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Naming the advisers: Who has the ear of Obama?

WASHINGTON — When the question of recognizing Israel landed on President Harry Truman’s desk in May, 1948, he had to balance the advice of his old friend, Clark Clifford, against the general he deeply admired, George Marshall.

In the end Truman went with his friend, recognizing the new Jewish state.

In sizing up the candidates’ advisers, most of the scrutiny in the Jewish community has been on Barack Obama — in part because of his inexperience on the national stage and in part because of Republican campaign tactics.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has issued a string of statements and advertisements portraying Obama as relying on advisers who are hostile either to Israel or the pro-Israel lobby.

In the case of two veterans of past Democratic administrations — Carter-era national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and Clinton-era aide Robert Malley — neither has played a meaningful roll in the Obama campaign or in forming Obama’s policy agenda.

Obama has, however, reached out to several lawmakers and military figures who have demonstrated a willingness to buck or criticize the pro-Israel lobby.

According to the Obama camp, the advisers most intimately involved in Israel-related policies are veterans of the Clinton administration and come out of a pro-Israel milieu.

Dennis Ross• Dennis Ross: Obama’s campaign insists that the Democratic nominee’s top adviser on Israel and Iran is Dennis Ross, who played a lead role in peace talks during the first Bush and Clinton presidencies.

Ross is now at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is joined by a staff that has leaned more toward neo-conservatism — and Republicans — than he has.

Ross is respected in the Jewish community but has been criticized for his failure to hold Yasir Arafat accountable for failing to live up to Palestinian commitments.

In his 2004 book, Ross made it clear that at times he found then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be untrustworthy. Ross also has insisted that the US and Israel should have done more to hold the Palestinians to their agreements — and has consistently blamed Arafat for the failure to reach a final settlement at the end of the Clinton administration.

Ross has criticized the Bush administration for not being engaged enough in peace talks — but also for announcing unrealistic goals for achieving a two-state solution.

He told JTA that an Obama administration would play a more hands-on role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking — but also steer clear of any “artificial” timelines. He says the creation of a Palestinian state is impossible so long as Hamas controls Gaza.

For these reasons, Ross has suggested, Obama’s emphasis would be more on Iran. Ross is one of the principle architects of Obama’s Iran policy: engagement induced through tough sanctions.

His new sanctions aimed at getting Iran to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program — the re-insurance industry, refined petrol exporters, central bank — echo those of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby.

Obama’s other key advisers include :Daniel Kurtzer

• Anthony Lake, Clinton’s first national security adviser and an early Obama backer, apparently hopes to return the post. A relatively recent convert to Judaism, Lake has said that rallying the international community to further isolate Iran would be Obama’s first foreign policy priority.

• Mara Rudman, a deputy on the Clinton national security team, also could end up in an Obama administration. Since leaving government, she served as a deputy to Lawrence Eagleberger, the former secretary of state, during his chairmanship of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.

She helped launch Middle East Progress, which puts out a thrice-weekly e-mail bulletin partly to counter the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization’s influential Daily Bulletin, which has been accused of a neo-conservative tilt.

• Dan Shapiro and Eric Lynn are two Obama campaign officials who straddle the policy and politics arms of the campaign. Lynn is Shapiro’s deputy.

Both help shape policy — Shapiro is said to be the lead writer on Obama’s Middle East speeches — and both campaign in the Jewish community.

Both also have Florida connections and can boast of insider status in the pro-Israel community.

Lynn was an intern at AIPAC in 1998; Shapiro played a major role in drafting the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, that year’s marquee victory for AIPAC.

• Daniel Kurtzer joined the Obama camp during the primaries. President Clinton made him the first Jewish US ambassador to Egypt, and the currChuck Hagelent President Bush made him the first Orthodox Jewish US ambassador to Israel.

Kurtzer, who left the diplomatic corps in 2005 after his Israel stint for a teaching job at Princeton University, may have the most dovish views on the foreign policy team.

While Kurtzer was ambassador to Israel, the Zionist Organization of America pressed Bush to fire him. But Kurtzer has helped alleviate concern in many pro-Israel circles.

• Two Republican senators — Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who is retiring and whose wife has endorsed Obama, and Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — could end up in an Obama administration.

Both men have shared Obama’s concerns about the conduct of the Iraq war.

Hagel didn’t make friends last year when he told an Arab American Institute dinner that his support for Israel was not “automatic.”

Lugar has not made such missteps, but his willingness to criticize Israeli policies in Senate hearings and his advocacy of direct dialogue with Iran have raised eyebrows.

Read who Republican rival John McCain is considering as potential advisers.




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