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Obama betrays better judgment on Palestine

Published: Thursday, March 13, 2008

Updated: Monday, February 2, 2009 12:02

Over the course of our "spring" break last week, I did a lot of thinking. And as usual, the world did a lot of happening. And in the course of some of these happenings, I started to question my support for Barack Obama, which I declared on these pages several weeks ago. On the day of the primary here in Ohio, I was signed up to canvass for Obama, and just days before then, I started reconsidering.

I ultimately made the decision to not go. Since then, my feelings on the issue have flip-flopped considerably. For the moment at least, I've settled on some kind of semi-support: I'll vote for him because I think he'd be vastly better than the alternative, but I'm not willing to knock on doors for someone who I think is downright wrong on a couple of issues that are important to me. My feelings are explained perfectly by social philosopher Cornel West: "When he wins - which I think he will - I will celebrate for one day. I'll break-dance in the morning and party in the afternoon. But the next day, I'll become one of his major critics."

There are two major issues that I've mainly been thinking about, but for the purposes of this column, I want to focus on Palestine. Hopefully you've heard that some terrible things have been going on in the Gaza strip, a part of Israel's occupied Palestinian territories from which Israel pulled its settlements a couple of years ago. Israel has essentially turned it into the world's largest prison by instituting a blockade/embargo against it, creating "the worst humanitarian crisis since its occupation began," according to a recent report by a coalition of major human rights organizations.

This past September, Israel set up the current embargo in response to rising violence. According to the aforementioned report, 80 percent of the country is now dependent on food aid because of it, and hospitals suffer power shortages often for 12 hours a day. United Nations relief trucks have even been barred from entering in some cases. In short, more than a million human beings are suffering needlessly at the whim of Israel's government. (And I'd like to emphasize government; I don't believe most Israelis support this.)

What really set me off over break was when Israel started raining down the bombs: Hundreds have been slaughtered in the past couple of weeks, many of them innocent civilians and many of them children, in response to the handful of Israelis who have been killed.

How does this implicate Obama? His only response to the situation is a letter to the U.S.'s U.N. ambassador urging that the U.N. pass no resolution unless it specifically condemns Palestinian attacks. He expresses sympathy for the Palestinians, but like any good Zionist (basically a supporter of Israel's right to exist in the former Palestine), he blames everything squarely on the Arabs and excuses the occupying force that has the most control over the situation.

Obama has a history of actually caring about humanitarian problems. He even divested his personal Sudan-related stockholdings in response to the Darfur crisis. Deep down, I think he likely understands that the Palestinians did not deserve to have their country taken from them 60 years ago, and do not deserve to continue living in the South African-style apartheid that they endure today. Though it's mildly encouraging that Obama has a prior history of thoughtfulness on this issue, and some pro-Palestine activists (like Jim Zogby, who spoke here on campus recently) have come out in support of Obama, it's just disappointing that his current language indicates more of the same current U.S.-Mid-East policy.

Simply put, Obama's unequivocal support for Israel and our massive tax-funded handouts to them - especially given current events in Gaza - doesn't really seem to square with his better inclinations. His evolution toward being Israel friendly is clearly politically motivated. But why did he have to do this? It's confusing that policy toward a territory smaller than Vermont is so important in America.

To deal with this quandary, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote a book called "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," in which they argue that a "loose coalition" of powerful Zionist individuals and groups sway our policy on Israel rather than sincere moral or strategic considerations. Makes sense to me. While I haven't yet had time to read the book, I should have time to go see them talk tomorrow night at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. I plan to go, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the issue.

So Mr. Obama, when you get elected - which I think you will - look out for many of your new "major critics" to push for a serious Palestinian solution from your administration, because we know you understand the need for it somewhere underneath that campaign rhetoric. Particularly with Bush's recent calls for a two-state solution, the ball will be in your court to finally get something done. And since you'll actually have international credibility - something Bush never had until 9/11 and then quickly squandered away by invading Iraq - you'll have no excuse not to act.

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