A two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel and former Clinton administration adviser strongly encouraged members of Richmonds Jewish community on Thursday to support Sen. Barack Obama for presidentan endorsement that goes against long-established Jewish support for Republican candidates.
The ambassador, Martin Indyk, said Obama would attempt to eliminate Irans production of nuclear weaponsa move that could threaten Israel and the United States security. Irans president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for Israel to be wiped off the map.
I was impressed by his understanding of the threat Iran poses to America and Israeli interests, Indyk said.
Jewish support for Republican candidates comes from the view that they are stronger on foreign policy than Democrats, Indyk said, a particularly salient point for Jews concerned about Irans threats against Israel. Presidential candidates stances on Israel-related issues have been important in determining which candidate the Jewish community has voted for.
Indyk spoke at the Carole and Marcus Weinstein Jewish Community Center, addressing about 100 people, many of whom wore Obama campaign buttons written in Hebrew or who signed up to canvas for Obama before taking their seats.
Indyk said Obama was committed to defending Israel, and Jewish voters had become an important voting bloc, especially in swing states such as Virginia.
Indyk is a former Hilary Clinton supporter who eventually backed Obama after she conceded the primary election and encouraged her supporters to vote for the Illinois senatora position bolstered by Obamas proposals about Israel, he said.
Several audience members voiced concern with recent e-mails and phone calls that had circulated to Jewish leaders claiming that some of Obamas closest advisersincluding Robert Malley, Susan Rice and the Rev. Jeremiah Wrighthave anti-Israeli views. Indyk said those reports were exaggerated or untrue.
In the end, its the judgment of the president thats going to count, he said. The man that will be [Obamas] closest adviser is Joe Biden, who has served on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and is known for his strong support of Israel.
Members of Obamas campaign staff at the rally said the question about Obamas advisers was one of the main reasons they felt it was important to host a forum.
A lot of false information has been circulated, and [the committee that organized the event] wanted to get the truth out, one campaign staff member said.
Campaign workers distributed sheets about Obamas stance on Israel that included information about his visits to the country and questions about his advisers. According to that information, most of the names mentioned in the e-mails and phone calls were not part of Obamas campaign staff, or do not provide Obama advice about Israel.
Obama has said he would directly negotiate with Iran. Indyk said the Bush administrations refusal to negotiate until Iran has met preconditionsincluding the suspension of nuclear enrichment programshad created problems and encouraged the regime to continue producing enriched uranium.
Iran currently has at least 4,000 nuclear enrichment centrifuges operating, Indyk said. By the end of 2009the first year of the next presidents termIran could have enough uranium to produce between one and three nuclear weapons, he said.
That becomes a game changer, Indyk said. Obama would not take force off the table. He would do everything in his power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Indyk said Obama knew that peace was needed for Israel to persist and that the Bush administration had not committed itself to stopping violene and terrorism in Israel.
Three thousand people in Israel and Palestine died on George W. Bushs watch while he stood on the sidelines, Indyk said. To me, thats unforgivable. But whats more unforgivable is that we in the Jewish community said George W. Bush was the greatest friend wed ever had.
Indyk also said Obama would help Israel make peace with Syria, something he criticized the Bush administration for failing to do.
Although Indyk initially had doubts about supporting Obama because of his limited record on Israel, Obamas two trips to Israel, speeches and interviews had convinced him that Obama was committed to Israel.
I use a babysitter test when it comes to Israel, Indyk said. Do I trust this man or woman with my child? Will he or she be in the trenches when it really counts?Obama would.
Indyk closed by saying Obama would be a great president for the Jewish community and a great president for Israel. Indyks speech received long applause.
Thats why I believe we have to do everything possible to make sure he becomes the next president of the United States, he said.
During a question-and-answer session, Indyk said the threat from terrorist groups in Israel and throughout the Middle East would decrease because people had a more positive perception of Obama than Bush.
Barack Obama is not just a rock star in Israel and Europe, Indyk said. He grabs the attention of Arabs. For them, [Obamas election] means the things they like most about Americaour valueshave triumphed over the things they hate most about America, which were represented by George W. Bushs policies.