Barack Obama on Israel’s Siege of Gaza

"No comment."

As President-Elect Barack Obama vacationed in Hawaii on December 26, stopping off to watch a dolphin show with his family at Sea Life Park, an Israeli air raid besieged the impoverished Gaza Strip, killing at least 285 people and injuring over 800 more.

It was the single deadliest attack on Gaza in over 20 years and Obama’s initial reaction on what could be his first real test as president was “no comment”. Meanwhile, Israel has readied itself for a land invasion, amassing tanks along the border and calling up 6,500 reserve troops.

On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Obama’s Senior Adviser David Axelrod explained to guest host Chip Reid how an Obama administration would handle the situation, even if it turns for the worst.

“Well, certainly, the president-elect recognizes the special relationship between United States and Israel. It’s an important bond, an important relationship. He’s going to honor it … And obviously, this situation has become even more complicated in the last couple of days and weeks. As Hamas began its shelling, Israel responded. But it’s something that he’s committed to.”

Reiterating the rationale that Israel’s bombing of Gaza was an act of retaliation and not of aggression, Axelrod, on behalf of the Obama administration, continued to spread the same misinformation as President Bush: that Hamas was the first to break the ceasefire agreement, which ended over a week ago, and Israel was simply responding judiciously.

Aside from the fact that Israel’s response was anything but judicious, the idea that it was Hamas who broke the six-month truce is a complete fabrication.

On the night of the U.S. election, Israel fired missiles on Gaza that were aimed at closing down a tunnel operation they believed Hamas was building in order to kidnap Israeli soldiers. The carnage left in the wake of Israel’s bombing of Gaza over the past six weeks has killed dozens of Palestinians.

“The escalation towards war could, and should, have been avoided. It was the State of Israel which broke the truce, in the ‘ticking tunnel’ raid … two months ago,” the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom wrote in a press release. “Since then, the army went on stoking the fires of escalation with calculated raids and killings, whenever the shooting of missiles on Israel decreased.”

Over the last seven years only 17 Israeli citizens have been killed by Palestinian rocket fire, which makes it extremely difficult for Israeli politicians, which are in the midst of an election, to argue that their response has been proportionate or defensible in any way.

The asymmetry of the conflict leaves an opening for harsh criticism from soon-to-be president Barack Obama. He has every right to oppose Israel’s belligerence. The international community and public opinion are on his side. Certainly he knows Israel’s disproportionate response has inflicted pain on Palestinians beyond what the blockade has done by keeping vital medical and other supplies from reaching Gaza, where hundreds have died as a result of inadequate medical treatment.

While bombs fall on a suffocating Palestinian population and Israeli forces prepare for a ground invasion, Obama is monitoring the situation from afar after a talk with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials. This isn’t leadership; it’s a continuation of a policy that has left Palestinians with little recourse, let alone hope for lasting peace.

“The president-elect was in Sderot last July, in southern Israel, a town that’s taken the brunt of the Hamas attacks,” David Axelrod told Chip Reid on Face the Nation. “And he said then that, when bombs are raining down on your citizens, there is an urge to respond and act and try and put an end to that. So, you know, that’s what he said then, and I think that’s what he believes.”

If Axelrod is correct, and Barack Obama does indeed support the bloodshed inflicted upon innocent Palestinians by the Israeli military, there should be no celebrating during Inauguration Day 2009, only mass protest of a Middle East foreign policy that must change in order to begin a legitimate peace process in the region.

Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in June 2008. Check out the Red State Rebels site. Read other articles by Joshua.

20 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Max Shields said on December 29th, 2008 at 9:10am #

    Wasn’t that George Bush’s comment about New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina? Sounds like we’ve got more of the same with Obama.

    This is the “new pragmaticism”. Noted it, it has nothing to do with morality or humanity.

  2. Tree said on December 29th, 2008 at 9:18am #

    In an interview with Ma’ariv, Emanuel’s father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, said he was convinced that his son’s appointment would be good for Israel. “Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel,” he was quoted as saying. “Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”

    The Ma’ariv article also quoted Dr. Emanuel as saying that his son spends most summers visiting in Tel Aviv, and that he speaks Hebrew, but not fluently.

    Anyone who thinks Obama is a Dove or someone who will stand up to Israel, is fooling themselves.

  3. The Angry Peasant said on December 29th, 2008 at 10:23am #

    Reprehensible! The fact that the U.S. government continues to support and cover up the Israeli atrocity couldn’t be more insulting. If one requires no other example of the United States’ shameless willingness to lie to its own people, this is it. The public has been kept in the dark about the Gaza ghetto situation, not to mention who the actual aggressors are. I sincerely hope that Obama’s inauguration is met with the same mass protesting that Bush’s was. Perhaps that will give the sheep-like American public their first clue that this is no hero they so proudly elected.

  4. Michael Hureaux said on December 29th, 2008 at 11:04am #

    Nicely put, Josh. The point is that no one has more political capital in this world then Barack Obama, and if he won’t use it now, he can’t be expected to ever. Obama, were he really what his most fervid believers claimed he is during the election, could split the ruling elite in two, and let the war speculators and rabid national security state groupies eat themselves alive over this question, and he’d have the world’s support in doing so. He’s a bigger coward then I thought he was.

  5. Max Shields said on December 29th, 2008 at 11:42am #

    Michael, Obama is all coward when dealing with the power structure, except…when he chides African Americans, then he’s a big man.

  6. bozh said on December 29th, 2008 at 12:52pm #

    when i read that isr was withdrawing from gaza, i thought why?
    i expected more warfare against gaza as isr cld invade and reinvade using the usual lies as pretext to be bestial towards pals.
    i actually remember saying this to a person who was not sympathetic to pals.
    and my prediction turned out be correct. thanx

  7. catintheredhat said on December 29th, 2008 at 4:45pm #

    Can anyone source some factfinding on the early stages of the conflict? There have been some conflicting accounts given about the breaking of the ceasefire.

  8. Deadbeat said on December 29th, 2008 at 11:40pm #

    Zionism is Obama’s Achilles Heal. His fealty to Zionism is obvious and it makes obvious the influence that Zionism has over the entire U.S. political economy. Zionism will be the downfall of Barack Obama and his impending administration.

  9. mary said on December 30th, 2008 at 12:53am #

    I wonder what Barack Obama will have to say when he hears that a fellow black American, Cynthia McKinney, is on a boat with others bearing supplies and aid for Gaza. In the night the boat was fired on and rammed causing damage to the superstructure but no one is injured. The Israelis will not allow the boat to land at Gaza with its 3 tons of supplies to help the suffering and injured Palestinians but have ordered it to Lebanon. This news is sketchy as I cannot make contact with my brother David Halpin who is also on the boat.

    The Palestinians should not feel that they are alone.

  10. mary said on December 30th, 2008 at 12:55am #

    PS Do not waste your time or money phoning Mr Regev or the Israeli Ministry of Defence (War). They will probably put the phone down on you as they did to me.

  11. DavidG. said on December 30th, 2008 at 2:17am #

    Mary, Regev is a mouthpiece, much like the ones at the White House. Like parrots, they repeat their rehearsed lines and, like parrots, they don’t understand what they are saying or care how far from the truth it is!

  12. Tim said on December 30th, 2008 at 2:43am #

    Max says:
    “This is the “new pragmaticism”. Noted it, it has nothing to do with morality or humanity.”

    You’re completely right. Obama’s stance is only ‘pragmatic’ in the sense that it it ‘works’ by not ruffling the feathers of power. And you’re totally fucking right. The next prez’s stance on this (along with countless other positions he has taken) has nothing at all to do with ‘morality or humanity’. Conservation of imperial power is the name of the (great) game and Barack Obama wants to win. He has shown that what he valuse most is power. The power of capital. The power of Empire. The power of dominant media praise. It sucks. But, not only does it suck, but it is a kick to the face of a huge portion of his supporters who expect him to do something about these things.

  13. Max Shields said on December 30th, 2008 at 7:32am #

    Pragmaticism provides what has been referred to as a Realpolik in foreign affairs – Kissinger, et al. Nixon was frequently referred to as a pragmatist. It is as you say, Tim, an approach to a situation or condition.

    It is passion/compassionless; i.e., cold blood. It is a means to an end. and you are absolutely right, Obama’s end is framed by the power structure.

    Mary, I receive Cynthia’s updates and she is the only courageous person of any color or gender I see on the horizon.

    Deadbeat, I think Obama’s Achilles Heal is the power structure (Zionism is but one very ugly faction of that). At bottom, Obama is a spineless pol who will chastise African Americans but will be singing kumbaya with the pastor Rick and the neocons/liberals.

  14. Deadbeat said on December 30th, 2008 at 8:28am #

    At bottom, Obama is a spineless pol who will chastise African Americans but will be singing kumbaya with the pastor Rick and the neocons/liberals.

    The chastisement of African American by Obama is due to the fear that the “power structure” has of politics and ideas within oppressed communities. However not to harp on the matter but Zionism does not play well within the African American community. This IMO is a way to create the very needed wedge to weaken his support among communities of color.

    Obama received 95% of the Black vote and nearly 80% of the Latino vote. This is clearly problematic for the Left and the Left needs to highlight Obama fealty to Zionism (or “imperialism” if you like but I believe that obscures the issue). Recall that Obama had to jettison Rev. Wright due to his defense of Louis Farrakhan’s stance against Zionism. This is not to suggest that the Left “embrace” Farrakhan but what it does suggest is that the Left’s solidarity with the African American who has raised this issue in the past and suffered the reaction by the establishment for having confronted Zionism. Cynthia McKinney has been one of its more recent victims others like Gus Savage in the 1980’s was also one of its earlier victims.

    Max, I wouldn’t necessarily describe Obama as “spineless”. Obama has a spine and his using his spine to stand up for the establishment. “Spineless” IMO is the African American “leadership” who has corralled Blacks into the Democratic Party and convinced Blacks that there is no alternative. Unfortunately the Left has helped by its failure to coalesce around an alternative and for the Left’s collapsing of the anti-war movement especially since Blacks demographically was very early against both the Afghan and Iraq Wars.

    Zionism IMO is Obama “Achillies” because he cannot back down (and neither can the political establishment for that matter) from its wholehearted support for Israel. For an African American to take this position is obvious pandering and IMO will clearly disillusion his support among people of color.

    This is where people of principle like Cynthia McKinney can make gains. Contrasting her bravery against Obama pandering will IMO weaken his support.

  15. mary said on December 30th, 2008 at 9:20am #

    I don’t wish to dominate the comments on Joshua Frank’s excellent article but just to say that today the DIGNITY (66ft length) limped along the coast to Tyre in the Lebanon where it is now docked. Quite badly damaged by the looks of it. My brother tells us that in the darkness 11 (I think he said 11 but it was a bad line) gunships/patrol boats surrounded the boat and played their searchlights on it. After a while they went away and the boat continued on its way. Suddenly when most on board were asleep and most of them were not wearing life jackets (perhaps they should have been) they were rammed more than once. This is in breach of all maritime law and the boat was in International Waters. Reports of its distance from shore range from 70 to 90 Kms.

    All on board including Cynthia McKenny are certainly brave and courageous people whereas the Israeli gansters-in-charge are just cruel bullies. The doctors on the voyage went specifically to help with the care of the many patients especially those with fractures. The Palestinian doctors are exhausted and need urgent supplies.

    Meanwhile the Israeli army consisting of thousands of troops and reservists, and tanks and guns are building up on the border ‘waiting for the signal’. More slaughter? More blood trickling into the dust and sand?

    Please PROTEST at every level. We are holding a large protest on Saturday in Parliament Square and there are ongoing protests outside the Israeli Embassy every day . Mounted police were brought in yesterday! The anger is growing and governments had better take some action and stop using weasel words such as ‘restraint’ . This barbarity must stop immediately and a fair political decision found.

  16. Max Shields said on December 30th, 2008 at 9:36am #


    I think you’re missing the point. What percentage did B. Clinton get of Black and Latino votes? or Gore? or Kerry?

    The overwhelming number of minority votes go to the Dem candidates regardless of the candidates the Dems have put up. Some African Americans went so far as to call B. Clinton the “first black president.!!! Go figure. Nothing new there. It’s problematic because the media controls the limits of the conversation and most voters regardless of color or gender remain relatively ignorant of the broader issues. That’s the real problem.

    I think the “baseless” (imo) expectations brought about because of the mythology of Obama will be a BIG problem for Obama in some ways. How he’ll keep those expectations under “control”…I see riots in the streets and the spineless one using whatever card to shut it down. Pure speculation…but rising expectations usually lead to frustration and that usually leads to high volage riots.

    We’ll see.

  17. Shabnam said on December 30th, 2008 at 9:38am #


    Thank you very much for your information. We appreciate it.

  18. Max Shields said on December 30th, 2008 at 9:38am #

    DB, I agree with your analysis on Cynthia McKinney.

  19. Michael Hureaux said on December 30th, 2008 at 10:59am #

    The attacks on the Dignity are reprehensible, and the silence – compared to the media hype that greeted the “pirating” of an oil tanker a few weeks ago- even more so. I don’t want to seem unphased by the crime, but as anyone who’s ever been associated with Lucius Walker’s assistance brigades to Cuba can tell you, these bloody bastards
    aren’t above any level of criminality when it comes to defending what they perceive to be their turf. Zionism is their favorite “get out of jail free”‘ card, so it only stands to reason that they’ll work that one with everything they have.

    I think it’s important to honor Cynthia McKinney’s courage also. By the same token, it’s important to understand why most of her support comes from white progressives, and to generate support for the politics she represents from a less abstract perspective. To be perfectly honest, I still don’t see much evidence of engagement with black community activists on much more than a theoretical level, i.e., a level of engagement that doesn’t move much beyond self-confirmation.

    I see a lot of speculation about the political behavior of black’s here, but most of it displays a lack of engagement or struggle with black politics on the terms the black community (to borrow a useful but exhausted generalization) frames for itself. A recent comment about
    a needed”complete” analysis of the last 30 years of black struggle underscores my point. There are only analyses that are more complete or less complete, but there are none that are complete, given the regional variables of black experience in a country this large.

    I hope you understand that I’m not charging racism here.
    Part of the problem I’m talking about stems from the fact that, aside from the labor movement, there really aren’t many political venues where whites and other activists of color meet on an ongoing basis. Community politics by itself, for instance, is fragmented because of the levels of gentrification capital has imposed on cities and towns
    across the last thirty years. Many white people I worked with on urban
    education issues in Seattle, exhausted by the vigilance of the institutionalized racism of capital reflected in the public sector, have since moved on to education privatization theories and have been co-opted thereby. But the defense of the public sector, heavily unionized in the education profession, has always been one of the most informed and integrated dialogues between whites and people of color! The growing loss of this venue is a tremendous setback for the democratic opposition, and many “progressive” anti-union people do not see this.

    The problem is that if we do not defend every public venue, even at its most rudimentary level, there will never be real engagement between whites and black people, or any people of color, as to the importance of developing a mass support for a McKinney or a Nader candidacy. As horrid as the emergence of Obama is, there will be some small defense of the public sector, which is again, one of the only arenas where progressive whites and progressive people of color will meet on an ongoing basis. And yes, it’s important for us to hold our ground, and not be tailing the more reactionary elements among our ranks during election seasons, as Max Shields reminded me a few days ago. By the same token, it is important to engage with the labor and community organizations we have who uphold and defend the unionized
    public sector, as that is the real basis from which we will draw any racially integral progressive resistance in the future.

  20. icon said on January 5th, 2009 at 5:47pm #

    Hello friends. Read this if you have time. It is a thorough analysis of the socio-political scene around the continuing systemic and elites’ crimes, part of which is the Israeli attack in Gaza: