How doth the right hate Obama? Let me count the ways. The latest attack on Barack Obama emanates from the right wing American Spectator, which dredged up a 2003 Merrill McPeak interview from The Oregonian. In it, McPeak speaks candidly about prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace and sets forth the shockingly candid idea that American Jews stand in the path of a settlement. Here’s the segment of the interview in question:
We don’t have a playbook for the Middle East. You know, for instance, obviously, a part of that long-term strategy would be getting the Israelis and the Palestinians together…And even so the process has gone off the tracks, but the process isn’t enough. . . . We need to get it fixed and only we have the authority with both sides to move them towards that. Everybody knows that.
So where’s the problem? State? White House?
New York City. Miami. We have a large vote – vote, here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it.
…I think that everybody understands that a settlement of the Arab-Israeli problem would require the Israelis to stop settling the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and maybe even withdraw some of the settlements that’ve already been put there. And nobody wants to take on that problem. It’s just too tough politically. So that means we can’t . . . you can’t develop a Middle East strategy. It’s impossible.
Do you think . . . there’s an element within Hamas, Hezbollah, that doesn’t want Israel to exist at all and always will be there?
Yeah. So this is – this is multilateral.
. . . There’s an element in Oregon [ed., Israel?], you know, that’s always going to be radical in some pernicious way, and likely to clothe it in religious garments, so it makes it harder to attack. So there’s craziness all over the place. I think there is enough good will on the Israeli side – I’ve spent a lot of time in Israel, worked at one time very closely with the Israeli air force as a junior officer, and so – but that’s maybe the more cosmopolitan, liberal version of the Israeli population – I think there’s enough good will there – I don’t know if there is still on the Palestinian side, because they’ve been radicalized pretty well. But there’s enough good will, I would hope, on both sides that you can get the majority into some kind of a big tent, and make something better than what you’ve got now. If you do that, you’ll still have radicals on both sides doing stupid things, but that is basically a problem in internal security. Hopefully. You can handle it with police. But if you don’t do that, I don’t see any way to put together a strategy for the Middle East. I mean it’s just kind of a linchpin . . .
The “New York City–Miami” statement will get lots of play and Israel lobby groups, who are implicitly the ones criticized in this statement, will make sure to play the anti-Semitism card, which of course will be ludicrous.
If McPeak made any sort of mistake here it was trying to use shorthand to encapsulate a very complex issue. The Jews who prevent the U.S. government from playing a robust role in lobbying for Israeli-Palestinian peace are not merely those living in New York or Miami, of course. But rather, they are the militantly pro-Israel groups like AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, ADL, ZOA, etc. who seek to ensure that the U.S. will exert no pressure whatsoever on Israel to vacate any of its hardline positions.
Let’s keep a few things in mind here. The only sources who wish to damage Barack Obama via twisting this interview into something sinister are the far right represented by American Spectator and Hillary Clinton (including her Jewish supporters who have circulated material like this before). So before anyone goes to town on this we should always do what an ex-girlfriend of mine used to recommend in this kind of situation: consider the source.
I don’t know how this story will play out. But it will a damn shame if Obama banishes McPeak to Siberia under pressure from smear-mongers like those I mention above.
All Merrill McPeak did was say the obvious. He said it in a candid way, even slightly shockingly candid. But so what. Do we penalize public figures merely because they speak the truth in a way some might prefer that they not? Sorry. Merrill McPeak has done nothing wrong here. In fact, he’s done everyone a favor if this stirs up a debate on this issue.
In some ways, this is reminiscent of the Wesley Clark episode during the last primary season in which he correctly noted that the “Jewish money people” were beating the drums for war against Iran. Abe Foxman took ol’ Wes to the woodshed and Wes ate humblepie. I hope McPeak doesn’t have to do that.
The Spectator’s characterization of McPeak’s remarks is so pernicious and twisted I didn’t want to quote any of it here because I’d have to refute the garbage in it (its author, Robert Goldberg, is a former senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute). But I urge you to read it for yourself and also Shmuel Rosner’s only slightly less incendiary portrayal of the matter.
Why is any of this important? Because a new poll shows Obama neck and neck with Clinton in popularity in the Jewish community. I don’t know who researched this and offered it to American Spectator. But it sure doesn’t hurt Hillary to have Obama having yet again to explain himself to our community. But it won’t work. Though Abe Foxman, David Harris and Mort Klein live off this sort of junk issue most American Jews don’t give a hoot. It simply won’t move them. Who will it move? The fatcats affiliated with AIPAC and the other Israel lobby groups. Expect screaming headlines from the Republican Jewish Coalition. Actually, you don’t even need to wait. The right-wing smear sheet Newsmax reports that the RJC is demanding McPeak’s resignation from the Obama campaign. Obama needs advice from the RJC about as much as a lung cancer survivor needs a cigarette.