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Before Obama's pro-Israel stance was a deep feeling for Palestinians

Today, Illinois' freshman Sen. Barack Obama and Democratic candidate for president expresses a strongly pro-Israel point of view of Mideast policies, a stance which pleases the many influential Jewish leaders and supporters The longtime Arab-American friends of Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama believe he is much more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than he is now saying publicly as he courts Jewish leaders and votersof Israel that are so crucial politically and financially to any realistic bid for the White House.

But as The Times' Peter Wallsten points out in a revealing story on this website and in Thursday's print editions, there was a time not so long ago when a young state senator named Obama spent considerable time with the local crowd of Arab-Americans in Chicago. He shared many meals and long conversations with them.

So much so, that some Palestinian-American leaders currently believe that Obama shares a much more sympathetic point of view with them than he is willing to state publicly now.

As Wallsten points out, this belief comes not from any official Obama campaign literature or speaking remarks but from his long association with them in previous years, comments he made in private then and his presence at past events where anger at Israel and American Middle Eastern policy was strongly expressed.

At one farewell party for a friend, where Obama also spoke, another speaker compared "Zionist settlers on the West Bank" to Osama bin Laden, claiming that both had been "blinded by ideology."

One friend said Obama had apologized for not addressing the Palestinian cause more but that his continuing primary campaign constrained what he could say publicly.

Read Peter's full story here. To read Obama's Position Paper on Israel from 2000, click on the Read more line below.

--Andrew Malcolm


Barack Obama believes that moral and strategic imperatives require strong support and a close relationship between the United States and Israel. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and this country’s most critical and stable ally in that vital region.  For these reasons the United States must continue to aid Israel in the military, economic and diplomatic spheres.

Moral and Strategic Imperatives
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and throughout the world should be grounded in the democratic values central to this country’s success. As the strongest and most committed democracy in the Middle East, Israel stands out by sharing with us a strong commitment to democratic values; including freedom of the press, freedom of religious expression and regular, competitive elections.  These commonly held values mandate the United States fulfill the commitment to strengthen fellow democracies.

In addition to the moral mandate, our close ties with Israel are essential to protecting and promoting U.S. interests in the region, including: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by certain rogue regimes; state-sponsored terrorism; the potential disruption of access to Middle East oil; and the spread of religious radicalism in the Middle East.  Israelis have suffered from an increase in terrorist activities since the beginning of the peace process; progress achieved through negotiations makes the terrorists more determined to commit acts of violence to undermine the process.

For these reasons, Israel’s defense needs are dramatically increasing.  To continue to counter these threats, Israel must retain a significant qualitative edge over her enemies to compensate for their quantitative advantage.  Israel must upgrade its Air Force, build new missile defenses, and acquire adequate advance surveillance and early warning technology. This requires ongoing assistance from the United States.

To meet these goals, Senator Obama supports Israel’s recent proposal to
gradually increase military assistance while phasing out economic assistance over a ten-year period.  The Senator would support greater economic assistance, if a reversal in Israel’s economic condition occurred.

The Senator also believes the Wye aid package is needed now and should not be tied to the larger debate over federal spending, tax cuts and Social Security.

The Peace Process
Throughout its history, Israel has been anxious to make peace with its Arab neighbors.  If successful, the current peace process is a potential opportunity for Israel to increase its security, normalize relations with its neighbors, and create a more stable and prosperous Middle East.

Resolution of the conflict depends on direct negotiations between the parties based on mutual respect and recognition.  The United States’ commitment to Israel must continue so Israel can negotiate with its former and current adversaries from a position of strength.  Senator Obama believes that Israel can take risks for peace only because of unwavering American support.

The Status of Jerusalem
Like all sovereign nations, Israel has the right to determine the location of its nation’s capital.  Jerusalem should remain united and should be recognized as Israel’s capital.   Mr. Obama shares in the disappointment over President Clinton’s recent decision to use the waiver provision contained in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 to delay the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

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This is such a moronic article.

Why is it news that someone who has a strongly pro-Israel view of Middle Eastern politics can also spend "considerable time with the local crowd of Arab-Americans" if they live in your neighborhood. How is "sharing many meals and long conversations with" Palestinians inconsistent with supporting Israel?

This blog, as well as the very informative Peter Wallsten article it refers to, seem to take for granted the division of Americans into pro- and anti-Israel camps. But not all Jews support Israel right or wrong. Many, both inside and outside Israel, criticize Israeli policies, especially the policy of building settlements on the West Bank. Similarly, not all Palestinians believe that criticism of Israel requires support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas. One can criticize Israel without denying its right to exist, just as one can criticize China without denying its right to exist. Unfortunately, the Israel lobby has done its work well: it has created a climate where Americans, including candidates for public office, cannot even suggest that Israeli policies might occasionally be mistaken without exposing themselves to charges of anti-Semitism and support for terror. Of all the presidential candidates, the one with the most sensible position on the Middle East is Ron Paul, who calls for an end to American meddling in the region. With Paul out of the race, we are left to choose among candidates who have agreed to play the usual game of speaking as if seeking an endorsement from the Israeli right wing. If Senator Obama privately harbors more moderate views, good for him; let us hope that the other candidates do too. In my experience, most Americans, including Jewish- and Arab-Americans, already do.

This article hits new lows. It produces no evidence whatsoever other than that Obama has had Arab friends, attended Arab dinners, and is believed by Arabs to feel "empathy" toward Palestinians. In other words, Obama is not to be trusted by Jews because some Arabs like him. Wow.

This article is utterly bogus. Yes, Obama has empathy for Palestinians, just as he has empathy for Israelis. The man is naturally empathetic which will help repair some of the damage inflicted to our country's image by the current xenophobic administration.

And shame on Peter Wallsten for using Debbie Schlussel as a source for his smear job on Obama (and close to plagiarism) For those that don't know who Debbie is she is the blogger who created the false and smear tainted rumor that Obama is a muslim. Great job checking your writers sources LA Times. Now she has plastered his e-mail all over the net and wants to know why she wasn't credited.; but Peter deserves as much for trying to create a smear article.

Honestly, this garbage is worse than any Tupac shenanigans your reporters have done. Peter seems to have a biased agenda at play, especially when reading his e-mail he sent to Debbie asking if he could speak with her. Get this gutter reporter off the Obama campaign immediately.

Sounds like Obama would make a great president, he can see many sides of an issue.

This is the most pitiful innuendo! Are we supposed to collapse in trembling piles of sweat because Barack spoke to scholars and neighbors, Israeli as well as Palestinian, in Hyde Park and the Univ. of Chicago? Is everyone, Jewish as well as Muslim, who looks at the victims of violence on both sides, to be feared? That's ludicrous, and unAmerican! What on earth, or in America, does this guilt-by-association by nationality and political association remind you of? Could it be McCarthyism? Honestly, there is more open dialog between Israelis and Palestinians in Israeli media than right here in the U.S., and we live with the results of that failure daily. Let's grow up America - the world is waiting for us to step out of this humiliating regression!

I find it interesting that a very close friend of obama's is/was, prior to running for office of the presidency, Rashid Khahlidi? These to and their wives spent time together frequently having dinners etc. But Barrack drops this "friend" when he needs to start courtingJewish/American and Israeli support. If this is not totally transparent behavior I don't know what is? And my brothers and sisters of Hebrew background are falling for this?Where is your common sense people. Our fathers fought and died for the West Bank territory. Do we want this to be up for negotiation? I think not? Use your common sense. "a brother in arms"


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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