Visiting Obama Mideast advisor: 'Obama would be great for Israel'

Mel Levine: The more unified the US, the greater its int'l stature... in turn will benefit Israel.

Obama supporters 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Obama supporters 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Jimmy Carter's former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is not an adviser to US presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and those saying he is are trying to besmirch the Democratic candidate among Jewish voters, Mel Levine, one of Obama's seven Middle East advisers, told The Jerusalem Post during a visit to Israel. "It was Clinton's campaign which, in a phone call to Jewish supporters, said Brzezinski was chief foreign policy to Obama," Levine said. "It is just flatly false, absolutely an untrue statement." Newsweek, in its March 3 edition, reported that Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, "was touting the New York senator's strong support for Israel during a conference call in January with leaders of major American Jewish organizations" when - according to a participant in the call - she contrasted Clinton's pro-Israel credentials with those of Obama by saying Brzezinski was Obama's "chief foreign-policy adviser." Levine said Brzezinski endorsed Obama because of his opposition to the war in Iraq, that the two had spoken only a couple of times, and that they had never discussed Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian issue. "I have worked for Obama's Middle East foreign policy team for the last nine months, and Brzezinski's name has never come up as part of the process," he said. Levine also said that another familiar face in Washington who sends off alarm bells in the Jewish community because of his pro-Palestinian positions, former special assistant to Bill Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs Robert Malley, was also not an adviser to Obama as some have claimed. "I have been told that he, like a couple of hundred other people, has submitted ideas to the campaign, but he is not a foreign policy adviser," Levine said. Levine, a former congressman from Los Angeles known in the Jewish community for his staunchly pro-Israel positions and record in Washington, was in Israel last week on a private visit. While he was here he took some time to lobby for Obama, a man whom he said would be "great" to Israel. Levine is part of Obama's Middle East foreign policy team that includes Dennis Ross, the former Clinton administration's Middle East envoy; Tony Lake, a former national security adviser to Bill Clinton; Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Florida; Denis McDonough, former foreign policy adviser to then-Senate majority leader Tom Daschle; Dan Shapiro, a former aide to Florida Sen. Bill Nelson; and Eric Lynn, the former foreign policy adviser to Florida Congressman Peter Deutsch. Levine said that while Obama did come up in his 30-minute conversation with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which he described as a private, personal meeting, he did not deliver any message from or to the presidential hopeful. Obama raised eyebrows recently when, during a meeting with Jewish communal leaders in Cleveland, he took issue with what he said was a "strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel." When asked, in light of those comments, how Obama as president would work with Binyamin Netanyahu, in the eventuality that the Likud leader might one day be prime minister again, Levine said that Obama was not taking an anti-Likud line. "I'm sure he will work with whatever government is in power," Levine said. "I think he was just saying that there are American Jews who don't agree with Likud policies, and that doesn't mean they are any less supportive of Israel." Picking up a theme from Obama's campaign speeches, Levine said Obama appealed to him because he could break Washington's "gridlock." The former congressman, who first met Obama about 18 months ago, said, "I felt from the first time I met him that this is a person who has the ability, given his talent and his background, to unify America and to transcend traditional gridlock in Washington that will make America a stronger international player and even a better friend of Israel." Asked how breaking Washington's gridlock helped Israel, Levine said the more unified the US was, the greater its stature would be internationally, which would in turn benefit Israel. "To me, one of the greatest crises we face because of the Bush administration policy is the isolation of America in the world," he said. "It is much harder for us to get our allies to do things, much harder for us to get countries to reciprocate." Levine said the "greatest tragedy of our Iraq policy" was that it had unwittingly benefited Iran. And Iran, he said, "creates far and away the greatest danger to Israel on the face of the earth." As to Obama's stated willingness to engage Teheran in dialogue without precondition, Levine said the candidate was starting from the premise that the administration's current polices had failed in getting Iran either to stop terrorism or to halt its nuclear march. Obama, Levine said, believed that the way to stop Iran was with a combination of carrots and sticks. "He believes that if you use carrots and sticks, and engage in multilateral, aggressive diplomacy, then if you need to use the military option or do anything that needs to be done, you are much more likely to get support of allies, more international support, and broader American support." He also said that Obama would be better able than US President George W. Bush to get allies to support sanctions against Iran. "I think he has the potential to get our allies to be much more cooperative with us across the board," he said. "I think a foreign policy led by Obama will have much more credibility among our allies." Asked whether Bush was good for Israel, Levine said, "I think that Bush has tried very hard to be good for Israel, and his heart is in the right place. But I think his policies have failed. And I think his policies have made Israel less secure, and America less secure." Those who argue that Bush is the most pro-Israel president ever to sit in Washington often say one of the most important things Bush did for Israel was give it the military maneuverability to do what it thought it needed to bring down terrorism. Asked whether he thought Obama would give Israel similar latitude, Levine said, "My sense is that Obama will respect Israel's needs to protect itself and will affirm those needs. Everything I have heard from him makes me believe he understands the vulnerability Israel has to terrorism, and that terrorism is the root of so many [of the region's] problems."