Obama Scoots to the Center at AIPAC
Just a day after clinching the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama appeared before the gathering of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), as John McCain had done earlier in the week.
His mission: reaching out to American Jews, many of whom have expressed concern over his choice of Middle East advisors, his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright (who called Israel a "dirty" word), his past relationships with Palestinian activists and his position on meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmajinedad.
Ironically, his address came on the same day that embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was set to meet with President George W. Bush. For Olmert, facing a bribery scandal likely to end his tenure imminently, this is likely his last official visit to the White House.
The implication of the day was clear: by year's end both countries will have new leadership.
Obama's speech was noteworthy both for what he said and for what he did not - and for what he said differently than in the past.
As for what he said, he began by suggesting, as he has done before, that nefarious emails making their way across the Internet had given Jews the wrong idea about him:
I want to say that I know some provocative emails have been circulating throughout Jewish communities across the country. A few of you may have gotten them. They're filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for President. And all I want to say is - let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty frightening.
He then recited his personal devotion to Israel, correctly related his great uncle's role in liberating Buchenwald (he previously had mangled the tale, indicating it was his uncle and the concentration camp was Auschwitz). He criticized U.S. foreign policy under President George W. Bush, and said that he remains devoted to Israel, promising to maintain Israel's military advantage over its enemies.
He also declared: "The long road to peace requires Palestinian partners committed to making the journey. We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements."
What he did not say is how he intended to pressure Israel's enemies to accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state or how negotiations could succeed on his watch in the absence of a responsible negotiating partner. Nor did he explain the distinction between excluding terrorists from the negotiating table and negotiating with the world's leading state sponsor of terror, Iran.
He also did not say how he would force Syria out of Lebanon, although he had many nice words of support for the U.N. resolution on the subject:
I also believe that the United States has a responsibility to support Israel's efforts to renew peace talks with the Syrians. We must never force Israel to the negotiating table, but neither should we ever block negotiations when Israel's leaders decide that they may serve Israeli interests. As President, I will do whatever I can to help Israel succeed in these negotiations. And success will require the full enforcement of Security Council Resolution 1701 in Lebanon, and a stop to Syria's support for terror. It is time for this reckless behavior to come to an end.
What Obama said differently than in the past is what caused the most stir. Last September he skipped the vote to the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment classifying the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization (he opposed it and defended his opposition in its debate) . Other prominent Democrats including Hillary Clinton, fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid all voted in favor of the measure. At the time, and in a subsequent debate, Obama justified his vote, claiming it would empower the Bush administration to attack Iran as part of the war on Iraq. His website reiterated that position.
But that was then, this was AIPAC. In his speech, he spoke out in favor of "boycotting firms associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, whose Quds force has rightly been labeled a terrorist organization." Well that would be the vote he opposed.