Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Case for Obama

For The Independent Monitor

"But Obama's gradual shift to the AIPAC camp had begun as early as 2002 as he planned his move from small time Illinois politics to the national scene,” said Ali Abunimah in his widely circulated article titled “How Barack Obama Learned to Love Israel.”

Obama, the candidate of ‘hope’ and the former Illinois State Senator who once shared a table with the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said and called for an “even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” is now a supporter of Israel, says Abunimah and other critics.

As an Arab-American, I feel alienated from the presidential race. Most candidates prefer to distance themselves from Arabs. Thus, many members of the Arab-American community refuse to vote or take part in campaigns, keeping themselves disengaged from the election process.

I wonder what the solution is. Get on the Kucinich campaign trail? Ron Paul? Mike Gravel? The truth is that those three candidates’ stances on the issues most important to Arab-Americans are commendable. Yes, we care about health care, but let’s not kid ourselves; we’re mostly preoccupied with the situation in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, and our civil liberties that have been at stake since the tragedy of 9-11.

The question is, are these candidates going to win? The answer is no. They don’t appeal to a majority of uninformed American citizens. Americans who get their information from the “mainstream media,” which refuses to treat Kucinich and Paul as serious candidates and refers to them as the “fringe” ones who don’t deserve to be on the debates, and would have considered Obama a “fringe” candidate as well if he was critical of Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine.

If Obama wins the presidency, I will be pleased. Obama would be a better president than others with any chance of winning. Yes, I believe Abunimah who witnessed Obama’s change of attitude towards Palestine, but I also believe that he’s the one candidate who could win and give us hope for a change in our behavior and approach towards the Arab world. Let’s not forget that Obama was not afraid to speak out against the Iraq invasion from the beginning. “That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics,” said Obama at an anti-war rally in Chicago on October 26, 2002. In addition, he recently announced that once he’s elected, he will call for a summit meeting with the Arab and Muslim countries to improve America’s relationship with the Muslim world.

Then came the day Obama angered Arab-Americans and those who stand for justice. Obama sent a letter to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, urged the United States not to allow a UN Security Council resolution on the recent Israeli blockade of Gaza to pass unless it notes the Hamas rocket salvos.

"All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families," he wrote. "However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this. Gaza is governed by Hamas, which is a terrorist organization sworn to Israel's destruction, and Israeli civilians are being bombarded on an almost daily basis."

This letter angered many including myself because denying food and medicine to the helpless civilians of Gaza is a crime, and Obama knows that. But with this letter, he just gained the support of a politically-relevant community, the pro-Israel community; a community that votes in large numbers, and donates to presidential candidates in large amounts.

Obama’s courting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)’s support demonstrates his need of their support. It’s no secret that Obama, at one point, supported the Palestinian cause of freedom and self-determination. But AIPAC is too strong to be ignored. What Arab-Americans need to do is to organize and form political action committees to challenge the status quo.

“There are not enough Muslims on the Hill,” said Keith Ellison, the only Muslim Member of Congress, at a CAIR forum last month. When I asked him if he was worried about the pro-Israel lobby’s dissatisfaction with the way he has voted on bills pertaining to Iran and Israel, he told me that I was giving the lobby too much credit, however, he’d still vote the same way if they threaten to campaign against him. The answer to AIPAC and others is, simply, to form PACs, hire people, and lobby Congress, according to Ellison. Only then will Arab-Americans have a strong presence in the political process.

I sent my absentee ballot a few days ago. I almost voted for Kucinich after I read Obama’s letter, but he dropped out of the race. Did I vote for Obama? I either did that or wasted my vote on Mike Gravel. I’ll keep the answer to myself.

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