To many American Jews, the future survival of the State of Israel was a major voting issue in this past presidential election. While both candidates pledged unconditional support of the State of Israel, Jewish voters pinned their blind hope for that on Obama, the candidate with no substantive record of which to speak, over McCain, the candidate who has been a friend of Israel his entire career.
While some have suggested that Obama is a blank slate, I disagree. When discerning his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we do have information that helps to form a picture of an Obama administration's Mideast policy.
We know that Obama sat in the pews of Trinity Church for 20 years listening to the anti-Semitic venom espoused by his spiritual advisor, Jeremiah Wright. Reverend Wright and the Trinity Church are intimately connected to Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam.
Furthermore, as Ed Lasky extensively documented (including here and here and here) throughout the campaign, many of Obama's advisors held pro-Palestinian positions. For instance, his chief foreign policy advisor earlier in his campaign was Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor, Samantha Power. In one interview, Power intimated that although it might mean "alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import," a military invasion of Israel may be necessary in order to create a Palestinian state and prevent genocide.
Then there was Obama's Mideast policy advisor, Robert Malley, who, during the course of the campaign, was regularly meeting with Hamas. Back in January, Ed Lasky insightfully wrote that the choice of Malley warranted scrutiny due to his views on Israel - particularly those of disengagement with Israel and support of her enemies.
While all three of these advisors were eventually thrown under the proverbial bus for Obama's political gain, the emergence of a disconcerting pattern clearly went unnoticed by his Jewish supporters. My position throughout the campaign remained that the situation in the Mideast was simply too precarious to take a chance with a roll of the dice on the next President's support of Israel. As the election unfolded, I was clearly in the minority on that view and American Jews chose to roll those dice.
Within days of Obama's election, however, it seems a new pattern is developing as these pro-Palestinian advisors begin to emerge from hiding.
Just after the election, Farrakhan came out of the closet and announced:
"For nine months, I kept quiet. I decided it would be better for me to just be quiet rather than be drawn into the controversy that was swirling around his pastor, Father Pfleger, and others."
Three days after the election, Reverend Wright and Obama family friend, Bill Ayers, appeared together at the For Members Only "State of the Black Union" event as a VIP guest and keynote speaker, respectively. FMO coordinator Zachary Parker said he hoped to "de-mystify stereotypes" surrounding Wright and his controversial remarks and that inviting Ayers was "only fitting" because the media treated the two figures similarly. In an interview Ayers said:
"Both Rev. Wright and I were brought up as cartoon characters in this campaign because of disinformation and dishonest news. I did not suffer as much as he did, but we both got out of it with a certain amount of dignity."
Perhaps Mr. Ayers should have thought about his dignity before attempting to blow up the Pentagon, possibly killing innocent people, and then complaining that he regretted not bombing more. Perhaps Reverend Wright should have thought about his dignity before claiming that the chickens came home to roost on 9/11 and shouting out "God damn America" to his congregation. Does anyone seriously think that these people actually have one ounce of dignity warranting the public to view them as anything more serious than cartoon characters? Unfortunately, they are not cartoon characters but are real people who advised Obama and who have likely had a tremendous impact on his view of the world and in particular Mideast policy.
However, with the selection of Rahm Emanuel as Obama's chief of staff, the Jewish Obama supporters are dancing in the streets with chants of "I told you so." But what exactly about Rahm Emanuel should give Jews reason for celebration? Are we cynics supposed to abandon reasoned thinking upon the appointment of one of the most partisan Washington insiders, who conveniently happens to be Jewish, to a domestic policy position? To paraphrase the words of one-time vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen, "Rahm Emanuel, you are no Joe Lieberman."
Obama's appointment of Emanuel reminds me of a selling point that he made in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic several months ago in which he discussed his "intellectual formation" through Jewish writers such as Leon Uris. Obama apparently believed that that would appease those of us concerned about his influential relationships with the likes of socialist, Frank Marshall Davis, terrorist, Bill Ayers, antisemite Jeremiah Wright, and Palestinian apologist Rashid Khalidi.
Last Friday, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick wrote about the perils facing Israel with an Obama administration directing US policy toward the Middle East:
"As the election drew closer, the Obama campaign expanded its efforts to present its candidate as a foreign policy moderate. Moderate foreign policy advisers such as Ross were paraded before reporters. Both Obama and his surrogates insisted that he supports a strong American alliance with Israel.
"Due in large part to media credulousness, Obama's new image as a centrist was widely accepted by the public. And it is likely that he owes a significant portion of his support in the American Jewish community to the campaign's success in distancing Obama from men like Brzezinski and Malley.
"But now that the campaign is over, it appears that, as his critics warned, Obama's moves toward the center on issues relating to the Middle East were little more than campaign tactics to obscure his true policy preferences."
Ms. Glick's analysis is based, in part, on reports that an early priority of the Obama administration will be to force Israel into an agreement with the Palestinians. Apparently Ms. Glick was on to something as news reports confirm that Obama phoned Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, in order to thank Abbas for his support and to confirm his commitment to work for peace based on a two-state solution. I wonder if Obama shared his concern with Abbas that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people" as he stated several months ago.
The Jerusalem Post has an online survey asking readers to vote on their predictions of how the Obama administration will handle the burning issues of the Middle East. For example, one question asked whether Obama will respond favorably to a Hamas invitation to meet with the US or whether the administration will require that it meet certain conditions before engaging in a dialogue (I assume this means official dialogue since we know that Malley engaged in regular meetings with Hamas throughout the course of the campaign).
This survey should not be necessary. American Jews took a chance without answers to very pressing, significant questions. I'm guessing that when George W. Bush was elected, no such survey existed and I'm confident that had John McCain won, the survey would not have been posted. American Jews rolled the dice on Israel and now we are left guessing which direction the next administration will take.
How long will it be before we see Robert Malley and Samantha Power reappear from under the bus? When that occurs, we should not be surprised if Israel is found in her place.
Lauri B. Regan is an attorney at a global law firm based in New York City.