I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Email from correspondent re: Goldberg interview

Obama didn't mouth all of the mandated pro-Israel lines. I don't think you're appreciating the nuances here. He talked about his fondness of David Grossman, and particularly, his book "The Yellow Wind." Grossman is a man of the Left in Israel and The Yellow Wind was one of the most controversial books in Israeli history, as it was among the first books from a major author to truly uncover and criticize the occupation. This is 1986, right before or during the first intifada. It's actually shocking to me that Obama even knows about the book, let alone read and liked it. Grossman is not a name you hear invoked at an AIPAC conference.

Later in the interview, Obama criticized settlements. Saying that he doesn't agree with every action of the Israeli government shouldn't be a big deal (as you point out), but it is somewhat, and he chose to say it when he didn't have to. He praised the historical Jewish commitment to justice and the moral inventory that is taken by so many in Israel, defining these traits as fundamentally Jewish. That is code -- in Jewland -- for being critical of Israeli settlement policy and the injustice of the occupation. And in saying what he said, he's giving expression to the notion that being pro-Israel doesn't mean being a Likudnik. It's taking something ancient and giving it new meaning in today's context in order to break the rotting deadlock. He does that with the issue of race too.

Calling Hamas' perception that he is more open of a guy because he's lived in teh Muslim world "perfectly legitimate" is not exactly AIPAC talk. Neither is expressing sympathy for the Palestinian plight. Calling the conflict a "constant wound" and "constant sore" is not AIPAC talk. Neither is predicting that tensions will arise between him and the Israel hawks because he won't "blindly adhere" to the politically safe Israel hawk positions isn't AIPAC talk. Quite the opposite: he's sending them a message.

At the same time, he struck all the right notes that demonstrate that he cares and understands the plight of Israelis. That will make it much easier to swallow once he inevitably (as he promised, in fact) takes an anti-hawk position on something that comes up in that forum. Goldberg was eliciting that when he asked "questions" like this one: "You've talked about the role of Jews in the development of your thinking" -- end quote. It was an exercise in building trust in Obama for the Zionist crowd.

Both the Jews and Arabs (and I guess all countries and peoples) are the same way in this respect. Both peoples want their arm-twisting interlocutor/mediator to care about and understand their plight. It makes it much easier to negotiate that way. People are willing to trust more. And Obama, being a really smart politician (the best I've ever seen), knows exactly what to say.