Thursday, January 17, 2008

Obama and Israel (New York Sun)

More reality checks on Barack Obama.

A friend alerted me to this editorial in the New York Sun. I have to say that the Sun's general perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the same as mine--I am a Peace Now tough-dove type who believes that it is both possible and necessary to be simultaneously pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and critical of extremist anti-Zionism, while the Sun's outlook often leans too much in a Likud direction (though I don't want to overstate that, either--it does support a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Nor do I agree with everything said in this editorial.

But its central thrust is absolutely correct and important. Whatever one thinks about Barack Obama on other grounds, any suggestion that Obama is in any way anti-Israel, or insufficiently supportive of Israel's existence and security, is either mistaken or deliberately false.

As I pointed out yesterday:
As far as I can tell, there is not the slightest shred of anti-Jewish or anti-Zionist rhetoric or action in Obama's own political record. He has had warm ties with and strong support from the Jewish community throughout his career; and as the events of the last few days have once again shown, Obama is willing to condemn anti-semitism in the African-American community explicitly and without equivocations. In fact, I am inclined to agree with my friend Adam LeBor that a President Obama would probably be good for the Jews (though Obama isn't the only Democratic candidate for which that's the case), and one way in which this is true is precisely that he's the kind of political leader who can help bridge some of the social and political rifts between Jews and African-Americans.
One can legitimately disagree with this or that position that Obama has taken on these or other issues. No problem. But Obama's overall record on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict is honorable, constructive, serious, and sensible. Any attempt to insinuate otherwise would be dishonest and irresponsible demagoguery ... so let's hope it doesn't happen to any significant degree. The Sun's pre-emptive strike against such demagoguery and misinformation is therefore commendable.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub
New York Sun Editorial
January 9, 2008
Obama and Israel

New York Republicans, according to an article in the New York Post yesterday, are preparing to attack Senator Obama for his supposed lack of support for Israel. "Obama's commitment to Israel is open to question, and that would help us with Jews," the Post quotes a "prominent New York Republican" as saying. We're no shills for Mr. Obama, but these Republicans haven't checked their facts. At least by our lights, Mr. Obama's commitment to Israel, as he has articulated it so far in his campaign, is quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America.

In remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Chicago in March, Mr. Obama spoke about his first visit to Israel, in January 2006. "I flew on an IDF helicopter to the border zone. The helicopter took us over the most troubled and dangerous areas and that narrow strip between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Sea. At that height, I could see the hills and the terrain that generations have walked across. I could truly see how close everything is and why peace through security is the only way for Israel," Mr. Obama said, sounding like a certain governor of Texas recounting the helicopter tour he got as a presidential candidate from a future prime minister named Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Obama spoke of "a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy." Quoth he: "That will always be my starting point." Mr. Obama spoke of the threat of Iran. "President Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust. He held a conference in his country, claiming it was a myth. But we know the Holocaust was as real as the 6 million who died in mass graves at Buchenwald, or the cattle cars to Dachau or whose ashes clouded the sky at Auschwitz. We have seen the pictures. We have walked the halls of the Holocaust museum in Washington and Yad Vashem. We have touched the tattoos on loved-ones arms. After 60 years, it is time to deny the deniers," he said.

Mr. Obama went further, stating: "In the 21st century, it is unacceptable that a member state of the United Nations would openly call for the elimination of another member state. But that is exactly what he has done. Neither Israel nor the United States has the luxury of dismissing these outrages as mere rhetoric." Mr. Obama added: "We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs. This would help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza."

He took Israel's side against those who would fault it for its actions in Lebanon in the Summer of 2006. "When Israel is attacked, we must stand up for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself," Mr. Obama said. "Last summer, Hezbollah attacked Israel. By using Lebanon as an outpost for terrorism, and innocent people as shields, Hezbollah has also engulfed that entire nation in violence and conflict, and threatened the fledgling movement for democracy there."


"When I am president, the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel," Mr. Obama told the National Jewish Democratic Council in February of 2007.

"Those who have worked with me in Chicago in the state Legislature and now in the United States Senate will testify that I have not just talked the talk, I have walked the walk when it comes to Israel's security. I think it is fundamental. I think it is something that is in the interests of the United States because of our special relationship, because Israel has not only established a democracy in the region but has been a stalwart ally of ours," Mr. Obama said to the NJDC. "The United States government and an Obama Presidency cannot ask Israel to take risks with respect to its security."

[....] Mr. Obama may not be the best candidate in the field in respect of Israel; he has some stiff competition in both parties. [....] But as a candidate, he has chosen to put himself on the record in terms that Israel's friends in America, at least those not motivated by pure political partisanship, can warmly welcome.

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