The Milestone at AIPAC

Posted on June 6, 2008

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Much has been made in the past two days of Barack Obama’s ascension as the first black presidential candidate of either party in the history of the US. Considering that Hillary’s late victories seem to have been due in no small part to the confused racism/xenophobia of the US’s forgotten white rural polity, I prefer to withhold judgement until after the dark electoral cycle to come.

There are two different milestones which I think we would do better to examine at this odd political crossroads. The first, and arguably, the more important: the death of Thomas A. Johnson, the first black New York Newsday reporter—and for some time the only black reporter at the New York Times. Johnson’s death should remind us that American apartheid has not been officially dead for even a generation, and should inform us when we are told by commentators such as Chris Matthews and others that racism has played no role in the recent victories of Hillary Clinton. The Vietnam War was the first war covered by black journalists such as Johnson; the civil rights movement the first black political struggle with a mainstream black journalistic perspective in America’s dailies. The people of our parent’s generation, the people who raised us and informed our values, lived in that world; one where black people had only recently begun writing in America’s papers of record.

And the second: the absurd spectacle of the “candidate of change” accepting Hillary’s endorsement (and ostensible surrender) at an AIPAC conference yesterday. Those curious as to how Obama will change our foreign policy while simultaneously vowing to maintain (and even reinvigorate) the US’s problematic relationship with Israel would do well to note some highlights of his speech before the US’s most influential foreign lobbying group. Obama vowed to increase the US’s yearly patronage to Israel to 30 billion over the next ten years and to make the US’s “sacrosanct” support for Israel “non-negotiable”. Obama would also ignore the UN’s condemnation of Israel and validate Jerusalem as the “undivided” capital of Israel (this on a day when Israel announced the construction of 900 new Israeli colonial dwellings in Palestinian areas of the city). In short, the most striking thing about a woman power-broker passing on her baton to a black presidential candidate at the nation’s annual meeting of the US’s most powerful foreign lobbying organization, is how historically unoriginal it is. All of the trappings of corrupt and unaccountable power that have accompanied American foreign policy for decades were on display–the government’s promise of a multibillion dollar subsidy to the defense industry in the form of military aid to Israel; the vow to continue destabilizing the middle east by blocking any just conclusion to the Israel-Palestine conflict; the decision to forego the best interests of this country to cater to the political whims of Israel’s supporters. Ironically, though Obama has virtually the same pro-Israel policy as both Clinton and McCain (and went from wearing no lapel pin, as John Stewart observed, to joint Israeli-American flag pins), he must still be vouched for before this highly conservative body by a white member of the political elite.

This should serve as a reminder that no matter how things change—no matter the milestones of female and of-color contenders for the highest office—certain political considerations will always prevail, to the detriment of all Americans.