Obama Responds to Report on Jackson Comments
By Glenn Kessler
The Obama campaign responded quickly today to an instant flap over purported comments that the Rev. Jesse Jackson made to the New York Post over Sen. Barack Obama's foreign policy plans. The McCain campaign seized on the remarks to suggest Obama would not be a strong supporter of Israel if he is elected president, while Jackson issued a statement saying his comments had been selectively reported and distorted.
Jackson is no friend of Obama's -- earlier this year he said he would like to castrate him -- but Jackson is a prominent Democrat and his reported comments to the World Policy Forum in Evian, France, and in a subsequent interview at the forum with Post columnist Amer Taheri would give heartburn to any presidential candidate.
Among the most damning quotes: that although "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, the "decades of putting Israel's interests first" would end once Obama became president.
Throughout the campaign, Obama has struggled against the perception among some Jews that he would not be a strong supporter of Israel, so the McCain campaign saw Jackson's remarks, which have been widely covered in the Israeli press, as a potential opening. Randy Scheunemann, McCain's senior foreign policy adviser, said in a statement: "Barack Obama claims to be a strong supporter of Israel but his supporters -- here and abroad -- know better."
In a statement, Obama campaign national security spokesperson Wendy Morigi distanced Obama from Jackson and said Obama had an "unshakable commitment to Israel's security."
"Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is not an adviser to the Obama campaign and is therefore in no position to interpret or share Barack Obama's views on Israel and foreign policy. As he has made clear throughout his career and throughout this campaign, Barack Obama has a fundamental commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, and he is advised by people like Dennis Ross, Daniel Kurtzer, Rep. Robert Wexler, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Senator Joe Biden who share that commitment," Morigi said.
"As President, he will ensure that Israel can defend itself from every threat it faces, stand with Israel in its quest for a secure peace with its neighbors, and use all elements of American power to end Iran's illicit nuclear program. No false charges can change Barack Obama's unshakable commitment to Israel's security."
Jackson himself denounced Taheri, according to the Associated Press, for "selectively imposing his own point of view and distorting mine," issuing a statement saying Taheri was trying to "to incite fear and division."
Jackson added that he "has never had a conversation with Sen. Obama about Israel or the Middle East."
Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., has repeatedly been at odds with his famous father over the congressman's strong support for Obama, his home state senator, and today again had to issue a statement in response to his father's reported remarks.
"I know that under a Barack Obama presidency, the United States of America's relationship with Israel will remain rock-solid, strong and unshakable. Barack Obama is committed to maintaining and strengthening the special bond between our two countries, born of our shared values as well as our common interests," the younger Jackson said in a statement.
"As the vice-chair of the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, I've traveled to Israel and seen firsthand the threats to its security. I'm eager to work with the new administration and the new Congress to ensure that Israel remains strong, secure and free."
Posted at 12:56 PM ET on Oct 15, 2008
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