Trio tells gathering Obama is better
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Trio tells gathering Obama is better

What we do for our own national security will be good for Israel.” With that statement Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to Israel now serving as chief foreign policy adviser to Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, launched a forum in Paramus Sunday evening on “Why Obama is Best for America and Israel.”

Kurtzer, who also has served as envoy to Egypt, was the lead-off speaker followed by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) in the forum at Bergen Community College attended by some 200 people.

Former ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer says diplomacy is a powerful tool. Photos by Charles Zuzman

Much of the criticism was aimed at the Bush administration, and by extension at the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.

Kurtzer quoted Israeli President Shimon Peres as saying “We need a president who is good for America,” equating the common goals of the two countries. He broke the issues down to four areas – Iraq, Iran, the Mideast peace process, and energy policy – and said on each point there is a fundamental difference between the candidates.

The Iraq war can’t be won in the conventional sense, Kurtzer said, and the best way to go is Obama’s plan for a phased withdrawal, with U.S. forces being used to fight our “real enemy,” Islamic fundamentalist forces gaining ground in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He faulted McCain for supporting continuation of the war.

Iran is the “largest looming national security threat for the U.S.,” Kurtzer said, citing its nuclear efforts and support of terrorism. But “high-minded rhetoric” won’t work, he said, and diplomacy must be given a chance. If diplomacy fails, then the United States has a powerful military to fall back on, he said.

Kurtzer pointed to the 30 years of peace between Israel and Egypt, and 14 years of peace with Jordan. “Peace is a strategic requirement for Israel” and in the best interests of the United States, he said, and faulted the Bush Administration for lack of progress on the issue.

“Energy policy” is not a domestic policy alone, said the retired diplomat, a professor at Princeton and one-time dean of his alma mater, Yeshiva College. He challenged McCain’s support for more domestic drilling, which he said would actually prolong dependence on OPEC because it will divert the United States from developing alternative energy sources.

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was one of three supporters of Sen. Barack Obama speaking in Paramus on Sunday.

Koch, in his trademark straight-talking style, said that while he had been a life-long Democrat, he crossed party lines to vote for George W. Bush in the last presidential election. He explained that he thought the president’s tough stand against Islamic terrorism outweighed the fact that he, Koch, did not agree with a single Bush domestic policy.

Now, Koch said, he is convinced Obama will take a tough stand against terrorism, and that he unequivocally supports the Democrat, who has the necessary “spine.”

On other issues, Koch said a GOP victory would imperil a woman’s right to choose on the abortion issue. He pointed to the economy, saying, “Imagine if we had allowed Social Security to be privatized,” as suggested by the Bush administration.

Rothman, northeastern chairman of the Obama campaign, compared Obama’s choice of running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, with McCain’s, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “Sen. Biden is ready and qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency,” and Palin, the governor of a state with fewer people than Bergen County, is not, he said.

Both candidates have said that one of their most important decisions was choosing a vice-presidential candidate. That person might have to deal with the war and the economy, and perhaps have to face down Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Rothman said derisively, “he [McCain] picked Palin,” whom he called “totally and dangerously unqualified.”

“We can’t afford to have McCain’s lack of judgment and lack of presidential temperament,” he said. “Who is more risky than a man who would pick Sarah Palin” for vice president?

Obama is a true “agent of change,” Rothman continued, “while McCain supported Bush policies that have left us in such a deep and dangerous hole.”

Alluding to fears in some Jewish quarters that Obama would not be a friend to Israel, Rothman said Jewish leaders in Obama’s home state of Illinois have given the candidate top marks on the matter.

The statements made at the session were part of the election campaign, and a reading of John McCain’s statements stress support for Israel and cite the number of trips he has taken there. Both Obama and McCain support continued military aid for Israel.

McCain has cited the threats made by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and said he doesn’t want to give him legitimacy in face-to-face negotiation. On the Palestinian issue he has said he backs the peace efforts of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but has blasted Hezbollah and Hamas.

McCain says the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is just one of the issues in the Mideast, citing Islamic extremism and the lack of human rights as others.

In addition, McCain has spelled out numerous steps to promote energy independence and measures to protect the environment. He has offered measures for economic revival, including aid for families, government reform, tax reform, and energy measures.

Several questions and statements from the floor were critical of one candidate or both of them. One cited a lack of clear-cut policy on the economy. Another questioned Obama’s voting record with regard to Israel. On that point Rothman reiterated that Jewish leaders in Obama’s home state give the senator high marks.

A questioner challenged Obama’s opposition to domestic drilling, saying that the United States has ample resources to tap here at home. Rothman countered by saying Obama supports drilling, but only as part of a solution calling for nuclear and other clean fuel technologies.

A self-described activist voiced support for Jonathan Pollard, serving a life prison term on a conviction for spying for Israel, and asked that the matter of executive clemency be brought up with Obama. Koch’s reply was succinct: “He betrayed the U.S. and I have no sympathy for him.”

A woman said she would vote for Obama anyway, but was angry that he did not pick a woman as a running mate.

Another questioned Obama’s affiliations, citing ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), a community activist organization active in several states. The group has been accused of improprieties in its voter registration drive. Rothman responded that in fairness, citing Obama’s affiliations requires mention of McCain’s, including some support from the far right.

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