Wednesday, January 09, 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."

And Mr. Obama rejected the idea, put forth by Israel's false friends, that America does Israel any favors by exerting pressure in the name of peace. "We should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests. No Israeli Prime Minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States," Mr. Obama said. "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."

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Now the editors of these columns, whatever our faults, weren't born yesterday. We can remember, say, all the vows that a young governor of Arkansas, William Clinton, made, right here in New York, about how he was going to stand with Israel when he became president. And we remember how the liberal — and often Jewish — groups active on the Middle East front, promptly began confecting arguments in respect of how America should pressure the government in Jerusalem to be more forthcoming in its negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs. But Republicans plotting to attack Mr. Obama on Israel need to be careful lest the idea of the perfect becomes enemy of the good.

Mr. Obama may not be the best candidate in the field in respect of Israel; he has some stiff competition in both parties. He has failed to press the issue of Jerusalem. The American retreat he supports in Iraq would make the Middle East a more dangerous place for both Israel and America, not to mention, say, the free Lebanese and the Copts in Egypt. If Mr. Obama disappointed Israel once elected, he wouldn't be the first president to do so. 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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