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The Presidential Candidates and Israel By: Joseph Puder
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 16, 2008

Beyond the platitudes showered upon Israel and AIPAC by the presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama at AIPAC's Annual Policy Conference held in Washington D.C. June 2-4 looms the question of whether the candidates’ words will be translated into policies? The only real measure of their intentions might be revealed in their choice of advisors.

While McCain and the Republican Party have been solidly pro-Israel and have stood firmly on preventing a nuclear Iran, the names of James Baker (noted for having said F-k the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway), former Secretary of State under President Bush Sr. and Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor in the Ford and Bush Sr. administrations, have been mentioned as potential Secretaries of State and/or Middle East envoys and should raise serious concerns among pro-Israel activists and potential Jewish voters. 

Senator John McCain exclaimed at last year’s AIPAC convention that, "The only thing that is worse than a war with Iran, is an Iran in possession of a nuclear weapon."  James Baker (Baker-Hamilton Report co-author), advocated a dialogue with Iran and Syria, and posited that an Israeli-Palestinian peace is a prerequisite to dealing with Iraq and terrorism. Baker's intent was to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians (thereby pleasing his paymasters in Riyadh?).

Obama's potential Middle East advisors and likely foreign policy functionaries include Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinksi, who is solidly anti-Israel, and General Merrill A. McPeak former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force who blamed American Jews for "preventing peace in the Middle East." 

Barack Obama gave a most impressive speech on Wednesday morning June 4, 2008 in which he outlined his vision for the strategic cooperation his administration would have with Israel.  Obama declared that he would not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons, and would, if necessary, use the military option. He also said he would not allow any terrorist entities (Hamas) to be a partner in peace talks.  Obama went on to declare that the U.S. and Israel would cooperate to develop new sources of energy that would free the world from dependence on oil. Obama received a lengthy standing ovation when he declared that Jerusalem would remain united as the capital of Israel.

Particularly interesting about Obama's speech was the detailed description of how he would insure Israel's security and his passionate confirmation that the "bonds between Israel and the U.S. are unbreakable."  As President of the U.S. Obama said, he would arrange for a defense treaty with Israel, which would provide Israel with $3.2 billion annually, and would include Israel in the U.S. missile defense program. He also promised to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge over her neighbors that would guarantee that Israel would be able to confront any threat to her from Gaza to Tehran.

Less than twenty-four hours after delivering a warm pro-Israel speech at the AIPAC conference, Obama retracted his statement about an undivided Jerusalem following calls he received from Arab-American groups and the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

During Senator McCain’s Monday morning June 4th speech at AIPAC he declared that, "Over a year ago, I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran's ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and cease the pursuit of nuclear weapons."

McCain described his experience at Yad Va'shem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem stating that, "Today when we join in saying 'never again,’ that is not a wish, a request, or a plea to the enemies of Israel. It is a promise that the U.S. and Israel will honor, against any enemy who cares to test us."

McCain went on to say that "The threats to Israel's security are large and growing, and America's commitment must grow as well. I strongly support the increase in military aid to Israel, scheduled to begin in October. I am committed to making certain Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. Israel's enemies are too numerous, its margin of error too small, and our shared interests and values too great for us to follow any other policy."

In spite of their heartwarming words, the positions of these presidential candidates will be influenced by a multitude of factors, not by speeches/promises made at an AIPAC conference. 

Impromptu interviews conducted by this writer at the conference with a number of Jewish Democrats from California, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania, revealed a great deal of mistrust towards Barack Obama and his expected Middle East policies.  Some Republican voters however, were not entirely happy with McCain’s lack of “fire and energy” in contrast with Obama’s youthful energy.  Obama’s speech on Wednesday might have changed some minds, but it was apparent that most of the AIPAC crowd, even the Democrats, felt more comfortable with a McCain presidency.

What friends of Israel can be certain of is that a nuclear Iran would endanger Israel as well as the U.S. and therefore the U.S. must provide Israel with all that is necessary to defend itself.  What is uncertain is whether the U.S. will use its military option in a preemptive strike.  Both presidential candidates are committed to the two-state solution, and a terror-free Palestinian State.  The question is which one of the two potential presidents and their Middle East negotiators would press Israel harder to make unilateral concessions?

AIPAC’s role along with that of the pro-Israel community is to ensure that those who will be formulating foreign policy in general and Middle East policy in particular for the presidential candidates are vetted and found clear of anti-Israel bias and subservience to Saudi or other Arab interests.  It is also imperative that Israeli leaders stand proudly for the justness of Israel’s cause and for Jewish rights to live in peace throughout the land including the Golan, Judea, Samaria, and all the neighborhoods of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.

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