As Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), CC 83, stands at the end of one of the most competitive primary seasons and the beginning of the general election, Columbia University finds itself in a new political position.
Columbia has previously sent its own university president, Dwight Eisenhowerwho campaigned as a Republican from 60 Morningside Drivethis far on the road to the White House, but never a graduate. The presumed Republican nominee, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), also has strong University ties, since he is the parent of a Columbia alumna.
Yet Obama has steadfastly avoided visiting or speaking extensively of his alma mater. His time in Morningside Heights is rarely mentioned and has been skipped over during his many campaign stops in New York City.
On Wednesday, the morning after Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) addressed over 7,000 delegates at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, D.C. About six Columbia students attended the conference, entitled Meant to Last, alluding to a strong American-Israel relationship.
Recently, Obama has campaigned to attract the Jewish vote. Because of Obamas shorter voting record, Jewish leaders were unsure of Obamas commitment to Israel.
But Lee Rosenberg, an AIPAC board member from Chicago, introduced Obama and reassured the conference that Obama understands that our nation and Israel have real and dangerous enemies.
Rosenberg introduced the presumptive democratic nominee for president to a standing ovation.
Obamas direct approach to issues that have been taboo in his campaign won him thunderous applause. Obama said that he has been receiving provocative e-mails that have been circulating among Jewish communities. Theyre filled with tall tales and viral warnings, Obama said. Let me know if you see this guy called Barack Obama because he sounds pretty scary.
Obama has been lambasted for his associations with people pegged as unpatriotic and anti-Israel. The Los Angeles Times wrote about Obamas ties to Columbia Middle Eastern Language and Cultures Professor Rashid Khalidi. Many condemned this relationship, since Khalidi was previously accused of being connected to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
But at Wednesdays AIPAC conference, Obama used his audience of Jewish leaders in the hopes of setting the record straight. I want you to know that today, I will be speaking from my heart as a true friend of Israel, he said.
After asserting that the establishment of Israel after the Holocaust was just and necessary, Obama said, 60 years later we know that we cannot relent, we cannot yield, and as president I will never compromise when it comes to Israels security.
Obama said he felt for Israelis in the border city of Sderot, who have been victims of Katyusha rockets launched from Gaza. I will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israels security. That starts with ensuring Israels military qualitative advantage, he said.
McCain spoke at AIPAC earlier in the week, and used the pulpit to sharpen his attacks on Obamas foreign policy. He called for multilateral financial sanctions on Iran and took on Obama for saying that he would be willing to meet with Iranian leadersdeemed by McCain to be terroriststo negotiate.
Obama called it interesting that McCain called for divestment from Iran, since Obama originally authored such a bill earlier. Obama also said McCain entertained mischaracterizations of my position, so he clarified his stance on the issue, originally understood from a debate on Youtube. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he sai.
But as President of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing, if, and only if, it can advance the interests of the United States, he added. Military force would be on the table, but only as a last resort. Obama also called for Americas decreased dependency on oil to economically weaken Iran.
In closing, Obama used the Hebrew phrase tikun olam, signifying the Jewish goal to repair the world through good. Now is the time to stand by Israel, as it writes the next chapter in its extraordinary journey, he said. Now is the time to join together in the work of repairing this world.
After Obama left the podium, Clinton took to the stage. She used the opportunity the first day after Obama clinched the nomination to praise her opponent, and solidify his intent to stand by Israel. I know Senator Obama understands what is at stake here. I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel, she said.