Responding to My Critics on Obama and Israel - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Responding to My Critics on Obama and Israel

Daniel Larison, a paleoconservative critic of Israel who is out to prove that, as a supporter of Israel, I have nothing to fear from an Obama presidency, offers this lengthy response to my article from yesterday in which I raised questions about the sincerity of Obama's pro-Israel statements during the campaign, particularly with regard to Hamas.

Larison says that it's unfair to read too much into the fact that Robert Malley, an informal adviser to Obama, has been meeting with Hamas. He compares this to the fact that two McCain aides had to resign from the campaign for working on a lobbying firm that did work for Burma's junta. But there are several differences between the two cases. For one, McCain aides were serving in a domestic political context, not as foreign policy advisers, whereas Malley was advising Obama on Middle East policy. But beyond that, for anybody who has concerns about McCain's views on Burma, they have a 25-year foreign policy record to examine. And a quick Google search would show that last October, McCain proposed legislation aimed at cracking down on the Burmese government.

Meanwhile, when campaigning in New Hampshire that month – hardly a place in which getting tough on Burma would seem to be a hot political issue, he assailed the regime. The AP reported:

The Arizona Republican blasted the "military thugs" in Burma who are attempting to maintain their junta despite protests of Buddhist monks.

He also said "we should make the Chinese pay a price" for supporting the regime.

I remember participating on a blogger call in September in which McCain opened up his remarks with a heated tirade on the Burmese regime, and said "it's time for strong action against these thugs."

I really don't see anything in Obama's past on Israel that would offer me similar reassurance.

Larison goes on to make excuses for Obama in each of the litany of examples I cite in my long piece. You can read my article and his post and determine whether or not you think I am being fair. But here's the thing. If it just so happened that there was one adviser or one questionable statement by Obama it would be easier to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it seems that each day brings a revelation about another shady connection.

Larison also completely distorts my argument in order to make his point that I'm some sort of paranoid freak. He says I cite "reports of friendly relations with Khalidi," a leading anti-Israel intellectual, but he omits a key detail. In my article, I note that an LA Times story reported that he didn't just casually attend a party for Khalidi, but spoke at it:

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases… It's for that reason that I'm hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid's dinner table," but around "this entire world.":

Khalidi is a man who has called Israel an "apartheid system in creation." What kind of "conversation" was Obama talking about? What did Khalidi teach Obama about his own biases? I'd really like to know. And the Obama campaign was contacted for the Time story and they didn't dispute the fact that Obama gave such a speech, so I feel confident reporting on it as accurate.

Larison paraphrases both me and Obama incorrectly when he sarcastically says I criticize Obama for, "his acknowledgement that Palestinians have suffered (quelle horreur!)." But what Obama actually said was, "nobody's suffering more than the Palestinian people," which suggests not merely that he wants to recognize that Palestinian people are suffering, but that he thinks that Palestinians are suffering more than Israelis. Israelis who have lost loved once to suicide bombings would disagree. I also wondered, given the lessons he's learned from Khalidi, whether Obama was suggesting that U.S. policy was too focused on Israeli suffering. I included in my article Obama's clarification that he meant that nobody has suffered more from the failures of Palestinian leadership.

For Larison, the gap between Obama's statements on the campaign trail and what his advisers are saying and doing on issues such as NAFTA and Iraq suggest his ultimate bias is in favor of the status quo. But for me, such revelations undermine Obama's credibility overall. Larison doesn't think that it's likely as president Obama would move in a more pro-Palestinian direction than he has signaled on the campaign trail. But why not?

The desire to be seen as a Middle East peacemaker has, in the past, made presidents elevate terrorists to statesmen, as we saw with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat. Now that Hamas has been democratically elected and controls Gaza, any peace agreement signed with Mahmoud Abbas would be meaningless if one didn't negotiate with Hamas. That's why I'm not a proponent of a "peace process" until Palestinians renounce terrorism, but Obama does favor more robust diplomacy in the region. One point that I make in my piece, which Larison conveniently omits, is that Obama has vowed to meet without preconditions, within the first year of his administration, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust, threatened to wipe Israel off the map, and his regime has financed Hamas. So I just don't see why it's such a stretch for me to fear that circumstances would arise under which Obama would find it necessary to meet with Hamas to make progress in peace negotiations. Given his eagerness to meet with the leading state sponsor of terrorism, I just don't see why he'd draw a moral distinction at a democratically elected terrorist group that controls an area of diplomatic importance.

Larison, who is a critic of Israel, thinks that Obama is sufficiently pro-Israel — good for him. But I remain suspicious.

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