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Obama's Israel support questioned
Published: Monday March 19, 2007
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Jewish leaders and groups are wary of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) recent rhetoric on the Middle East conflict, according to an article in Monday's Politico.

Obama has sparked concern among Jewish leaders over phrases and remarks not agreeable to Israel's most aggressive supporters.

"His attack on cynicism, and another line about the 'cycle of violence' struck hard-line supporters of Israel as suggesting that the Israeli and Palestinian sides are equally to blame – something Obama himself has rejected in other, prepared remarks," writes Politico columnist Ben Smith. "Phrases like 'cycle of violence' and – worse still – pledges to be 'even-handed' are freighted with meaning in that context, and a second-hand report in January from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in January that Obama had once pledged to be 'even-handed' suggested to some Jewish critics that he was taking the Palestinian side."

Obama has been regularly voted "worst for Israel" among all of the American presidential candidates in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

"Obama 'fails to understand the totalitarian politics and sensibilities of the folks over there, who are not well meaning,' said E.J. Kessler, a New York Post editor who’s a longtime observer of American-Jewish politics" writes Smith. "'His approach will appeal to a lot of lefty Jews, but it won’t appeal to the serious players,' she said, referring to the better-organized and better funded groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Council, AIPAC, at whose conference Obama put in an appearance earlier this month."

Obama has recruited Jewish Florida Congressman Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), who has endorsed Obama's campaign, to allay concerns in the Jewish community. "What has always struck me about Senator Obama – and this is one of the reasons that I have endorsed his candidacy for president – is that a love for Israel and a desire to keep the Jewish people secure is evident not just in his work, but also in his heart," wrote Wexler in an e-mail to Jewish leaders.

Obama's Iraq War position and its implications for dealing with Iran further complicate his relationship with pro-Israel activists, writes Smith.

"If you’re serious of confronting the regime of Iran and Ahmadinejad and his plans for mass murder then you have to look at the map and say how do we do this – what is the only way that we do this, what is the most practical way to do this," Norpac leader Ben Chouake is quoted as saying. Norpac recently circulated an email soliciting donations to any six candidates form both parties, but excluded Obama from the list.