Like all Arab Americans, I was disturbed when Barack Obama selected U.S. Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate.
Biden's appointment was clearly intended as a signal to put Jewish American and pro-Israel voters at ease. It was designed to counter the concerns raised by the hatemongering campaign against Obama by fanatics like Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity, Daniel Pipes and others who asserted that the Democratic candidate was "a Muslim" and a "friend of Palestinians."
The fact is that Obama does have an experience with Islam and the Islamic world that no other presidential candidate can claim. His middle name is "Hussein," a popular Arab name, and he did make friends with many Palestinian and Arab activists in the Chicago area.
The bottom line is this: You can change a person's politics but you cannot change what is inside their heart. Obama's heart is one of fairness, justice and understanding. That he must surround himself with high-profile and controversial pro-Israel champions is not a real concern.
Obama comes from a life experience that gives him special insight into the Arab and Islamic World that few other American politicians enjoy. Possibly, Obama might be even more objective and balanced than even those few of Arab heritage or the two Muslims (Keither Ellison and Andre Caron)who now hold national elective office.
He is not going to become a war-mongering extremist as is his predecessor George W. Bush. And, none of his appointments, not even Biden who declares himself a "Zionist," can ever come close to the fanaticism and anti-Arab hate embraced by Bush's cabinet of Israel-philes.
Biden is no Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board that helped to disguised the Bush administration's strategy to invade Iraq as a false campaign to defeat terrorism. The invasion was little more than a strategy to bolster Halliburton and undermine the Arab World's stand against Israel's brutal occupation.
David Axelrod, Obama's chief political strategist, is not Ari Fleischer, the former White House spokesman who was so pro-Israel many believed he held Israeli citizenship. Fleischer helped craft the messages that demonized the Arab World and made the invasion of Iraq more palatable to Middle East history naïve Americans.
And Rahm Emanuel, who is now Obama's chief of staff and served as a "volunteer" for the Israeli military when he was younger, is no Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary and foreign policy adviser to Donald Rumsfeld with close ties to the Israeli military. Wolfowitz helped design a pro-American dictatorship in Iraq that was harsher than Saddam Hussein's.
The real difference is the Obama team is far more moderate and supportive of a negotiated peace accord, while Bush's pro-Israel contingent were right-wing fanatics who viewed peace talks as a tactic that effectively delayed peace and gave Israel the excuse to exploit the status quo.
Obama might be insulating himself from those who will accuse him of sabotaging Israel when the time comes to press Israel to move towards true compromise -- surrendering occupied West Bank land and sharing Jerusalem in exchange for genuine peace.
Obama and his team of pro-Israel advisers -- every American president must support Israel in order to win election in this country -- recognize Middle East peace is not only a moral imperative, it is fundamental to helping the United States recover from its economic depression.
This country cannot continue to finance Israel's extremist policies, bribe key Arab countries with foreign aid, or bankroll the failed war in Iraq.
One wild card in all this is the Israeli elections. Will Israelis chose the moderate Tzipi Livni or the extremist Benjamin Netanyahu as their new prime minister soon? That more than anything will determine the outcome of Middle East peace. If it is Livni, Obama's new team can work towards peace. If it is Netanyahu, then peace will be shelved for long-term conflict and much headaches for Obama, Americans and the Middle East.
There is another important distinction between Obama and his team of pro-Israel advisers and Bush and his team of pro-Israel ideologues. Most of the rest of the world, including the entire Islamic and Arab Worlds, admire and respect Obama as a man of principle and genuine compassion. They are willing to work with him because they believe in him. No one believed in President Bush and that made it easier for the extremists to take control.
If Barack Obama wants to nudge Israel back to serious negotiations with the Palestinians, he would not surround himself with pro-Palestinian advisers. That would make it impossible for him to pursue a genuine and just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
Instead, he would be surrounded by true champions of Israel who are also far more moderate than their Bush predecessors. In doing so, Obama can go further than any other prior American administration in forcing both sides -- not just the Palestinians -- to make the tough choices and take the real risks for peace.
A genuine, fair and just peace that benefits the Palestinians is not just good for the Palestinians, it is good for the Israelis, too.
Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com and by email at email@example.com.
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