Do American Jews really love Israel, or just Democrats? Last week, 7,000 members of the storied AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) rose to their feet to honor Barack Obama a total of 13 times. The first standing O, lasting more than a minute, greeted the senator as he took the stage -- before he had even begun to count all the ways he plans to become a "true friend of Israel." They gushed. They cooed. They were carried away.
Someone needs a cold shower. It is difficult to think of any recent major figure on the American scene who should invite disquiet among supporters of Israel more than Barack Obama. (And certainly among Israel's many Christian supporters, he doubtless does.) Yet 61 percent of American Jews, according to a recent Gallup poll, prefer Obama to McCain. True, this is a drop from the 78 percent who voted for John Kerry in 2004, but it still qualifies as slightly deranged, under the circumstances.
Displaying the skill for framing (and distorting) matters for which he should be renowned by now, Obama began by suggesting to the mostly Jewish crowd that they had been hoodwinked by political dirty tricks -- by anonymous e-mails alleging that Obama was a Muslim Manchurian candidate. "Let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty scary," he reassured them.
But the members of AIPAC are very sophisticated types, not the sort to be deceived by such e-mails, and not so simplistic as to assume that Obama was a secret Muslim. They have quite substantial reasons to worry about Obama's views.
Worry begins with Obama's membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ. As everyone now knows, Rev. Wright issued vitriolic denunciations of Israel from the pulpit ("unjust" and "racist"), praised Louis Farrakhan, and provided space in the church bulletin to Hamas. The "true friend of Israel" did not protest.
For a true friend, Obama also chose peculiar associates. He was quite friendly with Rashid Khalidi, a former director of the official press agency for the Palestine Liberation Organization (and now a professor at Columbia). Khalidi, who has called Israel an "apartheid" state and who defends the right of Palestinians to use violence against Israel, founded a group called the Arab American Action Network. When Obama served as a director of the Woods Fund in 2001 and 2002, the foundation donated $75,000 to the AAAN, for projects like an "oral history" project on the "Nakbah," which translates as "catastrophe," and is the name Palestinians use for the birth of Israel. Khalidi held a fundraiser for Obama when the latter ran for Congress in 2000, and according to a recent LA Times story, Obama has fond memories of time spent with Khalidi and his wife. Those conversations, he said, served as "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. ... It's for that reason that I'm hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation -- a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid's dinner table," but around "this entire world."
Speaking to AIPAC, Obama reframed his position on Iran. Whereas he had been one of only 22 senators to say he would vote against a 2007 resolution declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guards to be a terrorist force, he allowed in his speech that the guards "have rightly been labeled a terrorist organization." But of course, it would be much trickier for Obama to back away from his better known declaration that he would meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. Obama's protestations of friendship for Israel notwithstanding, it just might make Israel's supporters a tad uncomfortable to reflect that Obama believes that the reason Iran is a threat (and he once called it a "tiny" threat) is because we have failed to be nice enough to them. "And the fact that we have not talked to them means that they have been developing nuclear weapons, funding Hamas, funding Hezbollah."
At the AIPAC conference, Obama was a veritable Curtis LeMay, promising huge amounts of military hardware for Israel. Will the AIPAC members really not see through to the heart of the problem? Without a strong United States, Israel cannot hope to survive. And Obama's record as the most left-wing American senator strongly suggests that he believes in weakness.