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2008-04-08

Obama Meets The Lobby


Philip Giraldi

The considerable buzz in conservative circles about Barack Obama, best exemplified by Andrew Bacevich's article "The Case for Obama" in The American Conservative, has largely focused on his potential as the only candidate who might actually end the war in Iraq. Maybe he would or maybe he wouldn't, but it is dead certain that neither John McCain or Hillary Clinton would rush out of Baghdad, nor would they put an end to the neocon-derived globalism that threatens to involve the U.S. in still more wars of choice in places like Iran. Obama might be better on both counts, hence his appeal to some conservatives, most particularly the ones who believe that the war in Iraq is a truly existential issue for the United States and must be ended at all costs.

Conservatives and other voters who have been concerned about U.S. foreign policy in general and who long to see a shift away from Washington's unflinching support of an Israel-centric Middle East might also be intrigued by Obama. To be sure, Obama has had to run the gauntlet of the Israel-firsters, imitating every other candidate but Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich in swearing fealty to Tel Aviv's politicians and policies no matter what impact they have on the national interest of the United States. Barack Obama has nevertheless been on the receiving end of more vitriol from the Israel Lobby than any other candidate, possibly because his middle name is Hussein and he lived in Indonesia. The Abe Foxmans of this world, sensitive to even the slightest whiff of disloyalty to Greater Israel, detect that Obama might not be completely faithful to the cause. On March 18, while delivering his highly praised speech on racism in America, Obama was forced to perform the ultimate obeisance, diverging wildly from his theme to condemn naysayers who see "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." Score a big one for stalwart ally Israel, whose subjugation and occupation of Arab Palestine apparently has nothing to do with anything.

One suspects, however, that Obama might well resent the way he has been treated by The Lobby and its friends, which has applied to him a litmus test on anti-Semitism that has not been applied to any other presidential candidate ever, not even Jesse Jackson. In January, Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, demanded that Obama denounce Louis Farrakhan as an anti-Semite. Obama is no disciple of the Nation of Islam and no friend of Farrakhan, but his own pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had given Farrakhan an award for his positive work in the black community. Farrakhan is at best a marginal political figure, but his genuinely anti-Semitic comments are frequently cited when black politicians are taken to task for the problems between African-Americans and Jews. Obama's subsequent denunciation of Farrakhan as an anti-Semite was a good first step, but apparently not enough. Wright, whom Foxman described as having "very strong anti-Israel views," was the real target. After Foxman raised the issue, allegations of Wright's anti-Semitism permeated a number of pro-Israel blogs and then found their way into the mainstream media, where they continue to percolate.

More disturbing to The Lobby have been Obama's own views, which, prior to his run for president, were relatively nuanced on the Middle East: he advocated fairness and justice for the Palestinians while questioning the efficacy of knee-jerk support for Israel's politicians. Obama has also defended Wright, noting that his view of Israel was conditioned by Tel Aviv's support of apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, which included assistance in the development of a South African nuclear weapon and the supply of hundreds of millions of dollars of Israeli-made weapons in contravention of a UN-imposed embargo. Water cannons used to attack black demonstrators were manufactured in the Israeli kibbutz Beit Alfa, for example.

More recently, Israel's friends have been taking aim at Obama military policy adviser and national campaign co-chairman retired Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak. McPeak asserted in an interview given in Oregon in 2003 that American politicians are afraid of Jewish voters who "vote in favor of Israel and no politician wants to run against it." He also said that Israelis must "stop settling the West Bank and Gaza Strip." Both McPeak's and Obama's views would be considered moderate and uncontroversial in many places, but not in the eyes of Foxman and the Israel Lobby. McPeak has also reportedly said that many born-again Christians supported the war in Iraq to help Israel. Robert Goldberg, a pundit writing for The American Spectator whose credentials on the Middle East may derive from his vice presidency of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, describes McPeak's views as "bigoted," adding that he "has a penchant for bashing Israel, or more particularly, Jews who oppose negotiating with terrorists." Per Goldberg, "Obama has a Jewish problem."

Another Obama adviser, Robert Malley, has also been criticized by Israel's supporters for advocating negotiations with Hamas. The recently fired Samantha Power, who correctly but inappropriately described Hillary Clinton as a "monster," has also been excoriated for suggesting that the billions of dollars "servicing Israel's military" should actually be invested "in the state of Palestine" if one truly wants to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East.

So Obama has taken his lumps from The Lobby. And he might not like it. Unlike Hillary and McCain, he may not be as beholden to political contributors who might tie the money they offer to unconditional support for Israel. Hillary dominates among contributors who demand total loyalty to Israel's interests, but Obama has done well from a more liberal Hollywood constituency that does not insist on such allegiance and indeed may be disturbed by it. He is also more than doubling Hillary's contributions through Internet fundraisers. Obama knows that he has to say the right things about Israel if he wants to get elected, particularly as the mainstream media would turn on him if he were to do otherwise, but once in office he might actually remember the abuse he took and assert himself. He would have to confront a Congress that is bought and paid for by The Lobby, but there might actually be some wiggle room in terms of how he initiates and manages State Department and Pentagon initiatives that pertain to him as the nation's chief executive. Also, if he takes the lead he just might find that the public is hungry for a settlement in the Middle East that recognizes inter alia that the Palestinians have been badly treated by Israel and ignored by Washington. Opinion polls suggest that that is the case. An Obama Middle East initiative is a possibility that might intrigue many voters from across the political spectrum, and it might just be one more good reason to take his candidacy seriously.

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  • Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and a fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance.

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