Former Obama colleague: He needs to visit Israel

Former Illinois state senate colleague says Obama has made mistake by not visiting Israel since his election, better come soon.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
July 25, 2011 04:06
2 minute read.
Ira Silverstein

Ira Silverstein_311. (photo credit: Illinois General Assembly )

 
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US President Barack Obama has made a mistake by not visiting Israel since his election and he must come soon to better comprehend the realities faced by the Jewish state, Obama’s former Illinois state senate colleague Ira Silverstein told The Jerusalem Post in the capital on Sunday.

Silverstein came to Israel as part of a delegation from Illinois led by the state’s governor, Pat Quinn, that was organized by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.

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Currently the Illinois Senate’s majority caucus whip, Silverstein worked closely with Obama when they were in the Senate together from 1999 to 2004.

Obama was known at the time for helping Silverstein, who is an Orthodox Jew, keep Shabbat, but Silverstein prefers to not use the term “shabbesgoy.”

During their walks together in the Illinois capital Springfield, Silverstein and Obama had frank discussions about the importance of the US-Israel relationship.

“I thought he got it back then,” Silverstein said. “I don’t know if he doesn’t get it now.



I am not an expert on foreign affairs, but I don’t think he understands the dimensions of what’s going on in the Middle East.”

Silverstein said he was troubled that Obama had not visited Israel since his election in November 2008, while he has gone to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Obama did visit four months before he was elected president, and the JUF took him to Israel when he was a US senator in 2006.

“He might get a rocky reception here, but it could help his credibility out,” Silverstein said.

“He should see the territories he wants negotiated. He’s got to spend some time here.”

Silverstein called the body language between Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in their May 20 meeting in Washington “chilling” and said it affected attitudes of US Jews toward the president. He complained that Obama did not balance out his call for Israel to return to pre- 1967 borders with land swaps in his May 19 State Department speech by insisting that the Arab world recognize Israel’s right to exist.

“President Obama’s remarks are truly disheartening,” Silverstein said in a press release following the speech. “I have truly supported President Obama, including campaigning for him in Illinois, Ohio and other states. I have helped to spread his message of hope and change.

“I believe now the president will lose the support of Jewish voters across the nation.”

Silverstein denied comparisons between the corruption in Israeli politics to that of Illinois, whose two previous governors, Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan, were both convicted, and Obama’s vacant Senate seat was allegedly sold.

“Politics are the same all over with egos and self-interest,” Silverstein said. “Politics in Chicago have gotten much better.

We’ve had bad apples. With one governor in jail, and one just convicted, we’re still tainted in Illinois, but hopefully things will change.”

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