November 11, 2008
How Can We Ensure that Obama’s Presidency is Good for Israel?
Dear Friend of FLAME:
Pundits are lining up, of course, to predict the effect that Barack Obama's presidency will have on Middle East politics in general and Israel in particular. At FLAME, because we are an educational not-for-profit organization, we did not take sides in the election, since such advocacy would invalidate our 501(c)3 status and the tax deductibility of donations to our organization. But we do have opinions about how Israel will be best served over the coming months and year.
Let me say at the outset that despite sometimes hysterical emails we received from pro-Israel advocates over the last six months, we don't believe Obama will be unequivocally "bad" for Israel.
First, Obama has more pressing issues to handle than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict right away: The U.S. economy, the Iraq war, and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, for starters. Add to this intense concerns about saber-rattling, nuclear-obsessed Iranian president Ahmahdinajad and the equally unstable and dangerous North Korea. This is not to say that Obama won't soon appoint an envoy to revitalize "peace" talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but the issue is not likely to dominate U.S. foreign policy. Also, it's hard to see how much progress can be made toward peace with the Palestinians themselves still so unalterably fractious.
Second, Obama has just appointed Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. Emanuel is Jewish and has strong ties to Israel: His uncle was killed in Jerusalem in 1933 by Arabs and his father was a messenger for the militant Zionist organization Irgun. While Emanuel is no Republican neo-con---and he will certainly hold U.S. interests foremost---he, like Obama, clearly understands the need for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance and Israel's need for security. (See next week's Hotline for more on Rahm Emanuel's credentials and positions.)
Nonetheless, pro-Israel advocates, as always, need to remain vigilant. Obama no doubt has some notions about how to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he's also going to respond to voices among the electorate---like ours: Yours, mine and FLAME's. As we move forward in 2009, it's our job to monitor policy and diplomatic developments and to make our opinions known.
The following article---a recent press release, really---from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), expresses some of the concerns we should consider and issues to which we should stay attuned. Like the ZOA, we at FLAME remain optimistic about the new administration, but like the ZOA, we won't take anything for granted.
this expression of concern and then be prepared to stand with us as
we stay in touch with our elected representatives, including President
Obama, regarding facts and logic about the Middle East, as well as our
opinions and wishes concerning Israel.
Congratulates President-Elect Barack Obama
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has congratulated President-elect Senator Barack Obama and his running mate Senator Joe Biden for their victory in the presidential elections. Senator Obama ran a very successful campaign, and the American people have given him their trust. We hope that his presidency will be one of success for America in facing all the daunting economic, domestic and foreign policy challenges that lie ahead. We are proud to point out that Senator Biden was the keynote speaker at a recent ZOA National dinner, where he proclaimed, "I am a Zionist … and the U.S. should not pressure Israel."
As Senator Obama emerged on the national stage during this election campaign, the ZOA had cause to note a number of deeply troubling aspects to his record and candidacy. As we have said on earlier occasions, we were deeply shocked to discover the views and attitudes of his pastor Jeremiah Wright and his Trinity United Church, which Senator Obama attended for two decades. In particular, we were shocked by Rev. Wright's bigotry and animus against the U.S., against whites, wild anti-white conspiracy theories, anti-Israel words and deeds, the honoring of black racist and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, promoted divesting from Israel, accusing Israel of state terrorism and his blaming Israel for the 9/11 attack by murderous jihadists. We have also been deeply concerned by Senator Obama's association with other deeply radical and hateful figures, including Father Phleger and former Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayers, again, among others.
Additionally, the ZOA has been deeply concerned about the numerous virulent anti-Israel activists and propagandists with whom Senator Obama has associated over the years— people like former PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi, who has called "resistance" against Israel "legitimate" and berated Arab academics from participating at events at pro-Israel think tanks. (ZOA National President Morton A. Klein confronted Khalidi at a lecture in the early 1990s at Villanova University, at which Khalidi urged the U.S. to treat Israel as "pariah, in the same way it treats Syria").
There has also been Ali Abunimah, the founder of the Electronic Intifidah website and advocate for one state to replace Israel and the Palestinian territories and turn Jews into a minority in an Arab-dominated, non-Jewish state. Abunimah has written that Obama attended several pro-Palestinian fund-raisers and that, in 2004, Obama told him, "Hey, 'I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front... [You] Keep up the good work!" (Klein debated Abunimah at the University of Michigan, at which Abunimah uttered libels against Israel, including accusing it of massacring entire Palestinian families in the middle of the night. He also argued that Israel must become part of Palestine – in other words, disappear.)
Equally, our concern is highest regarding President-elect Obama's past and present advisers on the Middle East. The ZOA has noted that the majority of these—Zbigniew Brzezinski, Daniel Kurtzer, General Merrill "Tony" McPeak, Robert Malley, Samantha Power, Susan Rice to name several of them—all have records that indicate, variously, deep hostility against Israel, keenness on engaging and legitimizing terrorist movements like Hamas, support for down-grading or even cancelling the Israeli-American alliance and blaming the Jewish lobby for controlling U.S. Mid-East policy and recommending other policies that would serve to harm the relationship that President-elect Obama himself has correctly defined as principled and vital.
We are pleased to note that President-elect Obama has rightly stated that Israel is "our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy." That is not only a statement of fact, but a reality that we must preserve and build upon to create a better, less dangerous and more peaceful Middle East. President-elect Obama has correctly asserted that, "We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs." To that end, we urge the incoming Obama Administration to review some of the cost-cutting measures to the American military that President-elect Obama foreshadowed in the campaign. By common consent, we are living in a period of great perils with several far-flung theaters of conflict. Now is not the time for ruinous and false military economies that might embolden our enemies and increase the dangers while reducing our ability to tackle them successfully and decisively.
We fervently hope that President-elect Obama will live up to his public declarations of support for Israel. We trust and expect that his promise that he will "do everything, everything" to ensure that the Iranian regime does not obtain nuclear weapons will be honored. We also hope that his statements of support for Israel exercising its legitimate right to self-defense as he expressed it during the 2006 Lebanon war and his forthright condemnation of the cowardly terrorists who use civilians as human shields behind which to attack Israel, as well as other, more general expressions of support and friendship for Israel that marked his campaign, will be hallmark of his Administration's Middle East policy.
We at ZOA hope that his past associations and statements—including one that Hamas and Hizballah, both dedicated to Israel's elimination, have "legitimate claims" (David Brooks, "Obama admires Bush," New York Times, May 16, 2008) – will not be predictive of his future policy towards Israel.