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The Company Obama Keeps

By Jack Kelly

Egyptian pop singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim, famous for his songs attacking Israel and praising Osama bin Laden, plans to release shortly a new song endorsing Barack Obama for president.

Though Shaaban Abdel Rahim is wildly popular in Egypt, I doubt very much that Sen. Obama has ever heard of him. And I'm sure Sen. Obama wouldn't agree with Mr. Rahim's take on the 9/11 attacks (Hey People, It Was Only a Tower) or the Mohammed cartoon controversy. But why is Mr. Rahim so fond of Barack Obama?

It could be the company he keeps. Retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak is a national co-chairman of the Obama campaign. In a 2003 interview, he blamed Jewish Americans for the failure of peace talks between Israel and then Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat.

When asked by a reporter for the Portland Oregonian why peace talks stalled, Gen. McPeak responded: "New York City. Miami. We have a large vote here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it."

After the interview was resurrected last week by the American Spectator's Robert Goldberg (and circulated by the Clinton campaign), a spokesman for Sen. Obama said Barack disagreed with Gen. McPeak:

"Sen. Obama's longstanding commitment to Israel is clear to anyone who has reviewed his voting record, read his speeches, or looked at his policy papers," the aide said. "Neither Sen. Clinton nor Sen. Obama agrees with every position their advisers take, and in this case Sen. Obama disagrees with General McPeak's comments."

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, thinks Sen. Obama's recent pro-Israel statements have been driven by political expediency.

"The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood," Mr. Abunimah wrote in a blog post March 8. "As he came in and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly and volunteered: 'Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I hope when things calm down I can be more up front.' He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and U.S. policy, 'Keep up the good work!'"

"Obama's about face is not surprising," Mr. Abunimah said. "He is merely doing what is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power."

Do Sen. Obama's recent pro-Israel statements represent a genuine change of heart? Or is Mr. Abunimah's cynicism justified?

Sen. Obama's advisers on foreign policy are a diverse group, but they share an antipathy to Israel and its supporters in the U.S.

The most senior of those advisers is Zbigniew Brzezinski, 79, who was the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. Mr. Brzezinski has backed the controversial claim by Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearshimer that the "Israeli lobby" secretly directs U.S. foreign policy.

Sen. Obama disassociated himself from the book. "The idea that supporters of Israel have somehow distorted U.S. foreign policy, or that they are responsible for the debacle in Iraq, is just wrong," he said when a controversy arose over the appointment of Mr. Brzezinski to his advisory team.

There is Robert Malley, who has written with Hussein Agha-a, a former adviser to Yassir Arafat, several articles attacking Israel in the New York Review of Books.

Harvard professor Samantha Power was one of Sen. Obama's most influential advisers until she was forced to resign after telling a British journalist that Hillary Clinton was a "monster." Ms. Power has advocated an end to all U.S. foreign aid to Israel, and dispatch of U.S. troops there to force creation of a Palestinian state.

And, oh yeah, Sen. Obama's longtime pastor and "spiritual adviser," the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is a raving anti-Semite who has published Hamas propaganda in his church newsletter.

Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic thinks it's "guilt by association" to suggest Sen. Obama might secretly share the views of the people he has chosen to advise him.

But Sen. Obama, in a speech in Milwaukee in February, said of Sen. John McCain, "he has made some bad choices in the company he keeps."

"If this is how we are to judge a candidate, then (Sen.) Obama still has a lot of explaining to do," said Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard.

Copyright 2008, Journal Press Syndicate

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