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November 7, 2008: A Necessary Clarification

November 7, 2008

In the wake of the US election, what I am seeing is a conflation of two different issues:

One is the fact that this has been an historic election that has brought a black man (he is referred to frequently as African American, but is not, actually, even though African Americans are identifying with him). This is cause for celebration and pride. Let this not be misunderstood: I salute the fact that America, long a racist nation, has been able to come to this place.

But this should not be confused with the second issue, which is the question of Obama’s competency to be president and the direction in which he will lead the country. The euphoria felt in the US at the time of the election, the sense of victory and togetherness and hope, cannot be sustained of itself, but requires hard work. It may, in fact, be an evanescence that gives way to other things; this is my own suspicion.

Very real concerns remain and cannot be brushed away. As the Obama presidency proceeds, I will note, should it turn out that I was wrong in some of my concerns, I will gladly concede this. But nothing has happened yet to assuage those concerns. The cheering, the very real tears, the sense of hope — these may turn out to be beside the point.

It is traditional to give an incoming president a honeymoon period, in which he is supported and cut some slack as he finds his way. Obama is entitled to this, which is why I did not comment on the day following the election. But the world is in such crisis today, and the issues he faces so significant — existentially significant — that reasoned commentary is important even early on.


I would like to refer here to the comments of some Israelis with regard to the election.

Foreign Minister and head of the Kadima party Tzipi Livni held a press conference yesterday with Condoleezza Rice, who is here. Referring to statements made by Obama during the campaign regarding a willingness to talk with Iran, she said: “…dialogue at this time is liable to broadcast weakness. I think early dialogue at a time when it appears to Iran that the world has given up on sanctions could be problematic.”

Larry Derfner, a left-wing Post columnist, said this: “…the general reaction in Israel to Barack Obama’s election is, shall we say, restrained. Beyond his…associations with some harsh critics of Israel, people here sense that he sides with the have-nots of the world, with the Third World masses – and Israelis…[have] lost hope of even reaching a truce with the Third World masses around here.”


Amir Mizroch and Herb Keinon have done an analysis, also in the Post, of what we can expect now with Obama:

They refer to: “a line [he used consistently in the campaign] that said nothing but signified everything: “Yes, we can.”

Now people will be asking, “So, nu, can we?” Or, more accurately, “Can he?” Can he really, as promised, change the system, repair the world and transform the way Washington does business?

“Israel is one place where that question is being asked with particular interest and concern, simply because our fate and the fate of the US are so intertwined…Here government officials and the average Rafi will be asking… the question of moment: Can we count on Obama?”

Their conclusion is that in many ways the US-Israeli relationship won’t change because “Obama does want to fundamentally change the US, to reform the country. To do that, he is going to need to go to Capitol Hill and build coalitions. And coalition-building in Washington is good for Israel because Israel has many friends on the Hill who could be expected to link one issue to the next.”

Their assessment of whether we will be able to count on the US with regard to taking on Iran, however, is troubling:

“Can we fly over Iraqi airspace to hit Iran’s nuclear facilities?

“No, we can’t.

“Can we ask America to look the other way while our jets find another way into Iran?

“No, we can’t.

Can we expect America to do the job for us in Iran?

“No, we can’t.”


One comment of my own here: People are pointing to Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff as evidence that Obama will be strong for Israel. It is too early to conclude this — this too requires wait and see.

Rahm Emanuel is the son of an Israeli pediatrician who came to live in America; his mother is an American with a history of civil right activism. He himself was born in the US and his roots are in Chicago; in fact he is a US representative whose district covers part of Chicago. He was chair of the Democratic Caucus. While I find statements about his connection to Judaism, I have not been able to uncover anything about what his opinions are with regard to Israel — or, perhaps more accurately, what he thinks US policy toward Israel should be. In this regard he seems an unknown.

Obama may have had many legitimate reasons for selecting Emanuel — their political associations in Chicago, a possible connection to civil rights issues, etc.– that have nothing to do with Israel.


And lastly this: There are some in Kadima saying now that, in light of the US election, it would be unwise to have Netanyahu as prime minister because he wouldn’t be able to talk with Obama — that we need someone more to the left to keep the US-Israel relationship strong.

This is self-serving, unmitigated nonsense and deserves to be nipped in the bud immediately. My own very strongly held position is that we need Netanyahu and a right-wing coalition more than ever now because the last thing that would be in our genuine best interest would be a government intent on “yessing” the Americans. It is time for Israel to stand up for herself.




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