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May 19, 2008

Republican Smears that Obama is Anti-Israel: It’s Not ‘Spin,’ It’s a Lie


Sen. Barack Obama has had some pretty outrageously false things said about him in this campaign. He's been called a Muslim, a terrorist, a Communist and black separatist. He's been accused of everything from hating white people to lying about his background to being personally responsible for unrest in Kenya.


Most of those things, outrageous as they are, have come in the relative fever swamps of e-mail forwards, message boards and particularly out-there comments sections. Sure, opposing politicians may frequently horribly misrepresent Obama's positions – like President Bush before the Knesset on Thursday, for instance – but they don't usually resort to bald-faced lies.


That changed early last week, when none other than the House Republican leadership jumped into the lying-about-Obama fray.


It all began Monday, when the candidate gave an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, a respected journalist who had only weeks earlier launched a blog on The Atlantic Monthly's web site.


In the interview, Obama gave glowing praise to the State of Israel, calling Israel "a fundamentally just idea," and speaking about how he was shaped, both in his youth and early in his political career, by Jewish philosophy. He spoke of the deep bonds he had formed with Chicago's Jewish community, and how he had even run into opposition, when he first ran for Congress, from those who considered him too close to the Jews.


Toward the end of his talk with Goldberg, Obama stated that "what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions."


It is abundantly clear to anyone reading that sentence that Obama was speaking not about Israel itself, but about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Were Obama to call Israel itself a "constant sore," it would have been newsworthy, especially since it was the exact opposite of what he had been saying throughout the interview and, indeed, what he has communicated throughout the campaign.


Somewhat remarkably, the Republican leadership in Congress decided to pounce on this and pretend that Obama had said something that he hadn't. House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor both reacted to the quote they wish they'd read, rather than the one actually said. In addition to the "constant sore" smear, Boehner accused Obama of wishing to "open a dialogue with sponsors of terrorism," while Kantor attributed "a deep misunderstanding of the Middle East and an innate distrust of Israel" to the likely Democratic nominee.


This isn't "spin.” It is pure lies. To question Obama's experience in world affairs is one thing. But to somehow argue that he's openly hostile to Israel is both counterfactual and nothing short of libelous. Especially when you're attributing statements to a candidate whose actual statement was the exact opposite.


Despite an outcry – from Goldberg himself, among others – as of five days later Boehner and Kantor had, shamefully, still not retracted the accusation. 


Leon Wieseltier had an excellent piece in the New Republic in February, making the rarely stated yet undeniable argument that "every president in my lifetime has pursued more or less the same policy toward Israel" – belief that Israeli security and existence as a Jewish state is sacrosanct, and that the Israelis and Palestinians should be pushed towards a two-state solution to the conflict. Different presidents have gone about this in different ways, but all have pursued it. That is exactly consistent, again, with everything Obama has ever said about the subject. Outside of segments of the far left and far right, that is the American consensus.


The idea that candidates and political parties are "for" or "against" Israel is simplistic. It plays into the right-wing notion that unrestrained hawkishness is "pro-Israel" and anything less than that is "anti-Israel." Because for the past seven years, the U.S. administration has pursued a Mideast policy at the outer perimeter on the hawkish side, and a lot of good that has done Israel.


There is no reason at all to question Sen. Obama's commitment to the Jewish state, or to attribute false statements to him. Boehner and Cantor, and everyone who spread their misinformation, should retract and apologize immediately.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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