x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Anti-Obama fringe scarier than ever

The election of the first black president provoked a right-wing backlash across the country that is becoming increasingly virulent and irrational.

Some Americans believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, where the press treats him as a native son.
Some Americans believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, where the press treats him as a native son.

The unique persona and biography of Barack Obama generated excitement in the 2008 presidential contest. It also provoked bigotry and fear - that were manifested in ways large and small. That frightening scene where an older and disoriented woman told John McCain that she could not support Mr Obama because, in her words, "he's an Arab"; the buttons "For McCain, Against Hussein"; and signs carried by Sarah Palin supporters using her name as an acronym for "Sane Americans 'R' Against Hussein"; and the lawsuit challenging Mr Obama's right to run for president, arguing he was not a native-born American. The election may be over, but those bigoted fears and the people who have them, have not gone away. They are still around and scarier than ever. We were reminded of them recently when a video of a town meeting with a Republican congressman became a media sensation. In it, a woman rises to ask her congressman about Mr Obama. She is holding a Bible and a US flag and is agitated, shouting at one point, "He is not an American citizen. He is a citizen of Kenya. I am American ? and I don't want this flag to change. I want my country back." While it was disturbing that her mad rant was applauded by the audience, of even greater concern was the scene at the end when the woman challenged the audience to stand with her and salute the flag. Everyone, including the congressman, rose and, following her lead, recited the "Pledge of Allegiance". The video of this incident spread via the internet and has been seen by millions. It was debated on television - with Republicans like Liz Cheney not only refusing to condemn the incitement, but justifying as being due to anger at the president's policies. This refusal to believe the president is an American has been fuelled by right-wing talk show hosts and is growing. Recently, an enterprising video reporter, with The Huffington Post, an online newspaper, interviewed 10 Republican congressmen asking them whether they believe Mr Obama is US-born and therefore entitled to be president. Only one of the 10 definitively said "yes". The others hedged, apparently seeking not to alienate the very nutty fringe of their party.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel's Shas Party who is known for making racist remarks, is at it again. It will be recalled that Mr Yosef has alternately compared Arabs to cockroaches, or ants, another time to snakes. Now he is attacking both Arabs and the United States. Last weekend he delivered a sermon criticising Mr Obama's pressure on Israel to stop settlements, saying he talks to us "as if we were their slaves". In reality, he said, it is Americans who are the "slaves", making it doubly shameful that Israel's leaders are taking orders from "slaves". Mr Yosef continued, "our Messiah will come and throw them out". The rabbi added that the Arabs were on the Temple Mount and promised that when the Messiah comes he "will throw all these evil ones out of here". Mr Yosef and his Shas Party are not fringe elements in Israel; with 11 Knesset members Shas is in the Netanyahu government, holding five cabinet posts. It is important to note his comments were nowhere to be found in the US media. James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute.