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How Obama Learned to Love the Israel Lobby

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As Tuesday approaches like the galloping troika, a friend pointed me to two pieces that reveal the evolution of Obama's thinking re Israel/Palestine. I'm gaga for Obama; but I revisit these pieces tonight just to remind myself and readers of how important the Israel lobby is in our public life.

I'm going to frame the two pieces with comments from an important speech about Obama by his "good friend" Lee "Rosy" Rosenberg, a Chicago venture capitalist in the media business who is on the board of AIPAC. Rosenberg introduced Obama at AIPAC
last June and said that he had first met Obama over lunch during "the initial stages of his Senate campaign, to discuss the U.S.-Israel relationship." That would have been 2003. Rosenberg became a big donor and had many more meetings with Obama. "I can personally attest that Senator Obama is a genuine friend of Israel," Rosenberg told AIPAC. "In January
2006 Senator Obama fulfilled a pledge he made to the Chicago Jewish
community" and went to Israel for the first time.

Obama traveled along with two AIPAC board members, including Rosenberg. "Senator Obama has personally seen the dangers Israel is up against and he understands Israel's desire for peace." Obama met Palestinian
students in Ramallah, and told them that if they were
waiting for America to distance itself from Israel "they were

The first piece is by a young activist, reporting on that meeting with Obama in Ramallah back in January 2006. "Katie" writes:

I kid you not, this is what he said (I am paraphrasing and my comments are in parenthesis):

Arab governments need to embrace democracy, not theocracy. When you
allow the will of God to influence the laws of your country, you will
not win the support of the US. (What about Israel claiming they have
the God given right to rule this land?) The Arab governments need to
renounce violence against civilians. (What about 100,000 dead Iraqis,
were all of those people terrorists, Baathists, foreign fighters or
were some of them civilians?) The US is opposed to theocracy and
terrorism and if the Arab governments want to create a paradigm shift,
they need to address these concerns of ours.

then I asked him, “You say the US is opposed to theocracy and
terrorism, how can you explain to the Palestinian people how the US can
be opposed to these things but still supports a state that has racist,
oppressive, unjust and apartheid policies. And do you see how this
paints an inconsistent picture to the people of the Middle East?”

began his answer by saying he would not accept the assumptions I made
and therefore was not going to address that part of my question. He said
he could understand the Palestinian view that the policies of the US
were one sided but he said the relationship with Israel was not going
to change. My high hopes for Barack Obama’s foreign policy ideas were
shot down!

The second account is Ali Abunimah's seminal 3/07 piece on Obama's turning-away-from the Palestinian issue as he formed national ambition. I'm sure a lot of you have read it. Some of it bears rereading. Note that Abunimah's relationship with Obama precedes Rosenberg's. As does Obama's friendship with Rashid Khalidi.

In 2000, when Obama
unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign
fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that
occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy
and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering
in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary
campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States
Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet
him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't
said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary
race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He
referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"

But Obama's gradual shift into the AIPAC camp had begun as early as
2002 as he planned his move from small time Illinois politics to the
national scene. In 2003, Forward
reported on how he had "been courting the pro-Israel constituency." [This would have been the time that Obama had lunch with Rosenberg.] He
co-sponsored an amendment to the Illinois Pension Code allowing the
state of Illinois to lend money to the Israeli government. Among his
early backers was Penny Pritzker — now his national campaign finance
chair — scion of the liberal but staunchly Zionist family that owns
the Hyatt hotel chain….

If disappointing, given his
historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama's
about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is
necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it
keeps him in power…

Only if enough people know what Obama and his competitors stand for,
and organize to compel them to pay attention to their concerns can
there be any hope of altering the disastrous course of US policy in the
Middle East.

Obama plans to watch the Election Night returns at a Hyatt Hotel in Chicago.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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