Jewish Journal

Obama’s record on Israel repudiates critics

by Mel Levine

Posted on Mar. 20, 2008 at 6:00 pm

In all my years in politics, I have not seen a candidate as gifted and transformative as Sen. Barack Obama. At a time when our country is divided and dispirited, one only needs to see the multigenerational, multiethnic and highly enthusiastic crowds at his rallies to sense that he has the rare ability to bring people together and help them make common cause.

Today, America has lost much respect and standing around the world -- but the world would see us differently on the day Obama is sworn in as our president. After long years of a bitterly disappointing presidency, we long for a president with the judgment, decency, intellect and leadership of Obama.

And as an American Jew deeply committed to the survival and security of the State of Israel, I am convinced that Obama is the candidate most deserving of our community's support. His values -- describing our shared responsibility for one another's welfare, rejecting prejudice of every kind -- are our values. He describes his philosophy as one of tikkun olam, repairing the world.

I could not support a candidate for president if I were not confident of that candidate's strong support for Israel. Obama is a stalwart supporter of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. He is deeply committed to helping Israel in her quest to achieve peace with her neighbors, and just as committed to ensuring that Israel can defend itself from those enemies that seek its destruction.

During the 2006 war with Hezbollah and the continuing Qassam barrages by Hamas, he has stood up for Israel's right of self-defense. He traveled to Israel in 2006 to gain a greater understanding of the security challenges Israel faces, and while there Obama spoke to Palestinian students in Ramallah, telling them that nothing can break the bonds between the United States and Israel.

He has introduced important legislation strongly supported by the pro-Israel community to make it easier for states to divest their pension funds from Iran as a means of increasing economic pressure to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

These facts explain why Obama is considered a trusted friend of Israel and the Jewish community by those who know him best: Chicago's Jewish community. Many of them have attested to his deep commitment to Israel's security, and his leadership in fighting anti-Semitism and working to restore the traditional friendship between Jewish and African American communities.

This is the truth about Obama. What I find reprehensible, therefore, is that our community has been invaded by a smear and fear campaign of character assassination against Obama, based on distortions, falsehoods and guilt by association slurs. We should be the first to reject and denounce such disreputable and frightening tactics, as they have all too often been used to victimize Jews.

In addition, the traditional bipartisan fight to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship is threatened when some, in both parties, seek political victories by defaming a friend of Israel, rather than honestly reporting the facts of Obama's record of strong support for Israel and other vitally important issues to our community.

Fortunately, the most credible of Israel's supporters, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, have clearly stated that Obama's record of support for Israel is superb. And the Anti-Defamation League has praised Obama's stands against anti-Semitism.

But, since some people who read these smears often are unaware of the facts, it is important to set the record straight. Here is a summary of some of the most commonly heard charges as well as the real facts, all of which are available on the public record.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: It has been alleged that Brzezinski heads the Obama foreign policy team. This is false. Brzezinski endorsed Obama because he agrees with Obama's views on Iraq. He is not an adviser to the campaign.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright: Last week, controversial statements, including some about Israel, made by Wright at Obama's Chicago church, were brought to light. Long before then, Obama had stated explicitly and repeatedly that he disagrees with Wright's views on Israel as well as on other issues, has told the pastor so and does not turn to Wright for political advice. And he specifically condemned and rejected as "appalling" the statements heard last week.

On Tuesday, Obama delivered an eloquent, personal statement both repudiating Wright's repugnant views and, more importantly, discussing the complex issue of race in America in a manner that CNN commentator Bill Schneider called the "most thoughtful and sophisticated" in recent memory.

In this important speech, Obama again expressed his strong support for our stalwart ally, Israel, rebutting any claims that the Middle East conflict is rooted in Israel's actions, rather than, as he put it, "emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."

Louis Farrakhan: Wright has made positive remarks about Farrakhan, and Farrakhan has done so about Obama. But Obama has stated explicitly and repeatedly that he condemns Farrakhan's anti-Semitic views, calling his statements "abhorrent." Obama has both "rejected" and "denounced" Farrakhan.

Obama has spoken out forcefully against anti-Semitism in the African American community, including recently during Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King's former pulpit in Atlanta.

All of Obama's work in Chicago bringing people together for more than 20 years is a direct repudiation of the bigotry of Farrakhan, who has operated in Chicago for that same period. In fact, Obama is quoted in the Chicago Reader in 1995 rejecting Farrakhan's anti-Semitism.

Rashid Khalidi: Recently, e-mails parroting a right-wing Web site have attempted to link Obama with the views of Khalidi, a prominent Palestinian American academic. But the public record makes completely clear that their views on the Middle East are very different.

It is true that they were both on the University of Chicago faculty at the same time and also that Obama sat on the board of a charity that funded an Arab American organization that did routine immigrant assistance work. But no one has -- or can -- point to anything in Obama's record to suggest that he shares Khalidi's views on the Middle East.

Those of us who care deeply about Israel have a profound stake in who serves as president of the United States. Israel has a great friend in Obama. And it does a disservice to Israel and to the U.S.-Israel relationship to allow those with a hostile political agenda to continue to assassinate the character of Obama, whose election as president would not only revitalize America's image in the world and elevate America's standing once again in the community of nations, but also would insure Israel of a steadfast and committed friend in the White House.

Mel Levine is a former congressman and currently serves as a Middle East policy adviser to Sen. Barack Obama.

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