JERUSALEM — President Bush used a speech to the Israeli Parliament on Thursday to denounce those who would negotiate with "terrorists and radicals" — a remark that was widely interpreted as a rebuke to Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential contender, who has argued that the United States should talk directly with countries like Iran and Syria.
Bush did not mention Obama by name, and the White House said the president's remarks were not aimed at the senator, but they created a political firestorm in Washington.
In a speech intended to promote the strong alliance between the United States and Israel, the president invoked the imagery of World War II to make the case that talking to extremists was no different than appeasing Hitler and the Nazis.
"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Bush said. "We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
The Obama campaign issued an angry response. In an e-mail, the senator denounced Bush for using the 60th anniversary of Israel to "launch a false political attack," adding, "George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president's extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel."
Other Democrats leapt to Obama's defense, among them Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, who accused Bush of taking politics overseas.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said that the comment was not a reference to Obama and that Bush was simply reiterating his own long-standing views.
As Bush spoke, he painted a picture of the future Middle East as a place of "tolerance and integration." He told the Israeli Parliament that the United States would stand by Israel in its fight against extremism, and predicted that in decades to come, Palestinians would "have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved."
As Israelis celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Israeli state — an event Palestinians were marking Thursday as "the nakba," or catastrophe, with rallies and the launch of thousands of black balloons — Bush did not use his time before the Knesset to discuss the differing Israeli and Palestinian versions of the events of 1948.
Nor did Bush specifically address Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, though the White House has said he hoped to use his time here to shore up the faltering negotiations.
Instead, Bush laid out what he called "a bold vision" for how the Middle East might look on Israel's 120th anniversary. He predicted "free and independent societies" across the region. "Iran and Syria," he said, "will be peaceful nations, where today's oppression is a distant memory." Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, and Hamas "will be defeated," he said.