US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign sharply rejected on Wednesday an interview with prominent civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson in which he says an Obama administration would crush 'the Zionists clout' in Washington.
Speaking with New York Post columnist Amir Taheri, Jackson predicted to a policy forum in France last week that "decades of putting Israel's interests first" would end and added in an interview that Zionists would lose a great deal of their clout if Obama is elected.
"Obama is about change," Jackson told Taheri. "And the change that Obama promises is not limited to what we do in America itself." He went on to say he considers Obama a member of his family, and took pride in having "helped him start his career"
Jackson repeatedly slammed President George W. Bush's Mideast policies: "Bush was so afraid of a snafu and of upsetting Israel that he gave the whole thing a miss," he told the New York Post. As long as the Palestinians haven't seen justice, the paper quoted the Rev. as saying, the Middle East will remain a source of danger to us all.
"Barack is determined to repair our relations with the world of Islam and Muslims," Jackson said. "Thanks to his background and ecumenical approach, he knows how Muslims feel while remaining committed to his own faith."
Obama's campaign rushed to distance itself from Jackson's comments, which have since been quoted in numerous publications and news broadcasts.
Obama's national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Jackson does not advise Obama and is "in no position to interpret or share Barack Obama's views on Israel and foreign policy."
"Barack Obama has a fundamental commitment to a strong US-Israel relationship," Morigi said. "As president, he will ensure that Israel can defend itself from every threat it faces, stand with Israel in his quest for a secure peace with its neighbors, and use all elements of American power to end Iran's illicit nuclear program."
Lagging in the polls and preparing for what many have described a 'make-or-break' debate Wednesday evening, Republican candidate John McCain seized on Jackson's controversial remarks.
"It should not surprise anyone that Obama’s supporters see what others, from the terrorist group Hamas to Iranian President Ahmadinejad, have seen - an Obama presidency would bring real change to America’s policy of support for Israel," the McCain campaign said in a statement.
McCain's top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, went on to say: "Barack Obama has claimed that nobody has suffered more than the Palestinians, praised a former spokesman of a Palestinian terrorist group for reminding him of his own 'blind spots' and 'biases,' and told the New York Times that Hamas and Hezbollah have 'legitimate claims.'
"Barack Obama expressed support for Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel and switched his
position 24 hours later in the face of criticism from Palestinians. Barack Obama has said it is a 'disgrace' that the United States has not met unconditionally with leaders committed to Israel’s destruction. Now, Barack Obama claims to be a strong supporter of Israel but his supporters - here and abroad - know better."
Later on Wednesday Jackson himself sought to salvage the interview, slamming Taheri for "selectively imposing his own point of view and distorting mine."
The Associated Press contributed to this report