After two years of Zionist and Arabist scrutiny, President-elect Barack Obama united Jew and Muslim as never before – at least in the United States. Obama was supported by an estimated 78 percent of Jews, and 89 of Muslims.
Despite the lofty Jewish numbers, among the highest for any presidential candidate in recent decades, it had been the consensus among some of the finest Jewish journalists and analysts that Obama Jewish totals would be deflated by racism, a devilish charge, although if Justice Clarence Thomas was running for anything we can be sure those same analysts would insist that voting against Thomas would not be racist but good sense.
Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, writing alongside The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in the online magazine, Jewcy (Oct. 20),
suggested: "Is it Israel that makes Jewish voters uncomfortable about Barack Obama? You [Goldberg] have written a lot about Obama and the Jews (as I did too), and you seem to think that something else is at play here – dare we say racism?"
Goldberg replied, "I would have to say that simple racism motivates much of the anti-Obama anxiety in corners of the Jewish community. I don’t know what else explains it."
Then, on the eve of the election, Goldberg, blogging in The Atlantic Monthly, conceded, "No other white ethnic group will support Barack Obama at anywhere the level Jews will," he predicted, and no other white group did.
Many say that the push toward Obama for many Jews, and others, was the economic crisis and deep concerns about Sarah Palin in the White House.
After numerous months of Jewish opinion-makers insisting that mention of either Obama’s middle name or his father’s religion wasn’t fair play, by Election Day the issue became the proverbial dog that didn’t bark.
By contrast, outside the United States, Obama’s Islamic background was not seen as a smear but an asset. In Al-Jazeera, for example, one columnist wrote (Nov. 5), "Obama is a Christian, but given his background as the son of a man born into the Muslim faith (as well as the resonance of his traditionally Muslim middle name) I expect that much of the Muslim world will view Obama optimistically. He will have an opportunity to remake the negative U.S. image in many Muslim countries if he chooses to reach out to them."
Despite the newsreels on American television depicting numerous countries celebrating Obama’s election, African and Arab newspapers were somewhat skeptical, warning that either American support for Israel goes, or the global honeymoon for Obama is over.
In Uganda, Allan Tacca, columnist for the Daily Monitor (Nov. 9) felt Obama’s background was worth discussing because of where it might lead: With the Arab-Israeli conflict "probably as intractable as ever, Obama, previously welcomed by many in the ‘Arab Street’ as (at least) a half-Muslim, may now rapidly evolve into a fully fledged apostate…. Because initially he was so loved, Obama’s fall could be quite spectacular."
In the London-based Asharq Alawsat (Nov. 8), Osman Mirghani said "Obama is a young, ambitious, Machiavellian politician [who] spent many years living in a white household under the care of his grandmother who had a ‘fear of black men who passed by her on the street,’ according to Obama himself," but if Obama acts "to rectify historical mistakes," then "he will become an inspirational leader not only for America but for the entire world."
But if he doesn’t, "then he will be judged harshly, the degree of which will be similar to the level of hope and anticipation that has been pinned on him and his historical win."
Editorials in the Khaleej Times (Nov. 7 and 10) in the relatively moderate United Arab Emirates, reminded readers that "Palestinians – millions of them – have been killed, driven, maimed, jailed and driven from their homes…. [Is] it any wonder then that young Palestinians see their only way to progress in ‘martyrdom’ or blowing themselves up?" And yet, "Obama went to great lengths to express his support for Israel, often angering Palestinians and Arabs. We believe those were the electoral compulsions of candidate Obama."
Yes, said the Khaleej Times, Obama’s victory "generated so much euphoria and such incredible joy around the world [but] these expectations and hopes of miraculous changes from Obama exert great pressure on the young President-elect." Not just Americans but "the world" has "given him [an] extraordinary mandate and expects extraordinary results too…."
In Egypt’s Al-Ahram (Nov. 6-12), Ayman El-Amir writes that Obama "did everything to pander to Israel…. That is why the Arab mainstream was as indifferent to the candidacy of Barack Obama as it was to that of John McCain." If there is to be real change, Obama "will have to debunk the myth that Israeli military supremacy is the best guarantee of U.S. interests," and "break the paradigm of securing peace for Israel on occupied Arab and Palestinian territories."
Also in that venerable Cairo paper, Salama A. Salama believe that Obama will likely "do as little as possible about the Middle East during the first stage of his presidency, if only to avoid having to deal with the Zionist lobby."
Perhaps the Jews, particularly the Republican ones, can take some solace in the fact that their fears of Obama in summer have given way to Arab fears of Obama (and the Zionist lobby) in November.
Ali Abunimah, editor of Electronic Intifada and a former friend of Obama, let alone a participant in the infamous party for Rashid Khalidi that the McCain campaign tried, in desperation, to tar Obama with, now concludes, to his regret, that Obama is pro-Israel.
Remember when Obama’s middle name haunted Jewish voters? Writing in Electronic Intifada (Nov. 5), Abunimah writes, "racists and pro-Israel hardliners…. might take comfort in another middle name," Israel – the middle name of Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s pick for White House chief of staff.
Emanuel, son of an Irgunist, is "likely to disappoint those who hoped the president-elect would break with the [Bush] administration’s pro-Israel policies." Emanuel, writes Abunimah, "has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner."
After two years of Zionists and Arabists jockeying for position in the Obama camp, Abunimah concedes defeat: "Obama publicly distanced himself from friends and advisers suspected or accused of having ‘pro-Palestinian’ sympathies. There are no early indications of a more balanced course."