Monday, May 12, 2008
Obama and Israel
Extracting a straight answer from Barack Obama is admittedly like nailing the proverbial Jello to the wall. Here Jeffrey Goldberg goes to work to try to elicit a clear response from the presumptive Democratic nominee on the question of Israel, Zionism and his own personal feelings about the American Jewish community.
The results are verbose and evasive - and yet in their way, curiously illuminating.
Here's the first question:
GOLDBERG: I’m curious to hear you talk about the Zionist idea. Do you believe that it has justice on its side?
Now, how long do you think it takes Obama to deliver a "yes" or "no" to that question? I count five long paragraphs - interrupted by two follow-up questions - before we get to "yes." That's a long time. And when the answer is delivered, it is immediately followed by a disclaimer.
OBAMA: That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it’s a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don’t always act with justice uppermost on our minds.
Next, listen to Obama's response to a question about the praise he has received from the Hamas terrorist organization.
GOLDBERG: Why do you think Ahmed Yousef of Hamas said what he said about you?
(For the record, here's the exact quote: "[A]ctually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will (garble) the election and I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance.")
Here's the answer:
Obama: My position on Hamas is indistinguishable from the position of Hillary Clinton or John McCain. I said they are a terrorist organization and I’ve repeatedly condemned them. I’ve repeatedly said, and I mean what I say: since they are a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and abide by previous agreements.
Obama's words are unexceptionable so far as they go. What's striking here is what is not said: There is no revulsion, no affront that Hamas would name him as its preferred candidate.
Goldberg opted against some relevant follow-up questions, eg:
Many in the British government and among our European allies believe that by engaging with Hamas we might be able to move them away from terrorism. Do you share this view? If not, could you explain why you think that those who advocate engagement are mistaken?
You advocate engagement with Iran, notwithstanding that Iran is ranked by our own State Department as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. If we can engage with Iran, why not Hamas?
Obama's declared position on Israel fails to reassure friends of Israel because it is so incongruous with the other things he says and thinks. Maybe he can sustain this contradiction through four or eight years of a presidency. More likely, though, is that the contradiction will be resolved ... and that bodes ill for the US-Israel relationship.
Especially since Obama goes on to say things like this:
Obama: [S]ome of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I’m not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that’s the safest ground politically.I want to solve the problem, and so my job in being a friend to Israel is partly to hold up a mirror and tell the truth and say if Israel is building settlements without any regard to the effects that this has on the peace process, then we’re going to be stuck in the same status quo that we’ve been stuck in for decades now, and that won’t lift that existential dread that David Grossman described in your article.
Notice what is embedded here:
(1) a condescending assumption that the so-called hawkish position on the Arab-Israeli dispute is "blind" and adopted by US politicians only because they seek political safety - there's no acknowledgement that the dovish position was ever tried or that it in fact produced a terrible war in 2000-2003;
(2) the attitude, common on the Democratic left, that real friendship to Israel consists in compelling Israeli governments to do things that most Israelis regard as dangerous;
(3) acceptance of the red herring that it is "settlements" that are the source of the Arab-Israeli dispute;
(4) enormous and unexplained confidence that he can solve a problem through his personal intervention.
I do not believe that Obama is in any sense hostile to Israel. I am certain that he would be honestly disgusted by anti-semitism in any form. But do I believe that he would be cavalier with Israel's security? That his belief that anything can be negotiated and that dialogue is always the answer exposes America's allies to risks? That his understanding of the origins and causes of the Arab-Israeli dispute is dangerously wrong? That he will "engage" Hamas and Hezbollah for exactly the same reasons that he will seek to "engage" Iran and Syria? Yes I do. He may consider himself Israel's friend. But he will be a dangerous friend - made all the more dangerous by the reluctance of many in the pro-Israel community to ask searching questions of this supremely evasive politician.
05/12 03:35 PM