African Americans should pressure Senator and Democratic presidential nominee Barak Obama to change U.S. policy toward the occupation of Palestine. Despite the warm response Obama enjoys from American Muslim and Arab American voters, we should stand for the right of our Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters to critique Obama. We should in fact lead the way in that critique.
Obama’s summer tour of eight European and North African countries proved two things. One is that he’s stunningly popular worldwide; the other is that he’s moving from the left to the center in order to win conservative and pro-Israeli votes he thinks he needs here in the U.S.
African Americans are proud of Obama’s universal popularity, but we must remember that after eight years of war, political strife and economic ruin fueled by a felonious Republican regime in Washington, the citizens of Europe and North Africa would likely welcome the rise of anyone who seems, like Obama, to be articulate, diplomatic, ethical and reasonably sane; all the things now lacking in the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department.
African Americans should be less proud of Obama’s move rightward, especially where America’s anti-Arab racism and American foreign policy toward Muslim nations are concerned.
To wit: Obama’s recent visit to Israel signals his acceptance of a persistent litmus test for American politicians by his dutifully demonstrating to the U.S. Jewish electorate that he will support the continuance of Washington’s support for Israel’s security; but by implication and symbolism, it also signals his acceptance of the Israeli lobby and Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
We African Americans, in solidarity with Muslims everywhere and with Palestinian victims of the occupation, should demand, despite his fade to the right to cater to constituencies and to win votes, to know that Obama will be a president who seeks justice and seeks to amend the errors, crimes, and offenses of American foreign policy lately made even more egregious by the Patriot Act and the so-called “War on Terror” (from the Muslim point of view indistinguishable, certainly, from a neo-crusade).
The War on Terror has created mischief with human rights, from America’s criminal treatment of Iraqi and other Arab and Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo and inside Abu Ghraib, to the brutality of indiscriminate violence unleashed against Fallujah by American forces, to the illegal State Department and CIA participation in the crime of “rendition” (the kidnapping, assault against, torture and murder of dozens of citizens of sovereign nations, many of those citizens Muslims). There is much for the future President Obama to amend in U.S. behavior in the world.
Here at home in the U.S., growing anti-Muslim racism is reflected in dozens of offenses such as recent NYC media attacks on Debbie Almontaser, acknowledged “builder of bridges between Muslims, Christians, and Jews” and founding principal of the NYC Khalil Gibran school. Almontaser was coerced into resigning after she refused to denounce NYC Arab girls wearing t-shirts bearing the word “Intifada.”
Xenophobic criticisms of the school include objections to its featuring halal dining, while NYC newspapers have denounced the school as a “madrassa”: a haven for “terrorism” (madrasah of course means not a facility to teach violence but literally “a place where learning and teaching is done”). Almontaser has sued NYC to expose what she calls the “new McCarthyism” of this kind of treatment of prominent Arab and Muslim community leaders.
In light of these national and international events, images of Obama in yarmulke with President Shimon Peres and at Yad Vashem are designed to appeal to AIPAC, and meant in his words, to reaffirm the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel. But if Obama is truly to be a president representing the “audacity of hope,” we should unabashedly pressure him, indeed demand of him that he support Palestinian hopes for an end to occupation and an end to the building of a Berlin-style wall to turn Palestinian territories into Bantustans. If “we are the change we have been waiting for,” as Obama says, then we should demand a change: the Palestinians’ right of return, their basic human right to water, and their right to control their own land, resources, and public utilities, must be respected.
Support by President Obama for tolerance of Muslims and Arabs here in the U.S. and for a new peace process that seeks a negotiated settlement in Palestine and respects the legitimacy and the interests of both Israel and Palestine is needed, not just candidate Obama’s photo ops with President Mahmoud Abbas on a quick spin through Ramallah.
Professor Waller is on the adjunct Faculty of Wayne State University’s Department of Africana Studies and is a freelance journalist. A longer analysis of Obama’s campaign can be found on Waller’s weblog at rayfieldwaller.blogspot.com