Friday, July 25, 2008

Obama's trip to Yad Vashem: What about Wounded Knee?

By Mike Whitney for Information Clearing House

There were no surprises on Barak Obama's trip to Israel. Everything went by without a hitch. Obama met with all the heads of state and party bosses and raced from one event to another without incident. He skillfully tip-toed through a political minefield that could have ended his presidential bid in a blinding-flash. But he never stumbled. There were no gaffes, no miscues, and no slips of the tongue suggesting that US policy under President Obama would be any more "evenhanded" than it has been under George Bush. Instead, the Illinois Senator made his way from one landmark to the next professing his "unshakable" commitment to Israel, just as expected.

"The way you know where somebody's going is where have they been. And I've been with Israel for many, many years now," Obama proclaimed.


Obama touched down in Jerusalem on Tuesday and was rushed off to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to pay his respects to the many victims of Nazi extermination camps. Donning a white yarmulke, Obama performed the traditional ritual; rekindled the flame, offered a prayer, and laid a wreath on the marble tomb. All politics; all de rigeur.

“At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise from tragedy and remake our world. Let our children come here, and know this history, so they can add their voices to proclaim 'never again'. And may we remember those who perished, not only as victims but also as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed like us, and who have become symbols of the human spirit.”

No mention of the holocaust going on next door in Gaza. No mention of the settlements. No mention of UN resolution 242.

These events are always loaded with the kind of phoniness that politicians love. Bush even wept he was so caught up in his own fake sincerity. But it's all politics and no one in Israel is really fooled by the performance. If Obama has such deep feelings about genocide he doesn't have to go eight thousand miles to prove it. He could just hop a short flight to Wounded Knee in South Dakota where the 7th Cavalry massacred over 300 Lakota Sioux men, women and children in cold blood. Then he could propose something really original, like declaring that he'll make December 29 (the anniversary of Wounded Knee) a national holiday; a fitting tribute to the over 10 million American Indians who were slaughtered by the invading northern Europeans. But Obama won't support a national holiday for America's native people any more than he'll support a memorial to the victims of slavery. After all, that might alienate the pudgy, middle-aged white guys he's trying to win over for the November balloting.

When the creation of a National Slave Memorial was proposed some years ago for the Washington Mall, the idea was scorned in the right wings journals as "an appalling idiocy" that "would inflame both blacks and whites". The article goes on:

"Expediency-minded politicians of both parties may think of a slavery memorial as a cheap way to 'throw a bone' to the black community, A slave memorial is guaranteed to become a magnet for every race hustler from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton down to any local demagogue who can scare up a crowd to go stand in front of the slave memorial and spew venom at American society on TV....What a memorial would do is perpetuate the fraud that slavery was something peculiar to the United States, when in fact it was one of the oldest and most widespread of all human institutions, existing for thousands of years on every inhabited continent, involving people of every race and color as both slaves and slave owners."

There you have it; "compassionate conservativism" in a nutshell, bigotry and all. So, now a memorial to the victims of slavery is nothing more than "throwing a bone' to the black community"?

Nice, eh?

By the way, Obama's signature was nowhere to be found on the list of supporters for the Slave Memorial. He was probably too busy working on his speech blasting black people for not pulling themselves by their own bootstraps.

So, are we supposed to believe that Obama cares more about the Jewish Holocaust than the injustice that was perpetrated against his own people? But, then, maybe we're being hasty. Maybe these aren't Obama's people after all? Maybe his real people are the brandy-drooling, silver spoon, Harvard loafers he surrounds himself with? Is Obama capable of flying over New Orleans and blowing raspberries to the people below like Bush or is that too hard to imagine?

Obama's performance at Yad Vashem is nothing more than political kabuki; pure Hollywood. It simply reminds us of the fundamental power-relationship between Israel and the United States. Presidential candidates have to jump all kinds of Israeli hoops or they won't get elected. It's as simple as that.

“I’m here on this trip to reaffirm the special relationship between Israel and the United States," Obama roared while visiting the Wailing Wall. "My abiding commitment to Israel’s security and my hope that I can serve as an effective partner whether as U.S. senator or as president in bringing about a more lasting peace in the region....The most important idea for me to reaffirm is the historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel. One that cannot be broken. One that I have affirmed throughout my career and one that I will intend to not only continue but actually strengthen in an Obama administration.”

Blah, blah, blah.

What's particularly troubling about Obama, is that he has a good understanding of the core issues in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and yet, he's aligning himself with the more powerful group. That doesn't bode well for the "mothballed" peace process.

Palestinian activist, Ali Abunimah recounts his experiences with Obama in Chicago in the 1990s in Wednesday's UK Guardian:

"Obama grasped the oppression faced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation. He understood that an honest broker cannot simultaneously be the main cheerleader, financier and arms supplier for one side in a conflict. He often attended Palestinian-American community events and heard about the Palestinian experience from perspectives stifled in mainstream discussion."

True. Obama knows exactly what is going on in the occupied territories; the boycott, the sanctions, the check-points, the targeted assassinations, the military incursions, the arrests, the torture, the daily humiliations. He knows it all, but he's also shrewd enough to know what it takes to get elected in the United States.

Abunimah again:

"Every aspect of Obama's visit to Palestine-Israel this week has seemed designed to further appease pro-Israel groups....Other than a cursory 45-minute visit to occupied Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians got little... Some observers took comfort in his promise that he would get engaged "starting from the minute I'm sworn into office". Obama remained silent on the issue of Jerusalem, after boldly promising the "undivided" city to Israel as its capital in a speech to Aipac last month, and then appearing to backtrack amid a wave of outrage across the Arab world. But Obama missed the opportunity to visit Palestinian refugee camps, schools and even shopping malls to witness first-hand the devastation caused by the Israeli army and settlers, or to see how Palestinians cope under what many call "apartheid". This year alone, almost 500 Palestinians, including over 70 children, have been killed by the Israeli army - exceeding the total for 2007 and dwarfing the two-dozen Israelis killed in conflict-related violence. Obama said nothing about Israel's relentless expansion of colonies on occupied land. Nor did he follow the courageous lead of former President Jimmy Carter and meet with the democratically elected Hamas leaders, even though Israel negotiated a ceasefire with them."

Many people are convinced that Middle East policy will change dramatically under Obama. Don't count on it. In the last few weeks, Obama appointed Dennis Ross to a "prominent advisory role" in dealing with the conflict. The soft spoken Ross is "the founder of an AIPAC-sponsored pro-Israel think-tank." His politics are somewhere just slightly to the right of Ariel Sharon. There's no reason for optimism.

Obama is following the well-worn path of 100 per cent, unwavering support for Israel and the Zionist project. His trip to Israel just proves that he is a skillful politician thoroughly devoid of character. Is this the "hope we can believe in"?