Barack Obama is a very well spoken Democratic candidate and certainly more interesting to listen to than Hillary Clinton. However, we have yet to really take a solid look at his record. We'll begin by looking at his position on Israel.
I didn't have to go digging to get any of my information. Google is the easiest way to go - put in "Barack Obama" and "Jews".
Looking back at Obama when he was back in Chicago we can start to get a feel for his politics. It's being reported by Ali Abumimah that Barack's position toward Israel has "evolved". While nowadays he's making AIPAC happy with his speeches, this was not always the case.
Abumimah has a first hand account.
Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.
As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "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." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"
Abumimah goes on to lament that Obama has turned his back on the "Palestinian" issue in order to further his political ambitions.
This would be a good thing if this is where the story ended but it doesn't end here. Enter Nation of Islam.
Responding to criticism by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, Barack Obama declared his strong opposition to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan:
I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan.
Obama also went on to condemn his Church's award to Farrakhan and his minister's tight relationship with him.
But a former Obama insider says that Obama's sudden aversion to NOI and Farrakhan is belied by the fact that Obama employed and continues to employ several Farrakhan acolytes in high positions on his Illinois and U.S. Senate campaign and office staffs. I have verified that this person--who agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity--held a key position in the Obama campaign. The insider was so close to Senator Obama that they frequently personally discussed and exchanged direct e-mail messages on campaign and policy matters. This person is not connected with the Clintons and is not a disgruntled employee.
The insider says he frequently objected to Mr. Obama's placement of Cynthia K. Miller, a member of the Nation of Islam, as the Treasurer of his U.S. Senate campaign. When I contacted Miller, now a Chicago real estate agent, to verify whether she was a member of the Nation of Islam and whether she shared Louis Farrakhan's bigoted views about Jews, she responded, "None of your business! Where are you going with this?" She said her resignation as Obama's treasurer had nothing to do with her Nation of Islam ties. Then, she hung up.
The Obama insider says he also objected to Obama's involvement with Jennifer Mason, whom he says is also a member of the Nation of Islam. Mason is Obama's Director of Constituent Services in his U.S. Senate office and is also in charge of selecting Obama's Senate interns. She did not respond to repeated calls for comment.
But it's not just that he employed these individuals in positions of power in his office, it's that when the former associate raised objections, he says Mr. Obama's position was that he saw nothing wrong with the Nation of Islam and didn't think it was a problem. If true--and the fact that Ms. Mason still holds her prominent Obama Senate staff position bears that out--Obama's condemnation of Farrakhan, this month, is phony.
But the insider says there is more to it than that. Obama's Illinois State Senate district consisted of prime Nation of Islam territory, including Hyde Park, home to Farrakhan's mansion. It is not possible, Illinois politicos say, to win that district without the blessing of the NOI leader. NOI members, including consultant Shakir Muhammad, held important roles in the Obama state senate campaign.
How many Nation of Islam members will work in an Obama White House?
Then, there is the issue of Israel. When Obama first ran for the U.S. Senate, he gave militant responses to the Chicago Jewish News about Israel. Obama denounced Israel's fence--which he called a "wall" and "barrier to peace"--to keep out terrorists and favored working with Yasser Arafat. When members of the Chicago Jewish community circulated his responses, Obama said that the answers were not his positions, but the work of a low-level intern. He submitted new answers. But that was a lie, the insider says. In fact, they were the work of Obama's Policy Director, Audra Wilson. Moreover, Obama told the insider that he blamed the Mideast conflict on the Jews:
Barack told me that he felt that Jewish community was too inflexible, and that was why the situation in the Mideast could not be resolved.
More recently Obama told a French newspaper that if he were elected he would hold a summit of the Muslim world.
Muslim and Western leaders would be invited to the summit for "a discussion about how we can prevent the widening misunderstandings and gaps between the Muslim world and the West," Obama said in the interview to Paris Match.
"I will ask them to join us in battling terrorism but we should also be willing to listen in terms of some of their concerns," he said in the interview to be released Thursday.
Let's listen to their concerns. What might possibly be Muslim concerns? Jewish "intransigence"? "Palestinian" rights - right of return? What will happen with the Middle East peace process - will he press Israel to give up even more land? Even if he seems to be strong on Israel now - is this position the real Obama position? Or if he becomes president will he take the opportunity to press Israel into crazy concessions?
Another separate issue that I'd like to clarify is the issue of Obama's Muslim heritage. It seems to me that he is not a Muslim. He was raised as a Muslim when he was a child and did attend a madrassa. However, he does belong to an Afro-Centric church in Chicago called the Trinity United Church of Christ. Here is their mission statement.
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
I believe that Barack Obama is not a Muslim, but a Christian. This puts him in a sticky situation vis-a-vis his Muslim father and early childhood. A Muslim who leaves their faith is an apostate - someone who deserves death. A question might be asked about how it would be possible to negotiate with the Muslim world (no matter how sympathetic he may be) when those he's negotiating with believe him to be deserving of death.
First term Senator Obama has a lot to explain and clarify his position on Israel and the Middle East (especially when he wants to talk to Iran).