Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Even Now, The Washington Post Avoids Mentioning Obama's Arab Friends

If you read the Saturday edition of the Washington Post, you would be forgiven if you came away with the impression that Obama's views on Israel were shaped by his Jewish friends:
several senior White House officials described the president's views on Israeli settlements as years old and not the product of recent events or discussions. "It would be a mistake to suggest that anyone led him to this position," a senior adviser said. "It's one that he generated himself."

In Chicago, long before becoming president, Obama's closest confidants included staunch supporters of Israel whose tough views on the need to stop settlements mirror his current public position. Abner Mikva, an Obama mentor and former law professor, was one of them.

"There has to be realistic talks about how the two states will get along together," Mikva said, describing Obama's thinking on the subject of Middle East peace before being elected to the U.S. Senate. "You can't do that if one state, as you're talking, is picking up more land."

White House aides say the president has been careful to insist that Palestinians must also act to fulfill their responsibilities, such as bolstering security and ending anti-Israeli incitement.

"It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered," Obama said in the Cairo speech.

But his recent language about settlements is the starkest of any U.S. president in three decades, and tougher than most of his public rhetoric since emerging on the national scene.

One of the president's close friends in Chicago, the late Rabbi Arnold Wolf, wrote last year of his disappointment that Obama had often publicly softened his private positions.
Abner Mikva described Obama, with his "yiddishe neshama", as the first Jewish President--a sentiment he apparently shares with Alan Solow, the recently elected chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

In a post about that article, Jennifer Rubin writes, "Left unsaid by the Post is the role played by his close friend Rashid Khalidi."

Martin Kramer also questions the Washington Post's curious ommission:
But how is it possible to mention Wolf and not Rashid Khalidi, Obama's University of Chicago colleague? Not only did Obama famously have his own "conversations" with Khalidi, but Wolf attested that his own conversations with Obama on Israel and the Palestinians were three-way, involving Khalidi. A journalist who interviewed Wolf last year wrote this:
Wolf has impressions about Obama's initial views on Israel more than specifics, and the impression was one of sympathy for the views that he and their mutual friend, Palestinian advocate Rashid Khalidi, expressed to him on Israel - views including the need to pressure Israel to give up the West Bank. In retrospect, he believes that Obama was carefully considering their perspective rather than endorsing it. "When he was listening, we had his ear, but he didn't come down on our side," he reflects. "I think he was listening and learning and thinking."
"Our side," no less. It makes no sense to invoke Wolf's influence without even mentioning Khalidi, because on the question of the West Bank, they were a tag-team.

That's why writing Khalidi out of the story of Obama's view of the settlements is absurd. Back in October, I delivered a lecture suggesting that Khalidi gave Obama his primer on the Middle East. I recently posted it here, for the record. There's nothing in it I would change, and the claim that Obama got his intransigent view of the settlements from exclusively Jewish sources is yet another attempt to sweep Khalidi under the rug.
But Obama apparently was not impressed only by 'staunch supporters of Israel'. He was appreciative of the work of Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, who wrote in March 2007:
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!"
That particular post by Abunimah also features a picture of Obama and his wife sitting with Edward Said and his wife--at a May 1998 Arab community event in Chicago at which Edward Said gave the keynote speech.

Kramer sees the ommission by Washington Post as an attempt to sweep the issue of Obama's friendship with Khalidi under the carpet.

I think that another possibility is that the Washington Post is trying to sell the idea of applying strong pressure on Israel as a position of "staunch supporters of Israel."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that Khalidi holds the Edward Said Chair at Columbia. Let's see... Abunimah, Khalidi, Wright - the folks whose names couldn't be mentioned during the campaign. As to the Jewish side, we see that Obama gives as much credence to the left wing, pro-Palestinian J Street as his predecessors did to the more mainstream AIPAC.