Many people have e-mailed Jeffrey Goldberg’s fascinating interview with Barack Obama on the subject of Israel, noting that he used the term “wound” and “sore” in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. He doesn’t call Israel either of those terms, despite what many have interpreted these remarks to mean, but Obama uses the interview to subtly play on associations as political capital. The key moment comes in the middle of the interview, when Obama suggests that he took political risks for having Jewish friends:
JG: Go to the kishke question, the gut question: the idea that if Jews know that you love them, then you can say whatever you want about Israel, but if we don’t know you –- Jim Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski –- then everything is suspect. There seems to be in some quarters, in Florida and other places, a sense that you don’t feel Jewish worry the way a senator from New York would feel it.
BO: I find that really interesting. I think the idea of Israel and the reality of Israel is one that I find important to me personally. Because it speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus, it describes the history of overcoming great odds and a courage and a commitment to carving out a democracy and prosperity in the midst of hardscrabble land. One of the things I loved about Israel when I went there is that the land itself is a metaphor for rebirth, for what’s been accomplished. What I also love about Israel is the fact that people argue about these issues, and that they’re asking themselves moral questions.
Sometimes I’m attacked in the press for maybe being too deliberative. My staff teases me sometimes about anguishing over moral questions. I think I learned that partly from Jewish thought, that your actions have consequences and that they matter and that we have moral imperatives. The point is, if you look at my writings and my history, my commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is more than skin-deep and it’s more than political expediency. When it comes to the gut issue, I have such ardent defenders among my Jewish friends in Chicago. I don’t think people have noticed how fiercely they defend me, and how central they are to my success, because they’ve interacted with me long enough to know that I’ve got it in my gut. During the Wright episode, they didn’t flinch for a minute, because they know me and trust me, and they’ve seen me operate in difficult political situations.
The other irony in this whole process is that in my early political life in Chicago, one of the raps against me in the black community is that I was too close to the Jews. When I ran against Bobby Rush [for Congress], the perception was that I was Hyde Park, I’m University of Chicago, I’ve got all these Jewish friends. When I started organizing, the two fellow organizers in Chicago were Jews, and I was attacked for associating with them. So I’ve been in the foxhole with my Jewish friends, so when I find on the national level my commitment being questioned, it’s curious.
Let’s put this in perspective. Obama wants American voters to feel comfortable with his approach to Israel, and so he explains that he has Jewish friends. In fact, without getting explicit about exactly who those friends are, he charges that he took political risks in having these friends and associates, and therefore we should take him seriously when he says he’s a friend to Jews and to Israel. In fact, based on those associations, he finds suspicion of his motives on Israel “curious”.
Fine. Taking this at face value, Obama says that his political and personal associations must be taken into account when determining how Obama would put policy in place. After all, Obama says that we can trust his approach to Israel because some of his best friends are Jewish. Given that, what about some of his other friends and associates?
- Jeremiah Wright — His pastor for 20 years and a man to whom Obama gave over $26,000 in 2006 alone, Wright has feted and honored Louis Farrakhan, a virulent anti-Semite. Wright also believes that the government created HIV as a genocidal tool aimed at people of color, and that America deserved what it got with 9/11. Wright has also reprinted Hamas propaganda in the church newsletter on several occasions.
- William Ayers — The former Weather Underground domestic terrorist employed Barack Obama at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Obama served with him on the board of the Woods Foundation, during which time both of them gave $75,000 to Rashid Khalidi, a Yasser Arafat toady. Ayers and wife Bernadine Dohrn refuse to express remorse for their terrorist and criminal activity to this day, and Dohrn spoke explicitly of “overthrowing capitalism” as late as November 2007.
- Robert Malley — One of Obama’s foreign policy advisers, Malley resigned from the campaign after reports that he met with Hamas surfaced in the last few days. Malley has a history of opposing Israel; in the Clinton efforts to achieve a peace settlement, he was the only American adviser to blame Israel when Arafat refused to accept 95% of what he’d demanded in the final settlement.
Since Obama says that his association with a couple of unnamed Jewish organizers should make us comfortable with his approach to Israel and foreign policy, we can also take into account these associates with whom Obama has had much longer relationships. What do these associations tell us? It reveals Obama as someone comfortable in the culture of anti-American rhetoric, where people blame the US and Israel first on all occasions, and among people who at least give a pass to violence for the sake of political change. And all of those conclusions are at least as legitimate as Obama’s insistence that his Jewish friends make him a friend to Israel.
Glad he cleared that up. Obama seems intent on proving himself unready for major-league politics.