Exit polls show Senator Barack Obama having substantial support from American Jewish voters. But questions continue to be asked about how he relates to issues of concern to the Jewish community, especially the security of Israel. Some questioning no doubt stems from his limited national record. But it also surely reflects a campaign to define him as "anti-Israel" by some political adversaries and opponents of a "two states for two peoples" peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
a President Obama would be a true friend of Israel because he recognizes its need for lasting security and that, a necessary component of Israeli security is a peace settlement with the Palestinians based on two states for two peoples; and
Barack Obama's views coincide with the mainstream of American Jewish public opinion.
Senator Obama in his own words
Last Sunday morning, "Senator Obama of Illinois met with about 100 members of Cleveland's Jewish Community at the Landerhaven function hall in Cleveland." His campaign provided "a partial transcript of the session," which the New York Sun published. They are not the words of a naif, or of someone ill-informed about the complexities of the region. They are the words of someone with- an evident love of Israel, - a firm devotion to her security, and - a wise recognition that lasting security for Israel can be based only on a peace settlement with the Palestinians that enables the Palestinians to enjoy their own national self-determination in a viable state of their own alongside Israel.
Here are some excerpts:
Well here's my starting orientation is A - Israel's security is sacrosanct, is non negotiable. That's point number one. Point number two is that the status quo I believe is unsustainable over time. So we're going to have to make a shift from the current deadlock that we're in. Number three that Israel has to remain a Jewish state and what I believe that means is that any negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is going to have to involve the Palestinians relinquishing the right of return as it has been understood in the past. And that doesn't mean that there may not be conversations about compensation issues. It also means the Israelis will have to figure out how do we work with a legitimate Palestinian government to create a Palestinian state that is sustainable. It's going to have to be contiguous, its going to have to work its going to have to function in some way. That's in Israel's interest by the way. If you have a balkanized unsustainable state, it will break down and we will be back in the same boat. So those are the starting points of my orientation.
My goal then would be to solicit as many practical opinions as possible in terms of how we're going to move forward on a improvement of relations and a sustainable peace. The question that I will be asking any advisor is how does it achieve the goal of Israel's security and how does it achieve the goal of sustainability over the long term and I want practical, hardheaded, unromantic advice about how we're going to achieve that.
Something that [Cong.] Robert [Wexler] said that I think is very important. I have consistently said this, and I have said this to Palestinians, I said this when I was in Ramallah, that you cannot fault Israel for being concerned about any peace agreement if the Palestinian state or Palestinian authority or Palestinian leadership does not seem to be able to follow through on its commitments. And I think the approach we have to take with respect to negations is that you sit down and talk, but you have to suspend trust until you can see that the Palestinian side can follow through and that's a position that I have consistently taken and the one I will take with me to the White House.
Senator Obama also was audacious enough -- some might say foolhardy, I would say brave enough -- to acknowledge his differences with some hardest-line elements within the American Jewish community:
This is where I get to be honest and I hope I'm not out of school here. I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have a honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress. And frankly some of the commentary that I've seen which suggests guilt by association or the notion that unless we are never ever going to ask any difficult questions about how we move peace forward or secure Israel that is non military or non belligerent or doesn't talk about just crushing the opposition that that somehow is being soft or anti-Israel, I think we're going to have problems moving forward. And that I think is something we have to have an honest dialogue about.
I also expect to work on behalf of peace with the full knowledge that Israel still has bitter enemies who are intent on its destruction. . . . Threats of Israel's destruction can not be dismissed as rhetoric. The threat from Iran is real and my goal as president would be to eliminate that threat. Ending the war in Iraq I believe will be an important first step in achieving that goal because it will increase our flexibility and credibility when we deal with Iran. My approach to Iran will be aggressive diplomacy. . . . The time I believe has come to talk to directly to the Iranians and to lay out our clear terms. Their end of pursuit of nuclear weapons, an end of their support of terrorism and an end of their threat to Israel and other countries in the reason.
Attacks on Senator Obama through his advisors
Some people have tried to attack Senator Obama by questioning his advisors' support for Israel, particularly Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Carter. But in his Cleveland remarks, Senator Obama set the record straight.
There is a spectrum of views in terms of how the US and Israel should be interacting. It has evolved over time. It means that somebody like Brzezinski who, when he was national security advisor would be considered not outside of the mainstream in terms of his perspective on these issues, is now considered by many in the Jewish Community anathema. I know Brzezinski he's not one of my key advisors. I've had lunch with him once, I've exchanged emails with him maybe 3 times. He came to Iowa to introduce for a speech on Iraq. He and I agree that Iraq was an enormous strategic blunder and that input from him has been useful in assessing Iraq, as well as Pakistan, where actually, traditionally, if you will recall he was considered a hawk. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party was very suspicious of Brzezinski precisely because he was so tough on many of these issues. I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally. The others that you refer to are former members of the Clinton administration. Somebody like a Tony Lake [a 2005 convert to Judaism], the former National Security Adviser [to President Bill Clinton], or Susan Rice - these are not anti-Israel individuals. These are people who strongly believe in Israel's right to exist. Strongly believe in a two state solution. Strongly believe that the Palestinians have been irresponsible and have been strongly critical of them. Share my view that Israel has to remain a Jewish state, that the US has a special relationship with the Jewish state. There's no inkling that there has been anything in anything that they've written that would suggest they're not stalwart friends of Israel.
[O]ne of the things that struck me when I went to Israel was how much more open the debate was around these issues in Israel than they are sometimes here in the United States. It's very ironic. I sat down with the head of Israeli security forces and his view of the Palestinians was incredibly nuanced because he's dealing with these people every day. There's good and there's bad, and he was willing to say sometimes we make mistakes and we made this miscalculation and if we are just pressing down on these folks constantly without giving them some prospects for hope, that's not good for our security situation. There was a very honest, thoughtful debate taking place inside Israel. All of you, I'm sure, have experienced this when you travel there. Understandably, because of the pressure that Israel is under, I think the U.S. pro-Israel community is sometimes a little more protective or concerned about opening up that conversation. But all I'm saying though is that actually ultimately should be our goal, to have that same clear eyed view about how we approach these issues.
Senator Obama and the American Jewish mainstream
The Zogby survey also provided some interesting data about the general political outlook of American Jews:* Democrat: 66% of Jewish Americans * Republican: 16% of Jewish Americans * Independent: 15% of Jewish Americans
* Progressive: 19% of Jewish Americans* Liberal: 34% of Jewish Americans * Moderate: 27% of Jewish Americans * Conservative: 16% of Jewish Americans * Very Conservative: 2% of Jewish Americans * Libertarian: 3% of Jewish Americans
Diarist's tags: Barack Obama, American Jews, Israel, Palestine, Americans for Peace Now, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice