Commentary Magazine


Topic: spiritual leader

A Rabbi Breaks Ranks

Here’s an Israel story everyone should keep tabs on. For the first time that I can recall, an ultra-Orthodox member of the Knesset has openly defied the authority of his party’s spiritual leaders. This comes after Rabbi Haim Amsalem of Shas spoke out against the lifestyle of married yeshiva students who prefer to study Torah and live off handouts rather than get a job — in other words, against the central ideal that defines ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel today. Over the weekend, his party’s official newspaper ran a series of articles slamming him, and now the party leadership, its four-man Council of Torah Sages headed by Shas’s spiritual leader, former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has called on him to quit, adding that if he does not, he’ll be little more than a “thief in the night.” One Shas commentator likened him to Amalek, the Ur-enemy of the Jews, whose memory is, according to the Bible, to be “wiped out.”

Amsalem, however, is sticking to his guns. Calling the handouts “shameful,” he has refused to give up his Knesset post, arguing (probably correctly) that his views reflect those of the great majority of Shas voters.

Why is this story so important? First, because Amsalem is giving voice to an increasingly discontented voter base for Shas — an electorate that walks a thin line between embracing Rabbi Yosef and his defense of Sephardic Judaism while living a lifestyle that, for the most part, is traditional rather than ultra-Orthodox, which means that they work for a living and don’t necessarily buy into the Ashkenazic-invented ideal of Torah study as a full-time job. For the first time, they have a rabbi that speaks his mind for the things they actually believe in.

Second, because here we have the most vivid example of the clash between democracy and religious authority. As a duly elected member of parliament, Amsalem has every legal right to keep his post. Yet the Orthodox parties in Israel have always been run according to a model in which their representatives in parliament accept party discipline not just as a political duty but as a religious one as well. Amsalem’s fate will tell us a lot about whether democracy or religion has supremacy in the Jewish state.

Third, because Amsalem has raised a powerful challenge to the very idea of rabbinic authority. Over the centuries, rabbis have claimed a moral right to tell their flocks what to do, on the grounds that their extensive study gives them the requisite expertise in the religious law. The dirty little secret, however, is that there is no formal hierarchical establishment in Judaism akin to what exists in the Catholic Church. In practice, rabbis have authority only over whoever chooses to follow them. The result is that rabbis who don’t take seriously the underlying values of their followers end up having no one to lead. Beneath the veneer of top-down authority, rabbinic politics has always been far more democratic than most rabbis would admit.

If Shas’s rabbis are reacting wildly to Amsalem’s challenge, it’s because they perceive a real threat to their hold on power. But as the Jerusalem Post‘s Jeff Barak points out, Amsalem is giving a rare, clear voice to what a great many of Shas’s own voters already believe. How this plays out could well determine the future of the Shas party, the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate as a whole, and a certain slice of democratic life in Israel as well.

Here’s an Israel story everyone should keep tabs on. For the first time that I can recall, an ultra-Orthodox member of the Knesset has openly defied the authority of his party’s spiritual leaders. This comes after Rabbi Haim Amsalem of Shas spoke out against the lifestyle of married yeshiva students who prefer to study Torah and live off handouts rather than get a job — in other words, against the central ideal that defines ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel today. Over the weekend, his party’s official newspaper ran a series of articles slamming him, and now the party leadership, its four-man Council of Torah Sages headed by Shas’s spiritual leader, former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has called on him to quit, adding that if he does not, he’ll be little more than a “thief in the night.” One Shas commentator likened him to Amalek, the Ur-enemy of the Jews, whose memory is, according to the Bible, to be “wiped out.”

Amsalem, however, is sticking to his guns. Calling the handouts “shameful,” he has refused to give up his Knesset post, arguing (probably correctly) that his views reflect those of the great majority of Shas voters.

Why is this story so important? First, because Amsalem is giving voice to an increasingly discontented voter base for Shas — an electorate that walks a thin line between embracing Rabbi Yosef and his defense of Sephardic Judaism while living a lifestyle that, for the most part, is traditional rather than ultra-Orthodox, which means that they work for a living and don’t necessarily buy into the Ashkenazic-invented ideal of Torah study as a full-time job. For the first time, they have a rabbi that speaks his mind for the things they actually believe in.

Second, because here we have the most vivid example of the clash between democracy and religious authority. As a duly elected member of parliament, Amsalem has every legal right to keep his post. Yet the Orthodox parties in Israel have always been run according to a model in which their representatives in parliament accept party discipline not just as a political duty but as a religious one as well. Amsalem’s fate will tell us a lot about whether democracy or religion has supremacy in the Jewish state.

Third, because Amsalem has raised a powerful challenge to the very idea of rabbinic authority. Over the centuries, rabbis have claimed a moral right to tell their flocks what to do, on the grounds that their extensive study gives them the requisite expertise in the religious law. The dirty little secret, however, is that there is no formal hierarchical establishment in Judaism akin to what exists in the Catholic Church. In practice, rabbis have authority only over whoever chooses to follow them. The result is that rabbis who don’t take seriously the underlying values of their followers end up having no one to lead. Beneath the veneer of top-down authority, rabbinic politics has always been far more democratic than most rabbis would admit.

If Shas’s rabbis are reacting wildly to Amsalem’s challenge, it’s because they perceive a real threat to their hold on power. But as the Jerusalem Post‘s Jeff Barak points out, Amsalem is giving a rare, clear voice to what a great many of Shas’s own voters already believe. How this plays out could well determine the future of the Shas party, the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate as a whole, and a certain slice of democratic life in Israel as well.

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CNN Editor Mourns and Respects a Promoter of “Resistance” and Terror

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

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Turkish Flags

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

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No Denying White House Animus Toward Israel

This White House likes symbolism. After Barack Obama moved in, one of the first things his staff did was to unceremoniously remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and return it to Great Britain, thus signaling that this president no longer valued the special relationship with the UK, which had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy from the days of FDR to those of George W. Bush. And when Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama last month, the visit was kept low key, with no official welcome and no media allowed to witness the event for fear of offending China. The one picture that was released of the meeting appeared to show the president lecturing the exiled Tibetan so no one might think that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review had anything to learn from a legendary spiritual leader.

But the cold reception of the Dalai Lama now seems like a wild party compared to the way Obama received Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week. Oh, I know, Bibi is in the doghouse because we’re all supposed to think that Israel gravely insulted Vice President Joe Biden by allowing the announcement of a housing-project start in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to coincide with his recent visit there. But the reason this is such a “big f@!%ing deal,” as the vice president might put it, is not because it was a real insult but because it was an excuse for the administration to renew its war on Netanyahu.

This is not the first president to dislike an Israeli prime minister or even Israel itself. The elder George Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@!% the Jews” Baker despised Yitzhak Shamir. But never has the leader of America’s ally Israel been treated with such open contempt as shown by Obama to Netanyahu. The Israeli’s visit to the White House was closed to the press — with not even one photo released of their encounter. The fact is that Obama didn’t even want his picture taken with Netanyahu. That’s particularly strange since the president has never any qualms about getting snapped next to a wide variety of international leaders on his travels. In yesterday’s press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs was quizzed on this startling behavior by Jake Tapper. In response to repeated questions as to why the White House chose to treat a democratically elected head of the government of a close U.S. ally in this manner, Gibbs did not try very hard to pretend that it was anything but an indication of Obama’s dislike for the Israeli and the country he represents. Coming from a president that has spent his time in office making non-stop efforts to reach out to and engage America’s enemies around the world, this open hostility to Israel is breathtaking in its brazenness.

As for the policy fallout of the meetings, the whole point of the get-together was to bludgeon Netanyahu into conceding that Jews may no longer build homes in parts of their capital. Wisely, the prime minister did not give in to this unprecedented demand, which is something that not even the elder Bush and James Baker ever tried to shove down Shamir’s throat. There was no joint statement released after the talks ended but the White House let it be known that they expected the Israelis to make further concessions as an indication of their willingness to build confidence. Pointedly, the Palestinians, who have refused to even negotiate directly with Israel and who refused only a year and a half ago to accept an Israeli offer of an independent state that would have included part of Jerusalem, have not been asked by Obama to make any gestures of their own to enhance the non-existent chances of peace.

This White House’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu may be just an act of symbolism but not even the most shameless Obama apologist can pretend that it was anything but an indication of the president’s hostility. When the first president Bush used the occasion of an AIPAC conference in Washington in 1991 to show his contempt for Israel, even Jewish Republicans were aghast. Many deserted him at the next election — the GOP’s share of the Jewish vote dropped to a record low in 1992. The question for Jewish Democrats and other liberal friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to hold Barack Obama accountable in the same fashion.

This White House likes symbolism. After Barack Obama moved in, one of the first things his staff did was to unceremoniously remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and return it to Great Britain, thus signaling that this president no longer valued the special relationship with the UK, which had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy from the days of FDR to those of George W. Bush. And when Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama last month, the visit was kept low key, with no official welcome and no media allowed to witness the event for fear of offending China. The one picture that was released of the meeting appeared to show the president lecturing the exiled Tibetan so no one might think that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review had anything to learn from a legendary spiritual leader.

But the cold reception of the Dalai Lama now seems like a wild party compared to the way Obama received Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week. Oh, I know, Bibi is in the doghouse because we’re all supposed to think that Israel gravely insulted Vice President Joe Biden by allowing the announcement of a housing-project start in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to coincide with his recent visit there. But the reason this is such a “big f@!%ing deal,” as the vice president might put it, is not because it was a real insult but because it was an excuse for the administration to renew its war on Netanyahu.

This is not the first president to dislike an Israeli prime minister or even Israel itself. The elder George Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@!% the Jews” Baker despised Yitzhak Shamir. But never has the leader of America’s ally Israel been treated with such open contempt as shown by Obama to Netanyahu. The Israeli’s visit to the White House was closed to the press — with not even one photo released of their encounter. The fact is that Obama didn’t even want his picture taken with Netanyahu. That’s particularly strange since the president has never any qualms about getting snapped next to a wide variety of international leaders on his travels. In yesterday’s press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs was quizzed on this startling behavior by Jake Tapper. In response to repeated questions as to why the White House chose to treat a democratically elected head of the government of a close U.S. ally in this manner, Gibbs did not try very hard to pretend that it was anything but an indication of Obama’s dislike for the Israeli and the country he represents. Coming from a president that has spent his time in office making non-stop efforts to reach out to and engage America’s enemies around the world, this open hostility to Israel is breathtaking in its brazenness.

As for the policy fallout of the meetings, the whole point of the get-together was to bludgeon Netanyahu into conceding that Jews may no longer build homes in parts of their capital. Wisely, the prime minister did not give in to this unprecedented demand, which is something that not even the elder Bush and James Baker ever tried to shove down Shamir’s throat. There was no joint statement released after the talks ended but the White House let it be known that they expected the Israelis to make further concessions as an indication of their willingness to build confidence. Pointedly, the Palestinians, who have refused to even negotiate directly with Israel and who refused only a year and a half ago to accept an Israeli offer of an independent state that would have included part of Jerusalem, have not been asked by Obama to make any gestures of their own to enhance the non-existent chances of peace.

This White House’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu may be just an act of symbolism but not even the most shameless Obama apologist can pretend that it was anything but an indication of the president’s hostility. When the first president Bush used the occasion of an AIPAC conference in Washington in 1991 to show his contempt for Israel, even Jewish Republicans were aghast. Many deserted him at the next election — the GOP’s share of the Jewish vote dropped to a record low in 1992. The question for Jewish Democrats and other liberal friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to hold Barack Obama accountable in the same fashion.

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Re: Can the Chinese Bluff Obama Out of Meeting the Dalai Lama?

Peter, you are right to note that President Bush did attend the ceremony in the capitol where the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal. But the actual meeting that he held with the Tibetan spiritual leader was private, not public. I would agree that when it comes to caring about human rights, George W. Bush was light years ahead of both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, who have both been clear that such concerns will not be allowed to interfere with their engagement of tyrants whether the latter are located in Beijing or Tehran. But it is difficult to argue that the eight years of the Bush administration were a time during which human rights in China were ever a priority or even a major concern.

For strategic reasons that are certainly understandable, if regrettable, Bush had his own engagement agenda with the Chinese leadership. While, unlike Obama, we can say that Bush’s heart was in the right place, one photo op in the rotunda doesn’t change the fact that this issue hasn’t had much of an impact on American foreign policy toward China during the last few administrations.

Peter, you are right to note that President Bush did attend the ceremony in the capitol where the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal. But the actual meeting that he held with the Tibetan spiritual leader was private, not public. I would agree that when it comes to caring about human rights, George W. Bush was light years ahead of both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, who have both been clear that such concerns will not be allowed to interfere with their engagement of tyrants whether the latter are located in Beijing or Tehran. But it is difficult to argue that the eight years of the Bush administration were a time during which human rights in China were ever a priority or even a major concern.

For strategic reasons that are certainly understandable, if regrettable, Bush had his own engagement agenda with the Chinese leadership. While, unlike Obama, we can say that Bush’s heart was in the right place, one photo op in the rotunda doesn’t change the fact that this issue hasn’t had much of an impact on American foreign policy toward China during the last few administrations.

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Another Ranting Preacher?

Barack Obama has another spiritual leader ranting and raving about whites, Father Michael Pfleger. The vitriol is familiar. This one was also a mentor, as well as a political supporter. The kicker: Obama gave him — that would be a political donor – a $100,000 earmark. Perhaps that’s a story.

Stanley Kurtz explains that the relationship between Obama and Pfleger is as close as Obama’s with Wright:

There is a kind of informal nexus between Wright, Farrakhan, and Pfleger, each of whom are bound by an allegiance to black-liberation theology, or to the black Muslim nationalism that inspired James Cone to create black-liberation theology to begin with.

Obama was a part of this nexus. Despite current attempts to rewrite history, Obama was close to Wright for years, and fully entangled with him, both theologically and politically. Pfleger’s influence over Obama, whose work as a “community organizer” had him in frequent contact with South Chicago’s churches, is second only to that of Wright. Obama has worked on a great many political causes with Pfleger, and Pfleger was a key early backer of Obama’s failed 2000 bid for a seat in Congress.

As to the Pfleger outburst, Obama professes to be “disappointed.” With each additional ranting hate-monger the impact may lessen, but it is fair to say that Trinity Church was just the type of place for these folks to come with their material. It is harder and harder to pretend that Rev. Wright and Father Michael Pfleger were anomalies, or deny that this was standard operating rhetoric at Obama’s church. It is still harder to believe that Obama did not know and countenance the views of people with whom he shared political, social and spiritual ties.

People who think no one cares about any of this will yawn. People who view this and say “He hangs out with a strange crowd” will file this away as one more piece of evidence. And lots of Democrats will toss and turn wondering: Who else is out there?

Barack Obama has another spiritual leader ranting and raving about whites, Father Michael Pfleger. The vitriol is familiar. This one was also a mentor, as well as a political supporter. The kicker: Obama gave him — that would be a political donor – a $100,000 earmark. Perhaps that’s a story.

Stanley Kurtz explains that the relationship between Obama and Pfleger is as close as Obama’s with Wright:

There is a kind of informal nexus between Wright, Farrakhan, and Pfleger, each of whom are bound by an allegiance to black-liberation theology, or to the black Muslim nationalism that inspired James Cone to create black-liberation theology to begin with.

Obama was a part of this nexus. Despite current attempts to rewrite history, Obama was close to Wright for years, and fully entangled with him, both theologically and politically. Pfleger’s influence over Obama, whose work as a “community organizer” had him in frequent contact with South Chicago’s churches, is second only to that of Wright. Obama has worked on a great many political causes with Pfleger, and Pfleger was a key early backer of Obama’s failed 2000 bid for a seat in Congress.

As to the Pfleger outburst, Obama professes to be “disappointed.” With each additional ranting hate-monger the impact may lessen, but it is fair to say that Trinity Church was just the type of place for these folks to come with their material. It is harder and harder to pretend that Rev. Wright and Father Michael Pfleger were anomalies, or deny that this was standard operating rhetoric at Obama’s church. It is still harder to believe that Obama did not know and countenance the views of people with whom he shared political, social and spiritual ties.

People who think no one cares about any of this will yawn. People who view this and say “He hangs out with a strange crowd” will file this away as one more piece of evidence. And lots of Democrats will toss and turn wondering: Who else is out there?

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