International,  Iran,  Iraq,  Israel/Palestine,  Stateside

‘Can Obama be a friend of Israel if he talks to Iran?’

That’s the headline in The Times today as Barack Obama looks to calm any fears that the Jewish lobby might have over his presidential candidacy. Obama is to address American Israel Public Affairs Committee on the heels of John McCain who yesterday warned that his likely Democratic opponent threatened Israel’s security.

McCain in his speech to AIPAC said that if elected president he would drastically ramp up financial pressure on Iran’s hardline rulers by targeting the country’s gasoline imports and imposing sanctions against its central bank.

The Republican presidential candidate’s speech won a standing ovation making it the defining issue for candidates wooing Jewish-American voters.

“It’s hard to see what such a summit would gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks about starting another,” he said.

McCain also attacked Obama’s plan to withdrawal US troops from Iraq as a potential “catastrophe” and a potential terrorist sanctuary in the heart of the Middle East. He argued that this “would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel and our other friends”.

Obama knows he can be hurt by this, which is why even before McCain had finished speaking his team issued a lengthy rebuttal.

Also in The Times today Gerard Baker takes time out to dispel the enduring myth about American politics and “the all-powerful Jewish lobby” and why presidential contenders rush every year to attend the annual meeting of AIPAC.

“If Jews wield little direct electoral clout, the reason for the power of the Israel lobby, say its critics, must be that it uses the financial and political muscle of American Jews to exercise a stranglehold on foreign policy debate. It requires politicians to commit America to uncritical support for Israel, irrespective of other US interests in the region.

“There is a lot wrong with this idea. In a country as diverse as America, candidates are constantly trying to ensure that they are in the good graces of people of almost all faiths and traditions. Last week, John McCain was forced to disavow his support from an evangelical preacher who described Catholicism as a “godless theology of hate”.

“But there is a bigger reason to object to the familiar characterisation of the Jewish lobby. AIPAC is undoubtedly one of the most effective lobbying organisations in Washington. But it succeeds because very large numbers of Americans share its aims, not because it somehow strongarms politicians into supporting it. Candidates want AIPAC’s approval because they know that being seen as pro-Israel is central to their foreign policy credentials. “