Monday, March 03, 2008

Obama on Israel

James Kirchick, one of the bloggers on the New Republic's blog Plank, has just posted a dumb comment about something that Obama recently said. He's getting all in a lather at the following statement:

"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel," leading Democratic presidential contender Illinois Senator Barack Obama said Sunday.

"If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress," he said. He also criticized the notion that anyone who asks tough questions about advancing the peace process or tries to secure Israel by anyway other than "just crushing the opposition" is being "soft or anti-Israel."

Obama made the comments in a closed-door meeting with several members of Cleveland's Jewish community, who will be participating in the crucial Ohio primary to be held next Tuesday.

The candidate stressed his commitment to a secure, Jewish Israel and to pursuing robust diplomacy - while keeping all options on the table - to ensure that Iran doesn't acquire nuclear weapons, according to a transcript of the off-the-record event.

Obama defended - and distanced - himself from criticism that has been leveled at him about some of his campaign advisers and endorsers, but he suggested that too black-and-white a perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict helped no one. He described the debate in Israel as "much more open" than it often is in the United States.

"Understandably, because of the pressure that Israel is under, I think the US pro-Israel community is sometimes a little more protective or concerned about opening up that conversation," he continued. "All I'm saying, though, is that actually ultimately should be our goal - to have that same clear-eyed view about how we approach these issues."

Kirchick seems to think that Obama is interfering in Israeli politics by mentioning Likud, and compares him to Jim Moran, who said, "I'm never going to satisfy people who think we should be giving unequivocal support to the Likud Party." About this Kirchick says, "Such protestations about the all-encompassing power of 'Likud' is a trope in the victimization rhetoric of peace-processors who constantly blame Israel for the region's woes while pretending to be valiant friends of the Jewish State."

Obama isn't making a statement about Likud being "all-powerful" (which at the moment it certainly is not, since it's in the opposition, not in the government). Instead, he's pointing out that one can be pro-Israel without going along with all of the political positions of the Likud party, a point which is in fact often forgotten in the pro-Israel community. AIPAC, for example, seems quite able to welcome the support of someone like John Hagee (who is really advocating the destruction of Israel in his end-time theology), but does not countenance even mild criticism of Israel's actions.

What I like about these quotations from Obama is that they reveal a real acquaintance with the different political views in the American Jewish community, and a willingness to be a true advocate for peace alongside a firm support for Israel. I hope that this doesn't sink him in the end with Jewish voters who get too scared at what he is saying and misread his willingness to work for peace for a lack of support for Israel.

I think that he is spot on about why the pro-Israel community in the U.S. is often more protective (than Israeli opinion). This is an impulse that I have often felt myself, even though my politics are much to the left of the Likud. I get very tired of hearing the reflexive anti-Israel opinions of the American and European left, many European nations, and of course all of the U.N. resolutions that condemn Israel without also condemning Arab actions against Israel. In the face of that onslaught, it's tempting simply to support Israel and everything it does, out of the conviction that even if Israel adopted the methods of "flower power" tomorrow, it wouldn't matter to those who routinely savage Israel.

1 comment:

  1. "James Kirchick [...] has just posted a dumb comment[....]

    It's never otherwise.

    He really is just a sock puppet for Marty Peretz.

    (No, not literally; but effectively.)

    As well as dumb as a rock.