Hoenlein: Obama's Spirit of Change Could Harm Israel

The head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, expressed concern yesterday regarding the atmosphere that has surrounded Democratic Senator Barack Obama's campaign for president, while making it clear he has no problem with Obama himself.

"All the talk about change, but without defining what that change should be, is an opening for all kind of mischief," Hoenlein said at a press conference in Jerusalem. Obama has made change a central theme in his campaign.

Hoenlein is in Jerusalem for the annual leadership mission of the Conference of Presidents, which will take place this week in Georgia and next week in Israel.

Hoenlein was careful to stress, "It's not the candidates themselves we are concerned about," pointing out that Obama, like the other major candidates, has signed on to found a national committee to celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary in the U.S.

"Of course Obama has plenty of Jewish supporters and there are many Jews around him," Hoenlein said. "But there is a legitimate concern over the zeitgeist around the campaign."

He also cited the fact that Obama has criticized his rival, Democratic candidate Senator Hillary Clinton, for her vote in favor of including the Iranian Republican Guards in the list of terror organizations.

The U.S. Jewish leader warned the American presidential campaign could signal a shift toward declining U.S. support for Israel.

"Support for Israel is at an all-time high, [but] our polling suggests that as broad as the support is, it is also thin, and most Americans see Israel as a dark and militaristic place," he said.

He termed the current election season "transitional" and said that it "could bring about a shift in the political life."

Hoenlein said that Israel's supporters should be worried by "the heightening of the bar and the greater tolerance of anti-Israel statements that wouldn't have been allowed in the past."

He singled out the book by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer on the Israel lobby, which "has become a bestseller and a college textbook," and said that there "is a steady poisoning of the elites, mainly on campuses, that could trickle down."

He also mentioned Republican candidate Ron Paul, saying "he is openly anti-Israel and managed to raise $15 million in two days and is the second preferred candidate of many young voters - that is very worrying." Hoenlein said that the fact that little space in the candidates' debates had been devoted to foreign policy and the Iranian issue was also a source of worry.