If you're Jewish and spend any time on the Internet, you've read some outlandish things about the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. But the facts are clear: Senator Obama is a strong friend of the American Jewish Community and Israel, and will make ensuring Israel's security a high priority of his presidency.
Barack Obama's record speaks for itself. He has longstanding support among the Jewish community in Illinois, who know first hand his unshakable commitment to Israel's security. In the US Senate, he has established himself as a strong friend of Israel. As a candidate, he has made clear his commitment to deepen the US-Israel relationship and to defend Israel's security as a Jewish state.
Yet Senator Obama is still the target of poorly sourced smears and innuendo, often anonymously circulated in mass e-mails. Sadly, these baseless attacks have been transformed into official Republican talking points. In his February 21, 2008 JPost.com op-ed ("Obama and the Jews" http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1203589810710&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull ) Marc Zell, the Co-Chairman of Republicans Abroad in Israel, compiled a greatest hits of fiction and distortion about Barack Obama culled from one false email after another. To begin with, Zell abandons the tradition of bipartisan support for Israel, and completely ignores Senator Obama's strong record of support for Israel:
Iran divestment: Senator Obama introduced priority 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. The divestment idea grew out of a meeting between Senator Obama and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year.
Hamas: Senator Obama has been steadfast in taking a hard line against Hamas until it recognizes Israel, renounces violence, and abides by past agreements. He has been clear that the Palestinians' suffering is a result of their own failed leadership. He was a cosponsor of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act.
Travel to Israel: Barack Obama traveled to Israel in 2006 and visited the home of an Israeli family that had been destroyed by a Katyusha rocket. Months later, when Hizbullah attacked Israel, he spoke out strongly for Israel's right to defend itself.
Israel's defense: Senator Obama has called for deepening US-Israel defense cooperation, especially in the area of missile defense, to ensure that Israel has the qualitative military edge it needs to defend itself.
Ignoring Senator Obama's record, Zell travels a low road filled with lies and distortions. In a sense, he has done us a service by demonstrating the total disregard for facts that Republicans will use to try to win this election. But these falsehoods cannot stand, so I will rebut each of them in turn.
Zbigniew Brzezinski: Zell says Brzezinski heads the Obama foreign policy team. This is false. Brzezinski endorsed Barack Obama because he agrees with Senator Obama's views on Iraq. He is not an adviser to the campaign, and has done no work for the campaign.
Robert Malley. Zell says Malley is on Senator Obama's team. Malley is one of hundreds of people who have sent advice to the campaign. He is not one of Barack Obama's Middle East advisers.
Susan Rice: Zell repeats a lie that Susan Rice, while advising John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, advised him to propose former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker as Middle East envoys. There is only one problem: Senator Kerry made that statement in December 2003, and Susan Rice did not join his campaign until July 2004.
Pastor Jeremiah Wright: Zell cites controversial statements about Israel made by the Pastor at Barack Obama's Chicago church. It is unfair to attribute Pastor Wright's views to Barack Obama, particularly because Senator Obama has stated explicitly and repeatedly that he disagrees with Pastor Wright's views on Israel, has told him so directly, and does not turn to his pastor for political advice. Furthermore, the Anti-Defamation league concluded "it has no evidence of any anti-Semitism by Mr. Wright."
Louis Farrakhan: There is no easier way to upset the American Jewish Community than by mentioning Farrakhan. But Zell omits the most crucial information: Barack Obama has repeatedly, and explicitly, condemned the anti-Semitic views of Louis Farrakhan for over 20 years, calling his statements "abhorrent." Obama has spoken out forcefully against anti-Semitism in the African-American community, most recently in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Zell could have easily established the truth about any of these matters, with very limited research. Responsible journalists have had no trouble uncovering and reporting the truth. The conservative New York Sun editorialized on January 9, 2008 that "Mr. Obama's commitment to Israel, as he has articulated it so far in his campaign, is quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America…. He has chosen to put himself on the record in terms that Israel's friends in America, at least those not motivated by pure political partisanship, can warmly welcome."
And on February 21, 2008, Eli Lake of the New York Sun reported that "the national security team that emerges around Mr. Obama is one that is in the mainstream of the Democratic Party. The Senator's advisers favor a withdrawal from Iraq and see it as a distraction from the wider war on Al-Qaeda; they have developed a detailed policy on how to exit the country. The campaign favors high-level diplomatic engagement with Syria and Iran, but in the context of changing the behavior of these regimes. And the foreign policy team, like the candidate, does not support pressuring Israel into negotiations with Hamas."
Unfortunately, Zell is more interested in using falsehoods to win an election than standing up for Israel and American-Israeli relations. But across America, Jewish voters have had no trouble sorting out fact from fiction, and have found no cause to shy away from supporting Barack Obama. Indeed, they are rallying to his campaign in ever-growing numbers, inspired by his leadership, judgment, and the possibility he represents for truly transformational leadership. Nothing that Marc Zell says can change that.
The writer is a Congressman representing Florida
Feb. 27, 2008
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