House Republican Leaders Twist Obama Statement on Israel

May 12, 2008 9:19pm

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., talked a great deal about Israel. He was rather effusive in his support for the Jewish state.

Apparently given nothing of substance to criticize, House Republican leaders then took a statement Obama made and twisted it to act as if the Democrat had insulted the Jewish state. Which he had not.

After describing some of the first times he thought about Zionism, Obama said "the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience."

He talked about how "the idea of Israel and the reality of Israel is one that I find important to me personally. Because it speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus, it describes the history of overcoming great odds and a courage and a commitment to carving out a democracy and prosperity in the midst of hardscrabble land."

He assailed Hamas as a terrorist organization and said the United States "should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and abide by previous agreements."

When the topic turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama said, "Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security." When asked if Israel besmirches the United States’ reputation, Obama said "No, no, no."

Then he said: "But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I am absolutely convinced of that … I want to solve the problem…"

It seemed pretty clear to me that by "constant sore" Obama was referring to the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As he says in the next sentence: the "lack of a resolution to this problem."

Nonetheless, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who knows better, accused Obama of calling Israel a "constant sore."

"Israel is a critical American ally and a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, not a ‘constant sore’ as Barack Obama claims," Boehner said. "Obama’s latest remark, and his commitment to ‘opening a dialogue’ with sponsors of terrorism, echoes past statements by Jimmy Carter who once called Israel an ‘apartheid state.’"

(That’s interesting because in that very same interview, Obama rejected Carter’s use of the term "apartheid" as applied to Israel. Said Obama: "I strongly reject the characterization. Israel is a vibrant democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and there’s no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion doesn’t advance that goal. It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe.")

Another member of the GOP House leadership, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, also misrepresented what Obama said.

"It is truly disappointing that Senator Obama called Israel a ‘constant wound,’ ‘constant sore,’ and that it ‘infect[s] all of our foreign policy.’ These sorts of words and characterizations are the words of a politician with a deep misunderstanding of the Middle East and an innate distrust of Israel," Cantor said.

When Obama twisted Sen. John McCain’s "100 Years" comment, it was pretty dishonest as well.

But this may be worse, because Boehner et al are falsely accusing Obama of besmirching a nation and a people. They are accusing him of being anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic. It is false.

This kind of twisting is unbecoming a party that claims to have superior ideas to Obama’s fairly orthodox liberal record. Voters may conclude that Republicans think they have to make things up to beat Obama. Which they don’t.

- jpt

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