McGurn: Obama's take on Israel-Hamas war even more pernicious than Tlaib's

November 17, 2023

Former President Barack Obama recently courted controversy by suggesting that all sides are complicit in the conflict currently raging between Israel and Hamas, and according to William McGurn, writing for the Wall Street Journal, that breed of moral equivalency is almost worse than the blatant antisemitism of someone like Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

McGurn's piece was written in the wake of Obama's recent remarks on the crisis, made during an appearance on Pod Save America, in which he said with regard to the war, “Nobody's hands are clean,” and everyone must accept “some degree” of blame for the hostilities.

Referencing the devastating events of Oct. 7, in which Hamas launched a series of savage attacks on Israel that left more than 1,400 dead, Obama began, as the New York Post noted, “What Hamas did was horrific, and there's no justification for it.”

However, he quickly qualified that statement by adding, “And what is also true is that the occupation, and what's happening to Palestinians, is unbearable.”

“And what is also true is that there is a history of the Jewish people that may be dismissed unless your grandparents or your great-grandparents or your uncle or your aunt tell you stories about the madness of antisemitism,” Obama went on.

The former president then said, “And what is true is that there are people right now who are dying, who have nothing to do with what Hamas did...We could go on for a while.”

“If you want to solve the problem, then you have to take in the whole truth. And you then have to admit nobody's hands are clean, that all of us are complicit to some degree,” Obama concluded.

McGurn compared Obama's spin on the situation to the approach taken by Tlaib, who was recently censured by the House for her incendiary, antisemitic commentary on recent events, and he said, “Poor Rashida Tlaib. If only she had Barack Obama's ability to couch the argument for moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas in terms acceptable to police society.”

Even in the face of her public rebuke from colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Tlaib remained defiant, saying, “Many of them have shown me that Palestinian lives simply do not matter to them, but I still do not police their rhetoric or actions.”

As repugnant as Tlaib's proclamations tend to be, they are not, according to McGurn, all that different from what Obama has espoused, and the difference lies mainly in the artful presentation of which the former president is capable.

McGurn writes, “At about the same time Ms. Tlaib was drawing condemnation even from the Democrats, the Pod Save America podcast released a clip from an interview. In it Mr. Obama also made a case for moral equivalence. But he went about it in an underhanded manner that is more damaging to Democratic unity and support for Mr. Biden's policy than anything Ms. Tlaib could do.”

Obama's references to “complexity” and his assertion that nobody came to the conflict with clean hands, according to McGurn, was little more than a sophisticated massaging of the same points that Tlaib intended to convey.

“Yet unlike Ms. Tlaib, Mr. Obama's moral equivalence drew only scattered criticism outside a few commentators such as Real Time host Bill Maher. The silence from Democrats is deafening,” McGurn observes.

As McGurn points out, Tlaib's commentary is so outrageous that it is easy for most to condemn, and because her influence on public discourse is limited, the damage she inflicts can be contained. However, the veneer of supposed respectability brought by Obama facilitates a dangerous masking of his true message, one that clouds “fundamental moral distinctions” and undermines the administration's support of Israel in its battle to conquer Hamas.

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