What was supposed to be a bipartisan debate among the three major presidential campaigns turned into a Democratic showdown, as the McCain campaign pulled out at the last minute from a scheduled debate of surrogates before a gathering of Jewish leaders. With the McCain camp absent, Jewish representatives of the Clinton and Obama campaigns vied to demonstrate their candidates’ strengths on Israel and social justice issues.
The debate was held in Atlanta as part of the annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a body composed of leading Jewish organizations and local community relations councils from around the country.
The idea for the debate had originated with McCain’s camp when the camp offered to send Senator Joe Lieberman, McCain’s most prominent Jewish supporter. The JCPA responded by organizing the surrogates’ debate, but the McCain campaign pulled out the night before the debate. The JCPA also invited the campaigns of the other remaining candidates — Republicans Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul, and Democrat Mike Gravel — to send representatives, as well, but none did so.
Reflecting an ongoing push on the part of the Clinton camp to question Obama’s credentials on Israel and the Middle East, former ambassador Stuart Eizenstat spent much of his speech praising Clinton’s commitment to Israel, declaring that she “has an unmatched knowledge, of any person in the United States, of Israel, having visited there eight times.”
Rep. Robert Wexler defended Obama’s position on Israel, then lashed out at the Clinton campaign for spreading what he said was inaccurate information as to who is advising Obama on the Middle East.
“I have participated in what I think is either every conversation in the Obama campaign or almost every one,” he told the packed room. “I know who is advising Senator Obama on Israel and the Middle East, and every one of them is as stalwart on Israel as I am.”