Barack Obama Disappoints Re Israel/Palestine

I heard a report that Sen. Barack Obama’s position on Israel/Palestine is no different from the Democratic mainstream, that in fact he abandoned a more progressive view—which you might expect given his multicultural/international backstory—to get there.

I asked someone who would know, Ali Abunimah (of electronic intifada), who lives in Chicago. Abunimah wrote me back:

I used to know Obama when he was my state senator. I met him several times in different contexts, and he was often very progressive about Israel-Palestine. He attended fundraisers in the Palestinian community, one in which the keynote speaker was Edward Said. That’s what really made me believe in him at first. But then it all went out the window when he started his climb up the greasy pole. I wrote about this a bit in the book [One Country, an argument for a binational state in all of former Palestine], and how disappointed I was to see him basically adopting AIPAC positions. I went to see his legislative staffer in DC a couple of weeks ago and
left a signed copy of the book. I got an email, ostensibly from Obama (I am sure people write these things for him), thanking me. Basically the guy has calculated that pissing off the lobby is not the way to the top, so I will eat my shoe (like Tucker Carlson) if he ever says anything remotely useful about Palestine. He is a master triangulator.

Poppa’s got a brand new bag!

I knocked around on the Federal Election Commission database (fec.gov) to understand Obama’s tergiversation, looking at his 2004 Senate warchest of $14 million. The impression I got was that Obama had a ton of Jewish givers—as all winning Democrats do—but that they weren’t hack givers, they were idealists. They hadn’t given to lots of candidates other than Obama; many of the ones I looked at had given only to Obama.

The other pattern I noticed was that Obama givers had sometimes given to Hillary and Chuck Schumer. I got the impression that Hillary and Chuck had really pulled out the stops for Obama in ’04, as representing the best of American idealism (who’s cryin’ now?). None of this is inconsistent with Abunimah’s analysis above. It shows (as I said yesterday) that the Israel lobby is not based in a control room, or even Chuck Schumer’s office. Concern for Israel pervades the liberal American Jewish success story. That community functions, in politics, as a monolith. And a gateway. At fundraisers at fancy apartments in N.Y.C., a congressional candidate will be asked, Where do you stand on the settlements in the West Bank?

The questioner doesn’t need a script, he’s feelin’ it. The candidate needs to get a script in a hurry. But I’m an optimist; I think the Jewish grassroots are beginning to change.