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Analysis Last Updated: Nov 7th, 2008 - 02:52:46

First sign of no change: Obama chooses his chief of staff
By Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ph.D
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 7, 2008, 00:28

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As an immigrant who thrived in every way in the US for 29 years having arrived with nothing but my will to learn, I know that indeed anything is possible in the land of change.

I have now relocated to the occupied West Bank, my birthplace, to help achieve other dreams of change I always had for other lands. We desperately need change here after 41 years of military occupation, 60 years of dispossession, and countless futile and destructive wars. Millions here and in forced exile hope and pray that a President Obama fulfills his pledge and immediately starts to work to bring peace to our tormented land and that he does it based on international law.

Others also pin their hopes on Obama -- African Americans, Arab-Americans (Muslims and Christians) and Muslim-Americans who suffered significant prejudice that only increased after September 11, 2001. We looked with dismay as many took the wrong lessons from the events of that day and supported disastrous and self-destructive policies. Instead of looking at US foreign policy and the havoc it was reaping, especially in the Middle East, neoconservative Zionists took charge of our foreign policy deciding that might makes right and that endless wars are the answer.

A majority of Americans do not agree that we continue to give Israel $3-$5 billion of our taxes unconditionally and support its wars of aggression (for example on Lebanon in 2006) while ignoring international law as we push for endless wars that serve special interests (e.g. on Afghanistan, Iraq, and perhaps soon Iran). Most of those people voted for Obama even as they saw that his first speech after clinching the nomination was to the powerful Israel-first lobby, AIPAC, and he surrounded himself with Israel-first people including Dennis Ross, a long-term lobbyist for Israel (Washington Institute for Middle East Affairs, an offshoot of AIPAC). More ominously, Obama recruited Congressman Rahm Israel Emanuel (an important fundraiser and organizer) as his chief of staff.

Emanuel, the son of an Israeli terrorist, Benjamin M. Emanuel who was a member of the Irgun, an underground terror organization in Palestine under the British rule, is someone who volunteered with the Israeli (not the US) army in 1991. It is not clear to what extent Emanuel will influence foreign policy as Obama�s chief of staff and thus keep the �special relationship� that gave Israel a blank check for endless wars.

Obama does have the popular mandate, the clout, and all the attributes to do what Democratic and Republican presidents before him failed to do: change US foreign policy to defend human rights and democracy around the world, instead of defending special interests. But does he really have the will? Changing this policy is the key that will unlock the doors suffocating the US economy.

Many people do believe with good reason that our entanglements in Afghanistan, Iraq, and perhaps soon Iran are directly related to the power of these special interests. The trillion dollar war on Iraq that Obama promised to end can really end only when, as Obama once said, we end the mindset that got us into that war. His insistence on sending more troops to Afghanistan is not a good sign of ending that mindset. Or was that merely election season rhetoric to lure in moderate voters? Will Obama listen to US and British generals who are suggesting talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan? Will Obama also abandon the electioneering slogans and also talk to the Islamic forces in Palestine and Lebanon? His curve of education will be rather steep.

Yet, we also have to remember that grassroot movements pressuring political leaders are what achieved civil rights, women�s rights, and labor rights. Such movements are what ended the genocidal war on Vietnam, ended the US support for Apartheid South Africa, and, yes, elected Obama. We must remember that freedom is never freely given and that it must be demanded, and we must remind President Obama every day he is in office that the people must decide.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ph.D, is chairman of the Board of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and a professor, Bethlehem University. His web site is located at

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