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Obama tells Jewish voters: Barack = Baruch

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Published on May 23, 2008

There are some Jews who would be made anxious by Mr. Obama even if he changed his first name to Baruch and had his bar mitzvah on Masada. But after speaking with him it struck me that, by the standards of rhetorical correctness maintained by such groups as the Conference of Presidents and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, Mr. Obama is actually more pro-Israel than either Ehud Olmert or Ehud Barak. (To say nothing of John McCain and President George W. Bush, who spoke to the Knesset last week about external threats to Israel's safety but made no mention of the country's missteps.) This is an existentially unhealthy state of affairs. I am not wishing that the next president be hostile to Israel, God forbid. But what Israel needs is an American president who not only helps defend it against the existential threat posed by Iran and Islamic fundamentalism, but helps it to come to grips with the existential threat from within. A pro-Israel president today would be one who prods the Jewish state — publicly, continuously and vociferously — to create conditions on the West Bank that would allow for the birth of a moderate Palestinian state. Most American Jewish leaders are opposed, not without reason, to negotiations with Hamas, but if the moderates aren't strengthened, Hamas will be the only party left.

The unsentimental analysis of men like Mr. Olmert and Mr. Barak came to mind this week as I spoke to Barack Obama about his views on Israel. He spoke with seemingly genuine feeling about the post-Holocaust necessity of Israel; about his cultural affinity with Jews (he may be the first presidential candidate to confess that his sensibility was shaped in part by the novels of Philip Roth); and about his adamant opposition to the terrorist group Hamas. He offered some mild criticism of the settlement movement ("not helpful") and promised to be unyielding in his commitment to Israeli security

And the best way to bring about the birth of a Palestinian state is to reverse — not merely halt, but reverse — the West Bank settlement project. The dismantling of settlements is the one step that would buttress the dwindling band of Palestinian moderates in their struggle against the fundamentalists of Hamas. So why won't American leaders push Israel publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, in their polemical work "The Israel Lobby," have it wrong: They argue, unpersuasively, that American support for Israel hurts America. It doesn't. But unthinking American support does hurt Israel.

The people of Aipac and the Conference of Presidents are well meaning, and their work in strengthening the overall relationship between America and Israel has ensured them a place in the world to come. But what's needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel. Barack Obama and John McCain, the likely presidential nominees, are smart, analytical men who understand the manifold threats Israel faces 60 years after its founding. They should be able to talk, in blunt terms, about the full range of dangers faced by Israel, including the danger Israel has brought upon itself. But this won't happen until Aipac and the leadership of the American Jewish community allow it to happen.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/opi...

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