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The blackmailing of American democracy

As the US mid-term elections draw tantalisingly closer the battle lines have been drawn. At the centre of them all is the Palestine issue. This is the message from an article published by the Jerusalem Post titled The Jewish problem with Obama which first appeared as a five-part series in the Huffington Post. The article's central thesis is that President Barak Obama nurtures an innate hostility toward Israel and "it is impossible to be anti-Israel and not be anti-Jewish".

A significant number of American Jews, the article purports, are now ruing the day they supported Obama. The authors, Edward Klein and Richard Chesnoff, claim that recent polls of American Jewish communities show a drastic hemorrhaging of support compared to 2008, when 78% of Jewish voters voted for Obama.

In a less than nuanced manner they cite sources that at least three of his Chicago backers – Penny Pritzker, Lester Crown and Lee Rosenberg, the recently installed president of AIPAC – have privately conveyed their frustrations to the president.

The relationship between big finance and that of the pro-Israel American Jews is legend. The Washington Post reported [5 September 2004] that since 2000 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) board members contributed an average of $72,000 each to campaigns and political committees. One in every five board members was a top fundraiser for presidential candidates George Bush and John Kerry [Walt, 154]. It is no secret that the American Jewish 'Israel lobby' has contributed funds to Congressional candidates based on the criterion of support for Israel. These funds have been crucial even though American Jews form less than 3% of the population; they make large campaign donations. For better or worse, Mr Obama's Democratic party in particular has been the larger recipient of this largesse.

Of course, Obama's problem today is not that he has shown little gratitude to his financiers. There is still a lingering mistrust because he never made a clean enough break with the likes of Afro-American preacher Jeremiah Wright and the Palestinian-American academic Rashid Khalidi.

A reading of this article may lead the uninitiated to believe that Obama has been gracious to the Palestinians. The fact is, he has not been able to stop the illegal land grab in the West Bank, the intolerable blockade of Gaza or the Judaization of Jerusalem; all of which are unquestionably regarded as illegal, even by the Americans. Indeed, the Obama administration voted against the Goldstone Report and has resolutely obstructed efforts in the UN to prosecute Israeli officials suspected of war crimes and "possibly crimes against humanity".

Despite its overall pretentious tone the article does give some hope. It speaks of, for example, the growing volume of anti-Israel anger coming from the left-wing of the Democratic Party, "especially from radical students on campuses, where calls for the 'delegitimization' of the Jewish state have become strictly kosher". The problem clearly is not of loss of credibility on Capitol Hill only. There is a shift, albeit a minor one, within the broader American society which feels that its democracy and global interests are undermined.
There seems to be a reluctance to accept wholesale the authors' view that 'in the long run, realpolitik – a system of international relations based on practical rather than moral considerations – will determine Obama's approach to Israel.' The a priori stand that there is a synergy between US and Israeli interests is questioned, and rightly so. One fully understands the outrage of the American people when the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has the nerve to blackmail the US government to release the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in return for a freeze on settlement building. Nothing could be more obscene.

Should the Obama administration continue to capitulate to this cloak and dagger (and cheque-book) politics, it has only itself to blame for undermining the democracy for which American citizens, black and white alike, have died. A democracy which thrives on patronage and the power of big money is always open to abuse and blackmail. Such a system is unlikely to deliver justice or anything near the security and peace that the Middle East yearns for and deserves. Netanyahu and his gang in Tel Aviv need to be told in no uncertain terms that they are undermining American interests and security.

That this article was republished in the Jerusalem Post is not without significance. Being the semi-official mouthpiece of the Tel Aviv government it is intended to send a clear message to Mr Obama: back-off from the "roughhouse treatment of Israel" or lose Jewish votes and campaign funds. Such a message deserves a very simple response from America's first African-American president, who can do without fair weather friends, even if it means one term in office: the interests of the United States are paramount, and Israel is not the United States.

Asia & AmericasCommentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestineUS
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