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Obama: Eye to Eye with Israel -- or Wandering Eye?

BY RUSS WELLEN
03.31.2008 | POLITICS

For those who believe that the key to lowering the political temperature in the Middle East lies in snuffing out the pilot light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Senator Obama's otherwise transcendent race speech offered little of his trademark hope.

A view "that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam," as he characterized that of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, is "profoundly distorted." Once again, whatever you may think of them, Israel's policies toward Palestine were accepted as Bible.

In fact, though, there's a brewing discontent with Obama on the part of Israel hard-liners. The American Spectator's Robert Goldberg recently unearthed a 2003 interview with Obama's military adviser and national campaign co-chairman, Tony McPeak, already in the news for comparing Bill Clinton's campaign tactics to McCarthyism. The conservative and Israeli press have jumped all over it.

The comment deemed most controversial came in answer to the question of what was holding up the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. McPeak replied: "New York City. Miami We have a large vote. . . here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it."

Instead of using cities with large Jewish populations as code words, he'd have been better off using the word "Jews." But read the rest of article to see if McPeak's comments warrant Goldberg's conclusion that "Obama has a Jewish problem."

"Obama can issue all the boilerplate statements supporting Israel's right to defend itself he wants," Goldberg writes. "But until he accepts responsibility for allowing people like McPeak so close to his quest for the presidency, Obama's sincerity and judgment will remain open questions."

The Obama campaign dissociated itself from McPeak's statements. Still, the issue is not about to go away. Scott McConnell provides the background in an American Conservative piece titled "Obama's Israel Test: Is the lobby losing its grip?"

"On the surface, the tie between Barack Obama and Israel's establishment supporters is warm and comfortable," he writes. Last year, speaking at AIPAC's annual conference, Obama declared that "Israel was America's 'strongest ally' in the region [and] assured his listeners that he would neither 'drag' Israel to the negotiating table nor 'dictate' what would be best for the Jewish state's security."

But, Ed Lasky, editor of the neocon site American Thinker, who was present at the AIPAC speech, was unconvinced. McConnell quotes him: "[Obama's] speech was desultory. . . . lacking the spirit and energy that are. . . [his] trademark. He clearly seemed to be going through the motions." That's not inconceivable since, successful as his online fundraising has been, Obama is less reliant on organizations like AIPAC than candidates have traditionally been.

Israel hard-liners have harbored concerns about Obama since his attendance at a 1998 dinner where the late advocate for Palestinian self-determination, Professor Edward Said, gave a speech. In fact, a picture of Obama engaged in conversation with Said foreshadowed Rev. Wright's YouTube clips. Couple that with a 2000 picture of Said poised to throw a rock across the Lebanon-Israel border in the general vicinity of Israeli soldiers and you have a synergy made in hell.

Regarding Wright, though, the "Anti-Defamation League says it has no evidence of any anti-Semitism" on his part, as Jodi Kantor reported in her 2007 New York Times article on Obama's faith. Like Wright's denunciation of the US, Said's throw is considered by cooler heads to be a heat-of-the-moment aberration. In fact, Said, one of the two-state solution's first proponents, not only called for Palestinians' rights of self-determination, but respected the Zionist claim to land.

Obama, meanwhile, also draws fire from Israel hard-liners for other advisors besides McPeak with whom he surrounds himself. For example, McConnell writes, former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski who "for three decades. . . has quietly advocated that the United States take the initiative in outlining its vision of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement."

But the most bitter pill of all for Israel hard-liners to swallow is who might replace them at Obama's table: the new breed of conciliatory Jews -- those who "support a two-state-solution [and] have long taken a backseat to AIPAC and the neoconservatives." In other words, to the hard-liners, traitors to their own kind.

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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