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Republicans Twist Obama's Words About Israel

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Did Barack Obama call Israel a "constant sore," as Republican leaders are saying? Both House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) have taken the Democratic presidential front-runner to task for allegedly saying that Israel is a "constant wound" in U.S. foreign policy. The right-wing blogosphere is lending its voice to the chorus. But a fair-minded reading of Obama's remarks shows that his comment has been taken completely out of context.

THE FACTS

Obama gave an interview over the weekend to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic in which, among other things, he rejected former president Jimmy Carter's characterization of Israel as an "apartheid state." Here is the passage that has now become controversial. (Key phrases in italics.)

Goldberg:"What do you make of Jimmy Carter's suggestion that Israel resembles an apartheid state?"

Obama: "I strongly reject the characterization. Israel is a vibrant democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and there's no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like 'apartheid' into the discussion doesn't advance that goal. It's emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it's not what I believe."

Goldberg:"If you become president, will you denounce settlements publicly?"

Obama:"What I will say is what I've said previously. Settlements at this juncture are not helpful. Look, my interest is in solving this problem not only for Israel but for the United States."

Goldberg:"Do you think that Israel is a drag on America's reputation overseas?"

Obama:"No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this, because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable."

It is pretty clear from this passage that Obama is not calling Israel a "constant wound." Indeed, he specifically says "no, no, no" when asked whether Israel is a drag on America's international reputation. He is referring to the overall Israeli-Palestinian problem, including continued Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

Goldberg describes Boehner's characterization of the interview as "mendacious, duplicitous, gross and comically refutable."

The Republicans rightly slammed Obama for twisting John McCain's statements about a possible U.S. military presence in Iraq for 100 years into a willingness to wage "a 100-year war." But they seem to have little compunction about resorting to the same kind of textual manipulation, when the opportunity arises.

The news release was written by Don Seymour, communications director of the Freedom Project, Boehner's political action committee. His response: "The senator said what he said. . . . The policies Senator Obama advocates would weaken Israel and America's national security, and in Mr. Boehner's view it demonstrates a lack of judgment and an inexperience that shows he isn't prepared to be president."

THE PINOCCHIO TEST

Two apiece for Boehner and Cantor.

ONE PINOCCHIO: Some shading of the facts. TWO PINOCCHIOS: Significant omissions or exaggerations. THREE PINOCCHIOS: Significant factual errors. FOUR PINOCCHIOS: Real whoppers. THE GEPPETTO CHECK MARK: Statements and claims contain the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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