Election Edge Analysis
|Edwin Black||June 4th 2008|
|Barack Obama at AIPAC|
"I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power. Everything."
Barack Obama, AIPAC Annual Policy Conference, June 04, 2008
To thunderous repetitive peals of applause by 7,000 gathered attendees at the American Israel Political Affairs Committee Annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., Barack Obama today transformed himself in the minds of many doubting Jews and security-minded conservatives.
With unmistakable clarity, Obama stepped out of his haze as a questionable figure and stepped into the limelight as a stalwart in the American/Israel relationship and in the campaign to disarm the Iranian nuclear threat.
With riveting command of the issues, Obama checked off every conceivable question in the minds of Jewish and conservative listeners and showed himself to be knowledgeable and formidable. From no negotiation with Hamas as a terrorist entity, to a personal commitment to the return of captured Israeli soldiers, to the quest for bi-national peace between Israel and Palestinians, Barack drew standing ovations. The ovations were loudest as Obama proclaimed his vision for America’s steadfastness in the looming nuclear stalemate and confrontation with Iran.
Setting aside his prepared remarks and speaking with crystal clarity, Obama declared loudly over the applause, “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power. Everything.”
Moments later, Obama put Iran on strict notice declaring that while he favors tough diplomacy, sometimes military confrontation is unavoidable. “Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation,” he said, “But that only makes diplomacy more important. If we must use military force, we are more likely to succeed, and will have far greater support at home and abroad if we have exhausted our diplomatic efforts.”
Obama also showed a keen understanding of the Holocaust and its place in contemporary world history and Israel’s national mindset, thus righting erroneous misstatements he had uttered in recent days about American soldiers liberating Auschwitz. The death camp in occupied Poland was liberated by Russians in April 1945 not Americans who were fast closing in on Berlin.
Turning to Black/Jewish relations—strained and battered over recent years as anti-Semitism became vogue in the African-American community and the roiling Southside Chicago’s neighborhoods that became Obama’s base—the presumptive Democratic candidate called out for a revival of the longtime alliance that saw Jews in the bloodied front line of the civil rights struggle.
“There is a commitment,” Obama reminded, “embedded in the Jewish faith and tradition: to freedom and fairness; to social justice and equal opportunity. To tikkun olam – the obligation to repair this world.”
Making it personal, Obama continued, “I will never forget that I would not be standing here today if it weren’t for that commitment. In the great social movements in our country’s history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder. They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together. And Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were willing to die alongside a black man – James Chaney – on behalf of freedom and equality.”
Obama was referring to two young Jewish civil rights workers, Goodman and Schwerner, as well as Black civil rights worker Chaney, all brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during the legendary Freedom Summer of 1964.
Obama asserted, “Their legacy is our inheritance. We must not allow the relationship between Jews and African Americans to suffer. This is a bond that must be strengthened. Together, we can rededicate ourselves to end prejudice and combat hatred in all of its forms. Together, we can renew our commitment to justice. Together, we can join our voices together, and in doing so make even the mightiest of walls fall down.”
Derogatory e-mails have been haunting the Obama campaign since the outset, so much so that he began his AIPAC speech by telling listeners he would tackle them on the spot. “Before I begin,” Obama stated, “I want to say that I know some provocative e-mails have been circulating throughout Jewish communities across the country. A few of you may have gotten them. They’re filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for President. And all I want to say is – let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty frightening.”
Far from frightening, the new Obama proved nothing short of amazing to many who had known nothing more of him than his thin past, a past linked very closely to such clerical hatemongers as Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Trinity United Pastor Jeremiah Wright and Catholic priest Michael Pfleger. The new Obama is one that seems to have been profoundly educated, toughened, and seasoned by a grueling primary against Hillary Clinton. To many he must have seemed like a man ready to leave his streetwise Southside Chicago and assume the mentality of a world leader. New e-mails of astonishment and support of Obama quickly began burning through the Internet, many from the ranks of former Obama rejectionists.
The Obama speech was the highlight of a remarkable American political event, the largest and most distinguished political assemblage in AIPAC’s history. Republican presidential candidate John McCain spoke earlier in the week when the conference opened. Today, in a star-studded turning point morning, Obama was preceded by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and followed presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Still aflame with enthusiasm, Clinton’s speech made no reference to further presidential ambition, and indeed repeatedly offered accolades to Obama. At one point she declared, “Let me be very clear, I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel.”
For many, that question is being viewed in a newer and more positive light.
Edwin Black is the award-winning, New York Times and international bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust, and six other books, as well as the forthcoming book, The Plan--How to Save America the Day after the Oil Stops—or Perhaps the Day Before (Oct 2008). He can be reached at www.edwinblack.com.