Mr. Obama, Did You Pack These Bags Yourself?

Gershom Gorenberg

At the airport, before his takeoff for the Middle East, no one will ask Barack Obama if he packed his bags himself. It would be rude, and besides he has a full-time handler for that. He never has the lurching feeling as the cab leaves his house that he left the tickets on the kitchen table and a prescription in the medicine cabinet. Just writing those words, I finally understand the attraction of running for president.

He has, however, packed his political baggage himself. Mostly he’s done a good job – better, in fact, than one could expect.

First, he’s meeting with Palestinians as well as Israelis. At least according to the Palestinian side, Obama has put a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on his schedule for next Wednesday. When I wrote about his trip a couple of weeks ago, before the requisite leaks on the itinerary, I was afraid he’d decide it was politically inexpedient to make that stop, essential as it is. Symbolically, the Ramallah visit shows that he intends as president to talk to both Israelis and Palestinians, and that he’s serious about working for peace. Practically, it gives him the chance to see how Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad respond to tough questions about the compromises they’ll need to make.

It would have been easy to skip Ramallah for fearing of losing Jewish votes, especially in swing states like Florida. The common mistake among candidates is to believe the rightwing minority in the U.S. Jewish community that purports to speak for the community as a whole,

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Barack Obama’s Pilgrimage

Gershom Gorenberg

Sometime before November, traffic in Jerusalem will be tied up by Barack Obama’s visit. My new article in The American Prospect explains what Obama should do while he’s here to prepare for the presidency, and why he won’t do any of that:

…In Jerusalem, Obama has another task — shoring up support among voters who question his pro-Israel credentials. This is hardly the Jewish vote as a whole. Rather, it is the subset that falsely conflates “pro-Israel” with supporting the hawkish side of the Israeli political spectrum. Trying to satisfy those voters while demonstrating a fresh, diplomacy-based foreign policy increases the chances of a slip-up…

Besides those constraints are the practical ones. Protocol forces a visiting political figure to spend his time with top officials, providing a terribly restrictive view of a country.

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Updates: Pipes’ Pinocchios; Obama’s Gender; Undivided Jerusalem

Gershom Gorenberg

  • The Washington Post’s campaign factchecker awards three Pinocchios to conservative rottweiler Floyd Brown – and to his pseudo-academic alter ego, Daniel Pipes – for promoting the canard was a Muslim as a child and is hiding the fact: “Both Brown and Pipes base their arguments and conclusions on factoids that have appeared in the mainstream media. But they make no attempt to weigh the evidence fairly,” the Post said. In other words, they’re misusing some details to make up stories, as conspiracy theorists will. Pipes, we can be sure, will not be dissuaded from finding invidious Islamic plots everywhere.
  • Will Obama be the first woman president?

    Read moreUpdates: Pipes’ Pinocchios; Obama’s Gender; Undivided Jerusalem

Hagee, McCain, Aipac: The Audacity of Cynicism

John McCain was shocked, shocked to know that there were horrid thoughts going on around Rev. Hagee’s brain about the positive side of the Holocaust. These comments, from a sermon on how God used Hitler to get the Jews to return to their land, in case you missed the news all weekend, include:

“How is God going to bring them back to the land? The answer is fishers and hunters,” Mr. Hagee said, referring to how Jews ended up in the modern state of Israel. “A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and forces you. Hitler was a hunter.”

As we know, McCain actively pursued Hagee’s endorsement. As the NY Times notes,

At a speech last year before Mr. Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, he thanked Mr. Hagee for his “spiritual guidance to politicians like me” and said, “It’s hard to do the Lord’s work in the city of Satan.”

Hagee has every effort to make his views public via every media available. His comments expressing empathy for Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin appeared in a book that became a bestseller in its market. The same book looks forward to an apocalypse in which enough blood is shed on Israeli soil to create a river of blood 200 miles long. One of the scholars who introduced me to this literature correctly spoke of the “pornographic violence” of the visions of the end promoted by Hagee and others of his school.

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Liberal Israel Lobby: Here, today!

J Street, the new lobby devoted to supporting Israel by supporting peace, goes public today. Here’s part of my column at The American Prospect:

Today’s public launch follows many months of organizing led by the new group’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, a media consultant and former Clinton administration staffer… Unlike existing Jewish peace groups, J Street is registered for tax purposes as a 501(c)(4) organization, meaning that it can operate fully as a lobby. A sister organization, J Street PAC, will endorse and raise money for candidates.

To win J Street PAC’s backing, Ben-Ami told me, a candidate’s position should be that “the single most important step to support Israeli security and U.S. interests is to reach a negotiated peace agreement,

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