Monday, January 05, 2009

Obama is losing a battle he doesn't know he's in.

I understand Obama's line that the US has only one president at a time and that this explains his reluctance to speak out as Israeli forces enter the Gaza Strip, but this silence is now starting to hurt him.

But evidence is mounting that Obama is already losing ground among key Arab and Muslim audiences that cannot understand why, given his promise of change, he has not spoken out. Arab commentators and editorialists say there is growing disappointment at Obama's detachment - and that his failure to distance himself from George Bush's strongly pro-Israeli stance is encouraging the belief that he either shares Bush's bias or simply does not care.

The Al-Jazeera satellite television station recently broadcast footage of Obama on holiday in Hawaii, wearing shorts and playing golf, juxtaposed with scenes of bloodshed and mayhem in Gaza. Its report criticising "the deafening silence from the Obama team" suggested Obama is losing a battle of perceptions among Muslims that he may not realise has even begun.

"People recall his campaign slogan of change and hoped that it would apply to the Palestinian situation," Jordanian analyst Labib Kamhawi told Liz Sly of the Chicago Tribune. "So they look at his silence as a negative sign. They think he is condoning what happened in Gaza because he's not expressing any opinion."

Here in the UK Gordon Brown has actually called for a ceasefire but that didn't stop a wave of protest being addressed at Downing Street during Saturday's Rally for Gaza as Brown is perceived not to come out strongly enough against Israel's actions.

But at least Brown, going against Bush in Washington, has spoken out and called for a ceasefire.

If Brown can do it then one wonders why Obama cannot, especially as he is talking out on the economic situation and he was swift to condemn November's terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Should Obama end up repeating the tired US/Israeli script, which places all the blame on the occupied people, the disappointment around the world would be shattering. There were certain times when he has spoken, leaving aside his obligatory visit to AIPAC, when he actually sounded as if he got the gig, especially when he said, "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people... the Israeli government must make difficult concessions for the peace process to restart..."

Many of us placed a lot of faith in Obama noting a "strain within the pro-Israel community that says that unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel."

We felt, reading between the lines, that this guy got it. That he understood that Bush's relentlessly pro-Israeli line was actually bad for Israel and Palestine and that Israel actually needed a US president who wanted peace in the region rather than a US president who saw it as his duty to back any and every Israeli action no matter how severe.

But his silence is undermining that faith.

Obama promised that this conflict would be a priority from the first day he enters the Oval Office, and there are millions of people around the world hoping that he is serious about those promises.

So, we will watch and wait and keep the faith. But his silence makes many of us deeply uneasy.

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