Shelley Berkley, Pro-Israel Hawk, On Obama’s Congressional Team

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

Denver – As I reported this week, Jewish Democrats in the House and Senate are playing a key role in the Barack Obama campaign’s efforts to crank up the candidate’s Jewish numbers on November 4 and ease concerns about the nominee’s Mideast policies.

And none could be as important as Rep. Shelley Berkley D-Nev.).

Why? Berkley said it herself at a sparsely attended press conference at the Denver Convention Center on Tuesday: “There isn’t anybody further to the right in Congress than me when it comes to issues that affect the state of Israel,” she said.

When she arrived on Capitol Hill in 1999 Berkley was regarded as a leading congressional supporter of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, but since then she has moved steadily to the right on matters relating to Israel.

In the past few years she has often supported positions of the much-more-hardline Zionist Organization of America, including opposition to the Annapolis peace conference and to aid for the Palestinian Authority.

But Berkley said that her initial reservations about Obama were allayed after “several conversations” with the candidate.

After those talks, she said “I believe he shares my concerns. He has said many times that this relationship, between the United States and Israel, is paramount in our nation’s foreign policy. I believe the Jewish community in the United States, when they become more familiar and are comforted by his positions on peace in the Middle East and this nation’s continuing support for the state of Israel….will come to the same conclusion I have.”

She also castigated the Bush administration — and linked its policies to Sen. John McCain – for not working to stop the rearming of Hezbollah and Hamas.

The selection of Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate just added to her enthusiasm, she said.

“I have received calls from pro-Israel activists around the country who said they were delighted with this selection, and that they will support this ticket with great enthusiasm,” she said.

All the Jewish Democrats in the House and Senate are strongly pro-Israel and many are already campaigning actively for Obama in key states. But none has Berkley’s credentials as a pro-Israel hawk; her strong endorsement could have an impact with Jews in states like Florida, where some still worry that the Democratic nominee is a secret Palestinian sympathizer, or at least a pro-Israel dove.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.