Archive for October 13th, 2008

Ross: ‘Obama Will Restore American Standing in the World’

Monday, October 13th, 2008

One incredible aspect of the Obama campaign is just how much it has reached out to Jewish voters.

And, in particular, Jewish voters in Ohio.

A week before the primary, Obama came to speak to a group of Jewish voters in Cleveland, to answer any and all questions we had about his positions on Israel, and on issues important to the Jewish community. The Obama campaign has tapped Jewish community leaders throughout the state, entrusting them with spreading the message about Obama’s staunch support for Israel.  They’ve released talking points. And they are constantly sending out emails — for instance, when Obama had a conference call with 900 rabbis — to keep Jewish supporters up-to-date.

They’ve done this not only because Obama is a friend and ally of the Jewish community. They’ve done this because the smear campaign aimed at Obama has been designed to peel away Jewish supporters, and it’s worked: Obama’s support in the Jewish community is 15 to 20 percent below the levels of support that Kerry, Gore, and Clinton received. In a close election, that difference could be determinative.

Yesterday’s event at Landerhaven banquet hall, which drew an enthusiastic crowd of 700 Jews from the Cleveland area, powerfully reinforced the campaign’s Jewish outreach effort.

The event featured Jewish Senator Carl Levin (See post, Levin: Jews ‘Cannot Tolerate’ Obama Smears), Jewish Congresswoman Jane Harman (See post, Obama-Biden: ‘Much Better for Israel’), Jewish community leader and Obama friend Alan Solow (See post, ‘The First Jewish President of the United States’), and, for good measure, the Jewish Lt. Gov. of Ohio, Lee Fischer.

All of them said, unequivocally, not just that Obama is good for Israel and the Jews — but that he is far betterfor Israel and the Jews than McCain-Palin.

Perhaps the most important testimonial came from Ambassador Dennis Ross, if only because Obama has for so long been falsely smeared for his supposed anti-Israel advisors. Ross is, in fact, Sen. Obama’s senior Middle East advisor. He’s the guy for Obama on Israel.

Dennis Ross, the former U.S. Special Coordinator to the Middle East, was the U.S. point person for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians under both Bill Clinton and the first George Bush. He helped Israel and the Palestinians reach the interim agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1995; he brokered the Hebron accord in 1997, facilitated the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, and worked on talks between Israel and Syria. He was the director of Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council staff under Ronald Reagan, and was director of the State Department’s Policy Planning office under George Bush.

All of which is to say, he is anything but a partisan hack.

And yet this election, for the first time, he has allied himself with a candidate — Obama — because, as he put it, “the stakes demand it.”

He connected several dots in the Middle East landscape, creating a bleak picture how how dire the situation has become for Israel since Bush came to power.

  • In 2001, Iran was not a nuclear nation; today, it is a nuclear power that continues to enrich uranium, with a stockpile of some 700 kilos — half of what it needs to make a nuclear bomb.
  • To Israel’s north, the terrorist group Hezbollah has veto power over the Lebanese government; Hezbollah has a stockpile of 40,000 rockets aimed at Israel.
  • To Israel’s south, Hamas has established a “mini-terrorist state,” with 2,000 rockets aimed at Israel.

“Why?” Ross asked. “Because for the last eight years, we sat on the sidelines. Everything that takes place now, takes place without us.”

“The Bush Administration has failed,” he said. “We are perceived as a country on the decline.”

“When the Bush Administration disengaged from peacemaking for six years, who was the beneficiary? When there is no sense of possibility, no hope [the terrorist organizations and states] are the ones that exploit it.”

In order to achieve the two state solution that successive U.S. administrations have touted, you “need a sense of possibility,” he said. Otherwise, “we are guaranteed to fail” because the terrorist groups will step in to fill the political vacuum.

Ross, who has been on some 20 presidential trips to the region, and sat in on a hundred negotiations with presidents or their counterparts, said he “knows what it takes” for presidents to be effective. Obama has what it takes, he said. Ross became convinced of this after accompanying Obama on his recent trip to Israel and watching him listen, connect, and, importantly, achieve concrete goals.

For example, he said, Obama was keenly interested in discussing ways to pressure Iran. He asked Israeli leaders for their ideas. Israelis told him that there are five insurance companies providing insurance to Iran. Cut off those companies, they said, and you start to generate immense economic pressure.

Obama took that idea and pitched it to the Europeans, who are now actively discussing it.

Ross said Obama’s position that the U.S. must use “strong carrots and strong sticks” with Iran is key, because ideally “you want to effect Iranian behavior without the use of force.” The Israelis would much prefer this, too, he said. The cost to Israel of any attack on Iran would be profound in blood and treasure. But you can’t use carrots effectively without persuading others to join the effort.

That’s why, he said, the way Obama has been received around the world — 200,000 people cheering him on the streets of Berlin, for instance — is totally germane to Israel’s security.

“I came back persuaded by Barack Obama because I saw someone who is a unique talent,” said Ross — who initially stayed neutral in the race between Clinton and Obama. “When he goes to Berlin, and 200,000 people cheer him, believe it or not — when others look up to an American president, and are inspired by an American president — we are better off.”

As Ross wound down, you could almost sense a kind of energy in the room, quietly building.

“Barack Obama will restore American standing in the world,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of not having him as president. I can tell you, as someone passionately committed to the state of Israel, Israel can not afford it.”

I’d been to Landerhaven banquet hall several times. My wife and I had, six years ago, scouted this very room as a possible wedding site. I doubt the room has ever seen the kind of applause that followed.

It wasn’t a standing ovation. It was something else. It rose up — 700 people, an overflow crowd — well past the point when you’d expect it to die down. It hung on, loud, tenacious, like the last notes of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. And then, finally, it ebbed, slightly — only to rise back up again, with shouts behind it, more forceful, insistent.

It was at once a release, an endorsement, and a prayer, and it brought sudden tears to my eyes.

If there was any lingering hesitation — any doubts in the face of viral emails and horrible ads by Jewish Republicans and relentless smears that just keep coming — in that moment, it all seemed to wash away.

The message to Barack Obama was clear:

Win. Win!

Levin: Jews ‘Cannot Tolerate’ Obama Smears

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan had a simple but critical message for the largely Jewish audience of 700 that came out for the Obama rally outside Cleveland yesterday.

“The Jewish community of Chicago is totally devoted to the election of Barack Obama,” he said. “This should say something to the Jewish community around the country.”

The Jewish senator also had another point to make, about the relentless smears going around — that Obama is a secret radical Muslim; that he doesn’t pledge allegiance to the flag; that he swears allegiance to anti-Israel advisors; that he pals around with terrorists; that because of his middle name he is not like the rest of us.

“As a people, we more than any other people, cannot tolerate any person or group of people being smeared in this way,” Sen. Levin said.

When he said it, the crowd erupted. The black man in the seat in front of me nearly came out of his seat, cheering.

Levin then noted that many people around the world still believe the Protocol Elders of Zion, the famous forgery that explains how Jews plan to take over the world. People believe that Jews extract the blood of non-Jewish children and use it to make hamentashen cookies.

“The filth we have suffered should instill in us a determination that no one should ever be a victim of this kind of filth,” he said. “And Barack Obama does not deserve to be a victim.”

It was a theme touched on earlier by Congresswoman Jane Harman of California.

“As a Jew, we know what this is,” she said, referring to the McCain-Palin campaign rally slurs of Barack “Hussein” Obama as the un-American other. “And I’ve got news for them: It won’t work.”

Obama-Biden: ‘Much Better for Israel’

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, a conservative, seven-term Blue Dog Democrat, is the chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. She spent eight years on the House Intelligence Committee. The counter-terrorism expert has made some 20 trips to the Middle East.

“Things have gotten much more dangerous for Israel” under George Bush, she told some 700 people at an Obama rally outside Cleveland yesterday.

Syria was on its way to producing nuclear weapons until Israel destroyed the Syrian facility. Iran is forging ahead with nuclear weapons and killing American soldiers through its proxies in Iraq. “Pakistan and Afghanistan are near collapse,” she said. “And John McCain is still obsessed with Iraq.”

Obama, she said, will “conclude” the war in Iraq and help “structure a peaceful world.”

“There’s no question in my mind,” she said, “that Obama and Biden will be much better for Israel’s security than McCain-Palin.”

‘The First Jewish President of the United States’

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Every now and then, something happens that gives you a glimpse of what these candidates are really like. A peek behind the curtain, if you will.

I went to an Obama rally yesterday near Cleveland that yielded exactly this kind of detail.

The event at the Landerhaven banquet hall was headlined by Dennis Ross, Bill Clinton’s former Middle East negotiator, who was there to talk about Barack Obama and Israel. (More on this later Monday.)

But the first speaker was Chicagoan Alan Solow, a lifelong Zionist, deeply involved in Jewish causes, and friend of Barack Obama.

Solow explained that he knows Obama from the Hyde Park neighborhood where they both live. He first sat down with Obama in 2003, and “became absolutely convinced he was in it for the right reasons.”

He also became convinced of Obama’s iron-clad support for Israel. “He gets it in his bones,” Solow told some 700 people in attendance. “He has it in his kishkes. I know that. He’s been with my wife, my family, at my home.”

At one point, when discussing the McCain camps’ attempt to link Obama with William Ayres, Solo grew animated.

If you lived in Hyde Park and “knew people in Hyde Park Little Leauge,” he said, “then you know Bill Ayres. This is a guy who coached Little League.”

“I can tell you who [Obama] pals around with,” Solow said. “He pals around with a whole bunch of folks like me.”

Solow told a story:

His son, David, recently had a daughter, Scarlett. When Scarlett was born, Obama phoned and left a long message congratulating David. He spoke about the responsibilities and joys of fatherhood.

Two weeks ago, Obama came to Chicago for a fundraiser. Solow was out of town, but his son went — and took Scarlett along with him.

Later that week, Solow went to Oxford, Mississippi, to watch Obama debate McCain. Solow sat out in the audience — Obama never knew he was there. Afterwards, Solow sent Obama an email, just letting him know he had been there, and that he thought Obama did very well.

Less than five minutes later, Solow got the following email back from Obama:

Alan — Sorry I missed you. But I did see your precious new grandchild at my event in Chicago. Have a sweet holiday.

This, Solow says, indicates — as much as anything else — the depth of Obama’s “Jewish Soul.”

It wasn’t just that Obama wrote him back personally, a few hours after the debate, from his Blackberry.

“[And] it’s not that he told me to have a ‘sweet’ High Holiday,” Solow said. “It’s that he told me he saw my ‘precious new grandchild.’ ”

At this, many of the hundreds of Jews in the audience — a notably older crowd, particularly for an Obama event — applauded, nodding their approval.

Said Solow of Obama: “I like to say he’s going to be the first Jewish president of the United States.”