Republican strategists who hope to cut into Democrats' usual advantage among Jewish voters have some cause for optimism this morning. Speaking on Monday to the annual policy conference of the most powerful Jewish lobbying organization in Washington, DC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Sen. John McCain received his most enthusiastic standing ovation at the close of his most pointed attack on Sen. Barack Obama.
"We must apply the full force of law to prevent business dealings with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. I was pleased to join Senators Lieberman and Kyl in backing an amendment calling for the designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization responsible for killing American troops in Iraq. Over three quarters of the Senate supported this obvious step, but not Senator Obama. He opposed this resolution because its support for countering Iranian influence in Iraq was, he said, a 'wrong message not only to the world, but also to the region.' But here, too, he is mistaken. Holding Iran's influence in check, and holding a terrorist organization accountable, sends exactly the right message -- to Iran, to the region and to the world."
Many cheers and whistles accompanied that part of McCain's address, followed by a convention-wide standing ovation. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign fired off a response to McCain's speech before he was even finished delivering it, explaining that the Illinois Democrat's opposition to the resolution McCain cited was due to its inclusion of "aggressive passages" alongside what Obama felt was an accurate description of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Obama will have a chance to explain that vote to the conference on Wednesday.
The importance of the AIPAC's three-day event to both political parties was underscored by the range of participants in the panel discussion that directly followed McCain's speech. Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee Howard Berman, a California Democrat, shared the stage with Liz Cheney, Ambassador Dennis Ross and the Knesset's deputy defense minister. As Berman spoke, it was clear he was trying to gently contrast some of McCain's rhetoric, telling the crowd that despite bipartisan consensus that Iran's nuclear ambitions represent a danger, the current administration's policy toward Iran "is not working."
After noting the conference's non-partisan spirit, Liz Cheney went ahead and cast her response in partisan terms, telling the assembled group that the outcome of this fall's election -- and whether the next president will follow the Bush administration's example in fighting the war on terror -- will necessarily have a large impact on where Israel finds itself this time next year.