Open ltr to Obama/ Middle East, Islam, Ends & Means

Dear folks,

I have already once posted this "Open Letter to Obama" on the
Progressives for Obama list, but it has not appeared — at least not
back to me, nor has there been any comment on it. So I am trying that
again & also sending it to you-all. If you have any advice about how to
make sure it gets sent to the whole list, I would appreciate it. Thanks.

Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center <> ; author  of
Down-to-Earth Judaism  and a dozen other books on Jewish thought and
practice, as well as books on US public policy; editor of  Torah of the
Earth; co-author, The Tent of Abraham.  The Shalom Center   voices a new
prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To
receive the weekly on-line Shalom Report, click on -- <>


Open Letter to Senator Obama:

The Middle East, Islam, Ends, & Means

Dear friends, I am writing this out of personal experience and my own
individual ethical concern, not on behalf of any organization or
campaign.  It comes with Martin Buber's teaching ringing in my brain:
that he had no idea what it meant to say that "the ends justify the
means," but that for sure the means we actually use will become the ends
that we actually achieve.

Or as ancient Torah teaches, "Justice, justice shall you pursue."  Why
"justice" twice? To teach that just ends can only be achieved through
just means.

A lesson for all who work to change society.

Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur

Dear Senator Obama,  I met you at your talk with Philadelphia Jewish
leaders in April. It was I who as you entered the room handed you a copy
of the original Freedom Seder, which I wrote in 1969, and which bound
together the freedom struggles of Blacks and Jews. And during Q & A, it
was I who asked you how as President you would deal with the
peace-obstructing settlement policy of this and many previous Israeli

I asked that question because one of the advance speakers for your
meeting, Congressman Roth of New Jersey, had just asserted that you
believe the failure of the peace process has been solely the result of
the absence of a Palestinian partner for peace.

"Solely the fault of the Palestinians?" I thought. "Surely he doesn't
believe that!" So I rose to say that hundreds of rabbis and hundreds of
thousands of American Jews see Israeli settlement policy as obstacles to
peace, and asked what as President you would do about it.

  Your answer cited the vigorous debate on these questions in Israel --
more vigorous than here; the recognition by most Israelis that for peace
to unfold, there will have to be a shift in settlement policy; and your
sense that most Israeli know that internal debate would be so wrenching
that they want to know there is a partner for that decision before going
through the debate.

Though you avoided saying what you would do,  I was satisfied with your
answer -- then.

I was especially ready to be satisfied because I knew that earlier, when
you met with Jewish leaders in Cleveland, you had gone even further,

"I sat down with the head of Israeli security forces and his view of the
Palestinians was incredibly nuanced because he's dealing with these
people every day. He was willing to say sometimes we make mistakes and
if we are just pressing down on these folks constantly without giving
them some prospects for hope, that's not good for our security

  It would be profoundly important to have a President who understands
that! Yet more recently, in your speech to AIPAC, there was no such
language. And you slid so far into simply repeating official shibboleths
like "Jerusalem undivided" that you had to correct yourself the next

  No one knows better than I that many of the "official" Jewish
organizations would go ballistic to hear a presidential candidate bring
such ideas to the fore in, say, a major speech about making peace across
the whole region that Abraham, Hagar,  and Sarah walked.

And no one knows better than I that millions of American Jews ,
Christians, and Muslims want exactly that kind of honest talk and
vigorous diplomacy. They would support any President who insisted on
exactly the kind of broad pursuit of peace you have sometimes affirmed,
and the changes in not only Palestinian, Syrian,  and Iranian but also
Israeli and American behavior it requires.

I know some people who carry a strange mixture of cynicism and
wish-fulfillment in their heads -- who think you can, will, and should
say anything to calm folks like the AIPAC membership and thereby get
elected, and later will work hard for a real peace. I know people who
think that you can, will, and should pretend you never met Palestinians
and heard their suffering, never got to understand their understanding
of their history as you have so eloquently explained that you have heard
and understood the Jewish story  -- all in order that once you are in
office, you can bring your "true" knowledge into policy.

But I don't think it works that way. Not only would that kind of
campaign be an ethical failure and a personal self-betrayal, abandoning
the honest, nuanced, politics of change that you claimed to represent
-- but I think it won't work politically.

First of all, that kind of campaign will greatly weaken your appeal to
the passionate supporters you have had -- just like your betrayal of
your own understanding that the FISA bill violates the Fourth
Amendment's prohibition of searches without warrants. Already, the
drop-off of small contributions to your campaign suggests that  these
people are dismayed. And they are the core of your strength, as you
yourself have repeatedly said.

Secondly,  it will weaken your ability if you are elected President to
take the steps necessary for peace. For it would weaken and delegitimate
the millions of American Jews, Muslims, and Christians who seek
precisely a policy of peace for Israel alongside a peaceful Palestine,
and peace between Iran and the United States. Who would thank God --
literally! -- for a President who would seek to meet the crucial needs
of all these peoples while refusing to humiliate or subjugate any of
them. There will be many people and organizations ready to attack any
President who takes such positions. There need to be people and
organizations motivated and mobilized to support them.

To strengthen such a faith-based coalition, you will also have to make
clear --  by where you speak as well as what you say -- that of course
American Muslims are as much a part of American society as any other
religious group. So your unwillingness to speak in any mosque --
presumably for fear that might reinforce the wicked rumors that you are
really a Muslim --  simply strengthens the mind-set that thinks to
demonize you on the false grounds that you are a Muslim, and any Muslim
must be anti-American.

I remember being moved when in your speech to the 2004 Democratic
National Convention, you said, "If there's an Arab-American family being
rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens
my civil liberties." That  line had no political pay-off in numbers of
voters. It was a principled statement,  fearlessly swimming against the
tide of public opinion.  And -- against all "realistic" calculation --
it won vigorous applause from those assembled number-centered

You owe it to Americans of all faiths, to Jews around the world, to the
Arab and Muslim billions - - to treat all these people as part of the
world community that must work together to heal our planet from war and

Just as in Philadelphia you expressed compassion for white working-class
anger without surrendering to right-wing policies that ignore Black
poverty and despair   --- so you can express compassion for Jewish fears
without surrendering to oppressive right-wing Israeli policy. And in the
same new approach to change, you can include Muslims in the body politic
and express compassion for some Muslims' anger and fear,  without
affirming violence and terrorism.

You will need to address these questions honestly if you are not to be
caught against your will in years of war and terror that would destroy
an Administration you might lead as it did the last one, will damage
America at least as deeply as our deafness to others' narratives has
damaged us this past seven years.

Just as the racial chasm has haunted and daunted American democracy two
centuries and more, the growing chasm between "the West" and "Islam"
will haunt and daunt every effort to make peace and heal our planet, if
we and you do not address it in all its depth and difficulty.

So just as you spoke in Philadelphia with nuance and compassion about
race, I implore you to speak as clearly with nuance and compassion about
these  questions.

With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace --

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

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