The Far Right’s Truth Problem

Newsweek has a piece in its current issue about Obama titled “His Jewish ‘Problem’: A Myth?” Mark Hemingway calls it “an absolutely Herculean feat of water-carrying for the Illinois senator,” and at The Corner he accuses Newsweek of “facilitat[ing] the Obama campaign’s slandering of Joe Lieberman.”

Here is the article in its entirety (it’s three paragraphs):

Barack Obama received a standing ovation when he proclaimed his unwavering support for Israel to the influential lobbying group AIPAC last week. In her own AIPAC speech, Hillary Clinton said she was sure “that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel.” But Clinton’s reassuring words didn’t soothe the wounded feelings of some prominent Jewish Obama supporters, who charge that Clinton campaign operatives manufactured fear about Obama’s ethnic background and doubt about his loyalty to Israel in an effort to turn Jewish primary voters against him.

Obama has long had a strong core of liberal Jewish supporters in Chicago; his national Jewish support grew as his campaign surged. But so did rumors that he had a “problem” with Jewish voters because of his family background (middle name: Hussein) and that some of his aides held pro-Palestinian views. David Geffen, the Hollywood mogul who once backed the Clintons but turned to Obama, told NEWSWEEK that her campaign bears some responsibility for “an awful lot of disinformation” that sowed doubts about the candidate’s support of Israel among “older Jewish voters in Florida.” New Jersey Rep. Robert Andrews, an Obama backer, says that two months ago a top Hillary campaign operative told him Obama would have a “hard time winning in November” because of his alleged Jewish problem and indicated Clinton’s campaign was going to take advantage of those fears. Andrews says he found such talk “offensive,” but he didn’t know whether Hillary had sanctioned it. Asked for comment, the Clinton campaign referred NEWSWEEK to an article in the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger, in which spokesman Phil Singer called similar comments by Andrews “sad and divisive.”

Obama has trailed Clinton among Jewish voters in polling matchups against John McCain (though both beat him soundly). But Obama has many high-profile Jewish fund-raisers, and aides claim his support among Jews will equal or surpass John Kerry’s 75 percent in 2004. McCain has enlisted high-profile help of his own to help win Jewish votes: Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a self-described “independent Democrat” who has criticized Obama’s leadership qualities, has agreed to head up a booster group called Citizens for McCain. In a brief but animated Senate floor confrontation last week, according to a campaign aide who asked for anonymity when talking about private discussions, Obama told Lieberman he was surprised by Lieberman’s personal attacks and his half-hearted denials of the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim. (The aide says Lieberman was “strangely muted” during the exchange; a Lieberman spokesman says the chat was “private and friendly.”) McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker says Lieberman “played a key role in reaching out to the Jewish community in the primary … and you can expect that will continue.”

So where is the water-carrying and slander-facilitating in this?

From The Corner: “The Obama campaign accuses Lieberman of ‘half-hearted denials of the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim,’ an accusation which is demonstrably not true, and Newsweek printed without bothering to ask Lieberman about it.”

No, actually, it is demonstrably true. Here is how Lieberman responded to a reporter’s question about the Obama-is-a-Muslim rumors, as recounted by Mark Hemingway himself, in his NRO piece:

But in case you’re wondering where Lieberman stands on the Is-Obama-a-Muslim? charge, he’s been pretty clear. Take this February item from The New York Observer:

Joe Lieberman, who made history as the first Jewish candidate on a major presidential ticket in 2000, said he once was confronted the storyline about Barack Obama being Muslim and not a strong supporter of Israel.

“I’ve heard about it,” Lieberman told me just now in a telephone interview.

“The one time that I confronted it, I was campaigning in Florida for Senator McCain. I spoke to a large group and a man stood up and asked me about it, or he referenced it. And I said, of course, that I know Senator Obama pretty well. Obviously one’s religion is a matter of choice. Everything I knew said he was Christian. So, I don’t know how widespread it is but that’s the one time I confronted it. And of course the most important thing is that Senator Obama said it’s just not true.”

That is the very model of a half-hearted denial. It’s exactly the same trick of denying the rumor while subtly insinuating the rumor may be true that Hillary Clinton pulled on 60 Minutes.

Here is a strong denial: “I’ve heard those rumors and they are absolutely false. Sen. Obama is Christian, not Muslim. That’s just a fact.”

Here is a half-hearted denial: “I’ve heard those rumors. I know Sen. Obama pretty well. Obviously one’s religion is a matter of choice. Everything I knew said he was Christian. And of course the most important thing is that Senator Obama said it’s just not true.”

Get the difference?

From National Review Online: “That is a surprising disclosure to read, because almost as a rule political aides don’t go walking around leaking the contents of private conversations between senators on the Senate floor to the press.

Also almost as a rule, lifelong Democrats who become “independent Democrats” (so they can run for office in the general election even though they have lost in their state’s primary) do not accept prestigious committee assignments that are only available to them because they are caucusing with the Democrats, who are the majority in Congress — and then, after agreeing to caucus with the Democrats and after accepting those juicy committee assignments, endorse and throw all of their support behind the Republican candidate for president, and then publicly attack the foreign policy platform of the presumptive leader of the party they are caucusing with, which enabled them to get those choice committee assignments.

“The confrontation on the Senate floor came just after Obama’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, during which he completely reversed course and said that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ought to be a [sic] designated a terrorist organization.”

So writes Mark in his NRO piece, referring to Sen. Obama’s opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which formally defined the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a “foreign terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” and directed that the United States should “place the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists , as established under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and initiated under Executive Order 13224. …”

Obama does say, in the AIPAC speech, that Iran’s “Quds force has rightly been labeled a terrorist organization.” However, he does not reverse himself on his opposition to a Senate resolution that formally designated the Quds force as a terrorist organization under U.S. and international law, which is what the Kyl-Lieberman amendment did. Saying in a speech that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is a terrorist organization, and passing a Senate resolution directing that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard be added to an official U.S. list of entities defined as terrorist organizations under U.S. and international law are two entirely different things.

Mark continues on to two of the far right’s favorite tactics: conflation and guilt by association:

… more rumors from Newsweek:

Obama has long had a strong core of liberal Jewish supporters in Chicago; his national Jewish support grew as his campaign surged. But so did rumors that he had a “problem” with Jewish voters because of his family background (middle name: Hussein) and that some of his aides held pro-Palestinian views.

Here, again, facts would be helpful. Obama’s chief military adviser and campaign co-chairman Gen. Merrill “Tony” McPeak in a 2003 interview with the Oregonian, on what’s holding back the peace process:

New York City. Miami. We have a large vote . . . here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it.

That doesn’t sound terribly pro-Israel — accusing American Jews of putting their loyalty to Israel above that of their own country.

The rumors, in other words, are true.

And McPeak is just the tip of the iceberg. Anti-Israel sentiments are all around Obama (Zbigniew Brzezinski, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, Robert Malley, Joseph Cirincione …). Nevermind that his pastor of 20 years has an affection for Louis “Judaism-is-a-gutter-religion” Farrakhan…

Deep breath, once again, for the bazillionth time:

  • “Pro-Israel” and “anti-Israel,” like “pro-American” and “anti-American,” are reflexive terms that do not convey substantive meaning and — although we all use terms like these from time to time, because it’s so easy to do so — are very much overused by mentally lazy people who care more about advancing a particular ideological viewpoint than they do about meaningful communication.
  • Acknowledging reality — in this case, that U.S. policy toward Israel is, and has been for decades, uncritically supportive, that successive U.S. administrations have given Israel billions of dollars in military aid with no strings attached, and that no one can become president in this country without gaining the favor of Washington lobbyists whose job it is to promote official Israeli military and government policies — does not equate to hostility toward the state of Israel, or opposition to the truth that Israel has a right to exist, and a right to defend that existence.
  • Suggesting that Barack Obama “has a Jewish problem” because his former pastor has expressed friendly sentiments toward Louis Farrakhan is guilt by association, and guilt by association is intellectually dishonest and ethically barren. For that matter, suggesting that Obama’s former pastor is anti-Semitic because Louis Farrakhan is anti-Semitic is guilt by association, and extending that false equation to Sen. Obama is just adding one more layer to this McCarthyist tactic.
  • When a (former) candidate for president wins the Jewish vote by 24% in a state with “one of the highest concentrations of Jewish voters of any state” by using illegitimate, deceptive or downright untruthful talking points (“Obama’s endorsement by Hamas, his relationship with Reverend Wright and his willingness to have tea with Ahmadinejad …” e.g.), it’s extremely disingenuous to tout that win as “proof” that the losing candidate “has a Jewish problem,” when the truth is that the former candidate used illegitimate, deceptive, and downright untruthful talking points to create the perception that her opponent “has a Jewish problem.”

The reality is that the far right has a truth problem.

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