Thursday, May 3, 2007

Obama faltering with Jews

The Christian Science Monitor has an insightful read today on Sen. Barack Obama's lackluster start courting the much needed "Jewish vote" in his quest for the presidency. (I put that in quotes because, despite the relevance of garnering the votes of Jews, God's people do not vote as one.)

Washington - For a candidate intent on courting the Jewish vote, some of the headlines for Sen. Barack Obama in recent weeks have been less than heartening.

"Obama comment draws fire from Jews," the Des Moines Register declared after the senator's unscripted remark at an Iowa campaign stop in March that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people" from stalled peace efforts with the Israelis.

"Obama on the Mideast: Not quite comfortable," The Chicago Jewish Star said after his first major policy speech on the Middle East, to a pro-Israel group in his hometown.

And at last week's Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina, Senator Obama's omission of Israel in response to a question about America's top allies gave moderator Brian Williams an opening to revisit the Iowa flap in front of a television audience of more than 2 million.

ObamaChrist.jpgNo mention was made of Obama Christ.

Even in that short span, his remarks have undergone a subtle evolution.

In March, he spoke of relaxing restrictions on aid to the Palestinians and said "both the Israeli and Palestinian people have suffered from the failure to achieve" the "goal" of "two states living side by side in peace and security." While asserting that the United States should isolate Hamas and other Palestinian Islamic militants, he said that "Israel will also have some heavy stones to carry" in any peace process.

By last week, however, the references to Palestinian suffering and Israeli heavy-lifting were gone, replaced by a less nuanced pro-Israel stance nearly indistinguishable from that of his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

"When I am president, the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel in search of this peace and in defense against those who seek its destruction," Obama told an audience at the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), where his staff also handed out a 29-page "American-Israeli Relationship Issue Packet."

Yet two days later, when asked at the debate at South Carolina State University to name America's three most important allies, Obama listed the European Union, NATO, and Japan.

"I didn't hear you mention Israel," Mr. Williams interjected, asking whether the senator still stood behind his statement that "no one is suffering more than the Palestinian people."

"What I said is, nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel, to renounce violence, and to get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region," Obama replied. "Israel has been one of our most important allies around the world."

Senator Clinton learned the price of striking an off note on Middle East politics early in her first Senate campaign. In 1999, she kissed Suha Arafat, the wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, moments after Mrs. Arafat accused Israel of gassing Palestinian women and children. Clinton later claimed Mrs. Arafat's remarks had been mistranslated and eventually denounced them, but the episode threatened to derail her campaign.

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