Obama out to prove pro-Israel credentials

By Nathan Guttman, May 23, 2008

As Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama moves toward securing his party’s nomination, attacks on the candidate’s views on Israel and the Middle East are intensifying.

Mr Obama, who is now on a collision course with President George Bush and with Republican nominee John McCain over his more equivocal policy on Hamas and Iran, has made a point of answering every attack and of increasing his effort to prove his pro-Israel credentials to the US Jewish community.

The latest flare-up involved President Bush’s visit to Israel last week, in which he warned the Knesset against those trying “to appease” extremists and terrorists, comparing them to politicians who sought to appease Hitler. The Obama camp, and the entire Democratic Party, understood the remarks as a reference to Mr Obama’s statement he would enter into talks with Iran if elected president. The wording and venue of President Bush’s remarks led to a harsh response from Mr Obama, who called them “dishonest, divisive attacks”. Democratic leaders also criticised President Bush for dealing with internal politics while on an official visit abroad.

Mr Obama is also facing continuous attacks from Mr McCain, who claims he is weak on dealing with Iran and the favourite candidate of Hamas.

Sources on the Obama campaign said last week that the Illinois senator will continue his effort to counter these attacks. Congressman Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat and one of Mr Obama’s strongest supporters in the Jewish community, said the candidate does not intend to slow down his drive to win over Jewish votes.

“Our goal is to out-perform John Kerry in the Jewish community,” Mr Wexler said, referring to the 2004 Democratic candidate who won 76 per cent of the Jewish votes in the presidential race.

A recent Gallup poll found Mr Barack almost tied with Hillary Clinton in Jewish support and way ahead of Mr McCain. Yet Democratic consultant Matt Dorf said he believed Mr Barack’s efforts within the Jewish community are justified.

“He is facing outrageous lies about his views on the Middle East and he is dealing with them in a smart and targeted way,” Mr Dorf said.

These efforts reached their peak earlier this month during Israel’s 60th Independence Day celebrations. Mr Obama showed up unexpectedly Israeli embassy party in Washington, and spoke passionately in favour of strong US-Israeli relations.

He also gave interviews to Israeli TV stations and to Jewish columnists, talking about his long-lasting ties with Israel and the impact that Israeli and Jewish authors had on his world view.

However, veteran lobbyist and political analyst Doug Bloomfield believes the effect will be just like chicken soup. “It will probably not help much, but it won’t do any harm,” he said.

Last updated: 4:11pm, June 19 2008