On Wednesday, John McCain's campaign used Jesse Jackon's latest politically ill-advised remarks to hammer Barack Obama as insensitive or worse to the concerns of Israel. But McCain's staff is also graced by ties that would likely make many Israelis -- let alone Jews the world over -- blush.
As reported by the New York Post Wednesday, Jesse Jackson told a crowd at the World Policy Forum in France that "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" will see their influence wane during a possible Barack Obama presidency. In response, chief McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann issued a statement that read: "Barack Obama claims to be a strong supporter of Israel but his supporters -- here and abroad -- know better."
Leaving aside for the moment the fact that Jackson is not an adviser to the Obama campaign and does not speak for him on Israel. Even barring these complications, it's not clear that McCain's own circle of advisers could withstand the same level of scrutiny on issues important to Jewish voters.
Exhibit A: Susan Nelson, currently McCain's finance director, who lobbied on Saudi Arabia's behalf over a bill called the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act.
That legislation, sponsored by Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA), in part aimed "to halt Saudi support for institutions that fund, train, incite, encourage, or in any other way aid and abet terrorism, and to secure full Saudi cooperation in the investigation of terrorist incidents."
In May 2006, an op-ed in the Washington Post alleged that textbooks in Saudi Arabia's school system continued to promote "an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine," despite the Saudi government's claims to the contrary.
One day later, Nelson got in contact with Specter's counsel, Evan Kelly. According to lobbying disclosure documents filed by her then-employer, the Loeffler Group, Nelson called to provide the Saudi government's perspective on the "Textbook article in the Washington Post" (see page 16 of this PDF).
Half a year earlier, Nelson had dropped by Kelly's office with textbooks furnished by her Saudi clients -- presumably to show that nothing inflammatory was contained therein. But even then, the U.S. State Department was already demanding a wider investigation of bigoted materials in Saudi classrooms.
Nelson was not the Loeffler Group's only connection to Saudi Arabian interests, or McCain's campaign. In May, Newsweek reported that Tom Loeffler, the lobbying firm's head as well as a general co-chair of McCain's campaign, had collected over $15 million since 2002 for his lobbying on behalf of Saudi Arabia. The same report also noted that Loeffler had continued to pay Nelson her fee for lobbying even after she had reportedly quit in order to run McCain's finance operations. Loeffler -- who had once lobbied for Saudi Arabia's inclusion in the WTO, even as the country continued its boycott of Israel -- had to leave McCain's campaign over these revelations, while Nelson has stayed on.
In both cases, the impact of the work done on Saudi Arabia's behalf by McCain's lobbyist aides has, arguably, had much greater impact on Israel's security than an insensitive remark from Jesse Jackson.