OPINION: Obama’s hidden asset

The strange case of Robert Malley

Of all the recent efforts to smear Barack Obama, none strikes me as stranger than the claims that one of his informal advisers on foreign affairs, Robert Malley, is anti-Israel. This, in turn, is supposed to prove that as president, Obama is liable to institute dangerous changes in U.S. policy toward Israel.

As a campaign trope, the calumny may have begun with Ed Lasky, news editor of the right-wing Web site The American Thinker, who posted a fervid attack on Malley in January. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has taken time off from its hawkish media-bashing to post a blast at Malley on its Web site. Journalists regularly speculate on whether the Malley connection will hurt Obama among Jewish voters, though there’s no evidence of that. Meanwhile, Malley’s diplomatic colleagues — including Sandy Berger, Dennis Ross, and Martin Indyk — have issued an open letter defending him.

There’s more at work here than the usual, nearly boring, attempts to slime a liberal candidate as anti-Israel for the “sin” of supporting what Israel needs most — determined diplomatic efforts to achieve peace. Lurking in the background is another of the battles over how Israel-Palestinian history is told. In that fight, the original furious critic of Barack Obama’s adviser is former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. There’s also a lesson about Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy: Besides settling the practical questions, it requires resolving the conflicting narratives about the past. To approach this task, the next president will need not just hard work but a gift with rhetoric, with words. [complete article]

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