As U.S. President, Democratic candidate Barack Obama would fundamentally change American policy in the Middle East and keep "Zionists" from controlling it, civil rights activist and Baptist minister Jesse Jackson was quoted as saying Tuesday.
The quote appears in an article written in the New York Post by Amir Taheri, who spoke with Jackson in Evian, France, where Jackson participated in the World Policy Forum.
Jackson said that the most important change in the U.S. administration's policy under Barack Obama would occur in the Middle East, where "decades of putting Israel's interests first" – as Jackson is quoted – would end.
"Jackson believes that, although 'Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades' remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House," the Post article continued. It is not clear from the report what part of Jackson's comments was made before the World Policy Forum and what part was made in a conversation with Taheri.
'Bush afraid to upset Israel'
"No false charges can change Barack Obama's unshakeable commitment to Israel's security."
Jackson said that while he isn't a confidante or adviser of Obama's, Obama has been "a neighbor or, better still, a member of the family."
"We helped him start his career," Jackson said. "And then we were always there to help him move ahead."
Jackson was critical of President George W. Bush's approach to the conflict over the Land of Israel.
"Bush was so afraid of a snafu and of upsetting Israel that he gave the whole thing a miss," Jackson said. "Barack will change that," he added, "because, as long as the Palestinians haven't seen justice, the Middle East will 'remain a source of danger to us all.'"
"Barack is determined to repair our relations with the world of Islam and Muslims," Jackson said. "Thanks to his background and ecumenical approach, he knows how Muslims feel while remaining committed to his own faith."
The interview with Jackson is being widely quoted in conservative and Jewish weblogs, where some writers are expressing outrage and expecting the interview to erode Jewish support for Obama.
Obama's campaign responded to Jackson's statements Tuesday by stressing that "Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is not an adviser to the Obama campaign and is therefore in no position to interpret or share Barack Obama's views on Israel and foreign policy."
"As he has made clear throughout his career and throughout this campaign," Obama's national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi stated, "Barack Obama has a fundamental commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship ... As president, he will ensure that Israel can defend itself from every threat it faces, stand with Israel in its quest for a secure peace with its neighbors, and use all elements of American power to end Iran's illicit nuclear program. No false charges can change Barack Obama's unshakeable commitment to Israel's security."
John McCain's spokesman, Tucker Bounds, also reacted to Jackson's comments on Tuesday, saying: "Literally, nobody knows what Barack Obama's policies would be if he were elected president, but it's very concerning that people believe he will not be a friend to Israel."
This is not the first time that an interview with Jackson has caused a stir in the Jewish community. Jackson referred to Jews as "Hymies" and to New York City as "Hymietown" in January 1984, in a conversation with a Washington Post reporter. Jackson at first denied the remarks, then accused Jews of conspiring to defeat his run for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party. Finally, Jackson admitted having said those words and apologized.