Someone at the Barack Obama campaign had better start watching the hyperbole meter when Obama gets off script. When a questioner at a Levittown event asked Obama about his church’s fascination with Louis Farrakhan, Obama offered a very strange defense. He claimed that no one has campaigned against anti-Semitism like himself. Jake Tapper is underwhelmed:
“This was done by a magazine that was connected to the church,” Obama explained. “I would have never done it. It was primary focused on the rehabilitation work that they do for ex-offenders in Chicago. That doesn’t excuse it, that just explains it.”
Obama reminded the crowd that he’d denounced his church’s praise of Farrakhan, saying, “I’ve been very clear about saying that was wrong. And nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti- Semitism than I have.”
Really? No one?
Elie Wiesel? Simon Wiesenthal? Alan Dershowitz?
First off, when has Obama spoken out at all against anti-Semitism outside of generic “hope and change” rhetoric about the tone and tenor of politics? He hasn’t been an activist for anti-Semitism even in his own church. He claims he didn’t agree with Jeremiah Wright’s honoring Farrakhan, but he didn’t speak out against it until people pressed him for a reaction to it. How about when his church reprinted Hamas propaganda in its bulletins? Did his fierce opposition erupt in protest? Uh, no.
And now “nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti-Semitism” than Obama? That’s not just absurd, it insults the intelligence of everyone who heard it. Many people have spoken out eloquently on anti-Semitism on many more occasions than Barack Obama, which isn’t a difficult threshold to meet.
This is the Obama style of “hope and change”. When something controversial happens, hope that no one notices. If they do, change direction and get ahead of the event. In this case, Obama got so caught up in the moment that he transformed himself into the leading voice against anti-Semitism. Maybe no one heard him until now because of laryngitis.
Update (AP): I took him simply to mean that nobody left in the race has spoken out more fiercely against it, which is highly debatable but not preposterous on its face. In any case, let me add to Ed’s post this intriguing context about prominent Palestinian activists, some of them friends with Obama, who claim that his strident support for Israel of late is essentially an electoral posture. Some of that’s surely informed by a crude identity-politics notion that a minority candidate must secretly sympathize with the Middle East’s own self-styled minority, but there’s more to it:
At Khalidi’s 2003 farewell party, for example, a young Palestinian American recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel. If Palestinians cannot secure their own land, she said, “then you will never see a day of peace.”
One speaker likened “Zionist settlers on the West Bank” to Osama bin Laden, saying both had been “blinded by ideology.”
Obama adopted a different tone in his comments and called for finding common ground. But his presence at such events, as he worked to build a political base in Chicago, has led some Palestinian leaders to believe that he might deal differently with the Middle East than either of his opponents for the White House…
At Khalidi’s going-away party in 2003, the scholar lavished praise on Obama, telling the mostly Palestinian American crowd that the state senator deserved their help in winning a U.S. Senate seat. “You will not have a better senator under any circumstances,” Khalidi said…
In interviews with The Times, Khalidi declined to discuss specifics of private talks over the years with Obama. He did not begrudge his friend for being out of touch, or for focusing more these days on his support for Israel — a stance that Khalidi calls a requirement to win a national election in the U.S., just as wooing Chicago’s large Arab American community was important for winning local elections.