CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Obama pays homage to AIPAC

Arabs shocked by Obama speech

Arab leaders have reacted with anger and disbelief to an intensely pro-Israeli speech delivered by Barack Obama, the US Democratic presumptive presidential nominee.

Obama told the influential annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Council (Aipac): “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”

His comments appalled Palestinians who see occupied East Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian state.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Al Jazeera on Thursday: “This is the worst thing to happen to us since 1967 … he has given ammunition to extremists across the region”. [complete article]

It’s a mitzvah

As a pandering performance, it was the full Monty by a candidate who, during the primary, had positioned himself to Hillary Clinton’s left on matters such as Iran. Yesterday, Obama, who has generally declined to wear an American-flag lapel pin, wore a joint U.S.-Israeli pin, and even tried a Hebrew phrase on the crowd.

Obama even outdid President Bush in his pro-Israel sentiments. On the very day that Obama vowed to protect Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — drawing a furious denunciation from the Palestinian Authority — Bush announced that he was suspending a move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

The transformation — mostly in tone, but occasionally in substance — might qualify as what Obama likes to call the same old Washington “okey-doke.” And the candidate is uncomfortable with such things, as evidenced by his struggle to pronounce the name of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It came out as “Mahmoud . . . Ahmin — Ahmeninejad.”

The crowd of 7,000 loved him anyway. He received 13 standing ovations, more than twice the number granted the next act, Hillary Clinton. The AIPAC faithful gushed about his performance as they left the Washington Convention Center. “He doesn’t even read! He has an extemporaneous delivery,” one woman recounted, evidently unaware that Obama had read every word from a teleprompter. [complete article]


When John McCain went before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on June 2, he could not have been more obsequious to this group that has done more than any other in the United States to block a just solution to the Palestinian quest for statehood.

With Joe Lieberman in tow, McCain opened by saying that “it’s a pleasure, as always, to be in the company” of AIPAC.

Tone deaf to Israel’s brutalization of the Palestinians, McCain called Israel “an inspiration to free nations everywhere.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Yesterday was the day the “change” bubble burst. Obama’s performance at AIPAC shows that his grasp of Middle East politics has yet to rise to the level of George Bush’s! That’s an incredible thing to have to say (especially for someone who still intends to vote Democrat) but what Obama demonstrated was the myopia of a candidate who has thrown principle to the wind and decided he will say anything to secure votes and donations. His was a polished performance in the politics of business-as-usual, burnished with a genuflection to Zionism that was utterly uncalled for.

How did it happen?

I can only suppose that having become so deeply enmeshed in Hillary Clinton’s psyche, Obama decided he’d couldn’t hold back in parroting her down to a T if he was to win over her rightwing Jewish supporters. Having made that choice, he then thought, what the hell? I’ll see if I can pull in the whole Likudnik crowd as well. The only surprise is that he didn’t toss in a promise to totally obliterate Iran if that should become necessary.

If there’s a silver lining here — and one for which Obama deserves no credit — it is that he appears to have given a boost to Palestinian solidarity as Mahmoud Abbas reaches out to Hamas. Abbas may have finally recognized that, at least for Palestinians, the prospect of a new administration in Washington offers no basis for hope.

The idiocy to which Obama has fallen victim is that, like so many diehard supporters of Israel (whose love of Israel generally runs so deep they wouldn’t dream of living there), he is — as chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat put it — “being more Israeli than the Israelis themselves.”

And on the issue of an “undivided Jerusalem,” Obama would do well to reflect on the observations of someone who lives there, who describes himself as a Zionist and who offered these remarks to Hillary Clinton last fall after she made the same ill-conceived pledge.

Gershom Gorenberg wrote last October:

Jerusalem, Hillary, is divided by more fault lines than run under California, even if it is also stitched together by livelihoods and water mains and friendships that grow like hardy weeds.

The Israeli consensus that the city must never be divided has broken down. Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon is reportedly pushing a plan to turn most Arab neighborhoods over to Palestinian rule, even if other members of the ruling Kadima party would rather give up less land in Jerusalem. Your position paper defends a stance that is already spoken of here in past tense, in a tone reserved for the naiveté of youth.

I’d like to believe that what you really mean by “undivided Jerusalem” is what your very closest adviser laid out in his parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian peace at the end of his term as president in January 2001: Jerusalem should be an “open and undivided city” but the capital of two independent states, with Palestinian parts of the city under Palestinian rule. Turning those parameters into reality would require inspired negotiating, with immense American investments of time and prestige, and such investments dried up completely very soon after Bill laid out his vision. As we all know, his successor doesn’t do negotiating.

I suspect, however, that you wrote what you did because advisers believe that you need to support an outdated position in order to win Jewish support. Far away as I am, I also suspect that your advisers are giving obsolete counsel. American Jews are even more fed up than other Americans are with the Republicans. In 2006, 87 percent of them voted for Democratic candidates for the House.

Let me suggest a more honest and more honorable position on Israel: The greatest contribution that America can make to Israeli security is to help it reach peace with the Palestinians, and as president you will resume that effort where it was abandoned in 2001. If asked about Jerusalem, say that the sides will have to come to an agreement, and you are committed to help them do so. The Clinton parameters are still a good basis for that. If you don’t take this position, I hope that your Democratic rivals do. It would make me more hopeful about the future of my fractured city.

And if Obama’s support for an undivided Jerusalem isn’t just shameless pandering to AIPAC, how come he didn’t make this commitment in his Israel Fact Sheet [PDF] last year when it was already spelled out in Hillary’s Plan For Israel?

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  1. peter hofmann says

    I can remember a fotograph showing Obama and Edward Said in intimate conversation. Obama knows exactly what happens in palestine.

  2. Something this despicable, this disappointing, and on the day after he wins the nomination — the irony. I wonder how much more we may be in for?

  3. I need to watch to the whole speech. Even though I can’t fathom why he’d gratuitously toss in the “undivided Jerusalem” line, there are those who were in attendance whose views I respect who are reported as having come away with a favorable impression. For instance, in this IPS report:

    “His speech was remarkably different in tone and substance from any other speaker that you heard at the conference,” said Trita Parsi, who heads the National Iranian American Council. “Instead of staying away from the issue, he made a strong case, he didn’t back down from the fact that diplomacy would not only be valuable to U.S. interests, but is also good for Israel’s security.”

    Maybe lots of people can’t help look at Obama through rose-tinted glasses now that he’s just won the nomination. But let’s not forget, this isn’t the time to please world opinion. It’s those of us who actually get to vote who are going to be decisive. For now, the world just needs to wait. And let’s face it, whatever Obama does, he’s infinitely preferable to McCain.

  4. I’ve just watched the speech. I couldn’t have written it any better myself if I’d never heard of Palestine or Palestinians. I suppose Palestinians should be satisfied that he even bothered to mention them, virtually as afterthoughts. I am thoroughly disgusted.

    Obama will undoubtedly improve American foreign policy and relations. But if I take one thing away from this speech, it’s the increased conviction that the sooner America’s power is cut down to size, the better. No one man, including Obama, should have the power he will most likely have. And no one country, certainly not America, should have anything like the power it still has.

  5. Azam Houle says

    Obama’s speech left me with the same sinking feeling as Kerry’s “reporting for duty,” and Pelosi’s “impeachment is off the table.”

    Are we waiting for Godot?

  6. It depends on what the meaning of “undivided” is.

    What he said does not rule out that Jerusalem could also be the capital of a Palestinian state. All he is saying is that Jerusalem should not have a Berlin-style wall through the middle of it.

  7. John Lee says

    Undivided is as undivided says. There is nothing to gain and much to lose from making words mean what you want them to mean ( with apologies to G.O.). If Barack wanted to comment about a “Berlin-style” wall he would have said that; but he didn’t. What he said was quite clear, and one must go through some severe logical contortions and distorted interpretations to arrive at the Berlin-style of thinking.

  8. Yes Azan,
    The suit case full of sand that Godot was carrying is the same as the promises of Obama, and plus air, He was fooling the AIPAC with promises that he later changed. He has no intention of supporting Israel it was just lies to become the nominee. He is not honest, has no experience, and he is connected to many questionable characters for as long as 20years and yet he did not know anything about them , he claims.
    Well if Aipac is so vulnerable as to decide to vote for him seems to me very weak and i will not support it. I will vote for McCain although i am a democrate. No Marxism in America. G-D bless America.