Clinton, Obama Seek Out Israel Envoys

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 07, 2008, issue of March 14, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Washington - As the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continues, Obama has worked to win the endorsements of former American diplomats in the Middle East in an effort to strengthen his pro-Israel credentials.

Obama was successful in landing the support of Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel, who is considered to be a leading expert on the region and a strong backer of Israel.

Obama’s campaign has also been pushing to enlist the support of another former ambassador to Israel, Edward Walker. (Walker has published an opinion piece, unrelated to the election, in this issue of the Forward.) Walker told the Forward that the conversations were only in the preliminary stage and that he needs to know more about both candidates’ views on the Middle East. Walker said he is unlikely to make a formal endorsement before the primaries are concluded. Obama’s new supporter, Kurtzer, was quickly sent to Ohio to counter the message of another former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, who made the rounds for Hillary Clinton in the Ohio Jewish community before the primary she won. Kurtzer and Indyk, acting as surrogates for Obama and Clinton respectively, are trying to convince Jewish voters that their candidate has stronger pro-Israel credentials.

Kurtzer, who served as ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, said during a meeting with Jewish voters in Columbus, Ohio, that this is the first time he has ever endorsed a political candidate.

“We desperately need a change of direction, and I believe Barack Obama is the candidate who can win in November and deliver on that promise of change,” Kurtzer said.

In a statement put out by Obama’s campaign, the candidate said that he welcomes Kurtzer’s endorsement: “I know that I will benefit from his advice and expertise.” The Obama campaign played up the endorsement of Kurtzer, who is viewed as a strong supporter of Israel, in the wake of a barrage of criticism aimed at Obama’s affiliation with Middle East experts who have been accused by some of having a pro-Arab bias.

Kurtzer recently co-authored a study on American peacemaking efforts in the Middle East that was critical of the way the Clinton administration attempted to broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians. The study, which was based on interviews with 100 key negotiators and policy makers, was also critical of the Bush administration.

As American policy toward Israel takes center stage in the Democratic battle for the Jewish vote, both candidates are reaching out to former officials to help bolster their standing on this issue. A big obstacle is that many former State Department officials with expertise in the region are seen by pro-Israel activists as holding pro-Arab views, which is one reason why support from former diplomats with strong pro-Israel credentials is so highly sought after. In addition to Indyk, who twice served as ambassador to Israel, Clinton has the support of Sandy Berger, who was national security adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross has provided advice to the Obama campaign but is not a formal adviser and has not endorsed any of the candidates.

Both Democratic candidates issued statements March 3 supporting Israel as it goes after rocket launchers in the Gaza Strip. Obama blamed Hamas for the violence in Gaza, while also calling on Israel to “do all it can to avoid civilian deaths.”

The Clinton campaign had a similar take on the events in Gaza, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and voicing regret over the civilian loss of life on both sides. These statements resemble remarks made by officials in the Bush administration following Israel’s strikes over the weekend.

Jewish voters were not considered to be major players in Tuesday’s primary elections, but both campaigns invested time and energy in reaching out to the community, mainly in Ohio, where the state’s 145,000 Jews make up just over 1% of the population.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.