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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Obama “Bashert” (That’s Yiddish. For Destiny.)

posted by on June 5 at 12:33 PM

Some political observers may think it’s ironic that, thanks to the scheduling Gods, Sen. Barack Obama’s victory lap ended up taking place, of all places, at a speech in front of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

I happen to think it was appropriate. Destiny even.

Certainly, there is cause to see irony in the fact that immediately after clinching the Democratic nomination on June 3, Obama’s first big speech on June 4, would take place at an AIPAC conference. Indeed, while Obama grabbed the nomination by firing up the traditional liberal coalition— minorities, youth, post-college grads, upscale urban voters, and, in this cycle, anti-war voters—he’s actually had a highly-publicized problem with another standby bloc in the Democratic equation: Jewish voters.

CBS exit polling of 30 primaries confirmed Obama’s “Jewish Problem” —showing that Obama trailed Clinton 45 to 53 among Jewish voters. [Note, every time I try to link the CBS poll, my computer crashes. You will find a link to the poll on this page.]

There were obvious reasons, fair or not, for Obama’s troubles with the Jews: Obama’s camera-happy, longtime minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, liked to channel trite anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan; Obama’s mixed messaging on Iran (he’s willing to hold talks of some kind with loopy hater Mamoud Ahmadinejad) raised questions about Obama’s commitment to Israel; as did that unsolicited endorsement from Hamas. And there was also his “suspect” Muslim name.

Additionally, Obama has had to contend with some bad history. American Jews and American blacks have had a chilly relationship (think Jesse Jackson, Crown Heights, and Louis Farrakhan again) ever since the Black-Jewish alliance of the Civil Rights era came unglued in the late 1960s. The logic of Black nationalism connected African Americans with Third World Liberation movements starring revolutionaries like Yasser Arafat’s PLO. It also emphasized Black self reliance, which shattered a long standing, relationship where Jews had been at the forefront of desegregation. Resentment replaced camaraderie.

Obama is keenly aware of his problem with Jews. Last January, he went out of his way to speak out against “the scourge of anti-Semitism” in the black community in front of a black audience during an MLK celebration at MLK’s own Ebenezer Baptist.

So, is it ironic that Obama would wind up speaking at AIPAC’s annual conference on the very day his campaign—despite lukewarm support from Jews—triumphed? Or did the scheduling Gods know exactly what they were up to?

I think the scheduling Gods knew exactly what they were up to. It was bashert, (Yiddish for destiny): On this, Obama’s first day as the Democratic nominee-in-waiting (with the cameras of the world rolling,) Obama landed in a roomful of Jews where he got to set the record straight and set the stage for his campaign agenda.

Obama told the initially cordial, but ultimately cheering crowd, that he would “take an active role … from the start of [his] administration” (a nice dig a Bush) and “make a personal commitment” to “a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.”

It was a bit of destiny because I think it’s going to happen. Despite the mess that President Bush has made in the Middle East (or perhaps because of it), fate has set the table for a change agent like Obama.

While I’ve been a bitter Clinton fan, I recognized how awesome an Obama presidency would be. The one thing that’s genuinely excited me about Obama all along is my belief that he’ll be a miracle worker in the Middle East.

Here’s why.

1) Obama is a PR disaster for Osama. If America elects a black man (and not a former Joint Chiefs of Staff black man, but a liberal Democrat who worked as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago), Bin Laden’s rhetoric about America’s “imperialist and racist” policies is going to fall flat in the Arab world. Electing Obama would be a shocker to the haters. And a conundrum for their despots.

2) Obama himself, as the symbol for this revolution of equality (and of America’s true values), is going to have rock star status around the world. He will be greeted in the Middle East with cheering crowds. This good will on the ground is going to allow him to press adversaries for change.

(Check it, even as the Islamic world postures about Obama’s AIPAC speech, the Iranians shelved their usual bombast. According to Al Jazeera today:

“Iranians responded cautiously, but optimisticly, with officials expressing hope he can bring about change in Iran-US relations.Hamidreza Hajibabaee, member of Iranian parliament, said: ‘We hope that Obama turns his words into actions, helps the Islamic Republic of Iran believe that the US has given up enmity and paves the way for fair negotiations.’”

3) Obama is a peacemaker. I’m not sure what the appropriate comparison is. It’s not at the level of MLK or Ghandi, (maybe it’s Andy Griffith’s Sheriff character from the Andy Griffith Show?), but I’m curious to see how Obama’s political foes— domestic and internationally—will navigate this dude. He challenges belligerence with that Jay-Z “Dirt off Your Shoulder” thing. Unlike Bush, who played into Ahmadinejad (and infamously now) bin Laden’s hands, Obama lowers the temperature, inspiring conversation rather than shouting.

He’s not a wimp or an “appeaser” though. I finally recognized that Obama’s got game when McCain tried to frame Obama as a dangerous Commie symp for suggesting that the U.S. shoud talk to Iran or Hamas. (President Bush seconded McCain’s trap by hinting to the Israeli Knesset that Obama was Neville Chamberlain.) Obama spun out of the full-court-press trap by expertly reframing the whole issue— with the liberals as the bad asses.

“What are George Bush and John McCain afraid of?” Obama countered, “the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons, and Iran doesn’t have a single one. When the world was on the brink of nuclear holocaust, Kennedy talked to Khrushchev and he got those missiles out of Cuba. Why shouldn’t we have the same courage and the confidence to talk to our enemies? That’s what strong countries do, that’s what strong presidents do, that’s what I’ll do when I’m president of the United States of America.”

He added:

“If George Bush and John McCain have a problem with direct diplomacy, led by the president of the United States, then they can explain why they have a problem with Ronald Reagan, ‘cause that’s what he did with [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, or Richard Nixon ‘cause that’s what they did with [Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung]. That’s exactly the kind of diplomacy we need to keep us safe.”

Suddenly, the softy liberal position—talk instead of testosterone—became the macho one (with a macho subtext: We’ve got something to say to Iran.) It was an unprecedented move for a liberal, and Obama did it flawlessly.

Probably said all this much better—this idea that the stars have aligned and now’s the time for Obama—in the Stranger’s Obama endorsement in February with this quick line: “And no, it’s not about race (although we don’t underestimate the symbolism—to the rest of the world—of electing a black man after eight years of John Wayne diplomacy).”

RSS icon Comments


dude, if you're going to put down over 1200 words, how about inserting a jump?

Posted by zzzz | June 5, 2008 12:36 PM

Okay, I agree with everything here but I always wonder about this:

Is the Jewish vote really that important nationally? I know if you were running for Mayor of NYC of course it is, but nationally aren't Jewish people only 2% of the population? The "jewish vote" gets courted much more vigorously than the "gay vote" for instance, but I do believe nationally a larger percentage of the population is gay than jewish. When people talk about the "Jewish vote" do they really mean Jewish money and inlfluence?

Posted by Jason | June 5, 2008 12:42 PM

He also walks on water, heals the lame, etc...

Greeted in the middle east by adoring crowds?

You crazy.

Posted by Rotten666 | June 5, 2008 12:44 PM

What can he possibly do though? Clinton did anything anyone near the Middle East Israeli or not asked him to do any nothing came of it. The Palestinians are going to hold out for a one state solution at this point I think.

Hopefully if he gets elected he can ignore Israel and when the American public realizes that nothing bad happened to them as a consequence he can get a second term.

Posted by danel | June 5, 2008 12:50 PM

Odrama in the speech also wants to recognize Jerusalem as undeniably part of Israel even tho the Palestinian wants it to be part of their state also. Odrama is a fake and would say anything to get elected.

Posted by Odrama | June 5, 2008 12:55 PM

The Jewish vote is important; it's a fairly cohesive bloc, and it has an extremely high voting rate. It doesn't matter A LOT, but it matters.

But I've always thought that about 3/4ths of the "black-Jewish divide" comes out of a few square miles of Brooklyn. Blowhards like Sharpton versus blowhards like Meir Kahane, taking up far more media space than they deserve. Neither represent a significant part of "their" group, but they or someone like them always seems to be on the news, fanning those flames.

I'm not convinced that most blacks, or most Jews, really buy into all that crap that deeply.

Posted by Fnarf | June 5, 2008 12:59 PM

Oh blacks can be more racist than you think. Even some blacks resent Obama at first saying he is not black enough.

Posted by yomkipper | June 5, 2008 1:02 PM

ZOMG! AIPAC≠Jews! There are plenty of Jews who would love it if Obama would just tell the mothballed, nationalistic fuddy duddies at AIPAC to eff off. I agree that politicians need to stop courting the Jewish vote like it's some kind of magical crystal unicorn. Especially when people talking about the "Jewish" vote really mean the right-wing hawk Zionist vote. Obama is the only politician who is intelligent and charming enough to actually pull this off without being labeled as a Jew-hater. But maybe I'm even more idealistic and hoped up than he is to think that would ever happen.

Posted by poo poo | June 5, 2008 1:04 PM

Jason @2: Is the Jewish vote really that important nationally? I know if you were running for Mayor of NYC of course it is, but nationally aren't Jewish people only 2% of the population?

It's not so much that the Jewish vote is important nationally; it's that the Jewish vote could be the margin of difference in certain swing states. Think Florida and Pennsylvania. Beyond that, I do kinda think a candidate's reception among American Jews resonates to a certain extent among other Americans. If older, conservative Jews warm up to Obama, that gives license to other older, conservative Americans to warm up to him.

You could make a good argument that the candidate who's really having trouble with the Jewish vote is McCain. A recent Gallup poll found Obama beating McCain 61%-32% among Jewish voters.

Still, those swing states where the Jewish vote could be important are the very states that have a larger proportion of older Jews, the very slice of the Jewish community that has been less receptive to Obama. (You all can fill in your explanations for why they're less receptive.)

Posted by cressona | June 5, 2008 1:12 PM
He will be greeted in the Middle East with cheering crowds.
Wait... where have I heard this before...?
Posted by lostboy | June 5, 2008 1:12 PM

poo poo @8, agreed. I'm sick of AIPAC acting like they represent some kind of monolithic American Jewish opinion. I'm sick of AIPAC representing Benjamin Netenyahu and the crazy Orthodox settlers as drives of Israeli opinion.

BTW, doesn't the American Jewish Committee have a much more progressive take on the Israel/Palestine issue?

Posted by cressona | June 5, 2008 1:30 PM

Ok he's a mensch, don't be such odrama nudnick, Josh.

Until the one side starts saying it's okay for Israel to exist, and accepts PEACE, and accepts the fact they can only get 95% of their land back, and they don't have this unlimited right of return, there is no peace.

They got offered a deal under Clinton where they got most of what they needed, and wouldn't take it.
You think Obama's going to change that?

[pro palestinians, fire at will.]

Posted by PC | June 5, 2008 1:30 PM

Obama is a screen on which his supporters project their hopes. That's helpful for the election. But it's hard to know what he will do after.

Would he bomb Iran? Maybe, he says to AIPAC.

Would he pull out of Iraq? Not really. Something about a drawdown?

Would he pull out of Afghanistan? No, probably send more troops.

Would he oversee the creation of an independent Palestinian state no longer under the protectorship of Israel, one that in any way resembles the land that has been illegally occupied for over 40 years? Highly unlikely, though he might legitimate the occupation by not challenging the wall, the illegal settlements, the partitioning of Jerusalem, etc., and calling this state of affairs dictated entirely by Israel Palestinian independence.

But hey, if you think he's an anti-imperialist, more power to you. Project away!

Posted by wf | June 5, 2008 1:35 PM

Im so hot for Feit right now. If people talked more about Obama like this than most of the Slog comments, I could really get behind him. If he can secure the Jewish vote then places like Florida will be a lot less risky. Now he just needs to have a big sit down with the homos.

Posted by um | June 5, 2008 2:03 PM

i'd have told AIPAC to suck it. Israel is not the 51st state. and i hope BHO holds their feet to the fire over the batshit insane settlers on the west bank - their asses need to get the fuck out. now. americans died from muslim insanity on 9/11 because we tolerate (and fund) their zionist insanity.

but don't hold your breath. he has to suck AIPAC's dick 1st to get elected.

Posted by max solomon | June 5, 2008 2:07 PM
americans died from muslim insanity on 9/11 because we tolerate (and fund) their zionist insanity Um, bullshit. Osama bin Laden doesn't give two shits and a train whistle about the Palestinians and never did. None of the other terrorist organizations that threaten America do, either. Part of the Palestinians' problem is that NOBODY gives a shit about them.
Posted by Fnarf | June 5, 2008 2:24 PM

"CBS exit polling of 30 primaries confirmed Obama’s “Jewish Problem” —showing that Obama trailed Clinton 45 to 53 among Jewish voters."
Wow, Josh, you are on your way to becoming a world-class cable TV pundit. Losing 45-53 IN THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY does not "confirm" a "Jewish Problem." Jews vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and there is no reason to believe they will not do so in November. Primary results in ONE PARTY have absolutely no predictive value when it comes to the general. Same goes for any other demographic, or any other state, you want to sample. This isn't difficult stuff.

Posted by bobbo | June 5, 2008 2:27 PM

Obama will mend fences a lot faster than Hillary could (it would take her two terms to undo what GW did, whereas I think Barak will be given the benefit of the doubt).

Posted by elswinger | June 5, 2008 2:28 PM

Bobbo's exactly right. There's no evidence that Obama has a Jewish problem at all, based on primary results. Yeah, the Senator from New York who's been catering to the AIPAC crowd and her constituents in the nation's most Jewish city gets more Jewish votes. Surprising!

In the general election, Obama will get pretty much the same proportion of Jewish votes as Clinton would, and the only thing that could change that would be if he actually stood up to AIPAC and came out in favor of a truly independent Palestinian state and the end of the Israeli occupation. That's just not going to happen.

Posted by Cascadian | June 5, 2008 2:58 PM

I'd have to agree, there really is no evidence of a "Jewish problem" for Obama.

It's more of an "older woman" problem than anything else.

But most of us in America no longer care about the whole Israel-Palestine thing. We've moved on.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 5, 2008 3:17 PM

I understood Obama bashert as indicating what he plans to do to Lieberman after he's President, and the Democrats have a comfortable Senate majority.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | June 5, 2008 4:21 PM

Are you people really this stupid? Wait, don't answer, it's a rhetorical question, I already know the answer.

Gee! Do you think the murderous mullahs of Iran just might be excited about an Obama presidency because he's got half of Jimmy Carter's administration, including Carter's blitheringly incompetent NSA, Zbigniew Brzezinski, advising him??? You know Jimmy Carter, the insufferable idiot that is responsible for the worlds leading supporters of terror coming to power in the first place! The same asshat that turned his back on our ally the Shah and said of the murderous mullahs as they stomped down democratic uprisings and seized power, "they'll be good! theyre religious!" The same feckless fool who sat under the desk in the oval office shitting his pants and wetting himself as these terrorists that support Obama held our diplomats hostage for 400 days? The very same worst president in American history who was absolutely dumfounded when the Soviet Union invaded afghanistan because they had promised him they wouldnt???

And congratulations for so mindlessly regurgitating the asinine talking points spoon fed to you by the DNC regarding Kenndy and Reagan! One problem -- As even the fishwrap NYT admits, Kennedys meeting with Kruschev was an unmitigated disaster:

But Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one’s adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings — his Harvard thesis was titled “Appeasement at Munich” — he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.
And Ronald Reagan, like John McCain, and UNlike Barack Obama met with Gorbachev with a laundry list of stringent pre-conditions.

Fuck, you people need to look up the phrase "useful idiots" -- better yet, just look in the mirror, you'll find the definition staring back at you.

This station break was brought to you by reality, we now return you to your previously scheduled, mind-numbingly ignorant group-think and Obamasturbations.

Posted by Reality Check | June 5, 2008 5:06 PM

OK, Obama would be a wonderful president and I'm overjoyed that he's clinched the nomination.

But can we PLEASE stop with the notion that "Obama's a brown person, so all the brown people will like him and by extension, they will like the United States"? PLEASE?

Just think about the tribal wars in Africa or the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. People who share a skin tone are very much capable of hating each other. Islamists will be very much capable of making ranting furious videos about wanting Obama's head on a platter. Etc.

The second we start dividing the world into white and non-white populations and expecting to extrapolate peoples' politics from that extremely clumsy categorization, we are going to come up with total bullshit.

Posted by k | June 6, 2008 7:30 AM

i am just still so grateful that we once again have a democratic candidate who understands how a sound bite works, just like ye olde clinton of yore. when the right flings some inflammatory taunt at him he doesn't just sit on it for weeks, looking constipated, then finally mumble something totally forgettable and equivocating and defensive in response to it. no, he turns it right around on them and says "what are you afraid of?" for example. you go, obama!

Posted by ellarosa | June 6, 2008 9:04 AM

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