foot before in a synagogue needed to hear about what it means to be a Jew: in short, militant vengeful wrath, racism which demonized an entire people, brooking no distinction between the innocent and the guilty, capped by a triumphalist conceit proving not the superiority of Judaism but the moral bankruptcy of one of its annointed representatives.

Several friends stormed out of our baby naming in disgust. I could hardly blame them. It was a profoundly disturbing moment, and we followed suit when for us the time was right.

We quit within months of joining; we had no history, no prior powerful or intimate personal or familial bond with our religious leader before the moment of moral outrage. And we had no countervailing experience of uplifting spirituality and moral inspiration challenging us to measure our revulsion against our love and our awe.

In an ideal world, I wish Barack Obama had never joined Rev. Wright’s church, or quit once he realized that his opinions were sometimes objectionable. But Obama’s account of the complex weave of the relationship between congregant and pastor reveals his situation to have been far more fraught than ours.

In the link that follows, I highlight the most poignant part of Obama’s speech on race which, I feel, brings to the fore the categorical difference between our personal situation and his. It is also the most inspiring portion of his speech. I urge you to read it here.

Obama's Poignant Speech on Race: An Excerpt

…We’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow....

"We have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle—as we did in the OJ trial—or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina—or as fodder for the nightly news.

"We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words.

"We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

"We can do that.

"But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

"That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

"This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

"This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

"This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

"I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation—the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

"There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today—a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

"There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

"And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

"She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

"She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

"Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

"Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, 'I am here because of Ashley.'

"'I'm here because of Ashley.' By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

"But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins."

Read the rest of Obama’s historic speech on race here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

McCain, Obama and the Middle East: What Conservative Mudslingers Don’t Want You To Know, Gidon D. Remba

Published in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, March 13, 2008
(Expanded Version)

Anti-Obamanauts have flayed the Democratic presidential hopeful with claims that former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Clinton Mideast aide Robert Malley were anti-Israel advisors to Obama. In fact, neither is among Obama’s primary Middle East counselors, and neither is anti-Israel. But what conservative mudslingers don’t want you to know is that there are more than ample grounds to raise the same false suspicions over what a President John McCain’s Israel policies might be as there are over a President Barack Obama’s.

The very ideas invoked by the fear-mongers to frighten Jewish voters away from Obama are endorsed by at least one of McCain’s key foreign policy advisors: former G.W.H Bush National Security Advisor Brent Scrowcroft. The new tack, common to many Republicans and Democrats who view the Middle East through a “realist” lens, not only bucks the calamitous Middle East nostrums of George W. Bush and the “experienced” Dick Cheney. It learns the lessons of past failures, deploying a different compass to navigate around the errors of previous thrusts at Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

In the run-up to the Annapolis Palestinian-Israeli peace summit this past November, a group of prominent Republican and Democratic foreign policy experts sent a letter to President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice titled “Failure Risks Devastating Consequences.” The letter, signed and initiated by Scowcroft, Brzezinski and others, urged the administration to insure that “the conference…. focus on the endgame and endorse the contours of a permanent peace.” And it spelled out precisely what those contours should look like.

One distinguishing feature of this innovative approach is that its authors urge the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council to provide Israelis and Palestinians, for the first time, with the clear guidance of a well-defined international consensus on the outline of a permanent peace treaty. No longer will Palestinian radicals be able to claim that there is a basis in international law, or support in the international community, for the return of refugees to former homes and villages in Israel. The Security Council would once and for all put that claim to rest, insuring that all understand the solution must not violate the essential premise of a two-state solution.

Protest though they may, Jewish extremists will be forced to recognize that the U.S. and the entire international community now affirm that Jerusalem must be the home of two capitals, and that the final borders will based on the 1967 lines with minor agreed modifications reflecting an equal land swap. This sends a resounding message to the messianic fanatics of the Jewish settlement movement, and to other Jewish hardliners, that the international consensus and the U.S. position is now no longer in doubt: settlements outside these lines will have to be removed under a peace agreement, and the amount of territory to be annexed to Israel in the final deal will be limited by the need to provide an equal land swap to the state of Palestine.

The new approach gives a shot in the arm to moderates on both sides, strengthening leaders who seek a fair compromise. It also telegraphs to Olmert and Abbas that the U.S. and the rest of the international community expect them to negotiate within these now-universally accepted parameters.

A second new element in this approach pertains to Hamas. The foreign policy mavins—again including one of McCain’s senior advisors—believe “that a genuine dialogue with the organization is far preferable to its isolation; it could be conducted, for example, by the UN and Quartet Middle East envoys.” They suggest that “promoting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would be a good starting point.”

The Scrowcroft-Brzezinski letter warns the Bush administration that repeating the old errors will once again doom the peace process, a prediction which looks increasingly like the present reality: “If Syria or Hamas is ostracized,” they warn, “prospects that they will play a spoiler role increase dramatically. This could take the shape of escalating violence from the West Bank or from Gaza, either of which would overwhelm any political achievement, increase the political cost of compromises for both sides, and negate Israel's willingness or capacity to relax security restrictions. By the same token, a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas's cooperation.”

Third, the U.S. and its allies can no longer remain complacent about the yawning gap between rhetoric and reality, whether regarding settlements or security. The letter reminds the administration that “unless both sides see concrete improvements in their lives, political agreements are likely to be dismissed as mere rhetoric, further undercutting support for a two-state solution.” Israel’s failure to remove settlement outposts and unnecessary roadblocks, much like tepid Palestinian security and anti-terror moves, are not frozen into the Middle East landscape like Lot’s wife. They are changeable if the U.S. and its allies muster the will to do what it takes. In short, Israelis and Palestinians can’t get there on their own. It takes a village; a global village.

Finally, we have a report on McCain’s own remarks on what his Israel policy would look like were he elected president. The Forward reports that “Nearly two years ago, a Ha'aretz reporter wrote that he had asked McCain if resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue would require movement toward the 1967 armistice lines with minor territorial modifications, and McCain had nodded in the affirmative. The senator had added that if elected president, he would ask both sides to make sacrifices and would send ‘the smartest guy I know’ to the Middle East. That person could be the elder George Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, or his secretary of state, James Baker, ‘though I know that you in Israel don't like Baker.’” When a hawkish Orthodox American Jewish newspaper bashed McCain over this story, he denied its accuracy; the Ha’aretz reporter stands by his report.

If, as Obama’s critics claim, he is privately “critical of U.S. bias toward Israel and lack of sensitivity to Arabs” and “very supportive of U.S. pressure on Israel,” and if a President Obama did indeed act to prod the Israeli government to begin to roll back West Bank settlements and the Palestinians to deliver real security, moving to enact the bipartisan Scowcroft-Brzezinski recommendations, he would at long last do the very thing that Israel needs most, which recent presidents have lacked the courage to do. It is precisely this failure of vision and will on the part of American leaders, especially President Bush, which has allowed Israel to fall deeper into an abyss from which it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach for a two-state accommodation. Presidents Ford, Carter and G. H. W. Bush all had the chutzpah to press Israel and the Arabs to do what they needed, even if it was politically unpopular at the time. And each contributed mightily to Israel’s security.

Now we learn that “a senior US official” is predicting that “Washington is likely to pressure Israel and the Palestinian Authority to make significant” progress “before US President George W. Bush visits the region in May,” according to Ha’aretz. The administration official says that the U.S. wants Israel to “start evacuating illegal settlement outposts” and is “disappointed by Israel’s inaction and its refrain of ‘we are still negotiating with the settlers.’” It wants Israel to move “parts of the separation fence from the West Bank to the Green Line,” an affirmation that not only security but political considerations have been factored into fixing its present course. It believes that “enacting a law to compensate settlers who leave the West Bank voluntarily…would demonstrate Israel’s seriousness about a two-state solution.” The unnamed senior U.S. official concluded with harsh criticism of the Israeli government’s Palestinian strategy: “The current Israeli approach to daily Palestinian life strengthens Hamas in Gaza.” News flash: George W. Bush wants a better Mideast legacy. And it took him only seven and a half years to discover the first hints of what must be done.

We can only hope that Barack Obama is the leader who will put an end to the indulgent friendship in which George W. Bush has long bathed Israel. John McCain might do much the same. Like true American heroes, perhaps neither will wait until the sun is setting on his term in office and new rivers of blood have been carved into the region’s scorched topography.

Good friends don’t let friends drink and drive. They take the keys and drive them home until they regain sobriety. Now that’s what true friendship is all about.

Gidon D. Remba is a veteran Israel activist and commentator. He blogs at and can be reached at

Friday, March 14, 2008

Smearing Obama, by Ari Berman, The Nation

This article can be found on the web at

Smearing Obama
[from the March 31, 2008 issue]

He's a Muslim. He was sworn into office on the Koran. He doesn't say the Pledge of Allegiance. His pastor is an anti-Semite. He's a tool of Louis Farrakhan. He's anti-Israel. His advisers are anti-Israel. He's friends with terrorists. The terrorists want him to win. He's the Antichrist.

By now you've probably seen at least some of these e-mails and articles about Barack Obama bouncing around the Internet. They distort Obama's religious faith, question his support for Israel, warp the identity and positions of his campaign advisers and defame his friends and allies from Chicago. The purpose of the smear is to paint him as an Arab-loving, Israel-hating, terrorist-coddling, radical black nationalist. That picture couldn't be further from the truth, but you'd be surprised how many people have fallen for it. The American Jewish community, one of the most important pillars of the Democratic Party and US politics, has been specifically targeted [see Eric Alterman's column in the March 24 issue, "(Some) Jews Against Obama"]. What started as a largely overlooked fringe attack has been thrust into the mainstream--used as GOP talking points, pushed by the Clinton campaign, echoed by the likes of Meet the Press host Tim Russert. Falsehoods are repeated as fact, and bits of evidence become "elaborate constructions of malicious fantasy," as the Jewish Week, America's largest Jewish newspaper, editorialized.

What floods into one's inbox these days bears little or no relation to Obama's record. "Some of my earliest and most ardent supporters came from the Jewish community in Chicago," he has said. Obama ran for the Senate promising to help reconstitute the black-Jewish civil rights coalition. His first foreign policy speech of the campaign was before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where he pledged "clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel." He has occasionally angered pro-Israel hawks by urging direct negotiations with Iran and Syria, but Obama's foreign policy record is well within the Democratic Party mainstream. He's committed to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, supported Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 2006 and has criticized Hamas. During his campaign for the presidency, Obama has been defended by AIPAC, the neoconservative New York Sun and The New Republic's Marty Peretz, a noted Israel hawk. And yet no defense of Israel by Obama--or of Obama by the pro-Israel establishment--seems to be enough. "When one charge is disproved, another is leveled," says Rabbi Jack Moline, who leads a synagogue in Alexandria, Virginia.

It's nearly impossible to decipher where the smears originated [for a comprehensive account of how such campaigns are generated and spread in the age of the Internet and e-mail, see Christopher Hayes, "The New Right-Wing Smear Machine," November 12, 2007]. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency traced one e-mail back 200 people before it stopped with a filmmaker in Tel Aviv who didn't receive a return address. "No one knows if it's the Clintons, a rogue agent or a Rove agent," says Congressman Steve Cohen, a Jewish Obama backer who represents a largely black district in Memphis. Likely it's a combination of the three.

We may not know who started the smears, but we do know who's amplifying them. The "Obama is a Muslim" rumor began in the fringe conservative blogosphere. "Barack Hussein Obama: Once a Muslim, Always a Muslim," blogger Debbie Schlussel wrote on December 18, 2006. Schlussel had a history of inflammatory rhetoric and baseless accusations. She said journalist Jill Carroll, who was kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents in 2006, "hates America" and "hates Israel"; labeled George Soros a "fake Holocaust survivor"; and speculated that Pakistani terrorists were somehow to blame for last year's shootings at Virginia Tech. Yet her post on Obama gained traction; one month later, the Washington Times's Insight magazine alleged that Obama had attended "a so-called Madrassa" and was a secret Muslim.

The Christian right is also preoccupied with Obama's religious beliefs. "Is Obama a Muslim?" the Rev. Rob Schenck, a reform Jew who converted to Christianity and now calls himself a "missionary to Capitol Hill," asked in a recent videoblog. "He may be an apostate, he may be an infidel, he may be a bad Muslim, a very, very bad Muslim, he may be an unfaithful Muslim." Schenck's videoblog was circulated by the Christian Newswire and Cross Action News, a self-described "Drudge Report for Christians." Schenck later concluded that, although not a Muslim, Obama was also "not a 'Bible Christian'" and did not practice a "confident faith." A separate report posted on the Christian Newswire recently asked if Obama was "Wearing a What-Would-Satan-Do Bracelet." And a top figure in the group Christians United for Israel, Pastor Rod Parsley, a "spiritual guide" to John McCain, repeatedly referred to Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" before campaigning with McCain in Ohio. (Thirteen percent of registered American voters now incorrectly believe that Obama is a Muslim, according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, up from 8 percent in December. Forty-four percent of respondents are unsure of his religion or decline to answer; only 37 percent know that he is a Christian.)

The Muslim rumor was followed by fictions about Obama's actual faith, Christianity. In February 2007, Erik Rush, a columnist for WorldNetDaily, a hub of right-wing yellow journalism, called Obama's Chicago church a "black supremacist" and "separatist" institution. Rush found a sympathetic audience at Fox News, where he was interviewed by Sean Hannity. Soon after, another blast of e-mails went out, calling Obama a racist: "Notice too, what color you will need to be if you should want to join Obama's church...B-L-A-C-K!!!" Like the Muslim claim, it was a lie. But screeds about Obama's faith soon gave way to wide-ranging attacks against his campaign advisers, his positions on the Middle East and his associations in Chicago.

At the fulcrum of this effort is a little-known blogger from Northbrook, Illinois, named Ed Lasky, whose articles on have done more than anything to give the smear campaign an air of respectability. Lasky co-founded in 2003, modeling it after Powerline, a popular conservative blog. Before that, he had frequently written letters to newspapers defending Israel and criticizing the Palestinians. Though his background remains a mystery, Lasky didn't hide his neoconservative leanings. He wrote a blog post in 2004 titled "Why American Jews Must Vote for Bush," made three separate donations to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, contributed $1,000 to Tom DeLay and has given more than $50,000 to GOP candidates and causes since 2000. Lasky sits on the board of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, whose close affiliations with Christian-right operatives like Ralph Reed has made Eckstein a controversial figure in the Jewish community.

A lengthy article from January 16, "Barack Obama and Israel," put Lasky on the map. "One seemingly consistent theme running throughout Barack Obama's career is his comfort with aligning himself with people who are anti-Israel advocates," Lasky wrote. To reach that conclusion, Lasky laughably warped what it meant to be "pro-Israel," criticizing Obama for, among other things, opposing John Bolton as UN ambassador and hiring veteran foreign policy hands from the Clinton and Carter administrations. By Lasky's criteria, every Democrat in the Senate, and more than a few Republicans, would be considered "anti-Israel." "Lasky's piece is filled with half-truths, omission of 'inconvenient facts,' innuendo, deeply flawed logic, undocumented charges, hearsay, and guilt by distant association," wrote Ira Forman of the National Jewish Democratic Council in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Despite--or perhaps because of--its propagandistic nature, Lasky's column and subsequent follow-ups circulated far and wide. Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post quoted Lasky at length in a January column, printing his false claims as fact, as did a separate column in the same paper by Marc Zell, a former law partner of Douglas Feith (a onetime top official in the Bush Defense Department) and a top ally of neocon darling and Iraq War proponent Ahmad Chalabi and co-chairman of Republicans Abroad in Israel. More surprising, Lasky became a household name in the mainstream Jewish press, the talk of the town at synagogues--even liberal ones--and a useful ally for members of the Clinton campaign, who circulated his articles. Recently he's been interviewed by mainstream outlets like NPR and the New York Times, which have labeled Lasky a "critic" of Obama without explaining his neoconservative sympathies. "I wonder how a tendentiously argued anti-Obama piece is mass-emailed by so many Jews who should know better," blogged Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News.

Another key purveyor of the smear campaign is Aaron Klein, an Orthodox Jew who is Jerusalem correspondent for WorldNetDaily. WND is notoriously disreputable, a sort of National Enquirer for the right (typical headline: "Sleaze Charge: 'I Took Drugs, Had Homo Sex With Obama'"). Klein made a name for himself by getting terrorists to say nice things about Democrats and allying himself with extremist elements of the Israeli right, whom he frequently quotes as sources in his articles--when he bothers to quote anyone at all. Klein originally called Hillary Clinton the "jihadist choice for president," but when Clinton stumbled, he turned his fire to Obama, attempting to expose his so-called "terrorist connections."

Klein penned two stories in late February wildly distorting Obama's links, from his days in Chicago, to pro-Palestinian activists like Rashid Khalidi, a respected professor of Middle East studies at Columbia University who previously taught at the University of Chicago (hardly a bastion of left-wing activism). Klein's story goes something like this: Obama sat on the board of a foundation in Chicago that gave a grant to the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), run by Khalidi's wife, which supposedly rejects Israel's existence; and Khalidi directed the PLO's Beirut press office and is a supporter "for Palestinian terror." (In fact, the AAAN focuses solely on social service work in Chicago and takes no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Khalidi says he was never employed by the PLO; he has been a harsh critic of Palestinian suicide bombings and a longtime supporter of a two-state solution, and he has never been an adviser to Obama. As for Obama's past statements, at least in Chicago, being pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian is not a contradiction in terms.)

Once again, the facts mattered little, and Klein's stories gained an audience beyond the narrow confines of WND. Christian publicist Maria Sliwa sent Klein's articles to prominent reporters, the Tennessee GOP included his claims in a press release titled "Anti-Semites for Obama" and the Jewish Press, an Orthodox Brooklyn paper, reprinted his story about Khalidi. His latest article alleges that "terrorists worldwide would indeed be emboldened by an Obama election." As evidence, Klein quotes Ramadan Adassi, a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank's Askar refugee camp, who says an Obama victory would be an "important success. He won popularity in spite of the Zionists and the conservatives." In previous stories, Klein has quoted Adassi praising Cindy Sheehan, Rosie O'Donnell and Sean Penn. For a suspected terrorist, Adassi follows pop culture and US politics remarkably closely.

Despite Klein's questionable sourcing and scandalous accusations, mainstream reporters now call the Obama campaign to ask about Klein's articles. He also reports for John Batchelor, a right-wing talk-radio host for KFI-AM in Los Angeles who has written a series of outlandish columns about Obama for the conservative magazine Human Events and repeatedly pushed the Obama smears on his radio show. According to an e-mail of Batchelor's obtained by The Nation, Batchelor says that information about Obama and Khalidi came via "oppo research."

Even if the false claims about Obama originally emanated from the neoconservative right, the Clinton campaign has eagerly pushed them. Clinton operative Sidney Blumenthal has e-mailed damaging stories about Obama to reporters, including a recent article by Batchelor. Clinton fundraiser Annie Totah circulated a column by Ed Lasky before Super Tuesday, with the inscription "Please vote wisely in the Primaries." Clinton adviser Ann Lewis falsely referred to Zbigniew Brzezinski, a critic of AIPAC, as a chief adviser to Obama on a conference call with Jewish reporters. "I can tell you for a fact people from the Clinton campaign are calling reporters and asking them to pay attention to things involving Obama and Israel," says Shmuel Rosner, Washington correspondent for the Israeli daily Ha'aretz. The volume of e-mails about Obama in a given state tends to track the election calendar--hardly a coincidence.

Large American Jewish organizations, like AIPAC and the Orthodox Union, have repeatedly defended Obama. Yet they've had little sway over reactionary elements in both the United States and Israel--including Jewish hate groups--who are eager to keep the smear campaign alive. The website Jews Against Obama, for instance, is run by the Jewish Task Force, which funnels money to the radical settler movement in Israel. (Curiously, John McCain's alliance with Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel, a leading proponent of "end times" theology, and his recent endorsement by former Secretary of State James Baker have received far less scrutiny from pro-Israel pundits. It was Baker, after all, who reportedly told George H.W. Bush, "Fuck the Jews. They didn't vote for us anyway.")

Respected news outlets have stoked these smears, even as they attempt to debunk them. "Is Barack Obama a Muslim?" asked an editorial in the Forward. "Almost certainly not. Was he ever a Muslim? Almost certainly yes." After Obama criticized "a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel," Rosner of Ha'aretz accused Obama of "meddling in Israel's internal politics." The Washington Post noted Obama's "denials" of his Muslim faith, without ever stating that the rumor was untrue. Post columnist Richard Cohen crassly connected Obama, his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and Louis Farrakhan, a line of guilt-by-association questioning that Tim Russert aggressively repeated in the last Obama-Clinton debate.

Among conservatives, Fox News has endlessly amplified such rumors. Karl Rove, a new hire by the network, recently speculated that Obama would withdraw funding for Israel. Sean Hannity has asked if Obama has a "race problem." Fox News radio host Tom Sullivan compared Obama to Hitler. "Fox News are on to him and all the arguments our 'smear' camping [sic] is making and for the most part it is running with them," right-wing blogger Ted Belman, of Israpundit, wrote in a recent e-mail.

The attacks on Obama reek of racism and Islamophobia but, as John Kerry learned in 2004, any Democrat should expect such treatment. "If Moses was the Democratic nominee, he'd still be the victim of this hate mail," says Doug Bloomfield, a former legislative director for AIPAC. The right-wing smear machine grinds on, with the mainstream media and rival campaigns lending a helping hand.

Monday, March 3, 2008

As Death Toll Mounts in Gaza and Southern Israel, Most Israelis Want Direct Talks with Hamas, Gidon D. Remba

As Hamas and other terrorists escalated their lethal rocket attacks this week on Sderot, Ashkelon and other parts of southern Israel, leading Israel to ratchet up its air and ground counter-attacks on parts of Gaza, the question on most minds was whether Israel will carry out its threats to launch a massive invasion and re-occupation of Gaza. The goal would be to stop the rockets once and for all, or at least exact a far greater price on Hamas.

In his remarks to a group of American Jewish leaders in Cleveland last week, Barack Obama highlighted how much more open debate is in Israel itself than in the American Jewish community about Israeli-Palestinian issues. A case in point, I would add, is how Israelis and American Jews approach the question of negotiating with Hamas. The Israeli government’s official position, along with that of the Bush Administration, AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, is that Israel will not negotiate with Hamas until it recognizes Israel’s right to exist, commits to previous agreements signed by the PLO, and abandons terrorism.

No presidential candidate in this country will dare deviate from this line, including Barack Obama, who has just issued a statement reemphasizing that his willingness to meet with foes "does not include Hamas. You can't negotiate with somebody who does not recognize the right of a country to exist so I understand why Israel doesn't meet with Hamas." But reports from Israel have consistently shown that the "establishment view" goes against what a considerable majority of Israeli Jews actually believe.

This is once more illustrated by the latest Ha’aretz-Dialogue poll (as reported in “Most Israelis back direct talks with Hamas”) which found that “Sixty-four percent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza toward a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Less than one-third (28 percent) still opposes such talks.” The poll indicates that even among voters for the right-wing Likud, no less than 48% supported direct negotiations with Hamas over a cease-fire and the release of Gilad Shalit (within the context of a prisoner exchange).

A new Ha’aretz news report indicates that “various Israeli figures, including retired generals, have been holding indirect talks with Hamas, largely through European mediation.” And now we learn that Cabinet Minister Ami Ayalon, a leading figure in Israel’s Labor party, an admiral and former chief of the Shin Bet General Security Service, “is planning to propose that Israel initiate indirect negotiations with Hamas, with Egyptian mediation, to bring about a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.”

The Ha’aretz article which reported on the poll notes that “An increasing number of public figures, including senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces' reserves, have expressed similar positions on talks with Hamas. It now appears that this opinion is gaining traction in the wider public, which until recently vehemently rejected such negotiations.” Key Israeli security figures who have endorsed something like this view include former national security advisor (to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) Giora Eiland, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, former Shin Bet Cheif Ya'akov Perry, and former defense minister and IDF Chief of Staff Lt-Gen (res.) Shaul Mofaz, now Israel's Minister of Transportation.

Why this discrepancy between the official position of the Israeli government and the organized American Jewish community, on the one hand, and Israeli public opinion on the other? Israelis are nothing if not pragmatic. They understand that there is no military solution to ending Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon and southern Israel. According to IDF estimates, a full-scale invasion of Gaza would lead to hundreds of Israeli military casualties, and over one thousand Palestinian civilian casualties, provoking widespread international condemnation of Israel, not unlike during the Lebanon War. Israel would be forced to re-occupy the Gaza Strip with its 1.5 million Palestinians, and re-institute a military government, a thankless task Israeli leaders dearly wish to avoid.

Moreover, the Qassams would not stop, as they did not when Israel occupied the territory before. The invasion might also provoke Hezbollah to restart the missile war against Israel, against which Israel still has little or no defense, as we saw in the Lebanon war of summer 2006. (Michael Oren, writing in the Washington Post recently, suggested the possibility of an even more devastating scenario, in which a Qassam strike which happens to cause mass Israeli civilian casualties provokes a full-scale Israeli invasion of Gaza, which sparks a regional war involving Hezbollah, Syrian and Iranian missile strikes against all of Israel.)

No matter which scenario one envisions, a full scale invasion of Gaza appears singularly unappealing to most Israelis and to the Israeli government itself. Many have concluded that the least bad option for Israel’s security is to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas and end the Qassam rockets via a limited agreement, rather than by escalating the war. This isn’t a peace agreement by any stretch; it’s not even a long-term truce. But it’s better, say most Israelis, than the escalating war raging in Gaza and southern Israel. At the same time, the government will continue to gradually escalate the IDF's counter-attacks, so as to exact a greater price on Hamas, and put pressure on it to agree to a cease-fire on better terms for Israel.

American Jewish organizations (with a few exceptions like Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and Israel Policy Forum) continue to take their cue from the Israeli government line, ignoring the shift in Israeli public opinion. Nor is there much sign that most Jewish organizations are particularly interested in what American or Israeli Jews actually think about this issue. They make no effort to educate the American Jewish community about it, and continue to expect American Jews to slavishly follow the Israeli government’s official line.

This definition of what it means to be a good Zionist, however, is doing more harm to Zionism and support for Israel than the anti-Zionists could ever inflict. Expecting unthinking, uncritical support for whatever the government says—as un-American an idea as any—fuels the growing alienation of young American Jews from Israel. Yet this is the reality in which presidential candidates must operate if they expect to gain the lion’s share of the American Jewish vote. They must win over American Jews, biases and all.

In time, governments may respond to shifts in public opinion, particularly when they are rooted in sound analysis of Israel’s strategic situation. And then other American Jewish organizations will—maybe—follow the Israeli government’s lead, and the political environment will shift as well. But don’t hold your breath.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Watch Senator Obama Speak About Israel’s Security, from Jews for Obama

On Sunday, February 24, 2008, Barack Obama met with the Cleveland Jewish community for nearly an hour. He spoke about his views on issues of concern to the Jewish voters, including his strong support for Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel relationship, and his determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He also took questions from the audience, including on issues raised in email attacks against the Senator.

We thought you would like to see and hear his remarks for yourself, and hope that you would pass them on to others, so everyone will have an opportunity to hear the truth about Senator Obama’s views from the Senator himself. Below are links to several video excerpts:

Senator Barack Obama on Israel’s Security:
“Israel’s security is sacrosanct, it’s non-negotiable…. Israel has to remain a Jewish State and what I believe that means is that any negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is going to have to involve the Palestinians relinquishing the right of return as it has been understood in the past.”"

Senator Barack Obama on the Palestinians’ Commitments:
“I have consistently said, and I have said this to Palestinians, I said this when I was in Ramallah, that you cannot fault Israel for being concerned about any peace agreement if the Palestinian state or Palestinian authority or Palestinian leadership does not seem to be able to follow through on its commitments. And I think the approach we have to take with respect to negotiations is that you sit down and talk, but you have to suspend trust until you can see that the Palestinian side can follow through and that’s a position that I have consistently taken and the one I will take with me to the White House.”

Senator Barack Obama on opposing negotiations with Hamas:
“….you can’t have a conversation with somebody who doesn’t think you should be on the other side of the table. At the point where they recognize Israel and its right to exist, at the point where they recognize that they are not going to be able to shove their world view down the throats of others but are going to have to sit down and negotiate without resort to violence, then I think that will be a different circumstance. That’s not the circumstance that we’re in right now.”

Senator Barack Obama on Israel’s right to Self-Defense:
“When Israel launched its counterattack against Hezbollah in Lebanon during the summer of 2006…I said, if somebody invades my country or is firing rockets into my country or kidnapping my soldiers, I will not tolerate that. And there’s no nation in the world that would.”

Senator Barack Obama on bridging African-American and Jewish Community Relations:
“….one of my goals constantly in my public career has been to try to bridge what was a historically powerful bond between the African American and Jewish communities that has been frayed in recent years. For a whole variety of reasons. I think that I have served as an effective bridge and that’s the reason I have overwhelming support among the Jewish community that knows me best, which is the Jewish community in Chicago. And I think that anybody who has friends among the Jewish community in Chicago should check out those credentials.”

Senator Barack Obama on Bush Foreign Policy:
“I do not understand how anybody who is concerned about Israel’s security and the threat of Iran could be supportive of George Bush’s foreign policy. It has completely backfired. It is indisputable that Iran is the biggest strategic beneficiary of the war in Iraq. We have spent what will soon be close to a trillion dollars strengthening Iran, expanding their influence. How is that helpful to Israel? How is that helpful to Israel?”

Best of Jews for Obama: Top Links

Latest Updates:

How to Talk to a Hawk--Or, Abandon These Myths Before You Vote (Abridged), Jewish Chronicle, Gidon D. Remba

Open Letter to the Pennsylvania Jewish Community [and to all American Jews]

Obama National Campaign Co-Chairman General Merrill Mcpeak Disputes Anti-Israel Charges From Republican Jewish Coalition, Shalom TV Press Release

My Neighbor, Barack" by Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf

Obama's Historic Speech on Race: An Excerpt

Web Video: Watch Obama's Historic Speech on Race

Obama Denounces Rev. Wright's Controversial Remarks: Web Video


Obama is Good for the Jews, Miriam Sapiro, former Special Assistant to the President, National Security Council, Clinton Administration“good-for-the-jews”/

Watch Senator Obama Speak about Israel’s Security

The Lying Despicable Campaign to Turn Jews Against Obama, M.J. Rosenberg

An Online Petition: We Are Jewish. We Support Barack Obama.

Obama is a Strong Friend of Israel, by Congressman Robert Wexler, Jerusalem Post

Obama Reaches Out to Jewish Leaders (Cleveland, Ohio)

Obama National Campaign Co-Chairman General Merrill Mcpeak Disputes Anti-Israel Charges From Republican Jewish Coalition, Shalom TV Press Release

Philadelphia Jewish Voice Dossier on Obama: Best Links

McCain, Obama and the Middle East: What Conservative Mudslingers Don’t Want You To Know, Gidon D. Remba, Jewish Chronicle (Pittsburgh)

Smearing Obama, Ari Berman (The Nation)

The Israel Litmus Test, Aaron David Miller, LA Times

The New Republican Jewish Obama Smear: Return of the Big Lie, Gidon D. Remba

Web Video: Chicago Jewish Leaders Defend Obama Against Smear Campaign-Rabbi Sam Gordon

Web Video: Chicago Jewish Leaders Defend Obama on Israel--Lee Rosenberg

The Truth About Obama's Foreign Policy Advisors, by Jack S. Levin (Obama friend and campaign insider)

Barack Obama Speaks Out Against Anti-Semitism

Jewish Senators Condemn Religious-Based Attacks on Sen. Barack Obama

An Insider's Report on Barack Obama's Meeting with Cleveland Jewish Leaders

Obama’s Change Could Be Good for Israel, by Daniel Levy, Ha'aretz

Why Obama is Better for Israel, Daniel Levy

Obama’s Middle East: Good for the Jews, Gidon D. Remba, Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle & Ohio Jewish Chronicle

What Does It Mean To Be Pro-Israel? Response to a Critic on Obama's Middle East, Gidon D. Remba

More Than a Friend, Bernard Avishai

Facts About Barack Obama and Israel, by Obama Middle East Advisor Eric Lynn (Response to right wing blogger Ed Lasky’s misinformation about Obama)

Web Video: Obama: I Will Re-Build Black-Jewish Alliance

American Smear-Artist Ed Lasky attacks Senator Barack Obama, by Ira Forman
Rob Malley, the Willy Horton of Right-Wing Jewish Nut Jobs, Daniel Fleshler

The Smears Against Rob Malley Continue, But Former U.S. Officials Rise to His Defense, Daniel Fleshler

Tony Karon's Eloquence on Obama Candidacy (Obama Reflects the Highest Ethical Ideals of Judaism), Richard Silverstein

Official Obama Website

Obama Support Site

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What Does It Mean To Be Pro-Israel? Response to a Critic on Obama's Middle East, Gidon D. Remba

In a letter response to my column “Would Obama’s Middle East be Good for the Jews?” from the Feb. 14 Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle (also reprinted in the Ohio Jewish Chronicle on Feb. 28), Howard Richman criticizes my testimony on the enthusiastic support which Illinois Senator Barack Obama has long enjoyed from the Chicago Jewish community by asking whether I realize “that the Chicago Palestinian-American community also supported him enthusiastically when he was a state senator.” Richman quotes an article which cites an anonymous source saying that Obama “often expressed general sympathy for the Palestinians — though I don’t recall him ever saying anything publicly.”

Setting aside the unreliability of “anonymous sources” whose statements can never be verified—I have an anonymous source who tells me that Mr. Richman is secretly married to Mike Huckabee—Mr. Richman seems to believe that the Palestinians, and the Palestinian American community, are the arch-enemy of the Jews. Why else would he imagine that for Senator Obama to have privately expressed sympathy for the Palestinians, if that’s what he did, while voting and acting in all respects in support of pro-Israel and Jewish interests, should be considered a threat to the Jewish community?

In fact, Palestinian Americans, like Arab and Muslim Americans, overwhelmingly support a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, negotiations and peace with Israel. The same is true of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as the latest polls once again confirm. Even when Hamas won a plurality of votes in the last Palestinian election, defeating Fatah, opinion surveys showed that 73% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza believed that Hamas should “change its position on the elimination of the state of Israel,” while 84% favored a peace agreement with Israel.

When Mr. Richman and other fear-mongers bandy about reports of Obama’s private expressions of sympathy for the Palestinians as supposed proof of Obama’s “secret” anti-Israel bent, it is reminiscent of the shameful booing of then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz by some in a pro-Israel crowd in 2002. Frank Rich wrote in the New York Times about that incident: “Mr. Wolfowitz…is on the hawkish right of the Bush administration. He is a Jew whose father's family was wiped out in the Holocaust. Nonetheless, he was booed when he spoke on behalf of the president at the large pro-Israel rally held by American Jews in Washington last month. His transgression? During an encomium to Israel, he acknowledged aloud that ‘innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well’ in the Middle East.” Mr. Richman panders to this same bigotry which infects parts of the Jewish community.

Moreover, if the Chicago Palestinian-American community enthusiastically supported Senator Obama during all these years while he was hewing scrupulously to strong pro-Israel positions in both the Illinois State Senate and the U.S. Senate, it clearly caused no concern in the Chicago Jewish community, in which I have been involved as an Israel activist and Jewish leader for three decades. If Obama has consistently acted as a rock-solid ally and friend of Israel and the Jewish community in his public life for many years, while expressing private sympathy for the Palestinians, we clearly have the answer to Mr. Richman’s question, “which Obama would show up during an Obama presidency”: the Obama who is staunchly pro-Israel in all his public acts and who expresses private sympathy for the Palestinians! And if a President Obama chooses to come out of the closet and risk publicly expressing sympathy for the Palestinians, as Paul Wolfowitz did, only the most intolerant and chauvinistic of Jews will find such statements evidence of anti-Israel betrayal.

Mr. Richman does cite one source who is not anonymous: Palestinian-American activist and Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah, a rabid Israel hater and anti-Zionist advocate for a “one-state solution.” Even the neoconservative Ed Lasky admitted in his anti-Obama screed in the American Thinker that Abunimah is “not the most reliable source.” But Mr. Richman is happy to invoke him if he can help sling some anti-Israel mud at Obama.

Finally, Mr. Richman’s letter highlights the real issue which lurks behind his objections to Obama: while there is virtual wall-to-wall agreement on many aspects of support for Israel among American Jews, such as continuing current levels of US military aid or increasing them if necessary, we differ in other ways on what it means to be “pro-Israel.” In a recent pair of columns, I cited former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh's statement that "he believed U.S. pressure on Israel was justified when Israel was not living up to its obligations to the U.S. ...Israelis would support or at least not object too strongly if the U.S. prodded Israel to keep the promises made in the road map." During President Bush’s recent visit to Israel he stated that “Israeli settlement expansion is…an impediment to” successful peace efforts, and insisted that "the unauthorized outposts…need to be dismantled, like the Israelis said they would do." Nonetheless, the over 100 illegal settlement outposts still remain, and the official settlements continue to build out onto more land intended for a future Palestinian state.

Perhaps Mr. Richman thinks it is pro-Israel for the President of the United States to be complicit, through inaction, in the hijacking of the Israeli government by a powerful minority on the messianic Jewish right. When this faction places obstacles in the way of a peaceful two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by continually expanding West Bank settlements and blocking the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces from removing illegal settlement outposts, I and many other American Jews do not consider it pro-Israel when the U.S. President fails to help an Israeli leader stand up to such obstruction.

After all, the pro-settlement Jewish right is acting to bring about the one-state solution which will foreclose for all time the possibility of a negotiated peace based on two states for Israelis and Palestinians. In such a "greater Israel" Jews will become the minority, Palestinians the majority, and Israel will lose either its democracy or its Jewish character. It would lose its democracy by depriving the Palestinian majority of full citizenship rights, becoming a pariah state reminiscent of apartheid South Africa, jeopardizing its remaining support in the rest of the world, as Prime Minister Olmert himself has warned. Or if Israel grants the Palestinian majority full citizenship rights, including the right to vote for representation in the Knesset, as democracy requires, it will lose its Jewish character, bringing the Zionist project to an end. Right-wing Jewish schemes which attempt to avoid impaling Israel on the horns of this dilemma are based on fantasy and have no chance whatsoever of happening in the real world.

Prime Minister Olmert said recently that if Israel cannot reach a two-state solution, dividing Israel from the great majority of the West Bank, then Israel, and the Zionist dream of a democratic Jewish state, is “finished.” A majority of Israelis who voted for political parties seeking to negotiate such a partition clearly agree with Prime Minister Olmert. It follows that those who are thwarting Israeli government efforts to bring about a secure two-state solution are acting against Israel’s most vital interests.

If, as Abunimah claims, Obama is privately “critical of U.S. bias toward Israel and lack of sensitivity to Arabs” and “very supportive of U.S. pressure on Israel,” and if a President Obama did indeed act to prod the Israeli government to freeze and then begin to roll back the West Bank settlements, he would at long last do the very thing that Israel needs most, which recent presidents have lacked the courage to do. It is precisely this failure of vision and will on the part of American leaders, especially President Bush, which has allowed Israel to fall deeper into a hopeless abyss in which it is increasingly difficult to work out a two-state deal with any credibility. Presidents Eisenhower, Ford, Carter and G. H. W. Bush all had the chutzpah to press Israel to do what it needed, even if it was politically unpopular at the time. And each, with the exception of Eisenhower, contributed greatly to enhancing Israel’s security. (It goes without saying, as I have emphasized in many previous articles, that the U.S. must push its Arab and European allies to apply pressure on the Palestinian government as well to fulfill their obligations to stop incitement against Israel and to fight terror. These countries must also do much more to help the Abbas-Fayad government build up its security forces to enable it to fulfill those commitments.)

Israeli journalist Raanan Shaked has written in Yediot Ahronot what too few have been willing to admit but all too many know. Leading Israeli commentators, he notes, “repeatedly say that George W. Bush is Israel’s best friend and it would be best if he just stayed in the White House with all the other furniture. Well, you saw what happens when such a great friend of Israel is ruling Washington: Nothing. Any president who resides in the White House without aiming a double-barreled rifle to the heads of Israel and the Palestinians so that they get down on their knees and put their hands up is not quite a friend of Israel. Yes, there’s plenty of love there, but something gets screwed…. It is indeed possible that the rumors are right, and that [Obama] is not overly sentimental towards Israel. We can only hope. An over-abundance of sentimentality in Washington has been hindering us for decades.”

We can only hope that Barack Obama is the leader who will put an end to the indulgent friendship in which George W. Bush has bathed Israel. Good friends don’t let friends drink and drive. They take the keys and drive them home until they regain sobriety. Now that’s what true friendship is all about.

Gidon D. Remba is a veteran Israel activist and political analyst. He blogs at and can be reached at

Mr. Remba's commentaries on Israel, the Middle East and Jewish affairs have appeared widely in the Jewish and general press, including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, the Nation, Ha’aretz, the Forward, the Jerusalem Post, the Jerusalem Report, Tikkun, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, where he writes a monthly column on Israel.

Mr. Remba served as Senior Foreign Press Editor and Translator in the Israel Prime Minister's Office from 1977-1978 during the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace process. He translated the Knesset speeches of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, as well as Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and other Israeli leaders for the foreign press during the period from Egyptian President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem until the Camp David Peace Accords. He co-translated Sadat's Knesset speech into English for the world press.