Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama: Great on Race but not on Israel

In case you haven't heard or read Senator Barak Obama's speech, I am including a written version. I haven't heard any candidate articulate race this way before. I also haven't heard a candidate express so much empathy and commitment to having the citizens of the United States work together towards solving our social problems and the divisiveness that contributes to them. His ideas are not unique, I have the same hopes. It is just the first time that I have heard them articulated by a politician, and very eloquently I must say.

Favorite parts:

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now...

...And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.


But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.


But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.


It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

While I am liking what Obama is saying, I do still have two points of contention. Obama's lack of support for gay marriage is one. The other is the Palestine/Israeli conflict. I am disappointed with this part of his speech:

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

Obama speaks of avoiding diviseness and yet he simplifies the Middle East conflict into one between Israel and its allies and radical Islam. I am in no way in support of radical fundementalism that leads to oppression and violence no matter what the religion. However, my thinking is not distorted when I am willing to stand up and say that Israel and its lobby here in the United States have too much influence on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. While we can acknowledge our country's history of genocide and slavery, why can't we also acknowledge that Israel continues to disregard the various peace accords and build settlements in Palestinian territory in such a way that it will be very difficult for Palestine to ever have a seperate state?

I want to whole heartedly support Obama. But this is why I cannot entirely support any candidate. I will vote and if it is Obama who is nominated I will vote for him. I just wish my vote could also help the Palestinian people.

Postscript: After I posted the above, I had a pang of nervousness. What would happen to me because I spoke out? I called a friend of mine and she reminded me about how approximately two years ago Obama had shown empathy in public for the Palestinian people. He received a great deal of bad press from this and in her words, "A candidate cannot win without the support of the Israeli lobby." This is so sad to me. Why should I feel fear? Why should people be silent when a group is being oppressed? If I had lived during the Holocaust I would have been just as vocal about that. How can we stop this cycle so that the formerly oppressed do not become oppressors?


Anonymous said...


Anyone sharing your views should take a look at The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who are professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard, respectively. When this book was published last year, the controversy that ensued almost cost them their jobs.


margaret said...

Thanks, B
I put the book on my wish list. How are you? We should talk soon.