Obama suggests bullying campaign by pro-Israel lobby in new memoir

Obama suggests bullying campaign by pro-Israel lobby in new memoir
In his new book, Obama reveals that he was "on the receiving end" of a "whisper campaign" that portrayed him as "insufficiently supportive - or even hostile toward - Israel".
3 min read
15 November, 2020
A copy of the upcoming memoir was given to Jewish Insider [Getty]
Former US President Barack Obama has bemoaned the treatment he received during his 2008 presidential campaign and time in office at the hands of Washington's pro-Israel lobby, empowered by Israel's shift to the right, in the first volume of his new political memoir.

In his book, A Promised Land, Obama writes how lawmakers and candidates who "criticized Israel policy too loudly risked being tagged as 'anti-Israeli' (and possibly anti-Semitic)" by leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

He describes that during his 2008 presidential run he found himself "on the receiving end" of a "whisper campaign", one that portrayed him as "insufficiently supportive – or even hostile toward – Israel".

Despite winning over two-thirds of America's Jewish vote the former commander-in-chief that "as far as AIPAC board members were concerned, I remained suspect, a man of divided loyalties; someone whose support for Israel, as one of [David Axelrod’s] friends colourfully put it, wasn't 'felt in his kishkes' – 'guts', in Yiddish."

Attacks against him by a newly emboldened Israeli right had less to do with his policy views and more to do with being "a Black man with a Muslim name who lived in the same neighborhood as Louis Farrakhan", his 2008 campaign speechwriter and former deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes told him, Obama writes.

Obama also discusses fears rampant among Democrat members of congress that promoting Palestinian statehood would cost them support from AIPAC's key backers and donors and jeopardise their re-election chances.

The book, a copy of which was given to Jewish Insider prior to its Tuesday launch, includes a subdued indictment of incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose "vision of himself against calamity" allowed him, the former president writes, to "justify almost anything that would keep him in power".

Read also: Obama: 'Americans spooked by black man in White House' led to Trump presidency

At the same time, Obama also describes him as a "smart, canny, tough and a gifted communicator", albeit one who could be "charming, or at least solicitous" when he chose to be.

Obama recounts meeting Netanyahu in a Chicago airport lounge shortly before being elected to the senate in 2005, with the latter "lavishing praise" on him for co-sponsoring "an inconsequential pro-Israel bill" amendment to the Illinois Pension Code, which allowed the state of Illinois to lend money to the Israeli government.

Yet during his time in the oval office, which coincided with Netanyahu's second term, Obama's demand for Israel to freeze settlements in the West Bank was met with a "sharply negative" response from Netanyahu's administration.

In a testament to the scale of the Israeli's leader influence in Washington, Obama writes: "The White House phones started ringing off the hook." His national security team were inundated by calls from lawmakers, Jewish leaders and reporters "wondering why we were picking on Israel".

The book also addresses the media uproar which surrounded an episode in which Obama allegedly "snubbed" Netanyahu by walking out of a meeting during the annual 2010 AIPAC policy conference.

He says he had suggested to Netanyahu that he wanted to "pause" the meeting and reconvene due to a previously schedule commitment, and that the latter did oblige.

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