On Monday, I posted here a long defense of candidate Tom Campbell’s bona fides on Israel and terrorism issues.
I noted his visit to Israel under rocket fire in 1990 and his support for Israeli academics threatened with British boycott in the 2000s.
I pointed out Campbell’s clear and emphatic position on issues of concern to friends of Israel, including his endorsement of Israel’s right to preempt Iran’s nuclear capability if need be.
Klein cites an article that describes a Campbell-for-Senate fundraiser in August 2000 at which Campbell endorsed a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The article also attributes to Campbell some soft words with Yasser Arafat.
He recalled a visit to Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza. He had bumped his head on a taxi door and the next day while he was in Damascus, Representative Campbell received a phone call from Yasser Arafat.
The Palestinian leader offered condolences that the congressman had been slightly injured in his country. Campbell’s reply was: “This makes me the first American to have shed blood in your country.”
Rubin reproduced some words of Tom Campbell’s in praise of work by Alison Weir. Weir runs an outfit called “If Only Americans Knew,” which Rubin aptly describes as an Israel-bashing peddler of conspiracy theories.
When and in what context we do not know, but Weir quotes Campbell as having said of her: “Ms. Weir presents a powerful, well documented view of the Middle East today. She is intelligent, careful, and critical. American policy makers would benefit greatly from hearing her first-hand observations and attempting to answer the questions she poses.”
In an interview today with the NewLedger, Campbell now says this about Weir:
I never stated any agreement with any statement made by Alison Weir. I cannot validate that she is or is not a “conspiracy monger.” And if she’s said something recently that is wrong, my quoted statement was from many years before any such statements of hers.
Both Klein and Rubin ask me directly what I think of their reports. Answer as follows:
1) On the issues, Tom Campbell has always supported Israel in every important way. He is not a Charles Percy or a William Fulbright. Going forward, he has endorsed sanctions against Iran and clearly stated that he will back whatever measures Israel deems necessary to defend its people from an Iranian nuclear capability.
2) Campbell’s good record is marred by one big and acknowledged failing: In the late 1990s, Campbell joined the so-called Muslim outreach strategy then being pushed hard by important party leaders. It was this strategy that led him to speak to the Council for American Islamic Relations – that entangled him in the al-Arian case – and that (I would guess) prompted his artfully hedged compliments to Alison Weir a decade ago.
The strategy failed, and Campbell was badly burned by it. The groups that offered their support to the GOP in the late 1990s did not in fact represent the sensible majority of American Muslims. They belonged to the radical fringe. Far from strengthening the GOP, they exploited the credulity of the GOP to enhance their own prestige.
I saw this dynamic at very close quarters in the White House compound before and after 9/11. It enraged me then, and it enrages me now.
But … why is all the blame for this strategy to be focused on Tom Campbell, the one person tainted by the strategy who is now willing to acknowledge mistake? Especially since in Campbell’s case, the strategy originated not in cynicism, but in a genuine concern for civil liberties that is consistent with all the rest of his unusually principled politics?
It was not Tom Campbell who ordered the deputy director of the Secret Service to personally apologize to the al-Arian family after an al-Arian nephew was excluded from the White House in the summer of 2001.
It was not Tom Campbell who invited Abdel Rahman al-Amoudi – now serving 23 years in prison – to a sit-down with candidate George W. Bush in the summer of 2000.
It was not Tom Campbell who persuaded George W. Bush to endorse the top item on the domestic Islamist agenda in his debates with Al Gore.
It was not Tom Campbell who included CAIR in post-9/11 photo ops with the president – or who decided to feature a man who had called for the death of Salman Rushdie in the 9/11 memorial service in National Cathedral.
The authors of those decisions remain to this day honored leaders within the conservative and Republican world, without a word of regret. Yet a much lesser and less ignoble version of their offense is now supposed to bar from consideration the candidate in the California race who has gone into the greatest detail about his pro-Israel views?
3) Specifically on Philip Klein’s point: Let’s please remember when Tom Campbell made this statement about Jerusalem. It was the summer of 2000, two months before Yasser Arafat launched the Second Intifada. Many intelligent people hoped then that Israel and the Palestinian Authority were proceeding to a final settlement. Chief U.S. negotiater Dennis Ross even proposed dividing sovereignty over the Temple Mount itself. Yet that idea has not precluded Dennis Ross from serving admirably as president of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The Oslo process looks a dead-end now. But it was a live option then, and one that mustered broad support in the pro-Israel community. How does it brand Campbell an enemy of Israel that he shared the same hopes of so many in the American Jewish community? And was therefore willing to endorse the same bargain? Today, it is hard to imagine any such agreement any time soon. If it does come, though, won’t it look just as Tom Campbell said 10 years ago? And if such an agreement did bring true peace, would it not be enthusiastically welcomed by the overwhelming majority of the people of Israel themselves?