Friday, January 25, 2008

Question about Israel

This is my first day as a Precinct Captain for the Obama campaign. At this point, that means that I am the annoying neighbor that calls you just as you are beginning your dinner and asks you if you support my candidate. Since you've probably been on the receiving end of that call, you have to know that making the call is typically a totally thankless job.

Usually, no one picks up, and I leave the scripted message on their voice mail. Or someone picks up, hears the first few words and says no thank you (in an exasperated tone of voice). But every now and again someone engages you in conversation. That happened today, and I was caught off guard.

The person on the other end of the line voiced vague support for Senator Obama. We had a 10 minute conversation about the race, but then he said: "I have one question, what is his position on Israel." I was stumped, but I promised that I'd do some research and email my results to him. Here's the email:


Thanks for your question. You caught me short, and caused me to do a little research.

First up is the text of a recent speech on Israel here.

Followed by a blog in Ha’aretz supportive of Obama’s Israel position here.

Followed by a column in the American Thinker critical of Obama’s Israel position here.

Followed by a column in Electronic Intefada critical of Obama’s position on Palestine here.

Now for a little personal disclosure. I’m the son of a Jewish mother and an African American father, born in Philly in 1965, at the height of the cooperation between Blacks and Jews over civil rights. It gives me a slightly different perspective around anti-semitism, anti-black racism, support for Israel and support for oppressed people. I’m going to hazard a guess that from your name and your question, that you are also Jewish.

At the risk of alienating a potential fellow Obama supporter, I can tell you that all of what I see above is consistent with what I see in Senator Obama. His foreign policy stance is nuanced, too much for the hardliners on either end of the spectrum. It is not “yer either fer us or agin us”, it is not “kill em all, let God sort em out.” It is a policy born from the experience that the world, especially the developing world, can be an extraordinarily cruel place. And that when people are subjected to such cruelty and have nothing to lose, then they become extraordinarily dangerous.

In Senator Obama, I don’t think you’re going to find a leader who will entirely defer to the government of Israel’s wishes without some challenge. I expect that behind closed doors, he will demand that the Israeli government do more to create a just environment for all inhabitants of the region. He will do this because he understands, more than any other candidate, that you can’t threaten people with punishment that you won’t deliver. And really, is there anything that we in the first world (including Israel) are willing to do to the Palestinian people that their own leaders have not already done?

I’ve never seen this slogan on any official Obama communication, but I would guess that if you asked the Senator, he would agree with the following: “No Justice, No Peace; Know Justice, Know Peace.”

I hope that is helpful. And I hope that my opinion helps solidify your support of Senator Obama.

Best Regards,

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