Just after Barack Obama won the presidency, thousands of jubilant Americans poured into the streets. Morton Klein was not one of them.
The president of the Zionist Organization of America worries an Obama presidency will spell trouble for Israel. To make his case, Klein picked up where defeated Republican nominee John McCain left off, citing what he considers to be ominous associations throughout Obamas political career.
Its usually best to determine someones future actions by their past actions, said Klein, in San Francisco to speak to ZOAs local chapter. So I am deeply troubled by Obamas past associations, advisers and comments concerning Israel.
Though the president-elects 20-year connection to controversial minister Jeremiah Wright gained little traction with voters, Klein remains disturbed by the alliance.
Beyond Wrights Googled-to-death diatribes against America, Klein also cites the Chicago ministers calls for the United States to divest from Israel, for blaming 9/11 on Israel and for honoring Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan.
Why should this trouble us? Klein asked. [Obama] said he was there every Sunday, listening to those awful anti-Israel speeches. I can only conclude he is comfortable with these views or sees them as not beyond the pale. And he never confronted [Wright]. If my rabbi gave one anti-black sermon I am out of that synagogue.
During the campaign, Obama cut ties with Wright and condemned the ministers remarks.
Klein further criticized Obamas choice of foreign policy advisers, which includes Robert Malley and Zbginiew Brzezinski, both of whom he views as hostile to Israel. He also accuses Obamas Republican friends in the Senate, Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), as the senators most hostile to Israel.
Klein reserves some of his harshest criticism for Obamas own statements, noting the president-elect was quoted in the New York Times last May as stating that Hezbollah and Hamas have legitimate claims, and that he reversed his position on moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Obama told an AIPAC gathering earlier this year he supported such a move, then changed his mind days later.)
Putting those cited remarks in context, in that May 16 interview with New York Times columnist David Brooks , Obama said Hezbollah is not a legitimate political party and that both Hezbollah and Hamas are going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.
Continued Klein: So when I look at his past, at his anti-Israel advisers, his friends, his comfort in an anti-Israel church and his statements on Hezbollah and saying that Iran is a small country, [Obama] shows hostility to Israel or comfort with hostility.
In his role as president of the ZOA, Klein is an ardent defender of Israel. He criticizes Israeli leaders that, in his view, cave under relentless international pressure to make concessions for peace.
Until the Palestinian Authority arrests terrorists, ends the promotion of terror and murder against Jews in their media, sermons and textbooks, there should be no discussion of a state, Klein said. [Israelis] are afraid if they dont make concessions, the world will turn its back on Israel and undermine its survival. I disagree. I think if theyre tough the world will respect them.
As for Iran and its growing nuclear threat, Klein sees this as an existential threat and Israels most formidable challenge. While he supports international sanctions, he doubts their effectiveness and feels Israel may have to take military action against Iran.
Klein says his talks with Israeli military experts reassured him Israel could withstand any Iranian retaliation, and that Israel would succeed in eradicating Irans nuclear ambitions. He also doubts any Arab countries would seize the opportunity to strike at Israel.
Regarding Israels search for peace with the Palestinians, Klein remains pessimistic.
Virtually every poll shows 60 to 90 percent [of Palestinians] support suicide bombings and over half are against Israels existence even if they get a state, he said. Im sure there are decent and fine Arabs, but its such a minority its not enough to create cultural change in that society.
He wont even use the phrase two-state solution when forecasting regional negotiations. Were already a state, he said, referring to Israel. Even the language betrays a lack of understanding.