Last week, Barack Obama gave a speech in Cleveland to a group of Jewish community leaders. Though Marty has already declared Obama Kosher, there are still some rumblings amongst Jews about what an Obama presidency would mean for Israel, as evidenced in a Times piece on Friday. Much of the attacks on Obama in the Jewish community have been outright smears, trying to paint him as a secret Muslim (Hillary, shameless and desperate as she is, thinks she can get away with this mischief herself). But just because anti-Obama smear artists exist does not mean that legitimate questions about his positions ought also be categorized as scurrilous. A telling line in Obama's speech last week is illustrative of these concerns:
"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel."
If this sounds familiar, it's because it is. In 2003, Democratic Virginia Congressman Jim Moran infamously said that Jews were responsible for the Iraq War. Six prominent Jewish Democratic colleagues of Moran -- including Henry Waxman, Martin Frost and Tom Lantos -- publicly announced that they could not support Moran for re-election, and Nancy Pelosi demoted him from a position in the minority leadership. In his defense, Moran went onto decry the Likudnik conspiracy that was out to get him, attacking the Israeli political party and openly identifying himself with Labor. For instance, in 2004 he told The Hill:
"I'm never going to satisfy people who think we should be giving unequivocal support to the Likud Party."
Such protestations about the all-encompassing power of "Likud" is a trope in the victimization rhetoric of peace-processors who constantly blame Israel for the region's woes while pretending to be valiant friends of the Jewish State.
Hillary couldn't find a better example of Obama's foreign policy naivete than his attempt to intervene in the domestic politics of our most important ally in the Middle East. Given that Likud will probably form the next Israeli government, why would Obama go out of his way to ridicule the party and declare that its sympathizers in America have a nefarious influence on our politics? Statements such as the one Obama made last week are highly unusual and ill-advised for a presidential contender, never mind a president.
Politicians don't write their own speeches. But Barack Obama does not have a reputation for being a detached campaigner, and it's reasonable to assume that he came up with this formulation on his own. Or, in a more charitable analysis, perhaps Obama does not know that much about the metrics of the debate regarding the "Israel Lobby," and is merely delivering the words of his dovish advisors who have long operated under the illusion that they're oppressed and slandered for being dovish. Either one of these scenarios lends credence to the observation that the anxiety about what an Obama presidency would mean for Israel and the greater cause of freedom in the Middle East is hardly just the stuff of smear campaigns.