WASHINGTON (JTA) – U.S. Sen. Barack Obama says that a pro-Hamas op-ed printed in his church’s bulletin was “outrageously wrong.”
In an issue dated July 22, 2007, in a section titled “Pastor’s Page,” the Trinity United Church in Chicago reprinted an article by Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzook. The article, which originally appeared as an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times, justifies the Palestinian terrorist group’s denial of Israel’s right to exist.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., who retired this year, has stirred controversy for Obama’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination with statements likening Israel to colonialists and blaming attacks on the United States in part on its support for Israel.
In slamming the Hamas piece, Obama noted that he strongly rejects some of his longtime pastor’s views.
“I have already condemned my former pastor’s views on Israel in the strongest possible terms, and I certainly wasn’t in church when that outrageously wrong Los Angeles Times piece was re-printed in the bulletin,” Obama said in a statement e-mailed to JTA late March 20. “Hamas is a terrorist organization, responsible for the deaths of many innocents, and dedicated to Israel’s destruction, as evidenced by their bombarding of Sderot in recent months. I support requiring Hamas to meet the international community’s conditions of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and abiding by past agreements before they are treated as a legitimate actor.”
The Illinois lawmaker has consistently condemned Hamas and defended Israel’s military responses to rocket attacks.
The reports about the church bulletin and Obama’s response come just days after intensifying focus on Wright’s controversial anti-American statements prompted the Democratic candidate to deliver a major speech on race relations in America.
In the speech, Obama condemned Wright’s most inflammatory comments but said he would not “disown” the man who inspired him to embrace Jesus.
In a short introduction to the reprinted piece, Wright wrote, “Islam has as many manifestations as Christianity and Judaism, but most Americans are only fed a media diet on Islam as it relates to the ‘war on terror’ and the Palestinian Muslim problem in the ’state’ of Israel.”
The newsletter was posted by BizzyBlog and reported by WorldNetDaily, a right-wing Web site that has played a key role in advancing the idea that Obama and his advisers are not supportive of Israel.
The WorldNetDaily report ran under the headline “Obama church published Hamas terror manifesto.” One line in the op-ed directly defended strikes against Israeli targets.
“Hamas,” Marzook wrote, “has never supported attacks on Westerners, as even our harshest critics will concede; our struggle has always been focused on the occupier and our legal resistance to it – a right of occupied people that is explicitly supported by the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Dov Hikind, a New York state assemblyman, issued a news release condemning Wright and calling on Obama to sever ties with his pastor and his church.
Hikind, who was in the rocket-besieged Israeli town Sderot for the holiday of Purim and could not be reached for comment, urged Obama to visit the town “to see what support for Hamas terror looks like, and he will see why he must sever his ties to Wright and his church.”
Hikind has his own ties to a controversial religious figure. Before being elected, he was an adviser to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, a leading advocate for the mass transfer of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs out of Israel.
Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League and Kach, a group that has been banned in Israel and classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
In addition to his statement on the Hamas article, Obama issued a separate statement timed for Purim – candidates or Congress members rarely issue remarks for this Jewish holiday.
Obama’s statement spoke of “the story of Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai saving the Jews of ancient Persia from destruction.”
“Even as the parties are held, the songs are sung, and the noisemakers are rattled, the history of a people that has had to fight for its survival, remains at the heart of the Purim story,” the statement said. “In our day, the celebration is mingled with a determination to ensure that Israel remains safe and strong, that we fight anti-Semitism wherever it occurs, and that the American Jewish community continues to play such an active and vital role in the life of our nation.”
Last week, the Obama campaign circulated a photograph of President Bill Clinton shaking hands with Wright at a September 1998 event for religious clerics held the same day the Starr report on Monica Lewinsky was made public.
The move prompted a series of name calling back-and-forths between the Obama and Clinton campaigns, underscoring how potent the Wright issue has become.
“A picture – oooooooo!” was the mocking response of Howard Wolfson, a top Clinton campaign official, to The New York Times.
Jay Carson, another Clinton spokesman, told Politico that the Obama campaign was “pathetic” to peddle the photo.
“Less than 48 hours after calling for a high-minded conversation on race, the Obama campaign is peddling photos of an occasion when President Clinton shook hands with Rev. Wright,” he said. “To be clear, President Clinton took tens of thousands of photos during his eight years as president.”
The Obama campaign countered, “After their top surrogates pushed this story line and Senator Clinton’s campaign outlined this as a central strategy in her plan to overturn the will of Democratic voters, I can see why they wouldn’t want a photo out there that shows the kind of hypocrisy we’ve all come to expect from their campaign.”
It’s hard to say who is peddling the Wright narrative at any given time, but those pushing the story to JTA, at least, are not part of the Clinton campaign.
In any case, there may be a positive Jewish spin: At the White House breakfast for clerics, Clinton drew on a number of writings on repentance – particularly Yom Kippur.
(JTA managing editor Ami Eden and staff writer Ben Harris contributed to this report from New York.)