Tuesday, May 13, 2008

  • Tuesday, May 13, 2008
  • Elder of Ziyon
Barack Obama's recent pro-Israel statements don't reflect his pre-campaign thinking. From the NYT (h/t EBoZ)
He moved from his leftist Hyde Park base to more centrist circles; he forged early alliances with the good-government reform crowd only to be embraced later by the city’s all-powerful Democratic bosses; he railed against pork-barrel politics but engaged in it when needed; and he empathized with the views of his Palestinian friends before adroitly courting the city’s politically potent Jewish community.

“He has a pattern of forming relationships with various communities and as he takes his next step up, kind of distancing himself from them and then positioning himself as the bridge,” said Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian-American author and co-founder of the online publication Electronic Intifada, who became acquainted with Mr. Obama in Chicago.
Electronic Intifada is not just a Palestinian Arab advocacy periodical; it is a virulently anti-Israel publication that supports Hamas and advocates Israel's destruction.
As Mr. Obama moved closer to running, he paid a visit to James S. Crown and his father, Lester, billionaire investors who presided over a sprawling Chicago business dynasty and prominent leaders in the Jewish community.

As the meeting ended, the younger Mr. Crown said, his father — who is “fairly hawkish” about Israel’s security — was noncommittal about Mr. Obama. But, James Crown said, “I pulled him down to my office, and I said, ‘Hey, look, I think you should run, and I want you to win.’ ”

In courting families like the Crowns, Mr. Obama was gaining entree into the upper echelon of the city’s corporate boardrooms, a ripe source of campaign money. But he was also seeking to broaden his appeal to Jewish voters, and he was wading more deeply into one of the touchiest issues in American politics: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For years, the Obamas had been regular dinner guests at the Hyde Park home of Rashid Khalidi, a Middle East scholar at the University of Chicago and an adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the 1990s peace talks. Mr. Khalidi said the talk would often turn to the Middle East, and he talked with Mr. Obama about issues like living conditions in the occupied territories. In 2000, the Khalidis held a fund-raiser for Mr. Obama during his Congressional campaign. Both Mr. Khalidi and Mr. Abunimah, of the Electronic Intifada, said Mr. Obama had spoken at the fund-raiser and had called for the United States to adopt a more “evenhanded approach” to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
My critique of Rashid Khalidi's work can be seen here and here. Khalidi considers all of Israel "occupied" and was critical of Arafat - as being too flexible on Israel.

A.J. Wolf, a Hyde Park rabbi who is a friend of Mr. Obama’s and has often invited Mr. Khalidi to speak at his synagogue, said Mr. Obama had disappointed him by not being more assertive about the need for both Israel and the Palestinians to move toward peace. “He’s played all those notes right for the Israel lobby,” said Mr. Wolf, who is sometimes critical of Israel.

During the Senate campaign, Mr. Obama joined in a “Walk for Israel” rally along Lake Michigan on Israel Solidarity Day. The Crowns and other Jewish leaders raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for him. Several days before the primary in 2004, some of his Jewish supporters took offense that Mr. Obama had not taken the opportunity on a campaign questionnaire to denounce Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, or to strongly support Israel’s building of a security fence.

But in a sign of how far Mr. Obama had come in his coalition-building, friends from the American Israel Political Action Committee, the national pro-Israel lobbying group, helped him rush out a response to smooth over the flap.

In an e-mail message, Mr. Obama blamed a staff member for the oversight, and expressed the hope that “none of this has raised any questions on your part regarding my fundamental commitment to Israel’s security.”
Notice that his letter didn't denounce Arafat or support the security fence.
Mr. Abunimah has written of running into the candidate around that time and has said that Mr. Obama told him: “I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping that when things calm down I can be more upfront.”

The Obama camp has denied Mr. Abunimah’s account. Mr. Khalidi, who is now the director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, said, “I’m unhappy about the positions he’s taken, but I can’t say I’m terribly disappointed.” He added: “People think he’s a saint. He’s not. He’s a politician.”

But for all of Mr. Obama’s attentiveness to Jewish concerns about Israel, Republican Party officials have made it clear that they think this is an area of vulnerability. Though Mr. Obama has condemned Hamas, a militant Palestinian group, as a terrorist organization, just last week Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, suggested that the group wanted to see Mr. Obama in the White House. Mr. Obama denounced that suggestion as a “smear.”
It was more than a suggestion. Hamas leader Ahmad Yousef said explicitly, “We like Mr. Obama and we hope that he will win the election.”

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