Archive for October, 2008

McCain’s Affinity for Israel

October 31, 2008

See the two articles below.  Something to think about before Tuesday.  Not that Israel is the only issue by any stretch.  The Jerusalem Post article, which comes first, describes John McCain’s affinity for Israel and more broadly, for the Jewish narrative.  In the second piece, Alan Dershowitz argues articulately that supporting Obama is consistent with supporting Israel. 

We have seen a surge of Jewish rationalizing — in emails, op-eds and speeches — that Obama will be good for Israel and the Middle East.  Whether this has come from Dershowitz, Dennis Ross, your local rabbi, or a Jewish friend who writes well, this argument will likely produce the 70-80% support that Democrats have counted on from Jews since FDR.  Dershowitz’s piece is among the best in this vein, arguing that support for Israel is already strong on the right, so friends of Israel must cultivate leaders on the left, i.e. Obama.  It is true that Barack Obama’s administration will likely be generally supportive of Israel, his friendship with Rashid Khalidi and others notwithstanding.  Still, read the Jerusalem Post article for insight into John McCain and how he is “instinctively pro-Israel” and have a think.  Especially if you live in Florida or Pennsylvania or any other swing state.  If you’ve already voted, in the words of Emily Litella, “Never mind.”  As for me, I remain, faithfully, yours…undecided.  Happy Halloween…

Roger Scher
 

Oct 30, 2008 9:08 | Updated Oct 30, 2008 9:14

The Republican phoenix

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
PHOENIX, Arizona

The stately saguaro cactus is a fitting symbol of the southwestern desert state of Arizona, found on license plates and front lawns and state flora registries, cutting a pitchfork profile both defiant of and shaped by the elements around it. It is also a good symbol for the Arizona senator who hopes to lead the nation, Republican presidential candidate John McCain. He, too, is sometimes considered prickly and defiant. He is known for independence, self-reliance and, above all, survival – both personal and political.

One year ago, McCain’s candidacy had been left for dead. He was trailing badly in the polls, his once hefty cash reserves were gone, his campaign was in disarray. But he carried off one of the more stunning comebacks of American political history, scraping together primary wins until he became his reluctant party’s nominee (his maverick reputation having been earned in large part for going against the GOP grain).

Yet that was far from his most impressive rehabilitation. In 1967, McCain’s plane was shot down over Hanoi and he was taken captive by the North Vietnamese. He was denied proper medical care for his broken bones, humiliated and tortured. He finally made it home five and a half years later, battered and bruised. Though he was never able to lift his arms properly again, he went through painful physical therapy and nursed his way back to health. He eventually launched a political career that spanned four years in the US House, 22 and counting in the Senate and two runs for president.

That political career began in Phoenix, his wife’s hometown but not his own. When McCain began his run and was greeted with the charge of being a carpetbagger, he famously replied that as a military brat he had moved around all his life, so the longest place he’d ever lived had been at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” POW prison.

Though his response silenced critics enough to let him lay claim to a congressional seat representing the Grand Canyon state, it also meant he soon sped off to Washington. Partly as a consequence, the roots he planted remained akin to those of the solitary saguaro. He is not known for warm and fuzzy constituent outreach; in the Jewish community, his calendar doesn’t overflow with synagogue speeches and JCC dedications. He also eschews the earmarks that often bring in funds for communal Jewish projects.

But that doesn’t mean McCain doesn’t have a connection to his Jewish voters. When people talk about McCain’s ties with the Arizona Jewish community, they use one word: Israel. And they mean that it is not just an issue that he strongly supports, but one for which he has an affinity.

As it happens, Israel is another place that features a cactus as its collective symbol. In the Jewish state, the sabra fruit – prickly on the outside but sweet on the inside – is used to characterize a people, a people who got that way through living in inhospitable climes, cultivating a democracy in a hostile region and serving years in the military under perennial attack.

“I think it’s something that he relates really strongly to his own experience as a POW,” says long-time friend George Weisz of McCain’s perspective on Israel. He recalls McCain telling him after visits there how struck he was by the “tenacity” of a population which shares “the passion that he has for freedom.” He says McCain also recognized a similar bravery in the face of constant aggression.

“Something he would mention specifically is the courage the people of Israel have to continue their lives dealing with the threats around them; that courage stood out more in Israel than almost any country he’s visited,” he recounts. “He’s been impressed that a nation that small has been able to stand up for itself, and stand up strongly in the face of threats from all around.”

Perhaps McCain’s most poignant comments about these shared circumstances came at an award ceremony in Phoenix nearly a decade ago honoring his work to help free IDF soldiers Zack Baumel and Ron Arad. Recalling his own captivity, he told the audience, “If we forget them, then we really betray the freedom and principles that were the foundations of our respective nations.”

MCCAIN HAS said that his experiences at the Hanoi Hilton shaped his worldview, particularly on foreign policy, and it was that perspective that he came to share one night at the Phoenix Kiwanis club in 1980.

Among those gathered to hear him was Sid Rosen, a Democratic political activist and world traveler who had himself spent time in Vietnam, though he admits at the time he “didn’t know him from Adam.” By the end of the night, Rosen had heard enough, particularly on Israel, to tell McCain that he would support him in any election, should he ever decide to run.

“He laid out the most incredible pro-Israel analysis that I’d ever heard,” recalls the 69-year-old Rosen, a lawyer. “The concept effectively was Israel’s right to exist as the nation of the Jewish people, biblically, historically, practically, in every which way. It was tremendously supportive, to the contrary of the impracticality, if not immorality, of the Palestinian [position]. He enumerated how the Arab countries had never resettled the Palestinians, had kept them in these refugee camps, stirred them up as anti-Israel, anti-Zionist all those years, in comparison to Israel taking in her refugees.”

Rosen points out that when McCain gave his speech at the Kiwanis club, it hardly would have been the place for trying to win over the Jewish vote even if he had been campaigning. The national service fraternity had just two Jewish members in its Phoenix chapter, and only Rosen was present that evening.

“He wasn’t addressing a Jewish audience, and [bringing up Israel] was gratuitous. So many politicians would stay away from anything at all controversial.”

And according to Rosen, statements like McCain’s were controversial for Republicans back then. “At that time, it was Democrats and liberal Democrats who were pro-Israel. That’s where the pro-Israel vote was, and it was really rare to find Republicans who were on board,” he says.

“When I came to work in Congress in the 1970s, all the good people were basically on the Democratic side,” says Morrie Amitay, who served as the executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee from 1974 to 1981. That was beginning to change by the end of his time there, and was sharply accelerated by the evangelical pro-Israel movement only toward the 1990s. Amitay calls McCain “instinctively pro-Israel.”

Phoenix lawyer and Zionist Organization of America vice president Farley Weiss agrees with the assessment. He was struck by McCain’s criticism of his own party’s president, George H.W. Bush, when Bush made disparaging comments about the Israel lobby in 1991, and then again by the senator’s willingness to tell local Arab audiences what he tells Jewish ones – that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if he were president.

Weiss adds, “Senator McCain’s best friend in the Senate is Joe Lieberman, and that tells you something already.”

Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 but is now campaigning for the Republican presidential nominee. (Weiss also notes, however, they don’t see eye to eye on everything; Weiss has been trying to enlist McCain’s support in freeing Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel, but “he has not been supportive of the issue.”)

Rosen wasn’t the only Democrat whose attention was caught by McCain’s views on Israel.

Michael Bell, a 66-year-old Jewish resident of Phoenix, says he plans to vote Republican for only the second time in his life this Tuesday.

“He has always been a very big supporter of Israel,” Bell says while enumerating the reasons, primarily related to foreign policy and defense, that he will be supporting McCain over Democratic rival Barack Obama.

He thinks there are many others like him based on conversations with fellow Democrats. “A good percentage has to do with Israel – he’s a proven commodity with Israel.”

McCain’s campaign believes that sentiment resonates nationally, and that the GOP candidate will get near-record levels of Jewish support. While national polls originally supported this assessment, recent surveys suggest his support is falling off and that Obama will get the three-quarters of the Jewish vote typically garnered by Democrats.

There are no reliable polls on how Arizona Jews specifically are likely to vote, and many counter that they expect as strong a Democratic turnout as ever.

“Jewish Democrat is redundant,” quips Arizona National Jewish Democratic Council head Jerry Gettinger. Though he predicts slightly higher Jewish turnout for McCain than other Republican candidates, he says that “the community has been overwhelmingly Democrat and probably will be this time too.”

He cited McCain’s conservative stance on social issues and vice presidential pick of Sarah Palin, who has rubbed many Jews the wrong way.

And many local Jewish Republicans have issues with McCain, too.

A DOZEN Republican Jewish Coalition members gather at a Starbucks among the palm trees and decorative fountains of a swank suburban open-air shopping mall to sip coffee and talk politics as the sun sets. They devote much more of that talk to bashing Obama than praising McCain.

“McCain’s not my first choice,” Alla Rosenfield explains. “But Obama’s my last.” Rosenfield strongly disagrees with McCain’s stance on immigration, which she thinks doesn’t take a hard enough line against illegal immigrants. Others in the circle object to his personality and his temper, the latter of which has been the subject of Democratic attack ads.

Gil Exler saw that temper flare firsthand during a group luncheon with the senator back in 2004. McCain had recently appeared on a morning TV show and attacked President George W. Bush, a fellow Republican in the midst of a reelection campaign. During the Q&A, Exler told McCain he thought he had criticized Bush too harshly at a delicate time, eliciting a barrage from McCain on how the Bush campaign had gone after him during his first run in 2000. “If you knew how they treated me in South Carolina,” Exler recalls him saying, wagging his finger for extra effect. (Bush backers started false rumors ahead of the South Carolina primary that his adopted Bangladeshi daughter was actually a black girl he fathered out of wedlock.) But the senator soon regretted his response, Exler says.

“Right after we broke he came up, put his arm around me, and said, ‘I’m so sorry, no hard feelings, nothing personal. You just hit a nerve.’ I said, ‘Obviously.'”

Exler does give McCain credit for being willing to express his own point of view and not just parrot the position of the person in the crowd, in this case Exler.

Still, hearing so much criticism, RJC chapter head Amy Laff jumps in. “I might be the only one here, but I like McCain.” She mentions that when she set up the local RJC branch, he spent over an hour meeting with her and asking her questions about what she would like him to do for her. And, she concludes, “He shared this connection with Israel.”

All of the RJC group give McCain high marks for Israel, and call it a priority which compensates for other issues they disagree with him on. And they’re willing to overlook the lack of a personal touch from him and his wife in some other areas.

“They’re private individuals, and we don’t see them at events that are social, but when there are issues that are important – on Israel – they’re there,” Rosenfield says.

Sam Coppersmith is less charitable. A former head of the Arizona Democratic Party who served two years in the US House before losing the race for the state’s other Senate seat to Jon Kyl in 1994, he suggests that McCain simply isn’t interested in constituent duties.

“My sense is that McCain doesn’t do a lot of that kind of outreach,” says Coppersmith, “because he hasn’t really wanted to do it.” Coppersmith, whose law office still displays a campaign poster from his ill-fated Senate run, posits that McCain delegated the constituent work to Kyl once the latter won. Coppersmith refers to McCain’s lack of local attention by cracking, “Nobody in Arizona is going to ride on the Straight Talk Express,” the nickname for his campaign bus.

A former Jewish Republican operative, who did not want to be quoted saying something negative about McCain, concurs that “Arizona Jews are more likely to see him on Meet the Press than at the local Piggly-Wiggly [supermarket].”

But Jewish News of Greater Phoenix publisher Florence Eckstein says that her publication has never had a problem with access to McCain when it’s been requested. Instead, she attributes the difference between the Jewish community’s relationship with its two senators to geography.

“Kyl has a much, much tighter connection with many Arizonans than McCain has. [Kyl] lived here, he practiced law here. He was an Arizonan in a way McCain is not,” according to Eckstein, whose paper endorsed Obama. “It may be that John McCain has basically lived in DC. He’s never lived in Phoenix for any length of time.”

“McCain isn’t even in Arizona that often. [He’s] been running for president for a long time,” another Jewish leader remarks. “There hasn’t been an enormous amount of interface except on Israel-related issues… Obviously he has a good record on Israel, and he has a first-name relationship with philanthropists in the Jewish community who are Israel-motivated. He’s not on a first-name basis with the heads of the Jewish community outside of Israel.”

While he adds that McCain “wants to be a friend of the Jewish community,” he sees Kyl more often at events. He describes both senators as enjoying “cordial relations” with the community, but terms Kyl as “more visible.”

Rabbi Albert Plotkin, though, remembers several Jewish-oriented events in which McCain has participated, including fund-raising efforts for the United Jewish Appeal, and awards he’s received from groups like the Anti-Defamation League. Plotkin, a community presence for 53 years, especially recalls his regular attendance at AIPAC meetings. “Whatever he’s been called on to do to support Israel, he’s done.”

AND MCCAIN in turn has been able to call on several Jewish supporters, starting with Rosen.

Rosen describes himself as McCain’s “first supporter of the Jewish faith” and quite possibly his first supporter, period. That’s because when he first encountered McCain at the Kiwanis club, there wasn’t even a congressional seat in Arizona open for the one-time navy liaison to Congress to run for. But that didn’t stop Rosen from enlisting.

After hearing his foreign policy speech – on both Israel and elsewhere – he was so “blown away” that he introduced himself to McCain and said, “When you’re ready to run for federal political office, call me. I’m on the team.”

About a year later, Rosen read that House minority leader John Rhodes, who was from Phoenix, had decided not to seek another term. “The first thought that came to my mind was John McCainJohn McCain is the man for that seat and now is the time.”

Late at night 24 hours later, Rosen’s phone rang. The voice on the line said, “You’re probably not going to remember me. This is John McCain.” To which Rosen replied, “John McCain, I have been waiting for 24 hours for your call. Where have you been? I told you last year I’m on the team!”

Though Rosen was a Democratic political insider – he barely missed winning a seat in Congress himself – McCain didn’t seem to be aware of that when he called. Instead, Rosen attributes McCain’s interest in Rosen’s support to the fact that Rosen was a lone voice of encouragement, pointing out that no one else at the Kiwanis club was pushing him to run for office. When Rosen told him his party affiliation, McCain asked him to chair ‘Democrats for McCain,’ as he has ever since.

That day began Rosen’s “28-year devotion” to McCain’s political rise, one clearly evident in the activist’s historic Tudor residence in central Phoenix. A framed photo of McCain and his wife, Cindy, rests on his coffee table; a large poster of McCain in his navy uniform covers his fireplace. Rosen wears a wristband bearing the campaign slogan “country first” as well as a homemade McCain pin. Even when he knows who’s calling, he answers the phone: ” John McCain for president. Sid speaking. How may I help you?” And there have been a lot of phone calls – 40 to 60 a day, he calculates – as he works 24/6 (no answering on Shabbat) to raise money for the campaign. He’s taken off nearly two years from his law firm to help with the effort, which he says has so far yielded $600,000, among the highest totals for a McCain fund-raiser.

But Rosen wasn’t the GOP presidential hopeful’s only key Jewish supporter back before he’d won his first election. Former Arizona Republican Party chairman Burton Kruglick was particularly important to getting McCain launched on that initial run.

Kruglick, now retired, recalls a young McCain coming to him, eager to get in the political game but lacking a toehold. Kruglick recounts that McCain had studied the places where there wasn’t an incumbent and moved to Rhodes’s district as soon as he found out the minority leader was retiring, but an address was about all he had going for him.

“He had no name ID, nobody knew him. That’s a tough way to run,” notes Kruglick, “so he asked me if I could appoint him to a committee so he would have a title, ‘John McCain, co-chair…’ I thought about it, and I said, ‘Okay John. I’ll be your first friend.'” Kruglick ended up appointing him to a position on the committee that arranged for speakers at party meetings. The speakers were national politicians and McCain’s role let him meet key people quickly.

Kruglick came under criticism from others in line for party posts who felt McCain didn’t deserve the plum position. But Kruglick, who once served as head of the local Jewish National Fund chapter, relates that no other party strivers had made such a direct appeal. “Nobody else came to me that way,” he says, adding that he appreciated McCain’s background and character and was willing to give him some help, which the ambitious McCain ran with. “We just gave him that and he built on it. He made it work.”

Soon after that, Phoenix energy executive Marty Schultz met McCain at a breakfast party held to introduce the political neophyte to key players like himself. Though the primary hadn’t yet been held, what stood out in Schultz’s mind was “the clarity of the handoff,” that “they wanted this man… to be the next member of Congress.”

Schultz soon took to McCain and became a fundraiser. (Schultz recommends the erstwhile naval aviator in part because “he’s a fun guy,” acknowledging it might not be a well-accepted qualification for high office. He recounts the good time they once had shooting craps at a Nevada casino on the way back from a business trip, though he ends up on a serious note: After watching McCain play, Schultz asked his fellow gambler how he knew all the dice combinations so thoroughly, to which McCain replied, a lot of time spent in prison with not a lot to do.)

Steve Chanen, for his part, used to play with Cindy McCain, and the games were much more innocent as they were children at the time. A Phoenix native who went to school with her, Chanen use to hang out at the very family home at which he would later attend fancy campaign fundraisers. He was one of 20 supporters McCain gathered to decide whether to enter the presidential race in the first place. Chanen urged McCain to run. “Our country needs you,” he said.

THOUGH MOST Arizona Jews are Democrats, a disproportionate number of big political donors tend to be Republicans, according to a 30-year local Jewish leader who works for a non-partisan organization.

“Some of the deepest pockets in the Jewish community are Israel-motivated and tend to be Republican in Phoenix, which may be different nationally,” he says. “The largest number of dollars are probably going to Republican candidates.”

He figures that’s probably because there are more Jewish Republicans in this GOP-friendly state than elsewhere.

“Compared to New York or Massachusetts, yeah, there are a lot more Jewish Republicans,” acknowledges the Democrat Coppersmith, pointing out that “the Jewish community’s part of the larger community.”

“This environment is generally more conservative and more libertarian – people want to live their own lives, do their own thing,” says RJC member Mara Kaufman of traits that are typical to Western states which Jews have to some extent picked up. “This is much more of a pragmatic environment. This is not a traditional old-guard liberal environment. There are people who have done real things.”

The RJC, in fact, was founded four years ago – three years earlier than the National Jewish Democratic Council – and now boasts 300 members, five times more than the Democratic group.

And Republican Jews have benefited not only from their surroundings, but also their history. One of the most influential Jewish Republican Party officials ever came from Arizona – Harry Rosenzweig, the life-long friend and ideologue-in-arms of Barry Goldwater.

Rosenzweig, who chaired the state Republican Party during the 1960s, aided Goldwater in his rise from the Phoenix city council to the US Senate to the Republican nomination in 1964 (when he lost to Lyndon Johnson). Rosenzweig was also crucial to developing Goldwater’s political postures, which would shape American conservatism for generations.

“There’s no question that Harry’s position influenced many Jews to the Republican Party,” says Plotkin, 88, rabbi emeritus of Beth Israel.

Plotkin says that Goldwater was an inspiration for the Jewish community, since he was the descendant of Polish Orthodox Jews on his father’s side – Goldwasser was the original family name.

“When Barry Goldwater was running for president, the Jewish community was behind him… because they were proud of him running for president, because his father was Jewish, and he often stood up for Israel,” Plotkin recalls. “Though he was raised Episcopalian, he felt a sense of loyalty.”

Despite that, Kruglick points to Goldwater as McCain’s most significant Jewish supporter. A political hero and ideological inspiration for McCain, Goldwater enthusiastically endorsed him to take his Senate seat after the junior politician spent two terms in the House.

“I think Republican Jews have been very helpful for McCain. Goldwater started it, and he was Jewish,” says Kruglick.

Though Goldwater wasn’t actually a Jew, as his mother was Christian, the favored son of Arizona politics was nearly raised Jewish, according to a childhood friend. Jerry Lewkowitz, who was very close to Goldwater’s brother Bob and served with both of them in local politics, recalls his friend once remarking that they would have been raised Jewish had there been a local synagogue. Since there wasn’t, they went to the Episcopal church.

IT WASN’T until 1921 that the first synagogue was built in Phoenix, and back then most of the city looked like the scraggly strip of desert that serves as Lewkowitz’s backyard. The rest of his modern housing development is covered with manicured gardens and well-watered lawns, but Lewkowitz has preserved a piece of the frontier as it once was – rough, sandy, cactus-strewn.

Starting in the mid-1800s, ranchers, prospectors and miners gradually tamed parts of that frontier, and after them soon followed merchants to supply their expeditions and bring in needed goods.

That’s why the Goldwaters came to what was then still a territory rather than a state, eventually setting up a successful department store that both Barry and Bob worked at for a time.

Some 100 Jews had made their way to Phoenix by the time Beth Israel opened its doors in 1921. “For Phoenix, that makes it one of the oldest buildings in town,” according to Larry Bell, who runs the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.

The population grew enough in the ’30s to split over observance – one group felt it was too expensive to support the kosher slaughterer during the Great Depression, while the other felt it was religiously necessary. A scratchy black-and-white photo of the shohet and his family now hangs in Bell’s makeshift office, stuffed with history books and mementos.

But the population really exploded a few years later.

The key moment in Arizona’s history was World War II,” Bell explained. “After the war there was a massive influx of people.”

That included Jews, and the old synagogues became a victim of that success, as the population rapidly expanded to the suburbs. Now the former Orthodox synagogue sits in an abandoned lot waiting to be sold and torn down; the Conservative shul has been turned into a pawnshop. (Bell’s organization managed to purchase the original Beth Israel site and is now carrying out a $4 million restoration project with help from the city and state. The current Reform synagogue is thriving in neighboring Scottsdale, where Steve Chanen had it relocated when he headed the congregation.)

In fact, the city is considered to have one of the top three fastest-growing Jewish populations in America, according to Greater Phoenix Jewish Federation CEO Adam Schwartz. He estimates that more than 100,000 Jews are living in the area, more than double the number from a generation ago. Then again, Phoenix is also one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, period.

“The state is growing so fast that we’re keeping up with our minority status,” Coppersmith says. At 1.5 million inhabitants, Phoenix is America’s fifth-largest, a phenomenal rate of growth from just 65,000 in 1940.

The rapid postwar growth helped turn the state reliably Republican. After World War II, many of the military men – a Republican demographic – who had trained in Arizona’s bases decided to stay, while urban expansion brought in developers and entrepreneurs, who were also of a Republican bent. At the same time, the area became an attractive retirement destination, and older voters are generally more conservative. And they were all influenced by Goldwater.

But the current wave of rapid growth is turning the state gradually toward the Democrats – part of the shift that has made the southwest a key battleground region for this election – and Jews are emblematic of that trend.

Phoenix’s relatively cheap housing prices, good weather, growing technology sector and low taxes are drawing in throngs of educated new people at the same time that the local Hispanic population has taken off.

Diversity favors the Democrats, including diversity of state origin.

And where Phoenix once drew heavily on Midwesterners, now East Coasters, who tend to be Democrats, are increasingly migrating south and west, particularly Jews.

Bell has seen a dramatic change in the Jewish population, “In the last 10 years you’ve seen a diaspora of New York City,” he says.

And another factor in the Democrats’ favor, according to Coppersmith, is how unrooted the population is.

“We’re very susceptible to national trends,” the Pennsylvania native says – the current trend now being pro-Democrat – because the local culture doesn’t have a firm hold. “Everyone moved here from somewhere else.”

In a way, perpetual motion amidst an immutable landscape is what has created today’s Phoenix, from the pioneers who founded it to the postwar developers who put it on the map. The name Phoenix was originally chosen in reference to the mythical bird that regenerates itself.

That environment has given rise to a politician who is known for being a maverick willing to work across party lines, for surviving in difficult circumstances and for regenerating himself when necessary.

 

Why I Support Israel and Obama

Alan Dershowitz

October 17, 2008  Huffington Post

I am a strong supporter of Israel (though sometimes critical of specific policies). I am also a strong supporter of Barack Obama (though I favored Hillary Clinton during the primaries). I am now getting dozens of emails asking me how as a supporter of Israel I can vote for Barack Obama. Let me explain.

I think that on the important issues relating to Israel, both Senator McCain and Senator Obama score very high. During the debates each candidate has gone out of his and her way to emphasize strong support for Israel as an American ally and a bastion of democracy in a dangerous neighborhood. They have also expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the nuclear threat posed by Iran which has sworn to wipe Israel off the map and the need to prevent another Holocaust.

There may be some difference in nuance among the candidates, especially with regard to negotiations with Iran, but supporters of Israel should not base their voting decision on which party or which candidates support Israel more enthusiastically. In the United States, Israel is not a divisive issue, and voting for President is not a referendum on support for Israel, at least among the major parties.

I want to keep it that way. I want to make sure that support for Israel remains strong both among liberals and conservatives. It is clear that extremists on both sides of the political spectrum hate Israel, because they hate liberal democracies, because they tend to have a special place in their heart for tyrannical regimes, and because they often have strange views with regard to anything Jewish. The extreme left, as represented by Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Norman Finkelstein and, most recently, Jimmy Carter has little good to say about the Jewish state. But nor does the extreme right, as represented by Pat Buchanan, Robert Novak, Joseph Sobran and David Duke. When it comes to Israel there is little difference between the extreme right and the extreme left. Nor is there much of a difference between the centrist political left and the centrist political right: both generally support Israel. Among Israel’s strongest supporters have always been Ted Kennedy, Harry Reed, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The same is true of the centrist political right, as represented by Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Oren Hatch and John McCain.

Why then do I favor Obama over McCain? First, because I support him on policies unrelated to Israel, such as the Supreme Court, women’s rights, separation of church and state and the economy. But I also prefer Obama to McCain on the issue of Israel. How can I say that if I have just acknowledged that on the issues they both seem to support Israel to an equal degree? The reason is because I think it is better for Israel to have a liberal supporter in the White House than to have a conservative supporter in the oval office. Obama’s views on Israel will have greater impact on young people, on Europe, on the media and on others who tend to identify with the liberal perspective. Although I believe that centrists liberals in general tend to support Israel, I acknowledge that support from the left seems to be weakening as support from the right strengthens. The election of Barack Obama — a liberal supporter of Israel — will enhance Israel’s position among wavering liberals.

As I travel around university campuses both in the United States and abroad, I see radical academics trying to present Israel as the darling of the right and anathema to the left. As a liberal supporter of Israel, I try to combat that false image. Nothing could help more in this important effort to shore up liberal support for Israel than the election of a liberal president who strongly supports Israel and who is admired by liberals throughout the world. That is among the important reasons why I support Barack Obama for president.

Alan M. Dershowitz is a Professor of Law at Harvard. His most recent book The Case Against Israel’s Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand In The Way of Peace which has recently been published by Wiley.

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