Sunday, March 30, 2008

Barack Obama and Israel, Part 1

During his three years in the U.S. Senate, Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama's voting record and statements have generally been quite supportive of Israel. In an op-ed piece which appeared in the New York Times on February 11, Roger Cohen quotes Obama and seeks to reassure Jewish voters that the Illinois Senator is, indeed, a supporter of Israel.

Shortly after launching his own Presidential campaign Ralph Nader, speaking on CNN, complained that Obama was pro-Palestinian prior to entering the Illinois Senate and urged the candidate to abandon his support of Israel. He followed that up on NBC by claiming that Obama is too pro-Israel. That Nader, who is of Lebanese descent, is staunchly anti-Israel is old news. The question he raises isn't: Is Barack Obama, in his heart of hearts, more sympathetic to the Palestinians than to Israel? Is his support for Israel a position he adopted for the purpose of running for public office rather than something he truly believes? Would an Obama administration continue the special relationship between Israel and the United States or would it condition that relationship on Israeli concessions that would seriously undermine Israel's security in the short term and its survival in the long term?

Senator Obama has precious little foreign policy experience of his own. He will undoubtedly depend heavily on his key foreign policy advisers. I think the best way to answer the questions I've posed is to take a look at the positions and records of his foreign policy and military advisers.

Robert Malley was a special assistant for Arab-Israeli Affairs under President Bill Clinton. He is also the only member of President Clinton's negotiating team at Camp David in 2000 who places the blame for the failure of the Oslo preace process squarely on the backs of the Israeli government. Prime Minister Sharon, who took the oh-so-controversial step of a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was repeatedly accused by Malley of "unswerving goals [...] for the last 30 years, to vanquish Mr. Arafat, and more recently, to undo the foundations of the Oslo agreement" while presenting Arafat as a man unswervingly dedicated to peace in spite of all evidence to the contrary. He also blames Israel and American foreign policy, not Hizbullah, for the 2006 Lebanon War. Malley has repeatedly called for providing Hamas with international aid and has equated the policies of Hamas terrorists with those of the Israeli government. Malley has called for a radically different approach to the Middle East, an approach which would not be supportive of Israel.

Would you want a man with these views to have the ear of the President of the United States? Malley has been touted as a possible Secretary of State in an Obama administration. I find that prospect worrying indeed. Yet, of all of Obama's close foreign policy and military advisers, Malley is the least objectionable to supporters of Israel. In Part 2 we'll take a look at those advisers: people who will inform Obama's decisions on how to deal with what they consider to be "an apartheid state."

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