Washington — Making their first appearances after the conclusion of the Democratic primary race, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton showed up Wednesday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference, both stressing their strong commitments to Israel.
For Clinton, the speech at Aipac’s conference was a step toward recognizing Obama’s victory and his nomination as the party’s candidate for president. Clinton, who has been known for her critical rhetoric toward Obama, changed course Wednesday and promised the Aipac crowd that the Illinois senator is a staunch supporter of Israel. “Let me be very clear,” Clinton told the delegates, “Barack Obama will be a good friend of Israel.”
Both Clinton and Obama were greeted warmly by the audience, assuaging organizers’ fears that political divisions might become apparent during the conference.
In his speech to 7,000 Aipac members hours before they all left for lobbying missions on Capitol Hill, Obama listed his views on a range of issues relating to Israel, stressing his support for the Jewish state’s qualitative military edge and his pledge to do “everything it takes” to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Obama also responded to Senator John McCain’s attacks over his willingness to talk with Iranian leaders. He stressed that there will need to be preparation for these talks and coordination with America’s allies, including Israel, and that such talks would not only be for the sake of talking. “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,” Obama said.
The presumptive Democratic nominee won standing ovations from the audience for pledging his support for the existence of Israel as a Jewish state and for Jerusalem as its undivided capital. But when Obama spoke of the need for Israel to freeze all settlement activity based on its road map commitment, the crowd remained silent.
Both Obama and Clinton were on the same page in criticizing the Bush administration’s foreign policy. The two Democrats argued that Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq and his Middle East policy have made Israel less safe and complicated the situation in the region.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman