Rootless Cosmopolitan is not in the habit of endorsing political candidates, but I was reminded of the essence of my own credo in a piece last week in Newsweek by the wonderful ethno-musicologist Robert Farris Thompson, writing of his love of Mambo and other Afro-Caribbean musical styles:
Mambo distills their cross-cultural insights, leading us, for example, to a Puerto Rican man who learned to live among the Anglos, Jews, Italians and Irish. In a wonderful book on his life, “Benjy Lopez: A Picaresque Tale of Emigration and Return,” by Barry B. Levine, he shared this insight: “Imagine if you were twenty years old and didn’t feel inferior to anybody or better than anybody. When you treat everybody the same, people open up to you.” Those are words I have tried to live by.
Those words also capture precisely what seems to inspire many around the globe about Barack Obama. My good friend Michael Weeder — Father Michael Weeder, an Anglican priest and longtime revolutionary in my native Cape Town — sent me an email at about the same time in which he noted the following:
Obama is the child both of Africa, who was robbed of her own, and of those whose aspirations were embodied in the Mayflower. A child of our continent in the White House … this is not just a North American election, no… we should all have that bloodied vote. I see how Americans are stepping up to the plate of human justice and solidarity.
Out of the whore of Babylon comes something new as the sloping Beast pauses, en route to Jerusalem. Perhaps a new day is possible.
The reason people around the world are excited about the possibility of an Obama presidency is that they see in him a person who appears to live by that credo “neither inferior, nor superior, to anyone.” And that’s in marked contrast to the arrogance with which every U.S. president of the past quarter century has addressed the world.
Hillary Clinton is so imprisoned in this haughty arrogance that she mocks Obama for even suggesting that the starting point in dealing with Iran, or Cuba is to talk to the adversary and understand his concerns. Nope, Hillary is very much part of the bark-into-a-megaphone school of international affairs, of which the Bush Administration has simply been the zenith. Clinton’s boundless cynicism has been astonishing — she expects people to vote for her on the basis that she’s taken more hits from the Republicans and is immune to their blows; she mocks Obama for offering people the hope that things could be different. Which, of course, is true, in the sense that if Hillary Clinton is elected president, I’m not sure how profoundly different they would be, quite frankly.
She goes on about how Obama hasn’t been tested, but in truth — on the issues that really matter to the world — both have been tested, and Hillary failed. She voted to authorize the Iraq war, where Obama had the courage to stand up and say no. And she voted to authorize Bush to do his best to provoke another war with Iran. Again, Obama refused to give Bush the mandate he sought. Obama is the least likely of all the contenders to drop bombs on people or starve them in the name of self-righteous anger, ideological arrogance or because Israel demands it.
America is in urgent need of a profound change in the way that it relates to the world, and it’s not going to come from Hillary Clinton. The fact that she believes she can prevail by pouring scorn on the very notion that things could be different is a sign of the decrepitude that has dominated the upper echelons of the Democratic Party since the first Clinton term. (It may not be surprising that in a party that could put up Al Gore and John Kerry, Hillary might believe that she had earned the right to be the candidate, but why shouldn’t Democratic voters expect more?)
Now, as the desperation begins to set in, the Clinton campaign is showing its true colors, trying to stampede voters away from Obama by implying that he’s a trojan horse for Osama, doing their best to alert Jewish voters to the idea that, unlike Hillary he may not be willing to jump through every hoop that the Israel lobby demands.
So, Is Obama “Good for the Jews”?
On a recent visit to Cape Town, I was shown one of those Obama-as-Osama smear emails that have done the rounds of the internet’s Jewish geography, containing those talking points that were once exclusive to the fevered racist imagination of the the Zionist alte-kakkers but have since become mainstream fare for Clinton boosters. His middle name is HUSSEIN. Scary, huh? His father and paternal grandmother were MUSLIMS. He went to a MADRESSA as a toddler. (Actually, I’ve long been amused at how the term madressa has come to connote terrorist training camp in the Western media — all I can tell you is that in my anti-apartheid struggle days in South Africa, we had plenty of our activist meetings in madressas kindly made available by local imams, and I felt right at home in them because they were almost indistinguishable from the Hebrew nursery school I had attended, but never mind…)
I read a few lines and began to giggle. “Oh, so you don’t believe Obama is secretly part of the Muslim war against the West?” the man who showed me the email asked. What Muslim war against the West, I asked. He looked a little offended: “You mean you don’t believe there’s a Muslim war against the West?” No, I don’t. And I don’t believe Obama is a Muslim, anyway, but I do think his heritage may make him more inclined to engage in dialogue with Muslim countries, and that would be an extremely good thing.
Again, quoting from my good friend, the Anglican Father Michael Weeder, whose own roots are not dissimilar from Obama’s, “I relate to his Muslim Indonesian connection because that is where the dominant strand of my genetic lines leads from and then a large proportion of my relatives (the known ones) are Muslim. But that is a minor if not irrelevant matter… Much is being made of Obama’s Muslim ties with Islam, and if Islam has influenced him I say ‘Praise be to Allah’ because his nur is pure, and shines like the morning sun through a winter haze. I believe that grace is at work here.”
It is, of course, precisely the prospect of an American president committed to justice and dialogue that freaks out the Zionists. They cite his willingness to talk to Iran as Exhibit A in the case against him. That’s because the Zionists want an American president who will bomb Iran, having worked themselves into a lather of with their own dark fantasies about Iran as Nazi Germany. And if Obama is prepared to talk to Iran, he may be prepared to talk to Hamas, too. For the Zionists, that’s another reason to plotz at the prospect of an Obama presidency, even though talking to Hamas is exactly what Israel and the U.S. need.
The greatest fear, quite explicitly, cited by the Zionists is that Obama may pursue an even-handed policy on the Middle East. Imagine that…
It disturbs the Zionist establishment that Obama is promising change, because the Zionist establishment is deeply invested in the current disastrous status quo — the status quo that has plunged America into a ruinous war, and the Middle East into a chaos that even sober Zionists ought to recognize is bad for Israel, even if they remain cold to the crimes against Palestinians it has involved. “All the talk about change, but without defining what that change should be is an opening for all kind of mischief,” warned Malcolm Hoenlein, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. “Of course Obama has plenty of Jewish supporters and there are many Jews around him,” Hoenlein said. “But there is a legitimate concern over the zeitgeist around the campaign.”
The problem with Obama, for the Zionist establishment — and some Israeli politicians have made this clear — is that he may be too even-handed in dealing with Israel and the Palestinians. He may not muster quite the same degree of racist contempt for the Palestinians that can be safely expected from a Hillary Clinton (they’re not entirely sure of John McCain, either, fearful that he might send Republican “realists” of the Scowcroft-Baker variety to the Middle East rather than Irgun fighters like Elliot Abrahams, Bush’s Mideast point-man). As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, “Visiting the region in 2005 as senator for New York, Senator Clinton shunned the Palestinians completely, meeting only Israeli leaders and hearing and expressing only Israeli positions. She particularly galled Palestinians by enthusiastically backing the 700-kilometre complex of walls and fences that Israel is building inside the West Bank.”
When Obama gently but firmly suggested to Ohio Jewish voters that there was a difference between being a friend to Israel and embracing the toxic Likud view of how to approach its neighbors, some Zionist commentators went apoplectic — Haaretz’s manic U.S.-based nationalist watchdog Shmuel Rosner howled that Obama was interfering in Israeli internal affairs! But then Rosner represents the Zionist alte-kakker perspective to a tee, with grading of American political candidates solely on the basis of their level of hostility to Israel’s foes and willingess to give it carte blanche to destroy the Palestinians and itself. Why Haaretz publishes this crank, I have no idea, but it should be embarrassed to run this sort of tribalist drivel which most American Jews find acutely embarrassing.
The reality is that Obama may be just the sort of friend Israel needs; the sort of friend that restrains you from driving home drunk.
I love this line from one of Hillary’s campaign organizers in response to Obama being quoted as saying he wanted “an honest discussion about ways to bridge the gap that grows between Muslims and the West” — Daphna Ziman, a friend of Clinton’s who has organized campaign events for her, responded, “I am horrified at Mr. Obama’s point of view.” Enough said.
Never Mind Obama, are the Zionists “Good for the Jews”?
If I was a Zionist, of course, I’d be less worried by Obama than by the fact that American Jews are voting for him in huge numbers, despite being warned off him by the Zionist establishment. Obama even beat Hillary among Jewish voters in California, a state that Hillary actually won! I have little doubt that he’ll easily carry a majority of young Jewish voters, about 70% of whom, like Obama, opposed the Iraq war at the time that Hillary voted for it. And what this reveals, in fact, is that Zionist hegemony among American Jews is fading.
A 2007 study commissioned for American Jewish organizations found that less than half of American Jews under 35 would consider Israel’s disappearance a “personal tragedy,” and
more than half were uncomfortable only 54% were comfortable with the very idea of a Jewish state. These figures reveal that young American Jews don’t want to be fenced off in some nationalist ghetto of the mind; they don’t see their fate and their existence as initimately tied to Israel’s, nor do they see Israel as representing them and their Jewishness. It would be safe to assume, in fact, that a large and growing number of American Jews, just like Barack Obama, would like to see a more even-handed U.S. Middle East policy that raises the prospects for peace. A Jew’s place, as I’ve always argued, is in the world, wherever he or she chooses to make it. And the value of Judaism is derived from the way it feeds into a universal humanity — tribal nationalism has no place in my idea of Judaism, and it’s not something I want any part of. And I get the sense that millions of young American Jews feel the same way. Barack Obama is the perfect candidate in this election for those who believe that our Jewish values compel us to be part of a universal movement for justice that joins us together with all who share that goal, across all tribal boundaries. And he’s the perfect candidate to lead America in an age when it will have to learn to treat the rest of the world as something more than its vassals and courtiers. That’s why long before Texas and Ohio cast their votes, the vast majority of humanity that is paying attention has left no doubt that it wants to see Barack Obama in the White House.