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California Democrat: GOP trying to drive wedge between White House and Jewish voters

May 26, 2011|By Peter Nicholas | Washington Bureau
(Avi Ohayon / EPA / Israeli…)

A top House Democrat sees raw opportunism in Republican outrage over President Obama’s blueprint for a Middle East peace agreement.

Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, singled out Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, though he said Republicans more broadly are using the dust-up to try to make inroads into a Jewish community that typically votes Democratic.

“The Republicans, in their never-ending quest to try and persuade Jews to shift their voting, have jumped on this to try to exacerbate that split,’’ Berman said in a Thursday morning interview.

In a major speech last week, Obama called for a peace plan that uses the boundary lines in place before the Six-Day War in 1967, coupled with mutually agreeable land swaps. Romney quickly accused the president of throwing Israel "under the bus."

That was hardly the case, Berman said. Not only did Obama make clear that he wasn’t calling for a restoration of the pre-war lines, the president has presided over a U.S.-Israel relationship marked by close military ties, cooperation in confronting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and intelligence sharing,  Berman said.

"I consider Romney’s comment that this president threw Israel under the bus to be the most outrageous, over-the-top statement," he said.

Apart from Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a possible GOP presidential candidate in her own right, also sought to capitalize on Obama’s statement. Bachmann posted an online petition claiming that Obama wanted to return to the pre-1967 lines. Her petition did not mention that Obama’s formula also envisions land swaps negotiated by the two sides.

As to why Obama laid out his proposal, Berman said the White House in part wanted to head off an effort by the Palestinians to gain statehood directly in the United Nations.

“For one reason or another, practically every other country in the world is starting to sound like they would support that effort,’’ he said, “with the United States as the only country that would be sticking with Israel.’’

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