The day after securing the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama addressed the preeminent pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This mostly Jewish organization, which is largely liberal and Democratic, would seem to be the perfect pushover crowd to launch his fall campaign.
By all accounts, he wowed the crowd with rhetorical flares, saying he "had grown up without a sense of roots" and consequently had always "understood the Zionist idea, that there is always a homeland at the center of our story." But behind the dozen standing ovations is the seldom-told story that Obama throughout the primaries has had a problem with Jewish voters.
In Pennsylvania, Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Obama by 10 points but won the Jewish vote by 24. It was as bad, if not worse, in other states with sizable Jewish populations. In November, polls indicate he will run 20 to 30 points behind the typical Democratic presidential candidate among Jewish voters.
Question: Why would some of the most reliably liberal voters balk at supporting the most liberal presidential candidate since George McGovern? Answer: Obama has an Israel problem that grows out of his votes, speeches, writings and associations, past and present. He tried to use his AIPAC speech to put all this behind him. It won't be that easy.
The radical government in Iran is the most serious threat to the security of Israel, whether through its support of Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Syria, its development of nuclear weapons, or its threat to wipe Israel off the map.
In September, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution, by a vote of 76-22, that labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Obama didn't make the vote, but he trashed the resolution and used Clinton's support of it to drive a wedge between her and the antiwar crowd. At the same time, Obama famously announced that he would meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "without precondition" and declared that Iran was merely a "tiny threat."
All this came during the primaries. At the AIPAC meeting, Obama said that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard "has rightly been labeled a terrorist organization" and that "there is no greater threat to Israel - or to the peace and stability of the region - than Iran." But he said he still favored direct negotiations with Iran, without "self-defeating preconditions."
Every time I have traveled to Israel, its military's message was clear: We either need high ground (occupied territories such as the Golan Heights) or high tech (sophisticated weapons).
Military sales and cooperation in developing military technology are vital to our relationship with Israel. The most important cooperative program is missile defense. The worry is not just short-range missiles from Hezbollah, but long-range missiles from Iran and beyond.
Obama, however, has called for the largest defense cuts since the Cold War. He has further stated he will "not weaponize space" and has called for an end to missile-defense development. Yet, at the AIPAC convention, he said: "We can enhance our cooperation on missile defense." Hmm.
His less than candid statements continued with his assertion that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." But he has refused to sponsor bills to this end in the Senate. And when CNN called him on this, he backtracked, saying that it was up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues and that Jerusalem would be part of those negotiations.
Should a foreign policy depend on whether you're addressing AIPAC or CNN?
Then there's the company Obama keeps. The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.'s anti-American sound bites are tame in comparison to his anti-Zionist diatribes. Everyone knows Wright honored the anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan with an award. Less known is that the bulletin of Obama's former church once featured an open letter from Palestinian Ali Baghdadi. "I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa," he wrote. "Both worked on an ethnic bomb that kills Blacks and Arabs."
In April, the Los Angeles Times reported on Obama's once close friendship with Rashid Khalidi, who has said that Palestinians who kill Israeli soldiers are engaged in legitimate resistance. The article quotes another American Palestinian intellectual, Hussein Ibish, as saying: "I am confident that Barack Obama is more sympathetic to the position of ending the occupation than either of the other candidates."
Then there's Obama's cadre of senior foreign-policy advisers, including Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake from the pro-Palestinian Carter administration. It also included Robert Malley until last month, when this anti-Israeli academic was dismissed for having regular contact with Hamas.
The homeland at the center of the Obama team's Middle East story, it seems, is not Israel, but Palestine.