Obama’s hard-Left tilt is real.
It’s time to revisit the issue of President Obama’s Palestinian ties. During his time in the Illinois state senate, Obama forged close alliances with the most prominent Palestinian political leaders in America. Substantial evidence also indicates that during his pre-Washington years, Obama was both supportive of the Palestinian cause and critical of America’s stance toward Israel. Although Obama began to voice undifferentiated support for Israel around 2004 (as he ran for U.S. Senate and his national visibility rose), critics and even some backers have long suspected that his pro-Palestinian inclinations survive.
The continuing influence of Obama’s pro-Palestinian sentiments is the best way to make sense of the president’s recent tilt away from Israel. This is why supporters of Israel should fear Obama’s reelection. In 2013, with his political vulnerability a thing of the past, Obama’s pro-Palestinian sympathies would be released from hibernation, leaving Israel without support from its indispensable American defender.
To see this, we need to reconstruct Obama’s pro-Palestinian past and assess its influence on the present. Taken in context, and followed through the years, the evidence strongly suggests that Obama’s long-held pro-Palestinian sentiments were sincere, while his post-2004 pro-Israel stance has been dictated by political necessity.
Let’s begin at the beginning — with the controversial question of whether Obama’s cultural heritage through his nominally Muslim Kenyan father and his Muslim Indonesian stepfather, along with his having been raised for a time in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, might have had some effect on the president’s mature foreign-policy views. Obama supporters often mock this idea, but we have it on high authority that Obama’s unusual heritage and upbringing have had an effect on his adult views.
Top presidential aide and longtime Obama family friend Valerie Jarrett was born and raised in Iran for the first five years of her life. In explaining how she first grew close to Obama, Jarrett says they traded stories of their youthful travels. As Jarrett told Obama biographer
Obama’s close friend and longtime ally, Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said’s successor as the most prominent American advocate for the Palestinians, goes further. Khalidi told the Los Angeles Times that as president, Obama, “because of his unusual background, with family ties in Kenya and Indonesia, would be more understanding of the Palestinian experience than typical American politicians.” Khalidi’s testimony is important, since he speaks on the basis of years of friendship with Obama.
Those who know Obama best, then, affirm that his foreign-policy views are atypical for an American politician, and are grounded in his unique international heritage and upbringing. That is important, because our core task is to decide whether Obama’s pro-Palestinian past was a stance rooted in sincere sympathy, or nothing but a convenient sop to his leftist Hyde Park supporters. Jarrett and Khalidi give us reason to believe that Obama’s decidedly pro-Palestinian inclinations are rooted in his core conception of who he is.
Obama came to political consciousness at college, and prior to his discovery of community organizing late in his senior year, his focus was on international issues. Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, highlights his anti-apartheid activism during his sophomore year at California’s Occidental College. Obama’s anti-apartheid stance, however, was part of a far broader and more radical rejection of the West’s alleged imperialism. Obama himself tells us, in a famous passage in Dreams, that he was taken with criticism of “neocolonialism” and “Eurocentrism” during these early college years.
What Obama doesn’t tell us, but what I reveal in Radical-in-Chief
Although Obama has long withheld his college transcripts from the public, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2008 that Obama took a course from Edward Said sometime during his final two undergraduate years at Columbia University. This was just around the time Obama’s ties to organized socialism were deepening, and certainly suggests a sincere interest in Said’s radical views. As Martin Kramer points out, in his superb 2008 review
After Obama finished his initial community-organizing stint in Chicago and graduated from Harvard Law School, he settled down to a teaching job at the University of Chicago around 1992, and went about laying the foundations of a political career. Sometime not long after his arrival at the University of Chicago, Obama connected with Rashid Khalidi.
To say the least, Rashid Khalidi is a controversial fellow. To begin with, although Khalidi denies it, Martin Kramer has unearthed powerful evidence
While we don’t know exactly when their friendship began, Khalidi was reportedly present at the famous 1995 kickoff reception for Obama’s first political campaign, held at the home of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. That is no minor point. We’ll see that as Khalidi’s close friend and political ally, Ayers played an integral role in the story of Obama’s relationship with Khalidi.
In May 1998, Edward Said traveled from Columbia to Chicago to present the keynote address at a dinner organized by the Arab American Action Network, a group founded by Rashid and Mona Khalidi. We’ve known for some time that Barack and Michelle Obama sat next to Edward and Mariam Said at that event. (Pictures
For the most part, Said focused his article (and likely his talk as well) on harsh criticisms of Israel, which he equated with both South Africa’s apartheid state and Nazi Germany. Said’s criticisms of the Palestinian Authority also were harsh. Why, he wondered, weren’t the 50,000 security people employed by the Palestinian Authority heading up resistance to Israel’s settlement building? In his talk, Said called for large-scale marches and civilian blockades of Israeli settlement building. To prevent Palestinian workers from participating in any Israeli construction, Said also proposed the establishment of a fund that would pay these laborers not to work for Israel. Presciently, Said’s talk also called on Palestinians to orchestrate an international campaign to stigmatize Israel as an illegitimate apartheid state.
So broadly speaking, this is what Obama would have heard from his former teacher at that May 1998 encounter. Yet Obama was clearly comfortable enough with Said’s take on Israel to deepen his relationship with Khalidi and his Arab American Action Network (AAAN). We know this, because Ali Abunimah, longtime vice president of the AAAN, has told us so.
In many ways, Abunimah is the neglected key to reconstructing the story of Obama’s alliance with Khalidi and AAAN. While Abunimah’s accounts of Obama’s alliance with AAAN have long been public, they are not widely known. Nor have Abunimah’s writings been pieced together with Obama’s history of support for AAAN. Doing so creates a disturbing picture of Obama’s political convictions on the Palestinian question.
In late summer 1998, for example, a few months after Obama’s encounter with Edward Said, Abunimah and AAAN were caught up in a national controversy over the alleged blacklisting of respected terrorism expert Steve Emerson by National Public Radio. In August of that year, NPR had interviewed Emerson on air about Osama bin Laden’s terror network. According to columnist Jeff Jacoby
Attempting to bar an expert on Osama bin Laden’s terror network from the airwaves is not exactly a feather in AAAN’s cap. Yet Obama continued his relationship with AAAN. Abunimah himself introduced Obama at a major fundraiser for a West Bank Palestinian community center a short time later in 1999. And that, says Abunimah, was “just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation.”
The year 2000 saw yet another public clash between Ali Abunimah and Jeff Jacoby over terrorism, along with a deepening alliance between Obama, Khalidi, Abunimah, and AAAN. In May 2000, Abunimah published a New York Times op-ed
As Abunimah continued to downplay the threat from bin Laden, his ties to Obama deepened. In 2000, AAAN founder Rashid Khalidi held a fundraiser for Obama’s ultimately unsuccessful congressional campaign. Abunimah remembers
Within a year, Obama did Khalidi and Abunimah a good turn as well. From his position on the board of Chicago’s Woods Fund, Obama, along with Ayers and the other five members of the board, began to channel funds to AAAN, totaling $75,000 in grants during 2001 and 2002. Now Obama and Ayers were effectively supporting the pro-Palestinian activism of AAAN’s vice-president, Abunimah, and funding an organization founded by their mutual friends, the Khalidis, in the process.
In the first year of the Woods Fund grant, Abunimah was the focus of a critical Chicago Tribune op-ed
An August 2002 profile
For Bill Ayers, Abunimah’s claims that Israel is an apartheid state, along with his arguments that international law at times licences violent resistance against Israel, surely resonate. As I show in Radical-in-Chief, Ayers has never abandoned his Weatherman ideology. The reason Ayers refuses to repudiate the Weathermen’s terrorist past is that he sees the group’s violent actions as justified resistance to the “internal colonialism” and apartheid of a racist American society. That likely explains why Ayers happily channeled grant money to AAAN, which makes a Weatherman-style argument against Israel.
In the acknowledgments of Resurrecting Empire
Khalidi left Chicago in 2003, after the now-famous farewell dinner at which Obama thanked Khalidi for years of beneficial intellectual exchange. The article
Specifically, Abunimah has said that, in the winter of 2004, Obama commended an op-ed Abunimah had just published in the Chicago Tribune, saying, “Keep up the good work!” (This
It didn’t turn out that way. Once Obama’s new-found stardom gave him national political prospects, he swiftly shifted into the pro-Israeli camp, to Abunimah’s great frustration. Would a reelected Obama finally be able to be “more up front” about his pro-Palestinian views, belatedly fulfilling his promise to Abunimah? In short, was Obama’s pro-Palestinian past nothing but a way of placating a hard-Left constituency whose views he never truly shared? Or is Obama’s post-2004 tilt toward Israel the real charade?
The record is clear. Obama’s heritage, his largely hidden history of leftist radicalism, and his close friendship with Rashid Khalidi, all bespeak sincerity, as Obama’s other Palestinian associates agree. This is not to mention Reverend Wright — whose rabidly anti-Israel sentiments, I show in Radical-in-Chief, Obama had to know about — or Obama’s longtime foreign-policy adviser Samantha Power, who once apparently recommended
The real Obama is the first Obama, and depending on how the next presidential election turns out, we’re going to meet him again in 2013.