Attempting to bar an expert on Osama bin Laden’s terror network from the airwaves is not exactly a feather in AAAN’s cap. Yet Obama continued his relationship with AAAN. Abunimah himself introduced Obama at a major fundraiser for a West Bank Palestinian community center a short time later in 1999. And that, says Abunimah, was “just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation.”
The year 2000 saw yet another public clash between Ali Abunimah and Jeff Jacoby over terrorism, along with a deepening alliance between Obama, Khalidi, Abunimah, and AAAN. In May 2000, Abunimah published a New York Timesop-ed taking issue with a State Department report on the rising threat of terrorism from the Middle East and South Asia. The report focused on al-Qaeda, in particular. This was one of the most timely and accurate warnings we received in the run-up to 9/11. Yet Abunimah trashed the report. In a longer study released around the time of his op-ed, Abunimah went further, questioning Hezbollah’s designation as a terrorist organization, and suggesting that we ought to be, at the very least, “deeply skeptical” of the State Department’s warnings about Osama bin Laden.
As Abunimah continued to downplay the threat from bin Laden, his ties to Obama deepened. In 2000, AAAN founder Rashid Khalidi held a fundraiser for Obama’s ultimately unsuccessful congressional campaign. Abunimah remembers that Obama “came with his wife. That’s where I had a chance to really talk to him. It was an intimate setting. He convinced me he was very aware of the issues [and] critical of U.S. bias toward Israel and lack of sensitivity to Arabs. . . . He was very supportive of U.S. pressure on Israel.” Obama’s numerous statements over the years criticizing American policy for leaning too much toward Israel were vivid in Abunimah’s memory, he says, because “these were the kind of statements I’d never heard from a U.S. politician who seemed like he was going somewhere rather than at the end of his career.” Obama’s criticism of America’s Middle East policy was sufficient to inspire Abunimah to pull out his checkbook and, for the first time, contribute to an American political campaign.
Within a year, Obama did Khalidi and Abunimah a good turn as well. From his position on the board of Chicago’s Woods Fund, Obama, along with Ayers and the other five members of the board, began to channel funds to AAAN, totaling $75,000 in grants during 2001 and 2002. Now Obama and Ayers were effectively supporting the pro-Palestinian activism of AAAN’s vice-president, Abunimah, and funding an organization founded by their mutual friends, the Khalidis, in the process.
In the first year of the Woods Fund grant, Abunimah was the focus of a critical Chicago Tribuneop-ed by Gidon Remba, a former translator in the Israeli prime minister’s office. Pointing to Abunimah, among others, Remba decried attempts by “Yasser Arafat’s Arab-American cheerleaders” to “vindicate the resurgence of attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian gunmen and Islamic suicide bombers.” Yet Obama and Ayers re-upped AAAN’s money in 2002.
An August 2002 profile of Abunimah in the Chicago Tribune quotes a supporter of Israel noting that, while he has heard Abunimah deplore terrorism, he has never heard Abunimah affirm that he “supports the continued right of Israel to exist alongside a future Palestine.” That is because Abunimah does not appear to recognize such a right. Instead, Abunimah favors a “one-state solution,” in which Israel’s identity as a Jewish state would be drowned out by an influx of Palestinian immigrants seeking the “right of return.” Abunimah’s book, One Country, which spells out his one-state solution, features an extended comparison between Israel and South African apartheid.