Obama anti-Israel? Get the facts

Jun 3, 2008

Joel Engelhardt

Palm Beach Post

The longtime Democratic Jewish voter risked being late to her granddaughter's high school graduation to see Barack Obama speak. She watched his May 22 speech on TV as he addressed Jewish voters at a synagogue in Boca Raton.

She felt better, she said, after seeing the speech, but she still just didn't know. The ad that had run that day in The Palm Beach Post troubled her. It raised three questions about Sen. Obama, and she wasn't sure if she could vote for him.

The depth of her doubt shocked me. An ad bought by the National Women's Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition is going to influence whether you back a Democrat for president? This longtime Democratic Jewish voter, who stood up to her husband by backing Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956 when he lost to Dwight Eisenhower, usually didn't fall prey to such blatant manipulation.

An Obama spokesman would dismiss the ad's impact, saying "I give voters in South Florida - and voters across America - a lot more credit than that." But if Sen. Obama had lost this longtime Democratic Jewish voter, I fear that the candidate's staff is missing the point.

The voter's doubts began with a Jan. 15 Richard Cohen column in The Washington Post. It told how Sen. Obama's pastor, the now infamous Jeremiah Wright, had honored Louis Farrakhan, a renowned anti-Semite. Then came the tempest over Sen. Obama's willingness to talk to foreign leaders, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The allegations grew more outlandish as Sen. Obama's nomination grew more inevitable: The Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas, is rooting for him; Sen. Obama is a Muslim. By comparison, the newspaper ad appeared sensible.

The ad made three claims:

In January, according to Reuters, Sen. Obama called for a summit of Mideast nations, excluding Israel. In fact, Sen. Obama said, "I want to organize a summit in the Muslim world ... to have an honest discussion about ways to bridge the gap that grows every day between Muslims and the West."

Why not Israel? U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Delray Beach, a staunch defender of Israel and Sen. Obama, said, "Israel is not a Muslim nation." So, Jewish voters, is it bad to try to get Arab governments to be more moderate? Would another unprovoked war work better?

Obama adviser and former Air Force Chief of Staff Tony McPeak, in a 2003 interview with The Oregonian, "placed blame on Miami and New York Jews for the failure of the Middle East peace process." Decrying the lack of U.S. strategy in the Mideast, Gen. McPeak argued that Jewish political power blocks demands on Israel. Asked, what's the problem? he answered: "New York City. Miami. We have a large vote here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it."

"Unfortunate," Rep. Wexler called the comment. "It does not represent Barack Obama's view." But does it matter? Gen. McPeak, Rep. Wexler said, is not among Sen. Obama's Mideast advisers.

Finally, citing an April Los Angeles Times story and addressing Sen. Obama, the ad says: "You were a board member of a foundation that funded, during your tenure, the Arab American Action Network, a pro-Palestinian organization." The Times story is about Sen. Obama's relationship with Rashid Khalidi, "an internationally known scholar, critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights." Sen. Obama has distanced himself from Mr. Khalidi, perhaps to placate Jewish voters. But is he worse off for having heard, first-hand, the Palestinian case?

So, Sen. Obama wants Arab countries to confront terrorism. He gets military advice from a general who recognizes the political realities of Israel. He is friends with a Palestinian. Does this mean that he would sell out Israel?

Sen. Obama's voting record pleases the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He was mentored by Abner Mikva, a respected Jewish congressman and judge. His South Florida supporters include such well-known Jewish politicians as Rep. Wexler and state Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. He opposes the Palestinian right of return. He condemns Hamas and Hezbollah.

Will knowing the truth persuade the longtime Democratic Jewish voter? I hope so. I'd hate to think, after all these years, that my own mother would vote Republican.

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Political advertisement paid for and approved by Dan Gelber.