Editor’s note: In 2008, WND thoroughly vetted President Obama’s radical background. Many of those original exclusive reports, almost entirely ignored by the establishment news media, currently are being utilized four years later by some media outlets in the lead up to this year’s presidential election. From now until Election Day, WND will present original investigations into Obama and his radical ties with bonus updates. These reports are as important today as they were in 2008. The first story examined whether Valerie Jarrett, one of President Obama’s closest advisers, was introduced to the president’s political circles by her father-in-law, a communist sympathizer who worked with the radical Obama mentor Frank Marshall Davis. Following is the second of a series of articles aimed at re-vetting Obama.
JERUSALEM – Back in the 1990s, Barack Obama spoke at fundraisers for Palestinians living in what the United Nations terms refugee camps, as WND was first to report.
Palestinians have long demanded the “right of return” for millions of “refugees,” a formula Israeli officials across the political spectrum warn is code for Israel’s destruction by flooding the Jewish state with millions of Muslim Arabs, thereby changing its demographics.
As president, Obama has faced criticism of his stance on Israel, including his unprecedented call for a complete halt to Jewish construction in the eastern sections of Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria as a precondition for talks with the Palestinians.
Obama has hailed his presidential track record on the Jewish state, touting continued financial aid and loan guarantees to Israel. Such standard funding falls mostly within the purview of Congress, however.
On the specific issue of Palestinian “refugees,” Obama has never indicated he will push for the so-called right of return.
In a conference in January 2008 with Jewish and Israeli media aimed primarily at dispelling Internet reports he is anti-Israel, Obama stated “Palestinian refugees” belong in their own state and do not have a “literal” right of return to Israel.
“We cannot move forward until there is some confidence that the Palestinians are able to provide the security apparatus that would prevent constant attacks against Israel from taking place,” continued Obama during the conference with Jewish journalists.
But in the 1990s Obama was a speaker at events in Chicago’s large Palestinian immigrant community to raise funds for U.N. camps for the so-called Palestinian refugees.
Ali Abunimah, a Chicago-based Palestinian-American activist and co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian online publication, recalls introducing Obama at one such event, a 1999 fundraiser for the Deheisha Palestinian camp in the West Bank.
Abunimah is a harsh critic of Israel and has protested outside pro-Israel events in the Chicago area.
Abunimah also popped up again in 2010 as a supporter of the Free Gaza Movement, which was behind the flotilla effort to support the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
In January 2008, Abunimah recalled his relationship with Obama from the early 1990s in an interview with Democracy Now!
“I knew Barack Obama for many years as my state senator – when he used to attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time,” Abuminah stated.
“I remember personally introducing [Obama] onstage in 1999, when we had a major community fundraiser for the community center in Deheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. And that’s 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,” Abunimah said.
Abunimah also was quoted that year saying that until a few years ago, Obama was “quite frank that the U.S. needed to be more evenhanded, that it leaned too much toward Israel.”
Abunimah noted Obama’s unusual stance toward Israel, commenting “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.”
‘Critical of U.S. bias toward Israel’
Abunimah previously described meeting with Obama at a fundraiser at the home of Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, reportedly a former PLO activist.
“[Obama]came with his wife. That’s where I had a chance to really talk to him,” Abunimah recalled. “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.”
According to quotes obtained by Gulf News, Abunimah recalled a 2004 meeting in a Chicago neighborhood while Obama was running for his Senate seat. Abunimah quoted Obama telling him “warmly” he was sorry that “I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race.”
“I’m hoping when things calm down, I can be more up front,” Abunimah reportedly quoted the senator as saying.
Abunimah said Obama urged him to “keep up the good work” at the Chicago Tribune, where Abunimah contributed guest columns that were highly critical of Israel.
Abunimah serves on the board of the Arab American Action Network, or AAAN, a controversial Arab group that mourns the establishment of Israel as a “catastrophe” and supports intense immigration reform, including providing driver’s licenses and education to illegal aliens. The AAAN was founded by Rashid Khalidi and is run by his wife, Mona.
WND reported the Woods Fund, a Chicago-based nonprofit on which Obama served as a paid director alongside a confessed domestic terrorist, provided $75,000 in grants to the AAAN.
‘Very active’ terror apparatus
Obama’s 1999 fundraising for the Palestinian Deheisha camp raised the eyebrows of one senior Israeli security official who was contacted by WND for comment on the issue in 2008.
The official, who was not aware of Obama’s fundraising, noted Deheisha, which is located near the city of Bethlehem, had a “very active” Palestinian terror apparatus in 1999, carrying out scores of deadly shootings against Israeli civilians that year.
Two of the most deadly suicide bombings in 2002 also were planned from Deheisha, where the suicide bombers originated, said the security official. On one such bombing, in March of that year, 11 people were killed and over 50 injured, four critically when a Deheisha bomber detonated his explosives next to a group of Jewish women waiting with their baby carriages for their husbands to leave a nearby synagogue.
The question of so-called Palestinian refugees is a sensitive one for supporters of Israel. All Israeli prime ministers have stated a final peace deal with the Palestinians cannot include the “return” of “refugees.”
When Arab countries attacked the Jewish state after its creation in 1948, some 725,000 Arabs living within Israel’s borders fled or were flushed out when the Jewish state pushed back attacking Arab armies. Also at that time, about 820,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries or fled following rampant persecution.
While most Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel and other countries, the majority of Palestinian Arabs have been maintained in 59 U.N.-run camps that do not seek to settle those Arabs elsewhere.
There are currently about 4 million Arabs who claim Palestinian refugee status with the U.N., including children and grandchildren of the original fleeing Arabs; Arabs living full-time in Jordan; and Arabs who long ago emigrated throughout the Middle East and to the West.
Other cases of worldwide refugees aided by the U.N. are handled through the international body’s High Commission for Refugees, which seeks to settle the refugees quickly, usually in countries other than those from which they fled.
The U.N. created a special agency – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA – specifically to handle registered Palestinian refugees. It’s the only refugee case handled by the U.N. in which the declared refugees are housed and maintained in camps for generations instead of facilitating the refugees’ resettlement elsewhere.
The U.N. officially restricts the definition of refugee status worldwide for nationalities outside the Palestinian arena to those who fled a country of nationality or habitual residence due to persecution, who are unable to return to their place of residence and who have not yet been resettled. Future generations of original refugees are not included in the U.N.’s definition of refugees.
But the U.N. uses a different set of criteria only when defining a Palestinian refugee – allowing future generations to be considered refugees; terming as refugees those Arabs who have been resettled in other countries, such as hundreds of thousands in Jordan; removing the clause requiring persecution; and removing the clause requiring a refugee to be fleeing his or her “country of nationality or habitual residence.”
Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, routinely refer to the “right of return,” claiming the declared right is mandated by the U.N. But the two U.N. resolutions dealing with the refugee issue recommend that Israel “achieve a just settlement” for the “refugee problem.” The resolutions, which are not binding, do not speak of any “right of return” and leave open the possibility of monetary compensation or other kinds of settlements.