Does Obama’s name alone hurt the Middle East Peace process?

Opinion

President Barack Obama (C) talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C, R) as Israeli President Shimon Peres (C, L) looks on during a welcoming ceremony on his arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport on March 20, 2013 near Tel Aviv, Israel. This will be Obama's first visit as President to the region, and his itinerary will include meetings with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. (photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty images)

President Barack Obama (C) talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C, R) as Israeli President Shimon Peres (C, L) looks on during a welcoming ceremony on his arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport on March 20, 2013 near Tel Aviv, Israel. This will be Obama's first visit as President to the region, and his itinerary will include meetings with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. (photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty images)

With President Obama arriving in Israel this week to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and give an address in Jerusalem, the issue of Mideast peace is once again on the front burner.

When Obama gave a speech in Cairo, Egypt in 2009 and extended a hand to the Muslim world, there was hope that a new face in the White House, a black U.S. president, would provide a breath of fresh air to that troubled region, and help jump start the peace process.

Meanwhile, Obama’s detractors have thwarted his efforts at Mideast peace by vilifying his name, race and his father’s religion.  Their smear campaign to paint the president as a Muslim—as if there is something wrong with being Muslim—who is a non-citizen and anti-Israel have helped to throw cold water on his peace efforts.  If President Obama were white and had a different name, it is hard to imagine that the anti-Israel label would stick as it does now.

Republicans in Congress, including the Tea Party, neoconservative and fundamentalist Christian varieties, don’t like Obama.  They do not want an end to the apartheid-like system of occupation, with its Bantustans, checkpoints and ID cards for Palestinians, and Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.  And they have no interest in Palestinian self-determination, and are gunning for a war with Iran. 

Conservatives have portrayed Obama as placating enemies such as Iran, and being too hard on Israel.  Most of all, they falsely divide the world into good and evil, a war between Judeo-Christian values and the existential threat of the Islamic world.  And they characterize the president as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who wants to bring Sharia law to America.  In other words, he is “one of them”— not white, not Christian and certainly un-American, with the foreign name Barack Hussein Obama — and cannot be trusted. 

Unfortunately, the birther and Tea Party conspiracy theorists—which include members of the radical lunatic fringe and hate groups—have penetrated the mainstream of U.S. public opinion.  And the Mideast policy debate in the U.S. is often dominated by pro-war lobbying groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which has the support of only 23 percent of Jewish-Americans.