Vancouver Palestinians don’t expect change from Barack Obama

Many believed that the election of Barack Obama was going to mean change across the board. But the president-elect’s silence on the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip has led to speculation that the U.S.’s support for Israel is about to continue unabated.

Some Vancouver Palestinians say that Obama was never change they could believe in.

“We’re not expecting him to say anything,” Khaled Barakat told the Straight. “We understand that what rules in the U.S. is the institution and not an individual, even if he is called the president and even if he is not white.”

Barakat, a Palestinian activist and editor for the Arabic Vancouver newspaper al-Shorouq, argued that Obama’s silence on Gaza amounts to complicity. He explained that in the time that Obama waits to speak on violence in the Middle East, many more people could die.

Hanna Kawas, a member of the Vancouver-based Canada-Palestine Association, echoed Barakat’s pessimism.

“He has been very bad on the issue, even before he was elected,” Kawas told the Straight. “He has been very bad for the Palestinians.”

Explaining his position, Kawas pointed to two documents that discuss Obama and the issue of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The first is a November 3 open letter to Barack Obama by consumer advocate and former presidential hopeful Ralph Nader.

Published one day before the U.S. presidential election, the letter takes aim at Obama’s crafted image of change by painting the former Illinois senator as a “continuation of the power-entrenched status quo”.

Nader wrote:

To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires character, courage, integrity—not expediency, accommodation and short-range opportunism. Take, for example, your transformation from an articulate defender of Palestinian rights in Chicago before your run for the U.S. Senate to an acolyte, a dittoman for the hard-line AIPAC lobby, which bolsters the militaristic oppression, occupation, blockage, colonization and land-water seizures over the years of the Palestinian peoples and their shrunken territories in the West Bank and Gaza.

The second piece of Kawas’s argument is a November 11 article by former U.S. senator James Abourezk that was published in the CounterPunch newsletter seven days after the election.

That piece briefly outlines Obama’s “clear indication that he wanted nothing to do with Arabs” and goes on to argue that Arab Americans’ support for Obama is “self-destructive”.

Abourezk wrote:

We saw, during his campaign, that his staff prevented Muslim women with head scarves from sitting behind him in view of the television cameras during his campaign rallies. He visited Christian churches and Jewish Synagogues, but he refused to visit even one Mosque during the campaign. And, finally, joining John McCain, he made the obligatory bow and scrape to the Israeli Lobby—AIPAC—during that group’s 2008 convention.

Together, Kawas said, the documents give an idea why many believe an Obama administration will—at least for the Palestinians—mean more of the same.

Kawas suggested that anyone who believes Obama could actually change the status quo in the U.S. should watch Oliver Stone’s JFK. The film perpetuates the theory that former U.S. president John F. Kennedy was murdered in a plot orchestrated by anti-Castroites who acted with the support of the CIA.

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