When it comes to Israel, Barack Obama mutters the usual platitudes about wanting a secure Jewish state. However, he is clearly speaking from both sides of his mouth.
We were in the spin room following last month’s debate in Philadelphia, and I had just asked Barack Obama’s chief strategist to respond to a statement made by a top Hamas adviser endorsing Obama’s candidacy, and favorably comparing the young Illinois Senator to John F. Kennedy.
“I like John Kennedy too,” Axelrod responded. “That’s about the only thing we have in common with this gentleman from Hamas. We all agree that John Kennedy was a great president, and it’s flattering when anybody says that Barack Obama would follow in his footsteps.”
Just a few days later, Obama was asked, at a diner stopover, about Jimmy Carter’s meeting with Hamas, and his response was, “I’m just going to eat my waffle.”
Last week, Obama described it as a “smear” that John McCain, in response to a question, correctly noted that a spokesman for the terrorist group publicly expressed support for Obama. But on Friday, McCain was further vindicated when the Times of London reported that Obama adviser Robert Malley had to sever ties with the campaign, because the newspaper was about to report that the prominent critic of Israel had been regularly engaging in talks with Hamas.
The Obama campaign has suggested that Malley’s role with the campaign was “informal.” But this is the same campaign that tried to downplay Obama’s 20-year relationship with Jeremiah Wright (who, among other incendiary remarks, referred to Israel as a “dirty word”).
Why was there a need to sever ties if none really existed? And if Obama is so utterly opposed to dealing with Hamas, as he has stated publicly, then why would he have an adviser, even an “informal” one, who was doing just that?
t’s no secret that within elite liberal foreign policy circles, one of the primary laments is that the United States hinders peace in the Middle East by being too reflexively pro-Israel.
So when a liberal politician comes along and assures that same crowd that he is going to do away with “conventional Washington thinking,” it is only fair to wonder whether he is sending an unspoken signal that he also plans to tilt the balance of U.S. policy in the Middle East in a direction that is more favorable to the Palestinians and more critical of Israel.
ALI ABUNIMAH, a Palestinian activist from Chicago, insists that at least in the recent past, Obama wanted to see U.S. policy move in that direction.
“In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor,” Abunimah has written. “On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
Abunimah says that as late as 2004, during his tough primary race, Obama praised him for his activism, and apologized, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.”
The Obama campaign has disputed Abunimah’s account, and there is no audio to back him up. But Abunimah has released a photo of Obama breaking bread with Edward Said, one of the leading anti-Israel intellectuals of the 20th century, at a 1998 Arab community event in Chicago.
Furthermore, Obama has ties with Rashid Khalidi, who currently serves as the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. Khalidi, who once served as a flak for Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, is an active proponent of the view that U.S. policy is too biased in favor of Israel.
Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that Obama spoke at a going away party in honor of Khalidi in Chicago in 2003:
His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases… It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”
There is an active strain within the liberal foreign policy community that believes that since Hamas was democratically elected and controls Gaza, any peace process would have to include talks with their leaders. When Carter met with Hamas last month, Obama was slow to criticize the former president. “I’m not going to comment on former President Carter,” Obama said at first. “He is a private citizen, and you know, it’s not my place to discuss who or — who he shouldn’t meet with.” (Obama, interestingly, didn’t employ the private citizen dodge when he called on NBC to fire Don Imus last year in the wake of the controversy over the radio show host’s racially insensitive remarks.)
While Obama did eventually criticize Carter’s trip, it was only after much prodding, and he still didn’t consider the question important enough to disrupt his waffle-eating experience.
On a number of other issues, there has been a pattern of Obama saying one thing on the campaign trail that was undercut by his advisers. We saw that when his economic adviser assured the Canadians that Obama wasn’t really serious about the anti-NAFTA rhetoric he was spewing in Ohio.
We saw that when former adviser Samantha Power, speaking of Obama’s plans to withdraw troops out of Iraq, said Obama wouldn’t “rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate.” And now we have Obama’s public opposition to Hamas undercut by the fact that an adviser is meeting with them.