Is Obama Turning Right?

This week, Senator Barak Obama traveled to Florida and spoke to Jewish and Cuban-American audiences. In those speeches, he embraced the right-wing policy positions of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) and the hard-line program of the most reactionary elements of the Cuban exile community.

Senator Obama was for many years considered pro-Palestinian, but a year ago when he spoke sympathetically about the suffering of Palestinian people, he quickly backed off his statements under pressure from the Israeli lobby. His surrender to AIPAC this week is particularly troubling because it comes at a time when more and more Americans – including Jewish Americans – are awakening to the fact that the Israeli lobby is a threat to both America and Israel, because its unwavering support for the expansion of colonial settlements and its resistance to serious peace negotiations serve to block the two-state solution which could otherwise be within reach.

Last year, George Soros wrote in the New York Review of Books that the power of the Israeli lobby should be challenged by the creation of a new Jewish lobby in America, one committed to peace and justice. Just such a group was recently formed in Washington, D.C., calling itself “J Street.” Former President Jimmy Carter has warned that the occupation of Palestine is creating an Israeli apartheid.

On May 7, Carter appeared on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” and explained the need to negotiate with Hamas, negotiations that are opposed by the Israeli lobby and by the U.S. administration. He noted that Hamas prevailed in an internationally-supervised Palestinian election that had been sponsored by America and Israel. Carter pointed out that a recent Ha’aretz poll found that 64% of Israelis favor negotiations with Hamas. Yet Senator Obama has now fallen in line with AIPAC, ruling out negotiations with Hamas, and adopting the language of the Bush administration in calling Hamas a “terrorist organization.”

Occupation invites resistance. To demand an end to resistance as the price of discussing the occupation is to invite endless casualties. As Ralph Nader has pointed out, the American media makes much of the primitive rockets fired at Israel by Palestinians, while minimizing the use of heavy weaponry and helicopter gun ships by the Israelis in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on earth. Over the last year, Palestinian civilian casualties outnumber Israeli civilian casualties nearly 400 to 1.

In his speech to the Cuban exiles, Senator Obama said he was willing to meet Raul Castro, but declared that members of the exile community would have to have “a seat at the table.” This is the sort of precondition which Obama had previously ruled out, and the likelihood of Castro sitting down with exiles is beyond remote. Obama said that the release of political prisoners would have to be on the agenda, yet the exiles’ notion of who is a political prisoner consists largely of those who not only resisted the regime, but who took money from the American government, and coordinated their efforts with those who supported the overthrow of the regime. (See ” Cuba: U.S. Diplomat is Accused of Delivering Cash to Opposition,” N.Y. Times, 5/24/08.)

While Obama spoke in favor of allowing Cuban-Americans to more frequently visit their families in Cuba and to send money to them, these reforms are widely popular in the exile community. Most tellingly, Obama failed to oppose the Bush Administration’s ban on ordinary Americans traveling to Cuba on educational tours, tours that until 2004 allowed thousands of Americans to visit Cuba, and to come to their own conclusions about the Cuban Revolution.

Worse yet, the same Senator Obama who only a year ago supported ending the embargo declared that the embargo would continue until Cuba knuckled under to American demands.

In 1959, Cubans overthrew a dictator who was in partnership with the Mafia and who allowed Cuban workers and natural resources to be exploited by giant American corporations. In response to their nationalizing American assets, the Cubans faced nearly fifty years of U.S. sponsored invasion, embargo, sabotage, terrorism, and attempts to assassinate their leaders.

Yet Obama spoke not a word of how the restrictions of political liberty in Cuba are linked to Cuba’s struggle to maintain independence in the face of relentless attempts by a succession of U.S. administrations to use their great power to bring Cuba to heel.

Senator Obama spoke not a word of the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution, the world-class health system, the high quality education, rural development, cutting edge research on infectious diseases, and the provision of thousands of Cuban doctors to the most disease-ridden, God-forsaken corners of the earth.

Senator Obama essentially gave the same kind of speech on Cuba that we have heard from American Presidents for the last fifty years. Where is the “change” that we have been waiting for, that we have been promised so repeatedly?

We have been down this road before. In 2004, progressives lined up behind Senator Kerry, and progressive organizations made no demands upon him. The anti-war movement folded its tents. After this early and unconditional surrender on the part of the American left, Senator Kerry moved sharply to the right .The Democratic Convention was militaristic in form and corporate in policy. The candidate who had called himself “anti-war” wound up running against Bush’s war policy from the right, calling for tens of thousands more troops, and criticizing Bush for having pulled back from Falluja simply because of the massive civilian carnage. Yet for all of this appeasement of the right, Kerry lost the election. Shortly thereafter, Bush leveled Falluja, and four years later American forces have been bombing major cities in Iraq.

GREG KAFOURY is a trial lawyer and political activist in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached at kafoury@kafourymcdougal.com.


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