Middle East studies in the News
Will Obama be a Friend of Israel? [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
by Eric Lundblade
When Barack Obama is sworn in on January 20, the honeymoon period will be over. His administration will be plagued by the same quotidian political struggles that mark every presidency.
No leader is ever completely free to pursue his or her desired aims. The most loved and the most dictatorial alike are bound by the considerations of their rivals and their constituencies. Until Inauguration Day, though, commentators are free to speculate on what possibilities could accompany an Obama administration.
Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria posits that our next president could have the opportunity to define a new "grand strategy" for American foreign policy. It will be interesting to see if a new framework is really possible, and how it might be applied to the various trouble-spots in the world.
During the presidential campaign, Obama was challenged as to whether he would be a true friend to the state of Israel. The McCain camp and its supporters drew attention to his relationships with the historian Rashid Khalidi and the literary critic Edward Said, questioning whether association with Palestinians could disqualify him from fairly adjudicating the Israel-Palestine conflict. Obama's onetime comment that "No one is suffering more than the Palestinian people," raised a few eyebrows.
In a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama sought to placate these fears by reiterating his "clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel" and promising that "loyalty and friendship [to Israel] will guide me as we begin to lay the stones that will build the road that takes us from the current instability to lasting peace and security."
For the most part, Obama's rhetoric meets or exceeds the assurances that past presidents have made to Israel's security and well-being. He professes no great break with America's past support.
Yet some dissenting voices have arisen from the Israeli press. Gideon Levy of Haaretz recently wrote an editorial expressing hope that Obama will show a new kind of friendship to Israel. He criticized the Bush administration for giving his country a "carte blanche" for any course of action, regardless of what effect that action may have on the peace process. He cites the continued settlement of occupied territories, construction of a security wall largely within Palestinian territory, and a campaign of targeted assassinations.
"That's just how we like U.S. presidents," he continues. "They give us a green light to do as we please. They fund, equip and arm us, and sit tight. Such is the classic friend of Israel, a friend who is an enemy, and enemy of peace and an enemy to Israel."
I would like to see the simmering, stagnating conflict in Israel and Palestine ended with justice rather than domination. Israeli military retaliations may weaken the Palestinians but ultimately they cannot give assure a sense of security. Any "peace" which rests on an oppressive military occupation will never be stable.
So long as the Israel Defense Forces prevent Palestinians from taking their children to the hospital, or harvesting their olive groves, or traveling to school, the conflict will continue lurking in the background of Israeli life. Baruch Spinoza wrote that "Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice."
What is a true friend? Gideon Levy seems to believe that a friend is one who pushes you to become better. The United States and Israel are both young nations that share many common ideals such as democracy, equality, and justice. Needless to say, in many areas we both fall far short. Perhaps a re-imagined relationship between our two nations would let us call each other to account in these areas. I can think of no more beneficial relationship and no truer friendship.
Lundblade, a senior history major, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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