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The Silence of Barack Obama

By Osha Neumann

Berkeley Daily Planet, January 25, 2009

Oh Father, I cried. There was no shame in your confusion. Just as
there had been no shame in your father's before you. No shame in the
fear, or in the fear of his father before him. There was only shame
in the silence fear had produced. It was the silence that betrayed us.

—Barack Obama, from Dreams from My Father

The silence of Obama is deafening. Continents of misery are swallowed
in his silence.

On the deaths of Palestinian children, the murder of mothers, the
dismemberment of grandfathers, on the pools of blood on the hospital
floor, the bombed and mangled ambulances, the screams of terror—he is

But in fact his silence is incomplete. He is briefed on a daily
basis, kept abreast of events. What does he say in those secret
conversations? Does he remain silent? Certainly not. He ascents. Yes,
Hamas must be crushed. It's a price that needs to be paid. He does
not say, or perhaps he does say, he hopes it will be over before the
inaugural balls begin. The mafia don does not wish to have his party
spoiled. He has prepared his speech. The soaring rhetoric. The
reference to Martin Luther King.

But should even a drop of Palestinian blood touch those soaring
phrases, they will fall to earth like a stone.

"Change we can believe in"? All the empty rhetoric of the
presidential campaign is a gaping maw into which the lives of
Palestinians fall without a sound.

The blood of Palestinians is the touchstone. The slogans touch the
stone, shrivel and die. "Yes we can!" Yes we can what? Crush the
Palestinians into a bloody pulp?

Israel can not kill all the Palestinians or drive those who are still
alive into yet deeper exile. Palestinians will survive and they will
haunt us, and when the next terrorist attack comes who will weep for
us, who will shed tears, and who will say we got what we deserved?
The chickens will come home to roost. Those terrible, cannibalistic,
angry chickens will come home to roost.

Obama is silent. He must not endanger his legislative agenda. It's
the economy stupid. Remember. But I would rather the engines of the
commerce grind to a halt, the shelves of the stores yawn empty, and a
terrible gloom descend on Wall Street, than that one more Palestine
child be torn to bits. Or live, but clutch her mother in fear,
wetting herself, covering her eyes and her ears to block out the
terrible racket, or that one more Palestinian mother weep over the
grave of her child or weep for the fear of her living child.

At this point. An interruption.

"You forget about the poor terrified Israeli children. The rain of
rockets from Gaza." Never for a moment are they forgotten. On the
pain of Israelis Obama is voluble.

Haaretz reports:

"He expressed his admiration for the citizens of Sderot who remained
in place even though their homes had come under fire. `Israelis must
not suffer a threat to their lives, to their schools,' he said,
adding that `if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I
would do everything in order to stop that.'"

I do not join in his admiration or extend my hand in sympathy. For
three reasons:

First: I cannot mourn the suffering of Israelis until the suffering
Palestinians is mourned in just proportion—100 to 1, 1000 to 1, so
much louder should the wails of mourning be for the Palestinians.
Second: I refuse to equate the violence with which an oppressed
people resists oppression with the violence of their oppressors. That
terrible equation—"both sides this," "both sides that"— is corrupt
and pernicious moral algebra. And third: so long as Israel uses the
victimhood of Jews as a shield, excuse, and weapon to continue the
oppression of the Palestinians, I will not, can not, add my voice to
the chorus of sympathy for Israeli dead and wounded, for that chorus
will be used to further a terrible agenda which I oppose.

May there come a time when my grief can flow freely and equally
toward all suffering. But that time is not now. I have chosen sides.

Obama is a complex man, capable of holding ambiguities and
contradictions, aware of the vast abundant varieties of experience,
knowing otherness, knowing the pain and anger of outsiders, knowing
what happens when dreams are shattered. I know he knew these things,
perhaps knows them still, because I've read his Dreams from My
Father. The man who receives dreams from his father, knew—knows—how
to hear all sides of himself and others. It is not easy to be angry
with him. I want to love him. But I fear that he has signed a
terrible bargain with his silence, a pact with the devil of power and
empire: His dream for the dreams of the Palestinians. Their death
warrant is signed. He is complicit. He has learned what presidents
must do. Sign death warrants. For multitudes. For generations upon

This is his first lesson in killing. After the first, it becomes

Osha Neumann's memoir, Up Against the Wall Motherf**er: A Memoir of
the Sixties with Notes for Next Time, was recently published by Seven
Stories Press. She is also a lawyer living in Berkeley, California.

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