After months of being hit with accusations that he’ll be too weak in his support of Israel, Sen. Barack Obama faced the opposite assertion on Sunday from Ralph Nader, the consumer crusader who kicked off his third consecutive White House bid.
Nader told Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Democratic frontrunner Obama had been an advocate for the Palestinians before he ran for the Senate in Illinois, but has since shifted gears.
“His better instincts and knowledge have been censored by himself, and I give you an example: the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which is a real off-the-table issue for the candidates,” said Nader. “Don’t touch that, even though it is central to our security and to the situation in the Middle East. He was pro-Palestinian when he was in Illinois, before he ran for the state senate, during the state senate.
“Now he is supporting the Israeli destruction of the tiny section called Gaza, with a million and half people. He doesn’t have any sympathy for a civilian death ratio of about 300 to one, 300 Palestinians to one Israeli.”
In an interview from Israel where he is attending a global conference on anti-Semitism, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said Nader was “accusing [Obama] not only of pandering but of being controlled by pro-Israel forces. This is par for the course for Nader. It’s a way for him to express his bigotry and bias.”
When asked for a statement, Obama’s campaign released one stating that: “Barack Obama’s longstanding support for Israel’s security is rooted in his belief that no civilians should have to live with the threat of terrorism. In Gaza, Hamas continues to fire rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians every day, and that’s why it is long past time that Hamas renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and abides by past agreements. ”
About an hour before Nader made his comments, Obama addressed Jewish community leaders in Ohio and — in response to a question about the leanings of some of his advisers, such as former Jimmy Carter aide Zbigniew Brzezinski — complained that some in the pro-Israel community consider only the Likud position to be supportive of the Jewish state.
“I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel,” JTA reported Obama saying. “If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we’re not going to make progress. ”
The Republican Jewish Coalition saw Nader’s comments as an opportunity to question Obama’s support of Israel.
“When a longtime political activist like Ralph Nader, with a well-documented, anti-Israel bias, claims that Sen. Obama shares this anti-Israel bias, that is alarming, ” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks.
That prompted a response from Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), a key Jewish supporter of Obama, who told JTA, “Sen. Obama has a lifelong commitment to Israel’s security. In the Illinois state Senate he was a champion of Israel Bonds.”
In a statement, The National Jewish Democratic Council decried the use of Nader as an arbiter of a candidate’s pro-Israel credentials.
“They are basically saying ignore this United States senator’s strong pro-Israel voting record, positions and rhetoric, and instead listen to Ralph Nader, ” said the statement.
Nader has a long history of anti-Israel statements, and as recently as June told American Conservative magazine that he believed Congress and successive U.S. administrations, beginning with Ronald Reagan’s, have been “puppets to Israeli military policy.”
Conventional wisdom is that Nader helps Sen. John McCain, the all but certain Republican nominee, in the general election because Nader generally draws left-wing votes away from the Democrats.
But University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said it was unlikely Nader could have the impact on this race that he had in 2000, when he won more votes than the slim margin between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
“Except in the case of another freakishly close election such as 2000, Nader will have no practical effect on the 2008 election,” said Sabato. “Naturally, Democrats are concerned since Nader was one of many reasons why Al Gore lost in 2000. Nader cost Gore Florida and New Hampshire, either of which would have elected Gore. But Nader dropped from 2.7 percent of the national vote in 2000 to 0.37 percent of the vote in 2004. His share this year will be much closer to the 2004 level than the 2000 level. It’s much ado about very little, in all probability.”
JTA contributed to this report.