Israelis’ Obama skepticism (& McCain on Israeli TV last night: I won’t allow a second Holocaust)

July 22, 2008

* Obama arrives in Israel today
* In contrast to west Europeans, Israelis strongly prefer McCain over Obama
* Obama still ahead among U.S. Jews, but behind his Democratic predecessors
* The NY Times run Obama’s op-ed on Iraq, but refuse to run McCain’s




Within the last hour, another Palestinian bulldozer driver has gone on the rampage in Jerusalem, in an apparent copycat of the deadly bulldozer attack earlier this month in another part of the city. At least 16 people, including children, have been hurt today, according to Israeli TV, and one is in a serious condition. The driver was shot dead by a security guard before he hurt anyone else.

Israeli TV footage is showing an elderly woman being wheeled into an ambulance and rescue personnel assisting visibly shocked passersby. A 9-month-old baby is among the wounded.

The attack occurred on the corner of Keren Hayesdod and King David streets in downtown Jerusalem, a few hundred meters from the hotel where Barack Obama is scheduled to stay later today (and where British PM Gordon Brown stayed yesterday).

On July 2, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem killed three Israelis and injured many others. For details of the previous attack, see: New York Times headline makes Jerusalem terror attack sound like an accident, July 3, 2008.

The official Palestinian Authority TV stations, funded in part by western governments, continue to broadcast daily incitement to kill Jews.



1. Obama in Israel and the West Bank
2. Trying to move away from the radicals
3. Obama’s new “advisor” problem: Chuck Hagel
4. Obama love fest move overseas
5. Public belief growing that reporters are trying to help Obama win
6. NYT rejects McCain’s editorial, while running Obama’s
7. Poll of U.S. Jews: Obama behind his Democratic predecessors
8. In contrast to U.S. Jews, Israelis overwhelmingly back McCain
9. “Poor phrasing”?
10. “I’m surprised at how finely calibrated every single word was measured”
11. Questionable friends; Obama holds fundraising lead
12. McCain: Sanctions might stop Iran, but U.S. won’t allow second Holocaust
13. Obama website’s opposition to successful surge gets deleted (LA Times blogs)
14. “Just another pol: Barack Obama’s trek to the center comes with a cost” (WSJ)
15. The McCain op-ed The New York Times wouldn’t publish

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


American presidential candidate Barack Obama arrives in Israel this evening (local time), as part of his whirlwind tour of Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe.

He will stay until Thursday morning. He is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. He will also be escorted by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on trips to Sderot and the Western Wall, and make a visit to Yad Vashem. Tomorrow he will also travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

I am told that his only planned press conference in Israel will take place in Sderot. (For security reasons, I am not making public the time or location.)



Since I last sent a dispatch on Obama, he has somewhat moderated his positions on Israel and Iran and sacked two of his most anti-Israel advisors (Samantha Power and Robert Malley) both of whom I strongly criticized in previous dispatches.

Nevertheless Obama retains many advisors, who in my opinion, hold beliefs that run strongly counter to American, western, Israeli, and democratic interests in the Middle East.

To try and reassure critics about his Middle East advisors, Obama has also invited Dennis Ross, a centrist career diplomat, who was lead negotiator on Israeli-Palestinian issues for Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, to accompany him. (Mr. Ross is also a subscriber to this email list.)



However, of particular concern to supporters of Israel is that Obama, the Democratic Party candidate, is being accompanied by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on his trip to Israel, one of only two senators Obama is traveling with (the other being Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island).

One pro-Israel observer said: “If Obama is getting advice from Hagel about Israel, then the American Jewish community has a lot to worry about. Of all the senators with whom Obama could have traveled with, Hagel’s record on Israel is one of the worst.

“The message is heard loud and clear. While Obama has chosen to visit Israel with one of the most anti-Israel senators, by contrast, on John McCain’s most recent trip to Israel, he chose to visit with Joseph Lieberman.”

The Democratic Party has itself previously (in March 2007) released to the press examples of Sen. Hagel’s abysmal record on Israel:

* In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 senators who refused to call Hizbullah a terrorist organization.
* In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter asking the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups.
* In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit.
* In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yasser Arafat until he ended violence against Israel.
* In October 2000, Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.

* And here’s what the anti-Israel group, CAIR, wrote in praise of Hagel: “Potential presidential candidates for 2008, like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich, were falling all over themselves to express their support for Israel. The only exception to that rule was Senator Chuck Hagel” (Council on American-Islamic Relations, 8/28/06).

I mentioned in a previous dispatch:

When asked by Newsweek “Would you have Republicans in your cabinet?” Obama replied, “No decisions, but Dick Lugar embodies the best tradition in foreign policy. Chuck Hagel is a smart guy who has shows some courage, even though we disagree on domestic policy.”

(See: “Not since John Kerry has America had such an outstanding candidate for the Presidency” Feb. 5, 2008)



Even many liberal academics are acknowledging that we are witnessing one of the most biased media reporting of an American presidential election in living memory. Many prominent journalists have fallen over themselves to give gushing coverage to Obama while failing to report properly on his many fibs, flip-flops, and policy holes.

Obama’s present foreign tour is no exception. The three leading anchors of U.S. network television – ABC’s Charles Gibson, NBC’s Brian Williams and CBS’s Katie Couric – have all eagerly traveled abroad with Obama, and they are being joined by star political reporters from the major newspapers and magazines.

By contrast no anchors accompanied Republican candidate John McCain on his recent tour of Europe and the Middle East, and CBS didn’t even send a reporter, providing McCain with less than 30 seconds of coverage for his entire foreign tour.

Some Democratic strategists have now begun to fear that the over-the-top bias media elitists are showing towards Obama is actually proving counterproductive and is causing resentment among “ordinary” Americans.

The Hillary Clinton campaign also repeatedly complained of media bias towards Obama during the primary campaign.



The latest Rasmussen poll of 1,000 likely American voters, conducted on July 19, found that 49% of voters believe most reporters are trying to help Obama with their coverage, up from 44% a month ago.

Just 14% believe reporters are trying to help McCain win. And only one voter in four (24%) believes that most reporters offer unbiased coverage.

According to the poll, even a high number of likely Democrat voters believe most reporters are trying to help Obama win.

45% of likely voters say that most reporters would hide information if it hurt the candidate they wanted to win.

A separate survey released yesterday also found that 50% of voters believe most reporters want to make the economy seem worse than it is. A majority also believe that the media has tried to make the war in Iraq appear worse than it really is.

These results are consistent with earlier surveys finding that large segments of the American population believe that most large media is biased to the left.



The latest media bias was revealed yesterday by the Drudge Report website.

It revealed that The New York Times, the most important newspaper in America, and also one of the more biased despite pretending to be “the paper of record,” turned down McCain’s editorial on Iraq – less than a week after it published a piece by Obama on the same subject.

“I’m not going to be able to accept this piece,” The New York Times Op-Ed editor David Shipley explained in an email to McCain’s staff.

In McCain’s submission to the Times, he writes of Obama: “I am dismayed that he never talks about winning the war – only of ending it... if we don’t win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president.”

Following the furor on the blogosphere yesterday about the Times’s refusal to print McCain’s op-ed, Shipley said the Times may reconsider.

The “paper of record” might also want to let its readers know that Shipley served in the Clinton Administration as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Presidential Speechwriter.

Obama’s piece can be read on The New York Times website. I attach McCain’s rejected piece below in the full articles section in case readers want to read what the Times won’t let them.



American Jews are less supportive of Barack Obama than they were of previous Democratic nominees, a new poll has found. The lack of support comes despite the same poll finding that an overwhelming number of American Jews dislike the Bush administration.

The poll, commissioned by the new Washington-based leftist advocacy group, J Street, found that 58 percent of American Jews said they would definitely vote for Obama. In contrast, Al Gore and Bill Clinton both received approximately 80 percent of the Jewish vote in their respective runs for the presidency, while John Kerry received 76 percent in 2004. Jews are traditionally among the most left-wing groups in American society.

Polls indicate that were Hillary Clinton to have been the Democratic nominee, more Jews would likely vote Democrat this year.

The worst showing by a Democrat in recent decades was in 1980, when then-president Jimmy Carter received 45 percent of the Jewish vote compared to 39 percent for Ronald Reagan, who won the election.



Polls indicate that, in contrast to west European countries like France and Germany, where Obama is adored, Israelis strongly back McCain.

In France and Germany, where Obama will be heading later in the week, 65% and 67% of the population respectively say they would vote for him if they could. By contrast, in Israel, only 27% of respondents say they would like Obama to become president, compared to 36% for McCain.

In another poll, conducted by the Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University, if Israeli Arabs are omitted, among Israeli Jews, McCain (46%) has an even bigger advantage over Obama (20%).

The low support for Obama in Israel has, in my opinion, less to do with any belief that Obama is hostile to Israel and more to do with his demonstration thus far in the campaign of his naivety towards issues in the Middle East, particularly in regard to Iran’s nuclear program, which most Israelis consider to be an existential threat.

Many Israelis are also concerned that a hasty withdrawal by the U.S. from Iraq, as advocated by Obama, will strengthen Iran and al-Qaeda and further destabilize the Middle East.

“There is a certain amount of anxiety here about his positions and exactly how he would behave as president,” Hillel Schenker, vice chair of Democrats Abroad-Israel, admitted to the American-Jewish paper The Forward last week.

Even a majority of Israelis on the center-left said they favored McCain, which is unusual considering he is a Republican. McCain has long been a strong supporter of Israel in the Senate, and it appears unlikely he will radically change Bush’s generally pro-Israel policies. Obama’s positions are far less clear.



Last month, Obama declared before 7,000 pro-Israel Americans at the annual AIPAC conference: “Let me be clear... Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and must remain undivided.” They then gave him a rousing ovation.

Now, as with many other of his policies during the campaign, Obama has backtracked. “Poor phrasing” had, he said, resulted in his remarks on Israel being misunderstood.

“You know, the truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech,” he said in an interview aired on Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria.”

Whether a gaffe resulting from his inexperience and badly-thought out Middle East policies, or a deliberate lie to impress pro-Israel voters, many see this as yet another example that he may be lacking the international credentials required of a president.

Obama is also reported to have embarrassed international figures, such as German Chancellor Merkel by demanding to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, a privilege normally reserved for elected presidents only.



When asked on his press plane on July 5 about the various “flip flopping” and contradictory statements, including those over Israel, Obama said, “I’m surprised at how finely calibrated every single word was measured.”

A reporter noted that that is precisely what happens with the president: he can change world affairs with one badly expressed word.

(Source: ABC blogs.)



Since securing the nomination less than eight weeks ago, Obama has been doing so much flip-flopping on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues – including public campaign financing, NAFTA, warrantless wiretaps, unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad, flag pins, gun control, and so on – that Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post, one of the few mainstream media commentators to be tough on Obama, wrote this month that “by the time he’s finished, Obama will have made the Clintons look scrupulous.”



Jews may also be concerned that many of the most significant persons in Obama’s adult life have been those who distain and vilify Israel – from Rashid Khalidi to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama failed to stand up to his friend Khalidi, the Palestinian activist-professor and former PLO spokesman whom Obama honored at a farewell dinner. Obama failed to criticize his slander that Israel was an apartheid state.

And until Wright insulted him at the National Press Club, Obama stood by his friend and mentor Wright, even after Wright said he considered Israel a “dirty word” and made the absurd anti-Semitic claim that Israel had invented an “ethnic bomb” that kills only Arabs and black people.



Among the general public, the latest range of polls shows Obama with a 5 to 7 point lead over McCain.

However, Obama still trails on foreign policy issues. A survey conducted last week jointly by ABC and The Washington Post, showed that 72% of Americans think that McCain will be “a good Commander-in-Chief,” while only 48% think that Obama will be.

It is not only in media coverage where Obama enjoys a considerable advantage but in advertising and campaign resources too. In June, Obama had another near record month for campaign fundraising. The fact that Obama’s poll lead is not greater therefore comes as a surprise to some.



John McCain said in an interview yesterday evening on Israel’s popular Channel 2 news that while stiffer sanctions might stop Iran’s threats against Israel, the U.S. in any event would not allow the Islamic Republic to try to destroy Israel.

Asked about Israel feeling the need to attack Iran, McCain replied, “I would hope that would never happen, I would hope that Israel would not feel that threatened, saying the U.S. and Europe could impose significant, very painful sanctions on Iran which I think could modify their behavior.

“But I have to look you in the eye and tell you that the United States of America can never allow a second Holocaust.”

Concerning possible military action against Iran, McCain said, “I think we have a lot of options to explore before we seriously explore the military option, and I don’t think we have exercised those enough.”

McCain said he favors low-level contacts with Iranian officials, but not a meeting of presidents without preconditions. He said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would take advantage of such a meeting and its media coverage to call for the destruction of Israel.

-- Tom Gross



(From LA Times blogs)

A funny thing happened over on the Barack Obama campaign website in the last few days.

The parts that stressed his opposition to the 2007 troop surge and his statement that more troops would make no difference in a civil war have somehow disappeared. John McCain and Obama have been going at it heavily in recent days over the benefits of the surge.

The Arizona senator, who advocated the surge for years before the Bush administration employed it, says the resulting reduction in violence is proof it worked with progress on 15 of 18 political benchmarks and Obama’s plan to withdraw troops by now would have resulted in surrender.

When President Bush ordered the surge in January, 2007, Obama said, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse,” a position he maintained throughout 2007. This year he acknowledged progress, but maintained his position that political progress was lacking.

Tuesday, while Obama gave a speech on foreign policy, the New York Daily News was first to notice the removal of parts of Obama’s campaign site listing the Iraq troop surge as part of “The Problem.” An Obama spokeswoman said it was just part of an “update” to “reflect changes in current events,” as our colleague Frank James notes in the Swamp. The update includes a new section on the rise of al-Qaeda violence in Afghanistan. But some might see the updating as part of Obama’s skip to the political center now that he’s secured the Democratic nomination. “Today,” McCain said Tuesday, “we know Sen. Obama was wrong” to oppose the troop surge.

An old quote of Obama’s criticizing the “rash war,” which helped him with the left wing of his party and helped differentiate his stand from that of Sen. Hillary Clinton, a primary opponent who voted for the use of force in Iraq, has been replaced on his site by one saying that ending the Iraq war will make America safer. That’s more of a general election message. And hat tip to the folks over at the Wake Up America blog for their continuing trenchant analyses of the summer campaigns in general and, specifically, for highlighting the video below that contrasts Obama’s pre-surge position with a more recent interview of David Axelrod, his chief campaign strategist, denying Obama’s statements. A reminder of how carefully voters must listen during these last four campaign months.



Just Another Pol: Barack Obama’s trek to the center comes with a cost
By John Fund
The Wall Street Journal: Political Diary
July 20, 2008

John McCain continues to trail Barack Obama in this week’s latest polls, though there are signs that Obamamania may be abating slightly. An ABC News poll reports that Mr. Obama now has only a 49% to 46% lead among likely voters.

The good news for Mr. Obama is that he narrowly leads among independents and white women, key demographic groups he must add to his overwhelming support among Democrats and African-Americans. But his Achilles heel could prove to be young people, who provided much of the enthusiastic support he used to win the Democratic primaries. The ABC poll found that in March, 66% of voters under the age of 30 said they would vote in November no matter what. Today, that number is down to 46% -- a far more typical measurement of the engagement of young people in politics.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos says enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate among young voters “has been dampened” and “all of the questions in recent weeks on whether or not Barack Obama is shifting positions, becoming ‘a typical politician,’ is turning some of them off.”

Moving abruptly to the center, as Mr. Obama has been doing, may be a smart overall political strategy. But it clearly comes at some cost to his standing among his most idealistic supporters.



This is the McCain editorial in its submitted form:

In January 2007, when General David Petraeus took command in Iraq, he called the situation “hard” but not “hopeless.” Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80 percent to the lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling from a string of defeats. The situation now is full of hope, but considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.

Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there,” he said on January 10, 2007. “In fact, I think it will do the reverse.”

Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that “our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.” But he still denies that any political progress has resulted.

Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, “Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress.” Even more heartening has been progress that’s not measured by the benchmarks. More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists. Nor do they measure Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s new-found willingness to crack down on Shiite extremists in Basra and Sadr City – actions that have done much to dispel suspicions of sectarianism.

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama’s determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his “plan for Iraq” in advance of his first “fact finding” trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military’s readiness. The Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other complicated functions needed to support frontline troops.

No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges. A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five “surge” brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind. I have said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.

But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Senator Obama.

Senator Obama has said that he would consult our commanders on the ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his “plan for Iraq.” Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I have heard many times from our troops what Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, recently said: that leaving based on a timetable would be “very dangerous.”

The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback, as they have in the past when we’ve had too few troops in Iraq. Senator Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. I find it ironic that he is emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the “Mission Accomplished” banner prematurely.

I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war – only of ending it. But if we don’t win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.