Does being friends with Palestinians make one anti-Israel? Peter Wallsten of the LA Times apparently thinks so. His latest piece about Barack Obama's past ties to pro-Palestinian activists in Chicago is certainly meant to give the reader that impression. [See my recent Nation article, "Smearing Obama," for background on this topic. One of Wallsten's sources happens to be a key purveyor of the "Obama is a Muslim" lie. Update below.]
The evidence Wallsten presents is scant and hardly alarming: Obama said nice things about Rashid Khalidi at a going away party for the respected Palestinian scholar, who moved from the University of Chicago to the Columbia University; he attended a speech by the late Palestinian expert Edward Said in 1998; he occasionally made statements supportive of Palestinians to Palestinian activists he knew in Chicago. [Also on The Nation's website, my colleague Jon Wiener puts the views of Khalidi and Said in context.]
Yet the implicit tone of Wallsten's article suggests that Obama is not to be trusted on matters relating to Israel. Left aside is the fact that one can be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel (at least in Chicago). Or the fact that the majority of Israelis support a two-state solution to the conflict, the same position held by Obama. MJ Rosenberg brilliantly parodied the gist of the Times' article in a blog post at Talking Points Memo today: "LA Times Today: Obama Not To Be Trusted, Doesn't Hate Arabs!!"
I used to work for Sen. Carl Levin, a Jew and a strong supporter of Israel, who is a close friend of the Arab community (in part, because he represents more Arab Americans than any other senator). I've seen Carl at Palestinian dinners (last year I saw him at one with Condi Rice). In fact, Joe Lieberman, not exactly an enemy of the State of Israel, has always gone out of his way to keep an open door to Arab-Americans, Palestinians and others.
In other words, this article is utterly bogus. Yes, Obama has empathy for Palestinians, just as he has empathy for Israelis. The man is naturally empathetic which will help repair some of the damage inflicted to our country's image by the current xenophobic administration.
If Arab-Americans and Palestinians trust Obama and think he plays fair, he will have considerably more leverage with them than either of the other two candidates who are not perceived that way. As Congressmen Bob Wexler and Steve Rothman, both Obama supporters, like to say, an American President who can speak to and be heard by Arabs can do a much better job in helping Israel and the Palestinians achieve peace and security than a President who is considered utterly unsympathetic to their concerns.
The accusation that Obama is "anti-Israel" isn't really about Obama or Israel. It's about racism, Islamophobia, and an attempt by Obama's political opponents to score a few cheap political points.
UPDATE: Debbie Schlussel, an inflammatory right-wing blogger and originator of the "Obama is a Muslim" lie, has identified herself as one of Wallsten's sources.
Here's some background on Schlussel, from my recent article:
"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.
Great to see the LA Times relying on such reputable sources.
Posted by Ari Berman at 04/10/2008 @ 3:37pm
Originally published at
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