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Robert Malley, Former National Security Council staffperson.

Question: Where do Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the 'Jewish Vote' meet
Answer: In the person of Rob Malley.

-- Alan Tuttle

For those who have not heard of Rob Malley, that blissful ignorance may soon end in the form of an email in your Inbox. Among the many emails targeting Jews that are making the rounds is one that warns about the advisors in the Barack Obama campaign who are 'anti-Israel.' One name receiving attention is Rob Malley. More about him in a minute, but first some perspective on Senator Obama and his approach to policy making.

When asked about the charge of Senator Obama having anti-Israel advisors, Congressman Steve Rothman, a co-chair of Obama's Northeast campaign and a long-time advocate for Israel in the U.S. Congress, told the Philadelphia Jewish Voice that Senator Obama, "as a man of letters and great intellect prefers to consider a wide variety of opinions and perspectives whenever he confronts a problem." These advisors range from Dennis Ross and former counterterrorism czar Richard Clark, to Lawrence Korb and Samantha Power (c.f. her recent New Yorker magazine article) though the latter recently resigned from the campaign after she was reported describing Hillary Clinton using unkind words.

As mentioned above, Rob Malley has been listed as an advisor to Senator Obama. He was Bill Clinton's Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli Affairs from 1998 to 2001, and participated in the Camp David Summit. Mr. Malley has been the subject of sharp criticisms from several neo-conservatives, including Martin Peretz, Editor-in-Chief of the neo-liberal New Republic, and Dan Lasky of the ultra-conservative magazine American Thinker.

Why such displeasure with Mr. Malley? He has written articles in recent years that argue against putting all the blame for the failure of Camp David on Yasser Arafat, rather spreading around the blame to include then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak among others.

Identity Confusion?

It makes sense that Mr. Malley would incur the wrath of people who feel that to take any ammunition away from attacks on Mr. Arafat amounts to an endorsement of Arafat himself. As it turns out things aren't that simple. There were others who were involved in those negotiations, not just Mr. Malley, who felt that the failure of the Summit had many contributors (though there is no doubt it was Arafat who turned down what may truly have been the Palestinians' best shot at statehood to date), so one wonders if there isn’t some identity confusion leading to the attacks on Mr. Malley..

Why identity confusion? Clearly Yasser Arafat was not a friend of Israel, and for many years was the standard bearer for the "Drive the Jews into the Sea" club. For the past few years Iran’s president Ahmedinejad has taken on that role, and has raised the rhetoric to new heights because of his nuclear weapons ambitions. But Arafat is now an unpleasant memory, and we have the space to consider the past with somewhat greater objectivity. Mr. Malley took the opportunity to do so, but by saying that Mr. Arafat was not the only one to blame in failed negotiations, some may hear in that a condoning of any nemesis of Israel, currently Ahmedinejad. Legitimate concern over a present-day Haman doesn’t need to translate into trashing someone (Mr. Malley) who merely pointed out that a previous Haman was not alone in a missed opportunity for increasing Israel’s safety. It seems quite a stretch to call Mr. Malley a "rabid hater of Israel," as Martin Peretz did.

M J Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) recently wrote about these criticisms of Mr. Malley, which he considers to be a smear campaign.

Mr. Rosenberg and the Israel Policy Forum favor Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading to a two-state solution, declares that Rob Malley is pro-Israel, and that the attacks on him are a kind of modern-day McCarthyism. Also rallying to Mr. Malley's defense, and quoted in the Rosenberg article, are several prominent diplomats, including Martin Indyk and Daniel Kurtzer, two former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel; Dennis Ross, a chief envoy and negotiator in both Republican and Democratic administrations; and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, now an advisor to Senator Clinton. They are also former colleagues of Mr. Malley. They declare that "the US should not and will not do anything to undermine Israel's safety or the special relationship between our two nations. We have worked with Rob [Malley] closely over the years and have no doubt he shares this view and has acted consistent with it."

Guilty as charged?

What is one to make of this back-and-forth? Is it merely a tempest in a teapot? Or are there truly nefarious forces at work, perhaps on different sides of the controversy? The answer probably comes down to one's point of view. Martin Peretz is considered variously a neo-conservative and a neo-liberal: progressive on social issues, hawkish on the Middle East. He has written a column in the New Republic reassuring Israel's supporters that Senator Obama can be trusted when it comes to Israel. But in that same article he repeats the claim that Mr. Malley is 'a rabid hater of Israel.' On the other side, Mr. Rosenberg and the Israel Policy Forum see Maley as a resource in the quest for peace in the Middle East.

So the question boils down to: Who frames the debate? Those who attack Senator Obama by attacking his staff, and demand that he answer charges that may or may not have any grounds in reality? Or those who say that past attempts to bring peace to the Middle East need to be broadened, words that could come out of the mouth of the current Israeli Prime Minister? Once again, we will see if our country can learn from history: that accusation does not equal guilt, and that 'guilt' may be a legitimate different view on how to solve our nation's problems and Israel's problems. Senator McCarthy's ghost looks on with interest as our nation continues to search for its soul and seeks to find the balance between acting on legitimate fear and acting on strength-based hope.

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