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.
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
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
abreast of events. What does he say in those secret
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
balls begin. The mafia don does not wish to have his party
He has prepared his speech. The soaring rhetoric. The
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
alive into yet deeper exile. Palestinians will survive and
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
The chickens will come home to roost. Those terrible,
angry chickens will come home to roost.
is silent. He must not endanger his legislative agenda. It's
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.
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.
"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
I do not join in his admiration or extend my hand in
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.
This site contains copyrighted material the
use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright
owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance
understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic,
democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this
constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for
in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
Section 107, the material on this site is
distributed without profit to those
who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information
for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of
your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the