Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Senator Obama's Friends

Clarence Page is one of the Chicago Tribune’s better columnists. He is a pretty good judge of people and events and usually is right on the money when evaluating them. And no less is true about today’s column.

He writes about and extols Senator Barack Obama’s speech given yesterday in Philadelphia about the controversy surrounding his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. And I agree with his evaluation. I think he got it right. Senator Obama definitely articulated the underlying issues. He explained that he does not agree with him and rejects and condemns his hateful words in no uncertain terms.

He also articulated why there are so many black people who have these feelings. It is usually the older blacks who have lived through a period of racism unknown to the younger generations. The era of segregation and civil rights marches. Not so long ago lynching of blacks and civil rights workers were not that uncommon nor was the bombing of black churches unheard of. They happened. Black American's were terrorized in the South while bigotry and racism was institutionalized in more subtle forms in the North. And to a certain extent still are.

Though attitudes like those of his pastor are condemnable, Senator Obama said that they should be understood in the context of a life long struggle against that kind of bigotry and racism.

That’s why he refuses to disown the man while condemning his words. He can not condemn Reverend Wright anymore than he can condemn the entire black community or his own white grandmother who loved him more than anything else in the world and yet had made some racist remarks of her own. It is the experience of the bigotry that resulted in the kind of resentment so fiercely uttered by his pastor.

Those sentiments are utterly wrong and condemnable but should be understood in that light. Ignoring it, Senator Obama says, will not serve to unite but further divide this country.

All true. Senator Obama acknowledges that institutional racism has been removed as has other barriers to success. As he pointed out his own ivy leauge education as well as his his wife’s testify to that. The fact that a black man is running for the highest office in the land and has a very good chance of winning offers even more proof. But it hasn’t disappeared. It still needs to be confronted. Ignoring it will just continue to add to the divisiveness.

I understand and I agree up to a point. But there is still much to question about Senator Obama. His speech did not completely allay my fears for several very important reasons.

It is one thing to understand the kind of racism and hatred coming out of the black experience and to understand that things are much better today if not perfect and that his pastor’s words are false and abhorrent. But it is another thing to say that one should therefore separate the man from his words. And that’s why he continues to stand by his pastor. It simply cannot and should not be done.

It would almost be like my saying that although I disagree with Hezbollah’s spiritual leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah's reprehensible views about Israel, I nevertheless understand why he says them based on the Palestinian experience. His hatred of Israel should be understood in that light. That I stand with this religious figure even though I find his words about Jews and Israel condemnable. Does this make sense to anyone?

I am sure that in his 20 or so years that Senator Obama experienced sermons from Reverend Wright he heard not only words with which he disagreed and absolutely rejected (although never hearing the actual words filling the airwaves and other media.) I am equally certain that reverend Wright has uttered many words which were very noble and of high moral degree. Words that any God fearing person would agree with. Senator Obama judges him in the context of his entire 20 year experience and not just on what he disagrees with.

But I’m equally certain the same thing can be said about Sheik Nasrallah. I’m sure that in his sermons not related to Israel he has said much that most of religious Jewry could agree with.

One cannot however separate the man from his hateful words... words that inspire divisiveness and hatred in your flock. Not for Sheik Nasrallah and not for Pastor Wright.

There is a facet of Reverend Wright’s words that Senator Obama did hardly touched upon: The words about Israel and the Palestinians. Though he did say that they were wrong and based on the views of radical Islam, Reverend Wright cannot possibly have derived those views from the black experience. Nor was Reverend Wright's praise for Minister Louis Farrakhan explained. His words about Israel and the Palestinians were one sided and rabidly anti Israel. Words that can only instill hatred into his flock.

How can Senator Obama still refuse to repudiate his relationship with a hateful man like this no matter how humanitarian he has been to his own people? Has not Hamas and Hezbollah been humanitarian to their own people? Will a President Obama feel the same kind of understanding and sympathize with their plight? Will he point to all the good they have done for their own people in their defense?

Even with all the eloquence of his speech these questions remain unanswered. As it concerns the State of Israel, what will he do when he becomes President? Who will his advisers be? How will they advise him? Will the black experience translate into the Palestinian experience? Will he sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians without any context or history?

We know next to nothing about Senator Obama’s Middle East policies. We can ill afford to tip the balance of support Israel has now. I expect a more ‘even handed’ policy form an Obama administration and that could spell disaster for the Jewish State. It could forcing them into an extorted peace deal that would give an upper hand to Israel’s enemies who still out number them by a factor of 40 to one if I understand correctly. They are still surrounded by enemies. Only now they are more rabid and even now are more capable of inflicting death and injury.

So with all the power of his speech yesterday... with all the poignant comments he made about the state racism in America... and the need to confront America’s past, deal with its present, and heal its future - I remain with serious question about this man.. We as Americans and as Jews who care deeply about our brothers in Israel cannot ignore Senator Obama’s friends, no matter how rationally and eloquently he explains them.