Obama failed to deliver on promises to Arabs, Muslims

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Obama failed to deliver on promises to Arabs, Muslims

When it comes to the issues of peace, justice and human rights in the Middle East, President Barack Obama is an enigma. No other president has promised more to Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians and achieved so little. It’s an important lesson for Arabs in American politics. It’s not what it claims to be.
I’m not just talking about any president. I’ve covered American politics for more than 40 years. Obama has had more personal and professional exposure to the rights of Arabs and Palestinians than any other successful American politician.
Obama matured in close proximity to prominent Arab and Palestinian activists in Chicago, which has one of the country’s largest Palestinian populations. Nearly one-third of Americans believe Obama is a “Muslim.”
As a result, none of Obama’s friends or foes was really surprised by his June 4, 2009 “Cairo Speech,” a benchmark in any analysis of his record on the Middle East that he defined. Obama conceded he would not “impose peace,” but the remark was overshadowed by all he said he would do. In addition to reinforcing American respect for Islam and the Arab world during the speech, Obama championed the right of Palestinians to statehood. He promised a “new beginning.”
Obama denounced illegal Jewish-only settlements, lands stolen from Christians and Muslims. He forcefully declared, “It’s time for these settlements to stop.” Obama spoke passionately about the suffering of the Palestinians, calling that suffering “intolerable,” and noted that he would soon visit the Buchenwald Nazi death camp. He didn’t make an equivalency, but the fact he referenced both in the same moment reinforced Palestinians’ sense of justice.
He called for an end to the devastating humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip caused by Israel’s ironclad military embargo.
Obama affirmed support for “two-state (solution),” emphasizing, “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” He admonished Israelis must recognize the right of Palestine to exist. Yet since then, the “Muslim” President with Palestinian community activism in his blood, has failed on every level except in his passionate rhetoric. It was under his watch that an American was killed by Israeli soldiers during the May 31, 2010 Israeli assault on the MV Mavi Marmara, one of six civilian ships seeking to break Israel’s oppressive blockade. A lot of it had to do with Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who denounced anti-Israel activists but remained silent on the Palestinian suffering under the embargo.
Obama’s first veto in the United Nations was in February 2011 against a resolution supported by all other members of the UN Security Council that condemned Israel’s illegal settlements. He blocked listing the Christian Church of the Nativity as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and undermined every Palestinian political move to expose Israel’s hypocrisies.
Rather than ending Israel’s Gaza blockade, Obama allowed it to worsen. First in November 2012, again Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported Israel’s assault against targets in the Gaza Strip and blocked efforts to force Israel to withdraw. In July 2014, Israel re-invaded Gaza massacring thousands of civilians including hundreds of children, and destroyed tens of thousands of civilian homes. Obama responded urging Israeli restraint while providing military support. Obama never held Israel accountable for using American military weapons and chemical weapons against Palestinian civilian targets. Clinton, the ex-Secretary of State in 2014, said you “can’t discount anti-Semitism” in criticism of Israel’s attack on Gaza. Why did Arabs and Palestinians expect so much?
Obama immersed himself in Palestinian American social circles as a Black activist for freedom and justice in Chicago. He took a class under renowned Palestinian academic Edward Said while at Columbia University, and later attended several of Said’s speeches in Chicago. This activism was under the media radar screen occurring before he entered national politics. The mainstream news media doesn’t cover American Arabs as a positive community story (only as a negative story) so none of Obama’s early inspiring promises were recorded. But his support of Palestinian rights was inspiring then as they were during his Cairo speech.
Obama was sensitive to Arab, Muslim and Palestinian civil rights pleas. His father was born a Muslim but later converted to Anglicanism and eventually became an Atheist. Valerie Jarrett, a key adviser and friend, was born in Iran. Syrian businessman Tony Rezko, a pro-Palestinian activist in Chicago, was a key Obama fundraiser and early political adviser.
Yet, like many Americans sympathetic to Arab and Palestinian causes who enter politics, he quickly found his sense of justice and politics in conflict.
So much of Obama’s involvement with American Arabs in Chicago has gone undocumented because the mainstream media doesn’t cover the American Arab community. Although Obama can use his powers as president to achieve some promises, he hasn’t. But he has expanded protection to American “Muslims” — 78 percent of American Muslims are non-Arab and outside of the Arab-Israeli political conflict. Even if he wanted to help Palestinians, the impediments standing in his way are powerful.
American journalism is in the grip of a powerful Israeli headlock that feeds racist stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims. Most members of Congress are in the back pocket of Israel’s lobby. In contrast, he can expect no support from American Arabs who are politically dysfunctional, divided by self-imposed internal conflicts they brought with them from the Middle East. Arabs live in America physically, but mentally they are “back home,” weakening their political empowerment. Despite all this, Obama will tell you he is our friend. But given Obama’s record, with friends like him, who needs enemies?

• Ray Hanania is a former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]
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