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"War is much too serious a thing to be left to military men," in Talleyrand’s memorable words. In the same spirit, one could say: The American presidential elections are much too serious to be left to the Americans.
The US is now the only super-power on earth. It will remain so for quite some time to come. The decisions of the President of the United States affect every human being on this planet.
Unfortunately, the citizens of the world have no part in these elections. But they may, at least, voice an opinion.
Availing myself of this right I say: I am for Barack Obama.
* * *
First of all I must confess: my attitude towards the US is one of unrequited love. In my youth I was a great admirer. Like many others of my generation, I grew up on the legend of the new, idealistic country of pioneers, the world’s torch of freedom. I admired Abe Lincoln, who freed the slaves, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who hastened to the rescue of besieged Britain, when it stood alone against the Nazi monster, and who entered World War II at the decisive moment. I grew up on Wild West movies.
Gradually, I lost my illusions. Joe McCarthy helped me along the way. I learned that with depressing regularity, the US is seized by some hysteria or other. But every time, just before the brink of the abyss, it draws back.
During the Vietnam War I took part in demonstrations. I happened to be in America in 1967, and participated in the legendary march of the half million to the Pentagon. I reached the entrance of the building and saw before me a line of cold-eyed soldiers who seemed to be just itching to open fire. At the last moment it occurred to me that it would be unseemly for an Israeli Member of the Knesset to be implicated, so I jumped from the ledge of the entrance and twisted my ankle.
Somehow I got on the CIA (or was it the FBI?) black list. I managed to obtain a visa only with great difficulty, and was struck forever from the list of invitees to the American embassy parties in Tel Aviv. I don’t know if this happened because of those protests, or because of my friendship with Henri Curiel, a Jewish-Egyptian revolutionary who helped us in our contacts with the PLO. The Americans held him, quite mistakenly, to be a KGB agent.
At the same time, my name was struck by the Soviets from every list of people invited from Israel. Perhaps they considered me a CIA agent (as I was called in the Israeli Communist party paper). So I was one of the few people in the world who appeared simultaneously on the black lists of both the USA and the Soviet Union – a source of moderate pride to me.
My friend Afif Safieh, now the chief PLO representative in the US, argues that there are two Americas: the America which exterminated the Native Americans and enslaved the blacks, the America of Hiroshima and McCarthy, and the other America, the America of the Declaration of Independence, of Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt.
In these terms, George Bush belongs to the first. Obama, his opposite in almost every respect, represents the second.
* * *
ONE CAN arrive at Obama by a process of elimination.
John McCain is a continuation of Bush. More attractive, probably more intelligent (which doesn’t mean much). But he is more of the same. The same policy – a dangerous mix of intoxication with power and simple-mindedness. The same world of the Wild West myth, of Good Guys (Americans and their stooges) and Bad Guys (everybody else). A macho world of sham masculinity, where everything is seen through the sights of a gun.
McCain will go on with the wars, and may start new ones. His economic agenda is the same "swinish capitalism" (Shimon Peres’ phrase), which has now brought disaster on the economy of the US, and the economy of all of us.
Eight years of Bush are enough for us. Thank you.
Hillary? True, there is something very positive in the fact that a woman is a potential candidate for the leadership of the most powerful country in the world. As the old Jewish blessing has it: Blessed art thou, the Lord, our God, who let us live to see this day. I believe that the feminist revolution was by far the most important one of the 20th Century, since it overturns the social patterns of thousands of years, and perhaps also the biological patterns of million of years. This revolution is still going on, and the election of a woman president would be a milestone.
But it is not enough that it be a woman. It is also important which woman it is.
I spent some years struggling against Golda Meir, the worst Prime Minister Israel ever had. Almost all recent female leaders of countries have started wars: Margaret Thatcher started the Falklands War, Golda Meir bears the responsibility for the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, Indira Gandhi made war on Pakistan, the current presidents of the Philippines and Sri Lanka are conducting internal wars.
The usual explanation is that in order to prevail in a man’s world, a woman politician has to prove that she is at least as tough as the men are. When she comes to power, she wants to show that she, too, can make war and command armies. Hillary has already acted tough by voting for the disastrous Iraq war.
(Years ago, when she came out for a Palestinian state, Gush Shalom demonstrated in her honor in front of the US embassy in Tel Aviv. We wanted to present her with a bunch of flowers. The embassy people treated us as enemies and refused to accept the flowers. Since then, Hillary has not uttered another word in favor of the Palestinians.)
I don’t know how much she was a partner to her husband’s decisions in the White House. The President’s wife may be closest to his ear – and the President’s husband will probably be closest to her ear. Anyhow, in the eight years of Bill Clinton nothing good for Israeli-Palestinian peace happened. In his "peace team" there were a lot of American Jews, but not a single American Arab. He was totally subservient to the Israel lobby, and on his watch the number of Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories more than doubled.
Israel doesn’t really need another term of Billary.
Hillary is a run of the mill politician. If McCain is a continuation of Bush, Hillary is an extension of the entire present American political system, the present policy and the present routine. But the world needs another America.
* * *
The name of another America is Obama. Full name: Barack Hussein Obama.
The very fact that this person can be a serious contender for the presidency at all restores my faith in the possibilities inherent in America. After the excesses of Senator Joe McCarthy there was President John Kennedy. After Bush there can be Obama. Only in America.
The great message of Obama is Obama himself. A person who has roots in three continents (and another half: Hawaii). A person whose education spans the wide world. A person who can see reality from the viewpoints of America, Africa and Asia. A person who is both black and white. A new kind of American, an American of the 21st Century.
I am not as naïve as I sound. I realize that in his speeches there is more enthusiasm than content. We can’t know what he will do once elected president. President Obama may disappoint us. But I prefer to take a risk with a man like this than to know in advance what the two routine politicians, his competitors, will do.
I am not overly impressed by election speeches. I have conducted four election campaigns myself and I know that there are things one has to say and things one must not say. It’s all with limited liability. But beyond all the speechifying, one fact is more important than a million words: Obama opposed the Iraq invasion from the start, when this took integrity and a lot of courage. Hillary voted for the war and changed her position only when public opinion had changed. McCain supports the war even now.
We in Israel know the huge difference between opposing a war in its first, decisive hour, and opposing it after a month, a year or five years.
On the other hand, perhaps this very fact – more even than the color of his skin, his middle name and his "lack of experience" – will work against him. The voters do not like a person who was right when they were wrong. It’s like admitting: he was wise and we were stupid. When a politician wants to be elected, he would be well advised to hide the fact that he was right.
A personal note: as an optimist from birth, I like Obama’s optimism. I prefer a candidate who brings hope over one destroying hope. Optimism spurs to action, pessimism produces nothing but despair.
America needs a complete overhaul. Not just a wash, not just a wax job, not just a new coat of paint. It needs a new motor, a change of the entire leadership, a reappraisal of its position in the world, a change of values.
Can Obama do this? I hope so. I am not sure. But I am quite sure that the other two will not.
* * *
Here a Jew will pop the classic question: Is it good for the Jews?
The people who claim to speak for the American Jews, the "leaders" who were not elected by anyone, the chiefs of the fetid "organizations", are conducting a dirty campaign of defamation and sly hints against him. If his middle name is Hussein and he is black, he must be an "Arab-lover". Also, he did not distance himself enough from the anti-Semite Louis Farakhan.
The same "leaders" are in bed with the most loathsome racists in the US, obscurantist fundamentalists and blood-stained neo-cons. But most American Jews know that their place is not there. The unholy alliance with those types will inevitably come home to roost. The Jews have to be where they have always been: in the progressive camp, striving for equality and the separation between state and religion.
It must be asked: Is it good for Israel?
All three candidates have groveled at the feet of AIPAC. The fawning of all three before the Israeli leadership is disgusting. They all show a lack of integrity. But I know that they have no choice. That’s how it is in the USA.
In spite of this, Obama succeeded in getting out one courageous sentence. Speaking before a mainly Jewish audience in Cleveland, he said: "There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, you’re anti-Israel and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel."
I hope that the American Barack (blessed, in Arabic), if elected, will not turn into a replica of the Israeli Barak (lightning, in Hebrew).
Real friendship means: when you see that your friend is drunk, you don’t encourage him to drive. You offer to take him home. I am longing for an American president who will have the courage and the honesty to tell our leaders: Dear friends, you are drunk with power! You are speeding along a highway that leads to an abyss!
Perhaps Barack Obama will be such a friend. This would be a blessing for us, too.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is o a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.