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Obama advisor raises concerns

Zbigniew Brzezinski defended attack on US Jewish lobby; but analysts warn against hasty conclusions

Yaakov Lappin
Published: 09.16.07, 17:17 / Israel News

Concerns have been raised among Israel supporters following the appointment of a controversial veteran political advisor by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

 

Last week, Obama introduced Zbigniew Brzezinski as "one of our most outstanding thinkers" during a policy speech on the Iraq war.

 

Brzezinski, selected by Obama to advise him on foreign policy affairs, has taken a highly critical stance towards Israel in the past, and has defended an academic attack on the American Jewish lobby which has been branded by some as being anti-Semitic. He has previously served as a national security advisor to President Jimmy Cater.

 

Brzezinki's appointment immediately came under fire from Harvard law professor Alan Dershowiz, who was quoted by the Politico website as saying: "It is a tremendous mistake for Barack Obama to select as a foreign policy adviser the one person in public life who has chosen to support a bigoted book."

 

One of the most troubling aspects of Brzezinski's appointment for allies of Israel is his defense of the book, 'The Israel Lobby,' by American academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. In it, the academics attack what they say is an overly powerful Jewish lobby which is damaging America's interests. Their case has been accused of echoing traditional anti-Semitic thought and critics say it is based on faulty scholarship. But Brzezinski has described critics of Walt and Mearsheimer as "McCarthyists."

 

In an article in the Foreign Policy publication, Brzezinki wrote: "Given that the Middle East is currently the central challenge facing America, Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have rendered a public service by initiating a much needed public debate on the role of the 'Israel lobby' in the shaping of US foreign policy." Walt and Mearsheimer responded by thanking Brzezinksi. For his part, Obama has distanced himself from the book.

 

A spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, Jennifer Psaki, defended Brzezinski's appointment, and said that opposition to the Iraq war formed the main common ground between Brzezinski and Obama. "Barack Obama has a strong record in support of a secure Israel and he will continue to foster a strong US - Israel relationship when he is in the White House," the spokeswoman was quoted by the New York Sun as saying.

 

'Too soon to draw conclusions'

Despite the escalating argument in the US, analysts in Israel seemed largely unfazed by Brzezinski's appointment.

 

Professor Gerald Steinberg, Head of he Political Studies Department at Bar Ilan University, told Ynetnews that it was premature to draw conclusions based on the appointment.

 

"This may not be significant," Steinberg said. "Brzezinski is roughly the same age as Kissinger. I view his appointment as being more symbolic, to try and shore up Obama's image as someone who has no experience in foreign policy, so he's bringing in an older statesman to try and bring in a different image," he added.

 

In addition, Steinberg said, Brzezinski did not offer "a very strong defense" of Walt and Mearsheimer's paper.

 

"What will count if Obama is elected are Obama's own positions. He has a broad range of advisers who have a long history of being pro-Israel. It's premature to see this as a major tilt by Obama towards a position like the one held by Cater," Steinberg said.

 

David Ricci, a professor of political science and American studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, agreed that Brzezinksi's age prevented him from taking up a "serious appointment, even if Obama is voted in."

 

Dr. Arie Kacowicz, who teaches international relations at the Hebrew University, told Ynetnews that Brzezinksi has "a history of certain hostility towards Israel, as seen in the first Camp David meetings of 1978. Having said that, I wouldn't conclude from his appointment that Obama is changing his opinion towards our country."

 

Meanwhile, Dore Gold, formerly Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, told Ynetnews that while Israel should be monitoring such developments, Jerusalem should not express any view points on what is an internal American issue.

 

"The question of who are the advisers to American presidential candidates is part of internal political process, and foreign countries such as Israel cannot express views on various appointments," he added. Gold added that "like many other European and Asian countries, Israel must monitor these developments closely in order to see whether to see a potential presidential candidate will improve US relations with their country or possibly disrupt them."

 

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