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Posted by on Feb 26, 2008 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Obama speaks to members of Cleveland’s Jewish community

One of the things that’s bothered me a great deal in this primary campaign is the hesitancy with which many Jews have approached Barack Obama’s candidacy. I think it is rooted, first and foremost,, in steadfast support for Hillary Clinton among the Jewish community. I completely respect that relationship and I myself have always admired her. But I also think there are some in the Jewish community who believe some of the more inflammatory rumors spread about Barack Obama’s identity and his politics. To their credit, leaders of all major Jewish organizations – from Orthodox to Reconstructionist – have condemned these mostly email-based rumors circulating throughout the Jewish community the last several months. But today Barack Obama got to sit down and answer a series of nagging questions that some Jewish Clevelanders have, including on Israel, terrorism, Louis Farrakhan and other “less controversial” issues.

The New York Sun has a full transcript of the session and you can link to it here.

A couple interesting snippets.

About Israel:

These changes are founded in a view of the world that I believe is deeply imbedded in the Jewish tradition. That all of us have a responsibility to do our part to repair the world. That we can take care of one another and build strong communities grounded in faith and family. That repairing the world is a task that each of us is called upon to take up every single day. That is the spirit that I expect to take with me to the White House. As Robert said I will also carry with me an unshakable commitment to the security of Israel and the friendship between the United States and Israel.

The US Israel relationship is rooted in shared interests, shared values, shared history and in deep friendship among our people. It is supported by a strong bipartisan consensus that I am proud to be a part of and I will work tirelessly as president to uphold and enhance the friendship between the two countries. Two years ago I had a chance to travel to Israel and it left a lasting impression on me. I have long understood Israel’s great dilemma, it’s need for security in a difficult neighborhood and it’s quest for peace with its neighbors, but there is no substitute for meeting the people of Israel. Seeing the terrain, experiencing the powerful contrast between the beautiful holy land that faces the constant threat of deadly violence. The people of Israel showed their courage and commitment to democracy everyday that they board a bus or kiss their children goodbye or argue about politics in a local cafĂ©. And I know how much Israelis crave peace. I know that Prime Minister Olmert was elected with a mandate to pursue it. I pledge to make every effort to help Israel achieve that peace. I will strengthen Israel’s security and strengthen Palestinian partners who support that vision and personally work for two states that can live side by side in peace and security with Israel’s status as a Jewish state ensured so that Israelis and Palestinians can pursue their dreams.

On Iran and Ahmedinejad’s threats toward Israel:

Now the gravest threat as Robert mentioned to Israel today I believe is from Iran. There a radical regime continues to pursue its capacity to build a nuclear weapon and continues to support terrorism across the region. President Ahmadinejad continues his offensive denials of the Holocaust and disturbing denunciations of Israel. recently referred to Israel as a deadly microbe and a savage animal. Threats of Israel’s destruction can not be dismissed as rhetoric. The threat from Iran is real and my goal as president would be to eliminate that threat.

On Louis Farrakhan (and his pastor’s remarks about him):

I have been a consistent, before I go any further, a consistent denunciator of Louis Farrakhan, nobody challenges that. And what is true is that, recently this is probably, I guess last year. An award was given to Farrakhan for his work on behave of ex-offenders completely unrelated to his controversial statements. And I believe that was a mistake and showed a lack of sensitivity to Jewish community and I said so. But I have never heard an anti-Semitic made inside of our church. I have never heard anything that would suggest anti-Semitism on part of the Pastor. He is like an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don’t agree with. And I suspect there are some of the people in this room who have heard relatives say some things that they don’t agree with. Including, on occasion directed at African Americans that maybe a possibility that’s just – I am not suggesting that’s definitive. So the point I make is this that I understand the concerns and the sensitivities and one of my goals constantly in my public career has been to try to bridge what was a historically powerful bond between the African American and Jewish communities that has been frayed in recent years. For a whole variety of reasons. I think that I have served as an effective bridge and that’s the reason I have overwhelming support among the Jewish community that knows me best, which is the Jewish community in Chicago.

The American Jewish community has a deep and historic connection to the African American community. We marched for civil rights together, and died together for them in Mississippi. There have been moments of conflict for sure, but those have been the exception and not the rule. Hopefully many American Jews will see Barack Obama the way I do: as a real American hero whose core values reflect both the best of the Jewish tradition and the best of America.