Israel and Obama’s Radical Past

Published May 20, 2011

National Review Online

Does President Obama’s radical past tell us anything significant about his stance on Israel today? Perhaps more important, do the radical alliances of Obama’s Chicago days raise a warning flag about what the president’s position on Israel may be in 2013, should he safely secure reelection? Many will deny it, but I believe Obama’s radical history speaks volumes about the past, present, and likely future course of his policy on Israel.

The Los Angeles Times has long refused to release a videotape in its possession of a farewell dinner, attended by Obama, for scholar and Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi. Obama spoke warmly of his friendship for Khalidi at that event. Unfortunately, the continuing mystery of that video tape has obscured the rather remarkable article that the LA Times did publish about the dinner—and about Obama’s broader views on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In light of the controversy over Obama’s remarks on Israel in his address yesterday on the Middle East, it is worth revisiting that 2008 article from the LA Times.

The extraordinary thing about “Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Obama” is that in it, Obama’s supporters say that in claiming to be pro-Israel, he is hiding his true views from the public. Having observed his personal associations, his open political alliances, his public statements, and his private remarks, Obama’s Palestinian allies steadfastly maintain that Obama’s private views are far more pro-Palestinian than he lets on.

Having pieced together Obama’s history, I make much the same argument about Obama’s broader political stance in my book, Radical-in-Chief. Obama’s true views are far to the left of what he lets on in public. Yet it’s striking to see Palestinian activists making essentially the same point—not in criticism of Obama, but in praise.

Notice also that, in this article, Rashid Khalidi himself claims that Obama’s family ties to Kenya and Indonesia have inclined him to be more sympathetic to Palestinians than other American politicians are. That sort of claim often gets ridiculed when conservatives make it.

The point of all this is not that, as president, Obama is going to make policy exactly as Rashid Khalidi might. Obviously, no American president could take such a position and survive politically. Rather, the point is that Obama’s stance is going to tilt more heavily toward the Palestinians than any other likely American president, Republican or Democrat—just as Obama’s Palestinian allies argued in that LA Times piece.

The entire article is worth a read, but here are some choice excerpts:

A special tribute [at the farewell dinner] came from Khalidi’s friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals provided by Khalidi’s wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases” . . .

[Obama today] expresses a firmly pro-Israel view. . . .

And yet the warm embrace Obama gave to Khalidi, and words like those at the professor’s going away party, have left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say.

Their belief is not drawn from Obama’s speeches or campaign literature, but from comments that some say Obama made in private and from his association with the Palestinian American community in his hometown of Chicago, including his presence at events where anger at Israeli and U.S. Middle East policy was freely expressed. . . .

“I am confident that Barack Obama is more sympathetic to the position of ending the occupation than either of the other candidates,” said Hussein Ibish…. “That’s my personal opinion, Ibish said, “and I think it for a very large number of circumstantial reasons and what he’s said.”

. . . Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian rights activist in Chicago who helps run Electronic Intifada, said that he met Obama several times at Palestinian and Arab American community events. At one, a 2000 fundraiser at a private home, Obama called for the U.S. to take an “even-handed” approach toward Israel….

Abunimah, in a Times interview and on his website, said Obama seemed sympathetic to the Palestinian cause but more circumspect as he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004. At a dinner gathering that year, Abunimah said, Obama greeted him warmly and said privately that he needed to speak cautiously about the Middle East.

Abunimah quoted Obama as saying that he was sorry he wasn’t talking more about the Palestinian cause, but that his primary campaign had constrained what he could say.

Obama, through his aide, Axelrod, denied he ever said those words, and Abunimah’s account could not be independently verified.

In Radical-in-Chief, I show how Obama generally resorts to obfuscation to hide his radical past, saving outright false denial for those few cases where it is absolutely necessary. Is this another such case?

Radical-in-Chief also shows in some detail, with new information, that Obama had to know about Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s intensely anti-Israel views. I also discuss the triangular relationship between Obama, Khalidi, and Bill Ayers. Ayers and Khalidi were extremely close friends and allies, and both were close political allies of Obama as well.

For further evidence that Obama’s early views tell us more about his actions in the present—and future—than his current “pragmatic” statements, see “Obama’s Past Tells the Truth.”

There is also the question of Samantha Power, Obama’s most important foreign policy advisor during his Senate years, and a guiding force behind our current intervention in Libya. I surveyed her views in “Samantha Power’s Power.” Although Power now disavows it, there is persuasive evidence that she once advocated an American military intervention against Israel to impose a two-state solution. It is extraordinary that someone holding that view should have been Obama’s closest foreign-policy adviser for years, and a continuing influence within his administration today.

It is true, of course, that Obama has long maintained close ties to the Jewish community. Yet the depth of his ties to the pro-Palestinian Left is unmatched among major American politicians. It is reasonable to conclude that this is having an effect on Obama’s policies—more than he admits—and will continue to do so, especially should the president secure reelection.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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