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I didn't want to get into US politics, because this is not the place for it, and I am not the person to do it. But I have read so much rubbish that I have developed an irresistible urge to inject some common sense and facts into the debate. I was equally surprised and dismayed by the rather naive and unquestioning support offered by some Jews, and by the infantile and unworthy slurs and mud slung by others.

The good news is that half of the scare stuff written about Obama certainly has no basis. The bad news is that some of it might. First the good news. Barack Obama is not a Muslim and was not a Muslim. He had nothing to do with the Tawana Brawley riot and is not known to be on good terms with African American demagogue Al Sharpton. If it matters to anyone, the photo of Obama without his hand on his heart was NOT taken during the pledge of allegiance. That is the sort of infantile criticisms we need to dismiss.

However, Barack Obama is a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ, and a good friend of Reverend Wright who heads that Church. There is no way around that, and Obama has not disowned Wright or his church. The church newspaper features articles by racist anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, and gave him an award. Wright traveled to Libya with with Farrakhan. Obama has "distanced himself" from Farrakhan, but not from Wright or the Trinity United Church of Christ. It is claimed that this church is not racist. If a Synagogue newspaper gave an award to Strom Thurmond or Trent Lott, African Americans would likely consider it to be racist, and a politician who belonged to that synagogue would not be getting a lot of votes from the African American community.

I am worried about who Barack Obama's friends and reference group are, and where he gets his guidance, and what policies he has. The issue of whether or not he is anti-Semitic is more or less immaterial. No candidate for the US presidency today who is not mentally challenged would be openly racist, and what a person says or does privately is probably unknowable and may not matter. A lot of things that Harry Truman said would have to be judged as anti-Semitic, and Richard Nixon was certainly an anti-Semite. Both of them helped Israel because of the priorities they gave to different issues and because of their advisers. Dwight Eisenhower was certainly not an anti-Semite by all evidence, but he was arguably the worst American president on issues related to Israel. "Liberal" is certainly not a guarantee of favorable policies and "friend of the Jews" is not necessarily a decisive criterion either. FDR was liberal, he befriended many Jews too. Yet he went out of his way to miss the opportunity to save the six million Jews of Europe from extinction in the Holocaust.

One of Obama's advisers is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who is not a friend of the Jews apparently, and who is probably partly responsible for the US debacle in Iran in 1979, though his father, Tadeusz Brzezinski was involved in attempts to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. A typical quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski about the Second Lebanon war

I hate to say this but I will say it. I think what the Israelis are doing today for example in Lebanon is in effect, in effect--maybe not in intent--the killing of hostages. The killing of hostages.

(source: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2007/09/03/070903taco_talk_remnick). Brzezinski is not an Obama adviser on Israel, but he is an adviser. Does anyone believe he will not be consulted about Israel?

Robert Malley, of Syrian parentage, is also rumored to be an Obama adviser. Malley has a long record of poisonous anti-Israel activity.

Obama's voting record on Israel issues is good, but so is that of John McCain, Hillary Clinton and others. When we come to examine Obama's proposed policies about the Middle East we find disappointing generalities. We know about what Hillary Clinton will do. We know about what McCain will do. Obama proposes to "engage" the Iranians and others. He doesn't say what he is going to engage about. Dialogue is good, but diplomatic dialogue has to have specific goals. And what happens when he asks Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to please be nice, and Ahmadinejad says, "no way?" Obama's insistence on rapid unconditional withdrawal from Iraq is probably going to mean the US has no presence in the Middle East, if he really does it. That can't be good for Israel.

There are reasonable arguments for Obama if you support Israel, but I haven't seen many. One of the silliest articles I saw on this topic was Why Obama is good for Israel. It argues that it doesn't matter what Obama's policies about Israel will be, he will be good for America because America will gain popularity by having elected an African-American, and that has to be good for Israel, since America is an ally of Israel. That is like arguing that since Germany was always good for the Jews, and Hitler will make Germany strong, electing Hitler will be good for the Jews. It does matter what policies Obama follows. The assumption of the author, Jay Michaelson, seems to be that Obama will promote love for America among Arabs and Muslims because he is black.

Enter President Obama. Yes, it matters that he is black...Internationally, it matters for the good.

Michaelson doesn't know that Arabs aren't necessarily great lovers of Africans. African workers in the Arabian peninsula are treated poorly for example, and white Bedouins discriminate against Africans. The people of Darfur have not been so well treated by their Arab rulers.

Martin Peretz's article about Obama is more realistic, but it is not honest either. Peretz avoids some painful issues: Obama's association with Jeremiah Wright for example. Peretz tells us that Robert Malley is not an Obama adviser, but others say he is. Peretz also avoids discussing Brzezinsky, because Zbig certainly is an Obama adviser.

My impression is that analysts who tell us Obama is good or bad for the Jews, support him or oppose him for reasons other than his record on Israel and the Jews, and write these articles as a way of convincing the "Jewish vote" rather than as a means of examining Obama's positions and prospective positions on issues related to Israel. That is probably true of all the candidates. Caveat elector - in dog Latin, "Let the voter beware."

Ami Isseroff





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BS"D Thanks Ami. Good summary. I think Obama's association with Trinity is completely misunderstood by the Jewish community. I am a baal teshuvah from Chicago and the daughter of a Chicago Sun-Times reporter. I was old enough to understand the whole debate on the development of the housing projects on the Southwest side of Chicago. Leave aside that long story - history has shown it was a bad idea and created a living hell for many poor black people. My father - who was very familiar with the politicians involved - often said the correct thing was rent subsidies to allow people to live throughout the city so they would have more options for employment and so on. The liberal politicians did not fight for this - several told my father off the record that they could not deliver this against pressure to keep blacks out of many neighborhoods. The projects went ahead.

Barack Obama deserves great admiration for going and working in those neighborhoods. While he was working with the churches doing organizing he naturally was encouraged by the clergy to attend church (l'havdil just like any Chabad Rabbi would do). He was inspired by Jeremiah Wright who was working to give people in those neighborhoods hope, support, services, access to education, health care - you name it. The word "black" in the mandate of the Trinity church - black education, black leadership and so on is appropriate in the context that Wright has described it - building a sense of community identity/pride/ownership and so on. If you watch video of Wright operating in his church on YouTube with an open mind you can see why Obama enjoyed being there and was uplifted by the experience.

Regarding Farrakhan - he is obviously an odious character - I have seen him in person and his staff on video. Obama has distanced himself from Farrakhan. However, the fact that he was given an award by Wright - or that they traveled together - is not a problem. Farrakhan and the NOI have provided security in many inner city neighborhoods (as you may know). The NOI is not a perfect organization and has a leader that is offensive to Jews but that does not undermine their real and valuable contribution to blacks in the prisons and the inner cities. Wright has a good reason to have a relationship with him and it will not have any effect on Obama as President. Why would it? Are they going to whisper in his ear - "Those Jews are rotten you know". Frankly, this is a non-issue.

Second point - I think Obama is best for Israel from a tactical viewpoint. He has the least incentive to get involved. As Peretz reminds us, the Clinton camp has shown that they believe it is OK to force an agreement in which Israel gives everything and the Palestinians give and do nothing. H. Clinton has exactly the same advisors Bill had and she has Bill. We can assume that he will take an active role in the Middle East for two reasons: 1. She and he claim that she took an active role in policy discussions when Bill was President (this is part of her job experience) so we can assume he will do the same in her administration; 2. She has said she will send him abroad as a "goodwill ambassador". Bill’s ego will drive him to force Israel into a deal even at their peril.

McCain, on the other hand, has clearly stated that he is going to take Jim Baker and Brent Scowcroft out of the mothballs and send these guys (the smartest men he knows) to fix the Middle East (e.g., force the '67 borders). Please see Scowcroft’s 1/4/2007 NYT article “Getting the Middle East Back on Our Side". In short he argues that if the US withdraws from Iraq, Iran will be happy and expand its influence and serious problems will occur and to avoid these problems Israel must be forced into a final deal with the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria. His view boils down to "Sell out Israel to get the world to see we were right to invade Iraq after all".

In his words, "To avoid these dire consequences, we need to secure the support of the countries of the region themselves. It is greatly in their self-interest to give that support, just as they did in the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict. Unfortunately, in recent years they have come to see it as dangerous to identify with the United States, and so they have largely stood on the sidelines. A vigorously renewed effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict could fundamentally change both the dynamics in the region and the strategic calculus of key leaders. Real progress would push Iran into a more defensive posture. Hezbollah and Hamas would lose their rallying principle. American allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the gulf states would be liberated to assist in stabilizing Iraq. And Iraq would finally be seen by all as a key country that had to be set right in the pursuit of regional security. Arab leaders are now keen to resolve the 50-year-old dispute. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel may be as well. His nation’s long-term security can only be assured by resolving this issue once and for all. However, only the American president can bring them to the same table. Resuming the Arab-Israeli peace process is not a matter of forcing concessions from Israel or dragooning the Palestinians into surrender. Most of the elements of a settlement are already agreed as a result of the negotiations of 2000 and the “road map” of 2002. What is required is to summon the will of Arab and Israeli leaders, led by a determined American president, to forge the various elements into a conclusion that all parties have already publicly accepted in principle." (Scowcroft article)

I expect that McCain will try to shy away from this now to get Jewish votes but that is what he will really do. These fellows - McCain. Baker, and Scowcroft are focused on making their mark on history at their age and it seems unlikely that they would listen to any alternative views.

Obama has nothing to gain and everything to lose getting involved with Israel. Annapolis gives him an out – they tried that and it did not work and we will get back to it “soon”. He will focus on domestic issues and Iraq. Even if Malley is advising him I do not think that would be a bad thing. Malley is focused on the need to get the two pieces of the P’s back together – he is an Arafat man who is angry with Abbas. He recently wrote an article in the Washington Post ("Middle East Triangle" -- http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2008/01/16/AR2008011603442.html) explaining how difficult it will be to get the 3 parties to come to an agreement. I think he will emphasize that nothing can be done until that split is resolved and that will take time – possibly an infinite amount. We (Israel and the Jewish people abroad) are best off in a mode of stalling, in my humble opinion, to give us time to put real Jewish leadership in place in Israel – and work to replace the widespread acceptance of the “2-State Solution” with an alternative solution that does not expel Jews from Judea and Samaria. If Israel will tell the world with conviction that it will not expel Jews from Judea and Samaria after the bad failure of the Gaza experiment – I believe an Obama administration is the best bet to support them in that. The onus is on Israel to take the initiative to stop the reckless and morally bankrupt “West Bank” expulsion proposal – not the Americans.

Finally, on Iran...There is no question in my mind that Barack Obama is just as smart as Ahmedinajad. The scenario you describe paints a picture of Obama akin to a high school student at a debate with a vastly greater opponent. That is simply a cartoon and not a real discussion of what might happen. As you know, Ahmedinajad is in trouble with his base – poor Iranians – for not delivering on bread and butter issues for them. He just had one of his policies – on gas delivery to the countryside – contradicted by the Supreme Ruler fellow and it was supposedly embarrassing for him. He is being criticized for spending too much time on saber rattling and not enough on the economy. Now is the time to engage with Iran from a stance of no compromise on Israel’s security, insistence on more transparency in the Iranian nuclear program, and some carrots. Reagan dealt with the Russians and it was the right thing to do. That is the model Obama has referenced and based on the votes in Red States it seems many Independents and Republicans agree with him.

Yocheved, Thursday, February 7th


Benigne. (thanks)
First one means "is it fitting that he should rule? Second is harder - Something about "he said to elect consuls out of the plebs" but I am guessing a bit - Where are they from? (and what does #2 mean?).

Most appropriate for elections is usually what Tacitus wrote of Galba: "Omnium consensu capax imperii, nisi imperasset." (Everyone would have agreed he was capable of ruling, had he not ruled) - Could be true of any of those candidates.
care ut vales.

Ami Isseroff, Thursday, February 7th


Bravo Ami, a good synopsis erudite and to the point. I always remind people the sage words of General Charles DeGaulle (may he forever stay in the hole they deposited him in) "citizens have friends, nations don't have friends, they have interests". The real question for Americans is "Est, Dignus est quī imperet?" And that I'm afraid can only be answered with hindsight. All we can really say to those affable rebels is "Īte, inquit creāte cōnsulēs ex plēbe" and pray providence is kind to them.

Larry Riteman, Thursday, February 7th


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