A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Is Hamas Backing Obama for President?


Q: Did Hamas endorse Barack Obama?

A: A top adviser to the militant group has spoken favorably about Obama's candidacy.

FULL ANSWER:

John McCain's campaign has made much of the kind words an adviser to Hamas had for Barack Obama, calling the comments an "endorsement" of the candidate. (The State Department classifies the Palestinian militant group as a terrorist organization.) A fundraising letter sent to supporters on April 18, for instance, reads in part: "Barack Obama's foreign policy plans have even won him praise from Hamas leaders. … We need change in America, but not the kind of change that wins kind words from Hamas." In a phone call with conservative bloggers, McCain added, "I think it is very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. … If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas, I think people can make judgments accordingly," according to several news reports.

This might give you a touch of deja vu: Obama's campaign has been dogged by baseless smears about his being a radical Muslim with ties to terrorist organizations, and these have turned out to be fabrications. This time, though, McCain is correct: Ahmed Yousef, Hamas' chief political adviser, has in fact spoken highly of Obama and expressed hope that he will win the election.

In an April 2008 interview with WABC Radio in New York, Yousef was asked whether he thought the Palestinian prime minister would be willing to meet with Obama and Clinton before the election. He responded:

Yousef: We don't mind. Actually, we like Mr. Obama, and we hope he will [inaudible] the election. I do believe he is like John Kennedy, a great man with great principles, and he has a vision to change America, to make it in a position to lead the world community, but not with domination and arrogance.

(Yousef is often quoted as saying "we hope he will win the election," but this part of the audio is garbled. "We hope he will win" is a reasonable interpretation.)

Whether this constitutes a political endorsement is debatable, as Yousef is in no position to vote for Obama himself, nor did he recommend that others vote for him. And endorsements are usually sought-after and greatly publicized, whereas Obama has in no way welcomed Yousef's supposed endorsement.

Also, saying that Hamas supports Obama is not saying that Obama supports Hamas, or that he would acquiesce to the group's demands as president. Indeed, Obama has explicitly condemned Hamas. When former president Jimmy Carter met with Hamas leaders in April, Obama criticized his decision, saying that "we must not negotiate with a terrorist group intent on Israel's destruction." And both Obama and McCain were among 90 cosponsors of the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which would make it U.S. policy to "urge members of the international community to avoid contact with and refrain from financially supporting the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm and accept prior agreements." Obama has said many times that he would not meet or negotiate with Hamas as president, and he has criticized McCain for implying otherwise. "To engage in that kind of smear," he told CNN in a May 8 interview, "is unfortunate, particularly since my policy toward Hamas has been no different than his."

-Jess Henig

Update, June 6: Hamas has reversed its position on Obama, following a speech that the candidate gave to the American Israel Public Affairs Council. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuri said that "we consider the statements of Obama to be further evidence of the hostility of the American administration to Arabs and Muslims," and that the speech "destroys any hope for change in American policies toward the Arab-Israeli conflict".

Sources

Rohter, Larry. "On McCain, Obama and a Hamas Link." The New York Times. 10 May 2008.

Associated Press. "Obama Critical of Carter-Hamas Meeting." The Los Angeles Times. 17 Apr. 2008.

Quaid, Libby. "Obama accuses McCain of 'losing his bearings.'" The Associated Press. 8 May 2008.