“What a country. It makes me want to puke.” Thus spoke Bill Ayers, the former but unrepentant Weatherman terrorist who’s now a professor of education at the University of Illinois, in 2001. The country he had in mind was the United States. It’s a safe bet that people with his degree of America-hatred don’t like Israel, either. Indeed, Ayers has now joined 431 academics in signing an anti-Israeli petition.
Not surprisingly, it accuses Israel of apartheid—the ritual accusation of the Israel-hating crowd that dreams of Israel’s Jewish-majority government being forced to dissolve the way South Africa’s white-minority government was forced to. The petition also “urge[s] our colleagues, nationally, regionally, and internationally, to stand up against Israel’s ongoing scholasticide and to support the non-violent call for academic boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions.”
Soon after signing the petition Ayers, along with his wife and fellow former terrorist Bernadine Dohrn, was in Egypt, agitating to be allowed into Gaza to express “solidarity” with the Gazans and their leadership, Hamas.
It’s a testament to the irresistible pull, for people like Ayers and Dohrn, of terrorism directed at a democratic society—in their own case, the U.S., in Hamas’s, Israel. In a 1974 manifesto, Ayers, Dohrn, and two other coauthors wrote that “We are communist women and men…deeply affected by the historic events of our time in the struggle against U.S. imperialism.” Somehow, that morphs into sympathy for fanatically religious, socioculturally troglodyte Hamas—with the spilt blood of democratic citizens as the connecting glue.
Ayers’s antics are still of interest because of his close past connections with the current U.S. president. Ayers helped get Obama’s political career going in the mid-1990s by featuring him in meetings at his home. Ayers also appointed Obama as the first chairman of his school-reform group, Chicago Annenberg Challenge, and the two of them apparently worked closely together. There is even considerable evidence that Ayers ghost-wrote Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father.
It was particularly Obama’s association with Ayers and with Obama’s longtime pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, that sparked fears that America was on the way to electing a radical president. Wright and Ayers were intensely worrisome from Israel’s standpoint, too. Ayers, for his part, accused Israel in a 2006 blog post of “invading” the New York public schools with its “elaborate, self-aggrandizing, and thoroughly dishonest story of itself….” Last month he said that “small little Israel…tends to make U.S. foreign policy” and called this a “disaster” and “something we could end.”
Were Israel’s fears that Obama would be influenced by such attitudes justified? It seemed that way for a while. As when, in his speech last June in Cairo, Obama found ways to relativize and mitigate all evils that occur in the Muslim world and referred only to Israeli settlements as an intolerable offense that “must stop,” and then continued (along with other members of his administration) to pound away on the settlements issue while referring only delicately and obliquely to the mounting domestic brutalities of the Iranian regime.
More recently, though, Obama and his administration have taken a softer line on Israel and allayed some of these fears. As Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren pointed out, the U.S. under Obama has in the past months backed Israel by opposing the Goldstone report and by pulling out of joint military maneuvers with Turkey after Turkey forced Israel out of them.
Reasons for the change could include Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deft deflection of the administration’s pressures; Obama’s preoccupation with a host of other issues from health care to domestic terror to Afghanistan to Yemen; and perhaps even the evident intransigence and refusal to negotiate of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
Ideally, however, the change would reflect Obama’s progress from an Ayers-type view of the world, in which the United States and Israel are its main troublemakers, to realism about the actual threats that civilization faces. On that score, though, Obama’s continued ineptitude in dealing with Tehran means it’s much too soon to celebrate. Israel, as the country most directly threatened by Iran’s nuclear drive, can only hope he can still shed the old myopia that led him to people like Ayers in the first place.