Two days after John McCain paraded his tough-guy image in front of 7,000 supporters at the annual meeting of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Barack Obama delivered his own version of the Israeli national anthem this morning. For Obama, the AIPAC conference seemed like a tough room to work. But, by all indications, he wowed ’em.
He started out by citing “provocative e-mails” circulating in the Jewishcommunity. (He didn’t provide details, but people in the AIPAC audiencedid, when I asked: that Obama is captive of Palestinian ideology, thatObama is a secret Muslim, and so on.) “Let me know if you see this guyBarack Obama,” said Barack Obama, “because he sounds like a scary guy.”
Virtually every speech ever delivered to an AIPAC conference, going back54 years to the first AIPAC conclave, is a litany of pro-Israelishibboleths. Obama didn’t disappoint. He learned about the Holocaust from a camp counselor at age 11, he said, and his great-uncle helped to liberate Buchenwald. Check. “As president I will never compromise whenit comes to Israeli security.” Check. He advocates strengtheningUS-Israeli military ties, and wants to sign a memorandum ofunderstanding to provide Israel with $30 billion in military aid overthe next ten years to “ensure Israel’s qualitative military advantage.”Check. No negotiations with Hamas and Hezbollah. Check. And while hewill talk to Iran, it will be “tough and principled diplomacy with theappropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing–if, andonly if–it can advance the interests of the United States.” Check. Andjust in case AIPAC thinks that he won’t act, Obama added: “I will alwayskeep the threat of military action on the table.”
In case anyone missed the point, Obama added: “I will do everything inmy power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” He repeatedthat sentence twice, for emphasis. And for additional emphasis, he saidagain: “Everything.”
Before the speech I wandered around, speaking to a couple of dozen AIPACattendees. What I heard was uncertainty, nervousness, anxiety–andalmost none of it was based on Obama’s actual views. It was just, youknow, a feeling. “I don’t trust him,” said Menachem, from Illinois. “Idon’t go according to what people say. I am using my intuition.” SaidAlan, “We went to lobby him last year, and he seemed, well, I don’tknow. It’s his body language.” Many AIPAC’ers said Obama would talk toterrorists. Diba, from California, said: “I don’t think Obama has takena strong stand for Israel. He is saying all the right things, but Idon’t think that he means it.”
After the speech, it was a different story. “Did he make the sale? Oh,absolutely!” said Abe. “He addressed the rumors. He spoke from theheart. For me, he settled it,” Lisa, from Michigan,said. Said Jay, fromWashington, “Obama had to describe himself for this crowd. And I thinkhe came across well. People were listening very carefully, and I thinkthey believed him.” A young man from Los Angeles, still undecidedbetween Obama and McCain, said: “He really made me think. He surprisedme. He made the point that Israel is weaker and less safe after eightyears of the Bush Administration’s policies.”