[DEBATE] : Obama's Deadly Silence
critical.montages at gmail.com
Sat Jan 3 01:14:06 GMT 2009
Obama's deadly silence
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 2 January 2009
Barack Obama is presented with a t-shirt by Sderot mayor Eli Moyal as
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (left) looks on after inspecting
homemade Palestinian rockets during his visit to the southern Israeli
town last year. (David Silverman/Getty Images)
"I would like to ask President-elect Obama to say something please
about the humanitarian crisis that is being experienced right now by
the people of Gaza." Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney
made her plea after disembarking from the badly damaged SS Dignity
that had limped to the Lebanese port of Tyre while taking on water.
The small boat, carrying McKinney, the Green Party's recent
presidential candidate, other volunteers, and several tons of donated
medical supplies, had been trying to reach the coast of Gaza when it
was rammed by an Israeli gunboat in international waters.
But as more than 2,400 Palestinians have been killed or injured -- the
majority civilians -- since Israel began its savage bombardment of
Gaza on 27 December, Obama has maintained his silence. "There is only
one president at a time," his spokesmen tell the media. This
convenient excuse has not applied, say, to Obama's detailed
interventions on the economy, or his condemnation of the "coordinated
attacks on innocent civilians" in Mumbai in November.
The Mumbai attacks were a clear-cut case of innocent people being
slaughtered. The situation in the Middle East however is seen as more
"complicated" and so polite opinion accepts Obama's silence not as the
approval for Israel's actions that it certainly is, but as responsible
It ought not to be difficult to condemn Israel's murder of civilians
and bombing of civilian infrastructure including hundreds of private
homes, universities, schools, mosques, civil police stations and
ministries, and the building housing the only freely-elected Arab
It ought not to be risky or disruptive to US foreign policy to say
that Israel has an unconditional obligation under the Fourth Geneva
Convention to lift its lethal, months-old blockade preventing adequate
food, fuel, surgical supplies, medications and other basic necessities
from reaching Gaza.
But in the looking-glass world of American politics, Israel, with its
powerful first-world army, is the victim, and Gaza -- the besieged and
blockaded home to 1.5 million immiserated people, half of them
children and eighty percent refugees -- is the aggressor against whom
no cruelty is apparently too extreme.
While feigning restraint, Obama has telegraphed where he really
stands; senior adviser David Axelrod told CBS on 28 December that
Obama understood Israel's urge to "respond" to attacks on its
citizens. Axelrod claimed that "this situation has become even more
complicated in the last couple of days and weeks as Hamas began its
shelling [and] Israel responded."
The truce Hamas had meticulously upheld was shattered when Israel
attacked Gaza, killing six Palestinians, as The Guardian reported on 5
November. A blatant disregard for the facts, it seems, will not leave
the White House with George W. Bush on 20 January.
Axelrod also recalled Obama's visit to Israel last July when he
ignored Palestinians and visited the Israeli town of Sderot. There,
Obama declared: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where
my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my
power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."
This should not surprise anyone. Despite pervasive wishful thinking
that Obama would abandon America's pro-Israel bias, his approach has
been almost indistinguishable from the Bush administration's.
Along with Tony Blair and George W. Bush, Obama staunchly supported
Israel's war against Lebanon in July-August 2006, where it used
cluster bombs on civilian areas, killing more than 1,000 people.
Obama's comments in Sderot echoed what he said in a speech to the
powerful pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, in March 2007. He recalled an
earlier visit to the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona near the border
with Lebanon which he said reminded him of an American suburb. There,
he could imagine the sounds of Israeli children at "joyful play just
like my own daughters." He saw a home the Israelis told him was
damaged by a Hizballah rocket (no one had been hurt in the incident).
Obama has identified his daughters repeatedly with Israeli children,
while never having uttered a word about the thousands -- thousands --
of Palestinian and Lebanese children killed and permanently maimed by
Israeli attacks just since 2006. This allegedly post-racial president
appears fully invested in the racist worldview that considers Arab
lives to be worth less than those of Israelis and in which Arabs are
The problem is much wider than Obama: American liberals in general see
no contradiction in espousing positions supporting Israel that they
would deem extremist and racist in any other context. The cream of
America's allegedly "progressive" Democratic party vanguard -- House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman
Howard Berman, New York Senator Charles Schumer, among others -- have
all offered unequivocal support for Israel's massacres in Gaza,
describing them as "self-defense."
And then there's Hillary Clinton, the incoming secretary of state and
self-styled champion of women and the working classes, who won't let
anyone outbid her anti-Palestinian positions.
Democrats are not simply indifferent to Palestinians. In the recent
presidential election, their efforts to win swing states like Florida
often involved espousing positions dehumanizing to Palestinians in
particular and Arabs and Muslims in general. Many liberals know this
is wrong but tolerate it silently as a price worth paying (though not
to be paid by them) to see a Democrat in office.
Even those further to the left implicitly accept Israel's logic.
Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, criticized Israel's
attacks on Gaza as a "reckless" and "disproportionate response" to
Hamas rocket attacks that he deemed "immoral." There are many others
who do nothing to support nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation
and colonization, such as boycott, divestment and sanctions but who
are quick to condemn any desperate Palestinian effort -- no matter how
ineffectual and symbolic -- to resist Israel's relentless aggression.
Similarly, we can expect that the American university professors who
have publicly opposed the academic boycott of Israel on grounds of
protecting "academic freedom" will remain just as silent about
Israel's bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza as they have about
Israel's other attacks on Palestinian academic institutions.
There is no silver lining to Israel's slaughter in Gaza, but the
reactions to it should at least serve as a wake-up call: when it comes
to the struggle for peace and justice in Palestine, the American
liberal elites who are about to assume power present as formidable an
obstacle as the outgoing Bush administration and its neoconservative
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One
Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse
(Metropolitan Books, 2006). This essay was first published in The
Guardian's Comment is Free and is republished with the author's
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