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Wiesenthal Center: Democratic candidates favor hands-on peace approach; McCain, not so much

by Tom Tugend

April 10, 2008 | 6:00 pm

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama favor an active U.S. role in encouraging Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, while Republican John McCain advocates more of a hands-off approach.

The three contenders cited their stands, often in lengthy statements, in response to a 10-part questionnaire sent them by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"We must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace, rejects violence, and is willing to make the painful concessions necessary to end the conflict," elaborated Clinton.

Obama wrote that while an agreement was ultimately up to the main parties involved, he pledged "a personal commitment" that his administration would "support Israel as it makes the tough choices for peace."

McCain reaffirmed "our commitment to a two-state solution," but did not detail a specific American role. However, he pledged that he would work "to further isolate the enemies of Israel, such as Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah."

Most of the 10 questions dealt with foreign policy in the Middle East, mostly focusing on Israel, but they also dealt with policy toward Iran. Two questions examined the U.S. economy and immigration policy.

All three candidates affirmed that Israel must ultimately make its own decisions, free of U.S. pressure, and must retain its character as a Jewish state.

Obama used the occasion to again condemn the incendiary remarks of his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and promised to "pursue policies that further seek to eradicate discrimination from our society...and close the wealth and health care gaps."

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, explained that he and his communications director, Avra Shapiro, designed the questionnaire as a public service and that the center, as a non-profit organization, could not and would note endorse any candidate.

He recounted that in the 1984 election, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for president, the Wiesenthal Center had criticized his allusion to New York City as "Hymietown."

Soon after, Hier received a letter from the Federal Communications Commission warning him against endorsing or attacking any candidate.

Hier said that the candidates' detailed responses to the questionnaire pointed to the attention they paid to the Jewish vote, as the election draws nearer.

For the full list of questions and responses, go to www.wiesenthal.com.

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