Israel, Politics

Between Barack and a Hard Place

The talk of the town today is Senator Barack Obama’s recent remark that “no one is suffering more than the Palestinians” — one which comes less than a week after pledging to AIPAC “a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel,” and insisting that the U.S. “should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests.”
Iowa Democrat and AIPAC member, David Adelman, has written a letter to Obama, published yesterday on Ben Smith’s blog, calling Obama’s remark about Palestinian suffering “deeply troubling” and seeking clarification.
For this fact alone, Dov Bear has already pronounced Obama’s campaign dead in the water, Steven I. Weiss seconding that motion, claiming that “as Obama really steps out onto the national stage, the odds were already stacked against him, and with his comments he’s surely lost the Israel-firsters.”
Which is absurd really, if you think about it. Obama has already made a pledge to AIPAC that would alienate just about any progressive critical of Israeli policy in the territories, a point which I raised to his campaign in an email last week:

Having read Mr. Obama’s recent remarks at AIPAC’s conference, I am certainly impressed with his ability to tell this very important and arguably influential lobby precisely “what it wants to hear,” in doing so, allaying whatever fears they might have of a candidate of Muslim heritage. However, in merely alluding to Israel’s responsibilities towards ending the conflict, and asserting that it would be improper for America to dictate security policy to Israel, Mr. Obama may be alienating himself from progressive Jews like myself who feel misrepresented by AIPAC and similar pro-Israel groups (which, mind you, tend to be to the political right of the majority of Jewish Americans). He may also alienate himself from the American Muslim community, which, quite justifiably, is concerned about America’s support for Israeli policies that inflame the conflict, such as the ongoing expansion of settlements, the arrest and detainment of thousands of alleged combatants who are denied due diligence, the imposition of travel restrictions and months-long curfews on Palestinian civilians, and so forth.
Precisely because Israel receives ongoing military aid from the United States, the United States has a key role to play in shaping Israeli policy, whereas it has the leverage to prevent Israel from continuing in policies which oftentimes its own policy analysts denounce as detrimental to both Israel’s security and the prospect of peace.
It is very important to me that my choice in presidential candidates is capable of navigating this very rocky terrain — one whom can balance Israel’s right to exist securely with the valid and pressing concern of Palestinian civilians and their supporters.

To be honest, I really have to wonder why any politician in their right mind would want to be in AIPAC’s good graces. Espionage scandal aside, this is an organization which yesterday booed Nancy Pelosi for denouncing the Iraq War (at a time when 70% of Jewish Americans have come out against the war) and cheered a notorious antisemite, John Hagee, for his Rapture-inspired pro-Israel rhetoric.
The organization has shifted so far to the right, that even traditional Zionist organizations are coming forward to rebuke the group. Today Ameinu, formerly known as the Labor Zionist Alliance, issued a statement denouncing AIPAC’s 2007 Action Agenda, claiming that AIPAC’s “radical hawkish positions […] would curtail current tentative Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts […] contrary to the national security interests of both the United States and Israel.”
AIPAC has jumped the shark and it’s not like no one has noticed. The organization has risen more suspicion of its activities in the last few years than in all of its existence. The only candidates that would coddle AIPAC at this point either have to be operating on a number of wrong-headed and “deeply troubling” assumptions relating to Jewish wealth, power and influence, or simply recognize that AIPAC is just using “Jewish interests” as a sock-puppet for its real agenda — defense contracting.
Frankly, my ideal presidential candidate is one who refuses to kowtow to AIPAC. Rather, my ideal candidate cares what 70% of American Jews have to say about the war in Iraq — that pro-peace majority that wants an end to the Israeli occupation, but isn’t as wealthy and powerful as those who want this misery to persist indefinitely.
In that respect, Barack Obama has a tough choice to make: Which Jewish voters does he want to appeal to? The 80% of Jews who vote Democrat and are both pro-Israel and pro-peace, or the deluded pro-Bush, right-wing Zionists (Jewish and Christian alike) that comprise AIPAC’s core constituency?
I’d rather vote for the guy who sticks it to AIPAC in the name of Middle East peace, than the guy who sucks up to AIPAC for fear of the overreaching influence of a pro-Israel lobby that appears to be completely out of touch with the constituency whose interests it allegedly represents.
If he chooses the latter, it should no longer be considered either alarming or antisemitic to be suspicious of the undue influence of American Jews over American politics — specifically that 20% of them on the right. When the votes of 20% of American Jews are more important than those of the other 80%, you no longer have a conspiracy theory but a stark reality deserving of the scrutiny it incurs.
Sadly, considering that AIPAC’s treasurer is on Obama’s finance committee, it looks like he’s already made his decision. Hence the thought of Obama being unattractive to “the Israel-firsters” seeming absurd to me. Considering that a sizable number of Gazans have been without running water and electricity since Israel’s invasion this past summer, that a mere acknowledgment of their suffering should be “deeply troubling” to the likes of AIPAC’s cretin supporters, just goes to show how completely inhumane and out of touch with reality they are. That this is whose favor Obama is seeking is the only legitimate reason he should lose the Jewish vote.

24 thoughts on “Between Barack and a Hard Place

  1. Isn’t it possible that America should stick by Israel and still be allowed to acknowledge that Palestinians are suffering (I’m not defending AIPAC, but Obama)

  2. AIPAC has acted this way for the last 10 years. They clearly do not represent the majority view, but just as the NRA does not represent the majority of American’s on issues of gun control, their money and dedication are a tangible “weapon” in Washington.
    The 20% is stronger than the 80% simply because they call on the Senate and they come running, while we in the 80% argue with each other. If the 80% who disagree with AIPAC could get together and form some sort of body that plays funny music and gets Vice Presidents and Majority/Minority leaders to speak at our conferences, then our voice will be heard as clearly as AIPAC’s.
    While it is always important to point out these issues of this “stark reality” we can’t really expect them to change simply by talking about them. We need to get organized and denounce AIPAC. Will you join me?

  3. so your all for the so called peace process, dealing with people who not only deny the holocaust and preach hatred of all Jews-including “progressive” Jews- they also wish to commit another Holocaust in Israel today. I think u should get your priorities straight and if what bothers you are people that deny the holocaust I think you would have to agree that there is not a single Muslim regime in the world who Israel can or should hold talks with. Dont delude yourself in thinking that 80% of American Jews are pro “peace” because if its the peach which the Oslo accords has brought it means more deaths on both sides of the conflict.

  4. It helps to read the rest of the statement:
    “If we could get some movement among Palestinian leadership, what I’d like to see is a loosening up of some of the restrictions on providing aid directly to the Palestinian people,”
    This seems a reaonable position to me and not at all in contrast with his statements to AIPAC.
    Cutting aid when Hamas took over was one of the stupidest moves the West and Israel made. It increased resentment, gave countries like Syria and Iran a rallying cry, and gave them more financial leverage with the PA.
    The sooner we restore that aid the sooner we can develop a negotiating partners.

  5. all muslims are the same! they hate us and they want to kill us! they want to commit a holocaust against us and push us into the sea!


    Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has come under attack for his views on the Holocaust from an unexpected quarter – a Palestinian activist recently freed after 18 years in an Israeli jail.
    “Perhaps you see Holocaust denial as an expression of support for the Palestinians,” he writes. “Here, too, you are wrong. We struggle for our existence and our rights, and against the historic injustice that was dealt us in 1948.
    “Our success and our independence will not be gained by denying the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people, even if parts of this people are the very forces that occupy and dispossess us to this day.”

  6. rich — you are aware though that even though direct aid was cut, aid to the palestinians increased by $200,000,000 overall since hamas came to power?
    “The International Monetary Fund has estimated that despite the sanctions imposed since Hamas came to power in March 2006, foreign aid to the PA doubled to $700m. in 2006 over the previous year. Total foreign assistance to all Palestinian institutions – including that distributed by private Palestinian organizations – increased last year to $1.2 billion from $1b.”
    “Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist and is widely viewed as a little more than a terrorist faction. Last year, a ban on funding it was enforced by the EU, the US, many Arab states and international banks. […] Ironically foreign aid to Palestinians increased, either carried across the border into Gaza in cash-stuffed briefcases by Hamas officials, or through a special financial channel to the office of President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the rival Fatah faction with whom the West is prepared to work.”
    as that last cited source notes, the issue is not a lack of funding, the issue is a lack of a competent government.

  7. Uhh, Mobius,
    A hate to call you out on this, but within the same post you both
    1) decry the, admittedly sad, state of Gazan Palestinians who lack running water since the war, AND
    2) point out that the PA budget has actually increased to $700 million.
    I guess they must really like nachos or something, cause that seems like a boatload of money with which to install some freakin copper pipes…
    Oh– wait– maybe it just has to do with the disconnect between the palestinian people and their own leadership– and yet somehow with a cash-flush hamas, this is ISRAEL’s fault???
    I’m sure you’ll ignore this post, but I would honestly love an explanation as to how you maintain both views in your head at the same time.

  8. As someone who is closer and closer to being convinved that Obama’s his candidate and who has been getting involved in grassroots organizing for his campaign (including with some specifically Jewish grassroots groups), I admit to being troubled that, for someone whose campaign is supposed to break with the past, he’s gone through the very standard motions of appearing before AIPAC. On the other hand, I think there’s good reason to doubt how significant this really is. For the following reasons:
    1. There really is no other “pro-Israel” organization to which one can speak. By “pro-Israel” I mean an organization that is Zionist, believes in the dream of Israel and has genuine concerns about the security of the Jewish state. I would definitely consider Peace Now a “pro-Israel” organization according to these standards, even though we all know that Shalom Achshav has very different positions than AIPAC regarding negotiations between Israel and its neighbors. However, APN simply doesn’t have the clout that AIPAC does, and since a candidate can’t simply ignore the Israeli-Palestinian issue altogether, a candidate has to sepak to the groups that are out there. If we want Obama and other candidates to express more nuanced and just positions (and I suspect that Obama probably has more affinity for the approach of APN than for AIPAC), it is OUR responsibility to create forums in which candidates can comfortably express positions that are more likely to swiftly bring about a fair, two-state solution.
    2. One must bear in mind that even someone like President Clinton became adored by American Jews who were staunch affiliates of AIPAC, and this despite the fact that the solution Clinton tabled at Camp David, though we might find it flawed, would nevertheless elicit jeers from an AIPAC audience.
    As I start to have more in-debth discussions with other Obama supporters, maybe I can report back here on what I find. I’d be very surprised if almost other Jews for Obama don’t have opinions on the conflict similar to those usually expressed on this blog, in which case, of course, it’s our responsiblity to let the powers-that-be in the campaign know that it’s kosher to deviate a bit from the standard AIPAC line.

  9. AIPAC seems to be on the wrong side (majority-Jewish-American-speaking) of the Iraq war, but where would Israel be without the military aid AIPAC helps to secure each budget season?
    Would Israel be able to mainitain its security (I’m talking borders, nuclear program, airforce, etc. — not settlements) without all the US military aid? And if not, how long would it be before a hypothetical AIPAC-alternative organization was well enough connected and positioned to deliver that aid as AIPAC does every year?
    Bottom line question: Our disagreements over the Iraq war and negotiations with the current Palestinian leadership aside, does Israel need AIPAC anyway?
    I say yes.

  10. A hate to call you out on this, but within the same post you both
    1) decry the, admittedly sad, state of Gazan Palestinians who lack running water since the war, AND
    2) point out that the PA budget has actually increased to $700 million.

    i didn’t make those two statements in the same post. i made statement 1 in my post and statement 2 in response to a comment on my post.
    I guess they must really like nachos or something, cause that seems like a boatload of money with which to install some freakin copper pipes…
    israel blew up the gaza power station and shut off access to potable water. while they have attempted to get the power back online, the palestinian authority cannot simply build “freakin’ copper pipes” to address its water issue. the palestinians water supply is controlled by and routed through israel.
    Oh– wait– maybe it just has to do with the disconnect between the palestinian people and their own leadership– and yet somehow with a cash-flush hamas, this is ISRAEL’s fault???
    show me where at any point i made any statement saying that palestinian suffering is “israel’s fault.” i said that gaza has been without water and electricity since israel’s incursion. technically, that is israel’s fault. they shut off the water and blew up the power plant.
    however, that palestinians aren’t getting the humanitarian assistance they need because the p.a. is busy spending all its money on salaries for the tens of thousands of municipal employees on the p.a. payroll is entirely a problem that rests in the p.a.’s hands. that’s a result of inefficient government, which is precisely what i said after noting the increase in funding to the p.a. over the last year.
    the incompetence of the palestinian government contributes to the suffering of the palestinian people. the occupation certainly doesn’t help either. nor does israel’s actions which, btw, constitute war crimes (destruction of civilian infrastructure) under international law.

  11. rootless:
    i think it would do israel good to panic under the threat of losing its american funding. it might force the government to be accountable for its spending and its actions on the international stage.

  12. Mobius,
    Again, fear of loss of American $$ might indeed lead to scaling back of settlements, pursuit of negotiations, etc.
    But would Israel be able to sustain its bottom line military needs, e.g. maintenance of it’s legally-recognized borders, maintenance of its bases, air force, etc. without US military aid?
    I don’t expect anyone on this board to really know the answer to this question. It requires a level of insight into Israel’s military budgetary needs that few even within the Israeli military leadership probably possess.
    Indeed, I think even most MKs would be lost here, or at least would come to vastly different conclusions based on their politics.
    An alternative to AIPAC that is more in line with our views on Iraq and on negotiations with the Palestinians may be desirable, but the lion’s share of AIPAC’s work, I believe, is securing military aid. That’s the bread and butter, the behind-the-scenes work that doesn’t make the headlines, and that is taken for granted.
    Undermining support for AIPAC would have a drastic impact on that aid.
    And while it’s nice to fantasize about “scaring the Israeli leadership straight,” I don’t feel equipped to go there, lacking as I do real facts relating to Israel’s dependence on AIPAC, e.g. “bottom line, how long would Israel survive following a total cut-off of US aid? How about merely a drastic cut? How about a 20% cut, etc.???”
    Who really knows the answers to these questions?

  13. From the start i was under the impression that a young gun like Obama would never be able to keep steady under the pressure of playing political and social favorites as to gain support for his campaign. Bus as this kniving politician will soon find out, you cant win without the jews.

  14. I’ll only post about Israel:
    If ISrael was less dependant on the US – as it was until about 1973 – it would be able to act independantly. and maybe not having enough money to defend its own borders (hogwash, BTW) would convince it to talk to all those people on the other side and sign agreements, etc.
    ISrael, by the way, is at present not defending its own borders. its defending a wall in foreign territory, and alot of settlers, at the expense of much-needed technology and manpower on the volatile lebanese border.
    We are also not speaking to the syrians b/c the AMericans told us to, and not acknowledging the Armenian Holocaust b/c we need the arms contrancts with the Turks.
    A wonderful idea, this or lagoyim Jewish state.

  15. I believe the majority of American Jews, whatever their views on Iraq, place support of Israel in their top three concerns, and consider the Peace Now, Jews for Justice Michael Lerner crowd fringe organizations that are antithetical to the interest of Jews and Israel. AIPAC is seen as a “pure play” in support of Israel. AIPAC is the straight forward no excuses no ifs Israeli support group in this country. For those of us not torn by “moral equivalency” and fears of parochialism (sic), we support those who support AIPAC. It’s really that simple.

  16. “The 20% is stronger than the 80% simply because they call on the Senate and they come running, while we in the 80% argue with each other.”
    I’m sorry but the notion that “80%” of American Jews (or even just normal Americans) want to force Israel to hand over yet more territory to the PLO/Hamas is just flatly untrue. The entire Oslo concept was that the Palestinians would get progressively more self-governance and Israel would get progressively more secure.
    Obviously one side got what it was looking for and the other…well, hasn’t: The PLO has control over something like 98% of the Arab population in the West Bank/Gaza–and Israel’s lost more people to terrorism since 1993 than in all the years previous.
    Especially after the Gaza withdrawal led to the constant rocket bombardments on Sderot and other Negev areas, you’re going to have a major uphill battle to convince people to do the same thing twice. Sorry: daily rockets don’t count as “peace”. And if withdrawal didn’t bring peace it’s pretty unlikely that “80%” of people are going to be eager to try it again for awhile.

  17. under oslo, settlements expanded quicker and larger than in all previous years combined, work visas were suspended, and the system of checkpoints and travel restrictions was put in place.
    the disengagement, which was part of the convergence plan, was not a peace move even though the right-wing constantly harped on it as such. dov weisglass, ariel sharon’s chief aid, told haaretz what it was before it happened: an attempt to thrust the palestinians into the world’s largest outdoor prison.
    so please do not tell me about what israel conceded for peace. israel has never been a honest partner for peace, just as it accuses the palestinians of the same.

  18. “israel has never been a honest partner for peace, ” mmm, then President Clinton and Dennis Ross must be telling the ultimate whopper when they say that at the final Clinton effort to settle the issue Israel offered to give up 97% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and much of Jerusalem for peace – and the PLO rejected the offer, and did not even offer a counter – unless of course the beginning to the intifida with its murder of innocent Jewish civilians the goal a year or so later was Arafat’s response. The proof is in the pudding – we gave the Muslims virtually everything they say they wanted, and they rejected their reported goals. The only rational conclusion is that what the Muslims really want isn’t land, but the death of the Jews (and of course Christians, Bahais, Bhuddists, etc. etc.). We are in a war of civilizations (literal), and Israel and Jews are on the front lines.

  19. “We are in a war of civilizations (literal), and Israel and Jews are on the front lines.”
    Clash of civilizations or empires?
    In the Summer of 1993 Samuel Huntington published his influential essay ‘Clash of Civilizations?’ in the journal Foreign Affairs. A book followed, minus the question mark, in 1996. His central thesis: many contemporary conflicts are expressions of an underlying clash of competing civilisations – in particular a clash between the West and the Islamic world. This was vehemently rejected on the radical left for whom George W. Bush’s ‘War on Terrorism’ is merely a ruse to control Middle-Eastern oil, and Islamists are not reactionary aggressors but revolutionary victims of transnational capitalism.
    But what if neither view is correct? What if the present conflict is best viewed as a straightforward contest between rival political aspirations? So argues Efraim Karsh, historian at King’s College and director of its Mediterranean Studies program, in Islamic Imperialism: A History. Contentious imperialisms, he suggests, ‘should not be misconstrued for a civilisational struggle between the worlds of Islam and Christendom.’

  20. what was actually on the table under oslo is disputed.
    the deal, as presented to me by israeli activists shows a cantonization scheme no different from what they’re defacto enforcing now. ie., three separate, non-contiguous areas in the west bank with checkpoints in between, the jordan valley under israeli control, meaning no border with jordan, with air and sea space, imports and exports, water and electricity, continuing to be under israeli control, no capital in east jerusalem, and no right of return.
    doesn’t sound like such a great offer.

  21. Mobius, I can’t speak for “israeli activists”, but I have heard and read Dennis Ross totally deny that cantonization was part of the offer, the entire Muslim west bank was contiquous, and attached to Gaza by direct roads. Now maybe Dennis R. was a liar, but he said what he said very publicly and many times – and Bill Clinton has supported what Ross has said – I’m willing to take the word of Clinton and his top negotiator over those, Jewish or not, who claim knowledge without any credentials and have their own agenda (which I suspect to not pro Israeli).

  22. incorrect–
    i’ll accept that, and perhaps its unhelpful to engage in such speculation, but… is it so unimaginable that israel and the u.s. are misrepresenting the offer in order to pin oslo’s collapse on arafat and thus justify unilateralism?

  23. Personally Obama is too pro- Islamic and cannot be trusted. He is closer to Karl Marx’s dream date. Personally I support the 2nd Amendment so no Democratic Candidate will ever get my vote. I do not believe in the redistribution of wealth. And about the “Plight of the Palestinean People” – If you follow history up to the Partition vote in 1948. The Jews in Israel had bought the land they have and did not steal it from the Palestineans. If you want to bring religion into it…Ezekial 25:15-17. I have no pity or remorse for any people that with allow their children to blow themselves up with as many innocents as possible. Saddam Hussein paying 25 K per suicide bomber attacking Israel is an example. And no one likes Palestineans even other Muslim’s – they just hate Jews more.

  24. Mobius said: “show me where at any point i made any statement saying that palestinian suffering is “israel’s fault.” i said that gaza has been without water and electricity since israel’s incursion. technically, that is israel’s fault. they shut off the water and blew up the power plan”
    Are you going for the Jr. Chomsky Award or something? Why are you denying saying something while reaffirming the sentiment by actually saying it in the next sentence? What a snake.

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