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Sweep Away Palestinian Stereotypes: Part Two

In January 2008 I received an e-mail from a distraught former student informing me that Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid, a Christmas gift she had given her grandfather, was dismissed as a misguided treatise and unfair criticism of Israel.

A life-long Southern Baptist and a staunch supporter of the Carter presidency, her grandfather was disappointed because of President Carter’s criticism of God’s people. And only last week the same student e-mailed me her lament at her church’s raising up prayers for Israel as it continues its carnage on Gaza and made no mention of Palestinian victims.

For telling the truth and for putting his beliefs in action, President Carter has been demonized, labeled as an anti-Semite, ostracized and made a pariah by a large segment of his own denomination, the media and his own party. Instead of addressing the 2008 Democratic convention in person, Carter was relegated to a video clip. Yet this man, perhaps more than any world leader, epitomizes Christ’s message of love through his faith and actions.

Barak Obama’s candidacy and the 2008 elections have forced anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bashing and rhetoric out of the hush-hush closets and into the public arena. Scores of preachers and religious charlatans came out of their cubby holes to churn and spin downright virulent, racist and bigoted remarks.

As an example, when Rachel Ray, the Food Network’s cook par excellence, innocently donned a black-and-white checkered scarf (currently an international symbol of Palestinian resistance) for a Dunkin Donuts ad, she was savagely attacked by Neo-con Michelle Malkin as a terrorist sympathizer. Malkin equated the kaffiye ”the traditional Palestinian headdress ”with murderous Palestinians. In cowardly fashion, Dunkin Donuts pulled the ad.

Scores of Republicans (including some Clinton supporters) had a field day with Obama’s middle name. And questions about his citizenship, religious background and whether he would place his hand on a Quran to take the oath were hotly debated.

Sarah Palin’s spurious charge that her party’s opponent was palling around with terrorists like Rashid Khalidi (one of the most highly regarded Palestinian scholars) received a lot of traction in the media, especially the Fox News types. When the Obama campaign got wind of the sale of $33,000 worth of Obama T-shirts in Gaza by two enterprising Palestinians, the campaign immediately nixed the deal.

And, most recently, after the Clinton Foundation released its list of donors, the media and pundits (including one publication that depicted on its cover the former president with an Arab headdress) had a feeding frenzy about Arab money buying political power ”yet precious little was said about the $20-plus million donated to the same foundation by Jews at home and abroad. Haim Saban’s comment that he is a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel has gone unnoticed.

In closing, let me cite three more recent events. When, during one of his campaign stops, an elderly woman lamented to Sen. McCain that she didn’t trust Obama (saying: I have read about him. He’s an Arab. ), Sen. McCain promptly grabbed the microphone from her hand and said: No ma’am, no ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with. He’s not, thank you. While McCain is to be lauded for absolving Obama of Arab lineage, he is to be chastised for the inference. In Orwellian language, McCain was saying, Obama good, Arabs bad.

When asked whether his son’s appointment as Obama’s chief of staff was good for Israel, Rahm Emmanuel’s father, a dual Israeli/U.S. citizen, stated: Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why shouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the White House. One can only imagine the outcries and charges of anti-Semitism had the term Jew been substituted with a similar inference and had Jews been relegated to menial tasks ”as Palestinians are in Israel proper.

And more than two weeks ago a colleague who spent 43 years teaching journalism wanted to interview me for a column about the unfolding events in Gaza. When I attempted to provide him the historical narrative about Hamas’ 2006 sweep of the elections, he was overwhelmed. This is way above my head, he said. Let me call you back in a couple of days. I’ve yet to hear from him.

I hope that President Obama will hear the pleas of the millions of voices, including tens of thousands of Jewish voices of conscience at home and abroad, to bring about a just and permanent resolution to the cancer that has plagued the Near East for 60 years.

Resolving the Palestine/Israel conflict should be Obama’s foreign policy priority. He needs the prayers of all Jews, Christians and Muslims to lead the United States as it seeks a just and lasting peace between the Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians on their journey to the Promised Land.

Salaam wa Barakut’Llah Aleyk, ya Raees (Peace and may God’s blessings be showered upon you, Mr. President).

A native of Jerusalem, Palestine, Raouf J. Halaby is a naturalized U.S. citizen. A member of First Baptist Church in Arkadelphia, Halaby teaches English and art at Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia.