After hearing the charge three times in the last 36 hours, it is obvious that attacking Barack Obama for “flip-flopping” on the issue of Jerusalem is going to be a major talking point for Republicans in the Jewish community this fall. But there’s one huge problem with it. While even Obama has acknowledged that, at the very least, he has clarified his stance on Jerusalem, his original position was more hard-line than John McCain’s – and his current one is exactly the same as the one held by his GOP opponent.
Obama surprised many people at the AIPAC policy conference in June when he told delegates that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
The next day, after he received criticism from Palestinians and others for the speech, Obama revised his remarks in an interview with CNN. “Obviously it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations,” he said. Asked whether he would be “against any kind of division of Jerusalem,” the candidate said, “My belief is that as a practical matter it would be very difficult to execute. And I think that it is smart for us to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in old Jerusalem. But Israel has a legitimate claim on that city.”
That same week, McCain was asked for his thoughts on Jerusalem. After criticizing the Democrat for changing his mind, he said, “The point is Jerusalem is undivided … Jerusalem is the capital.” McCain then qualified his comments by emphasizing that regardless of his position, the status of the city is still subject to negotiation. “The subject of Jerusalem itself will be addressed in negotiations by the Israeli government and people,” he said.
One candidate says “Jerusalem will be a part of … negotiations.” Another candidate says “Jerusalem … will be addressed in negotiations.” Sounds remarkably similar – but not to Republicans.
Wednesday night in his keynote speech, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told the crowd in St. Paul, “When speaking to a pro-Israel group, Obama favored an undivided Jerusalem, like I favor and John McCain favors. Well, he favored an undivided Jerusalem – don’t get too excited – for one day until he changed his mind.” He didn’t add “to the same position John McCain actually has taken.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Republican Jewish Coalition Matt Brooks also criticized Obama for changing his mind on Jerusalem, but when asked whether the candidates’ position on the division of Jerusalem were identical, said he didn’t think so but would check it out.
And earlier Wednesday evening, Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) leveled the same charge. He said the “flip-flop” indicated that Jewish voters are “not sure what they’re going to get with Barack Obama. There’s doubt – it depends on what audience he is talking to.”
Perhaps, but that would mean that on the division of Jerusalem, the two choices are either the same position as McCain – or a position that goes much further in allowing Israel to dictate the terms of a Jerusalem settlement than McCain has endorsed. Hardly a choice that should make voters concerned about Israel nervous.
To be fair, there is one major difference in the two candidates’ positions on Jerusalem. McCain has said he would move the embassy to Jerusalem when he enters office. Obama has not, and his campaign has called McCain a liar for suggesting he would. That’s because the last two presidents both made the same promise during their campaigns – and neither ever even made an attempt to actually carry that promise out in the last 16 years.