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2008 U.S. Presidentital Candidate Sen. Barack Obama dances to Jewish tunes

"Speaking before Jewish audiences during his Senate campaign, he reassured them that his Swahili first name, Barack ("Blessed"), is a close relation of Baruch in Hebrew"

"I have been a stalwart friend of Israel. On every single issue related to Israel's security, I have been unwavering, and will continue to be unwavering. My belief is that Israel's security is sacrosanct..."

"Jewish activists ... tend to think he is pro-Israel in the most sincere way. Some mentioned his trip to Israel, others highlighted his perfect record in the Senate on Israel-related issues"

 

A collection of articles from the Jewish and Israeli Press

 

 

Senator Barack Obama has understood the rules of the game if you want to compete for the job of becoming the President of the United States. As he slowly has approached his ultimate goal - the White House - his rhetoric vis-a-vis the Jewish-Zionist community has changed: he has evolved into a mere parrot, echoing the exact slogans the Zionists want to hear and by dancing to their tunes.

In this section we reproduce articles mainly from the Jewish and Israeli Press, quoting mr. Obama and the Jews´ opinions on him. As the material is quite massive, underlines to some key paragraphs and quotes have been added by Radio Islam (as well as the addition of some revealing images). If we have deleted some section of text from the original (due to not being sufficiently interesting), this is indicated by: [...] . 

 

Sen. Barack Obama on Israel´s murderous 2006 war against the people of Lebanon:

"I don't think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel's response to take some action in protecting themselves." (August 22, 2006)




The Jewish Journal, January 10, 2008
As Obama surges, Jewish supporters cheer
By Ron Kampeas

With the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary under his belt, Barack Obama has suddenly emerged as the frontrunner in a Democratic presidential primary battle that just three weeks ago conventional wisdom had all but ceded to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York).

The Illinois senator's success has led Democrats in the remaining primary states, including California, to look harder at Obama. But while many Jewish Democrats are assessing the candidate for the first time, there are others who have followed and supported his career from the beginning.

Indeed, Obama has made Jewish leaders an early stop at every stage in his political career. In his first run for the state Senate in Illinois in 1996, he sought the backing of Alan Solow, a top Chicago lawyer. Eight years later, running for the U.S. Senate -- long before he became the shoo-in, when he was running in a Democratic field packed with a dozen candidates, including some Jews -- one of his first meetings was with Robert Schrayer, a top Chicago philanthropist.

When he launched his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in late 2006, he named as his fundraising chief Alan Solomont, the Boston Jewish philanthropist who helped shepherd Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the Democratic candidacy in 2004. In addition, he chose a March gathering of the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to deliver his presidential candidacy's first foreign policy speech.

"Some of my earliest and most ardent supporters came from the Jewish community in Chicago," Obama said in 2004, after his keynote speech galvanized the Democratic Convention in Boston.

Three years later, addressing the National Jewish Democratic Council's (NJDC) candidates' forum, he made the same point when he was asked about his ties with Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in Chicago.

"My support within in the Jewish community has been much more significant than my support within the Muslim community," Obama said at the April forum, adding that "I welcome and seek the support of the Muslim and Arab communities."

His Jewish followers are fervent, distributing "Obama '08" yarmulkes early in his campaign. His rock-star status and the relationships Obama has built in the community have helped avoid murmurings about his otherwise notable divergences from pro-Israel orthodoxies. In his AIPAC speech, for example, Obama favored diplomacy as a means of confronting Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

"While we should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy, combined with tough sanctions, should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons," he said.

AIPAC does not oppose diplomacy in engaging Iran but dislikes it as an emphasis, believing that talks could buy the Iranian regime bomb-making time. But his words did not stop the Chicago hotel ballroom packed with 800 AIPAC members from cheering on Obama.

A few weeks later, Obama drew more rubberneckers than any other candidate attending AIPAC's policy forum in Washington, drawing away onlookers from Clinton, although she outpolls Obama among Jewish voters.

No one winced when he said that Palestinian needs must be considered in working out a peace deal -- hardly standard AIPAC pep talk. He made the same point at the NJDC event.

"It is in the interests of Israel to establish peace in the Middle East," he said. "It cannot be done at the price of compromising Israel's security, and the United States government and an Obama presidency cannot ask Israel to take risks with respect to its security. But it can ask Israel to say that it is still possible for us to allow more than just this status quo of fear, terror, division. That can't be our long-term aspiration."

Early in his campaign, Obama handily killed an Israel-related controversy in its early stages. At a chat he had said that "no one has suffered more than the Palestinians."

Blame the leadership was what he meant, explaining later during an MSNBC debate, "What I said was, nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel, to renounce violence and to get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region."

Obama tempers his deviations from pro-Israel orthodoxy by going the extra mile in areas where he agrees with groups such as AIPAC. He has led the effort in the Senate to pass legislation that would assist U.S. states that choose to divest from Iran. His top Middle East adviser is Dennis Ross, who had the job during the Clinton administration and who since has principally blamed the Palestinian leadership for the failure of the Oslo peace process.

And in recent speeches, Obama tweaked his pro-Israel rhetoric to echo the recent drive by the Israeli government and pro-Israel groups to insist on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

"I think everyone knows what the basic outlines of an agreement would look like," he said in a speech redistributed by his campaign. "It would mean that the Palestinians would have to reinterpret the notion of right of return in a way that would preserve Israel as a Jewish state. It might involve compensation and other concessions from the Israelis, but ultimately, Israel is not going to give up its state."

On domestic issues, Obama is savvy about Jewish social justice commitments and is on a first-name basis with two of the top Jewish religious lobbyists in Washington: Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform movement and Nathan Diament, who represents the Orthodox Union.

That connection, however, is not enough to supplant Clinton among Jewish voters. In a recent American Jewish Committee poll, Obama's favorable rating was 38 percent, while Clinton's was 53 percent.

Clinton also is being backed by most of the Jewish congressional delegation. Her years as first lady and senator have made her a more familiar presence among Jews. Public policy groups are likelier to favor her uncompromising approach to pushing universal health care, as opposed to Obama's appeal to build consensus on the issue.
[...]

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 12/09/2006
Why Obama came last
By Shmuel Rosner, Ha´aretz U.S. Correspondent
[excerpt from article]

[...]
I asked around and was told that Jewish activists in the Chicago area tend to think he is pro-Israel in the most sincere way. Some mentioned his trip to Israel, others highlighted his perfect record in the Senate on Israel-related issues.
[...]

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 17/02/2007
Sen. Obama: U.S. must support Israel's right to self defense
By Shmuel Rosner, Ha´aretz U.S. Correspondent

WASHINGTON - United States Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat from Illinois who is competing for his party's presidential nomination, told Haaretz on Thursday that the United States should help protect Israel from its "dangerous" enemies.

"My view is that the United States' special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction," he said.

"Israelis want more than anything to live in peace with their neighbors, but Israel also has real - and very dangerous - enemies," Obama said.

Obama, the first black candidate with a real chance at the Democratic nomination, intends to present his policy regarding Israel soon, and his staff has been drafting a speech on the subject.

In his speech, Obama intends to remove any doubts that the Democratic Party's donors and constituents, many of whom are Jewish, may have about his support for Israel.

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 03/03/2007
In AIPAC speech, Obama repeats support for Israel, peace talks
By Shmuel Rosner, Ha´aretz Correspondent

United States Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama reiterated his support for Israel on Friday, while at the same time calling on the U.S. to make a concerted effort to revive the peace process.

"Our job is to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the region," Obama said during a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Chicago. "Our job is to do more than lay out another road map."

"That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: Our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy," he added. "That will always be my starting point."

In what may have been a veiled reference to reports of American opposition to Israeli negotations with Syria, Obama said: "We should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests. No Israeli prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States."

The Illinois senator also called for continued American military assistance to Israel. "We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs," he said.

Obama added that he was concerned about the Palestinian unity government accord.

Turning to Iran, the presidential hopeful called for direct engagement with the Islamic republic over its nuclear program.

"We need the United States to lead tough-minded diplomacy," he said. "This includes direct engagement with Iran similar to the meetings we conducted with the Soviets at the height of the Cold War."

"Tough-minded diplomacy would include real leverage through stronger sanctions," Obama continued. "It would mean more determined U.S diplomacy at the United Nations. It would mean a cooperative strategy with Gulf States who supply Iran with much of the energy resources it needs. It would mean full implementation of U.S. sanctions laws."

Obama blamed what he called the Administration's failed strategy in Iraq for strengthening the Iranian position, placing "Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril."

 



The Jewish Daily Forward, Jan 09, 2008
Jewish Allies Quarry Support for McCain and Obama in Granite State
By Nathan Guttman

New Hampshire may only have 10,000 Jews, but the state’s primary election had a Jewish stamp on it.

Senator John McCain’s surprising win in the Granite State came just days after he received backing from Joe Lieberman, the Senate’s most famous Jew, while Barack Obama got help from Paul Hodes, one of New Hampshire’s four congressmen — and its only Jewish one.

Despite Obama’s loss — he garnered 36 percent of the vote, trailing Senator Hillary Clinton’s 39 percent — his primary effort served as a particularly noteworthy opportunity for Hodes, who shone under a rare spotlight. As co-chair of the state’s Obama campaign, Hodes found himself all over the airways, playing a role usually filled by much more seasoned politicians.

The approximately 10,000 Jews in New Hampshire amount to less than one percent of the state’s population, and, as voters, they played little substantive role in a primary day with one of the heaviest turnouts in history.

This was acknowledged in the run-up to the election. A political forum held by the community at a Manchester synagogue this week drew only three candidates — Democrats Bill Richardson and Mike Gravel and Republican Duncan Hunter — all of whom received single digit support rates in national and local polls. Obama, Clinton and Rudy Giuliani sent campaign officials to represent them at the Jewish community’s event.

Yet Jewish voters in New Hampshire basked in the VIP treatment afforded in the first primary state. One of them, Alan Cantor, got a chance to personally meet all the Democratic candidates before making his choice.

“[Obama] won me over,” said the 49-year-old non-profit fundraiser from Concord. “I never met anyone so authentic, so bright.”

Hodes clearly feels the same way. And in an election cycle in which most Jewish endorsements on the Democratic side went to Senator Hillary Clinton, the congressman stood out with his early decision to back Obama. Talking to the Forward while greeting voters on primary day, Hodes said he was not impressed by Clinton’s massive support among the Jewish community and lawmakers.

“Sometimes, you need to go past the status-quo and make a choice for a better future,” he said. In speeches in New Hampshire, Hodes referred to Mr. and Mrs. Clinton as “the most powerful status quo machine in American politics.”

On the other side of the aisle, McCain — whose ability to bring in independents contributed to a victory with 37%of the vote — referred often to the endorsement of his Democratic colleague as a sign of his broad appeal. Although Lieberman was not on hand on primary day, he has been a frequent guest on the campaign trail.

Lieberman, a former Democrat, was criticized for crossing partisan lines to support McCain, but also mocked for making what was seen as an unwise political move. Now, with McCain taking New Hampshire and polling strong in other states, Lieberman’s choice is viewed in a different light.

Fred Zeidman, who holds positions as both chair of the Holocaust Memorial Council and the national finance chair of the McCain campaign, stressed the importance of the relationship.

McCain’s strong support for Israel is confirmed by Lieberman’s support,” said Zeidman, adding that the Connecticut Senator’s endorsement “can only be a positive thing” for Jewish voters.

Hodes, on the other hand, does not see the issue of endorsing a presidential candidate as having to do with his Jewish background or voters. A strong supporter of Israel, he said he would not support a candidate if he had “a shred of doubt” about his or her support for the Jewish state. “[Obama] strongly supports the special friendship between Israel and the United Stated, an issue I care passionately about,” he said.

 



Ynetnews.com - Israel News, Jewish World, 01.16.2008
Jewish groups condemn attacks on Obama
By Yitzhak Benhorin

Leaders of US Jewish organizations issue joint letter slamming email distributed recently in English and Hebrew depicting Democratic presidential candidate as Muslim pretending to be a Christian and working for al-Qaeda

Leaders of the Jewish organizations in the United States issued a joint letter Tuesday night condemning the email being distributed both in Hebrew and in English attacking Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

In the email, Obama is depicted as a Muslim pretending to be a Christian and seeking to take over the White House and handing it over to the control of al-Qaeda.

In an open letter to the Jewish community, the leaders said that they would not endorse or oppose any candidate for president, but felt compelled to speak out against "certain rhetoric and tactics in the current campaign that we find particularly abhorrent".

"Of particular concern, over the past several weeks, many in our community have received hateful emails that use falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterize Senator Barack Obama's religious beliefs and who he is as a person."

'Make A decision based on factual records'

The letter was signed by Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League; William Daroff, vice president of the United Jewish Communities; David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Nathan J. Diament, director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Richard S. Gordon, president of the American Jewish Congress; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Phyllis Snyder, president of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Hadar Susskind, Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

There is great importance to the fact that Jewish leaders from all sides of the political map joined forces in this letter.

"These tactics attempt to drive a wedge between our community and a presidential candidate based on despicable and false attacks and innuendo based on religion," the letter said. "We reject these efforts to manipulate members of our community into supporting or opposing candidates."

The Jewish leaders warned that "attempts of this sort to mislead and inflame voters should not be part of our political discourse and should be rebuffed by all who believe in our democracy.

"Jewish voters, like all voters, should support whichever candidate they believe would make the best president. We urge everyone to make that decision based on the factual records of these candidates, and nothing less."

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 01/02/2008
Obama and the Jewish question
By Ha´aretz Editorial

Not a year has passed since Danny Ayalon completed his term as Israel's ambassador in Washington, but he has already seen fit to criticize Barack Obama, who may well be the next U.S. president or vice president. In an article published in The Jerusalem Post, Ayalon wrote that during his two meetings with Obama, he got the impression that the Democratic candidate was "not entirely forthright" regarding Israel. Similar and even worse smears can be found in abundance in American blogs and e-mail chain letters.

While Obama was taking advantage of Martin Luther King Day to speak out against anti-Semitism among blacks, Jewish spokesmen were using racist language against him, solely because his father was Muslim. Since it is hard to find so much as a single anti-Jewish statement in Obama's political record, or even support for anti-Israel policies, his defamers base their arguments on the fact that his positions on the Middle East conflict are "leftist" - solely because he rejects the right's positions, which are more acceptable to some Jewish-American leaders.

Obama, Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate John McCain have very similar views on the Middle East, and their Senate votes confirm this. Obama has been smeared by the right because of his ties with international relations experts Zbigniew Brzezinksi and Robert Malley, as well as his support for a two-state solution and a withdrawal from most of the settlements. Billionaire George Soros, who has contributed to both the Obama and Clinton campaigns, is also seen by the Jewish right as hostile to Israel, because he is too leftist.

The U.S. elections are important to Israel because of the two countries' special relationship and America's support for Israel, whose value cannot be overstated. There is a major contradiction between this fact and a smear campaign against a candidate with a Muslim name, which risks causing many Americans, and especially blacks, to feel alienated from Israel and Jews. Obama is sensitive to Israel's security needs, and he proved this through his Senate votes, his visit to northern Israel during the Second Lebanon War, and his unequivocal statements against both Hezbollah, which violated Israel's sovereignty in the North, and Hamas, which violated Israel's sovereignty in the South.

Obama does not support the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, but believes that the need to solve the refugee problem must be recognized. He supports Israel as the state of the Jews, and does not accept the view, which has struck roots in the global left, that Israel should be a state of all its citizens, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. He speaks out openly on these issues, as he does about the threat to Israel posed by Iran's nuclear program, and he did so even before becoming a presidential candidate.

Racist attacks against a black American candidate could cause Israel and American Jews a great deal of damage - not to mention shame and disgrace. Obama has been forced to defend himself over things such as nonexistent ties with elements hostile to Israel, an appearance at an event at which Edward Said spoke, and praying at one church rather than another.

Great damage has already been caused because Obama announced that an ugly campaign was being waged against him in the Jewish community. That alone ought to be enough at least to make Israel's leaders say something about Jews who preach against anti-Semitism while employing similar tactics against other minorities.

 



The Jewish Journal, 2007-03-09
Obama and the Jews
By Harold Brackman

One of the many paradoxes of contemporary American politics involves the Democratic Party's two most loyal constituency groups: African Americans and Jews. They have managed to stay under the same political tent even as their historic relationship has continued the long descent from the heights reached when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched side-by-side in Selma, Ala.

In the decade or so since Louis Farrakhan's 1995 Million Man March, the best -- or worst -- that can be said about the relationship is that it has pretty much moved from mutual alienation to mutual indifference as black newspapers rarely mention Jews except to take potshots at Israel, and Jewish papers can be relied on only to ritually invoke King on his birthday.

Bill Clinton, the ultimate political empath, became a favorite of both groups without really bridging the growing rift between them. A crowning irony of the next presidential sweepstakes is that the contender who may have the best chance of restoring Black-Jewish enthusiasm for the same candidate has the middle name "Hussein," after his paternal grandfather.

Everybody by now knows the outlines of Barack Obama's odyssey as the Hawaiian-born son of a white Kansas mother and a Kenyan father who was educated early on in Indonesia (the home of his Muslim stepfather) as well as Honolulu, worked as a community organizer in Chicago (his real political education), graduated from Columbia University, became president of the Harvard Law Review and spent six years in the Illinois State Senate before his nationally acclaimed speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention and election that same year to the U.S. Senate. As Obama hires an operative to prepare the groundwork for a major Mideast policy speech, perhaps before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, his less-known Jewish connections are beginning to surface in the media: Gerald Kellman ("Marty Kaufman" in Obama's semi-autobiographical "Dreams From my Father"), a practitioner of Saul Alinsky-style community organizing, was Obama's first mentor in Chicago. Jay Tcath, director of Chicago's Jewish Community Relations Council; Robert Schrayer, a leading Chicago Jewish philanthropist; and Judge Abner J. Mikva are among Obama's fans. David Axelrod, his media maven, lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Those looking for Obama's views on the Mideast won't find a great deal. In 2004, he disappointed Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada by giving a speech to Chicago's Council on Foreign Relations endorsing the U.S. alliance with Israel. Speaking before Jewish audiences during his Senate campaign, he reassured them that his Swahili first name, Barack ("Blessed"), is a close relation of Baruch in Hebrew.

His current bestseller, "The Audacity of Hope" -- a carefully crafted manifesto positioning him for his 2008 run -- has a page on a recent trip to the Mideast, where he talked to both Holocaust survivors and Palestinian villagers. The book emphasizes the need for enhanced homeland security while offering sensible suggestions for a comprehensive approach, including carrots as well as sticks, to wean the Arab and Muslim world from Islamic extremism.

A reading of Obama's remarkably candid and insightful "Dreams from my Father," written in 1995, suggests his ultimate appeal for Jewish voters may not be ideology but temperament and sensibility. One telling moment in the book comes in 1992 with Obama, in his early thirties around the time of his marriage, joining Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, a congregation popular with upwardly-mobile black professionals.

One can't escape the impression that getting married and joining the church were both the politic thing for him to do. Regarding religion and politics, Obama emerges as a man wise beyond his years, with a deep appreciation of human frailties (including his own) and a profound aversion to fanaticism in any form. As a community organizer in Chicago, he learned the social importance of the black church and pulpit rhetoric.

Yet it is impossible not to be struck by temperamental affinities between Obama and earlier great Illinoisans -- not only Abe Lincoln, also a lanky, big-eared agnostic who married late -- but wryly wise Adlai Stevenson. Conversion or not, Obama remains deeply skeptical of religious dogma -- as was Old Abe (who never joined a church), despite his political mastery of biblical cadence and imagery. His careful, skeptical frame makes for a chilly relationship between Obama and demagogues like Al Sharpton and others who view Obama as inauthentically "black."

Another critical point in Obama's moral self-education, dramatized in "Dreams," comes during an interlude in New York when he was dating a white, apparently Jewish girl. He took her to a play, shot through with anti-white humor, at which the mostly black audience laughed and clapped, almost like in church.

"After the play was over, my friend started talking about why black people were so angry all the time. I said it was a matter of remembering -- nobody asks why Jews remember the Holocaust, I think I said, and she said that it was different, and I said it wasn't, and she said the anger was just a dead end."

The night ended with the girl crying that "she couldn't be black.... She would if she could, but she couldn't. She could only be herself, and wasn't that enough."

Relating the story a few years later to a friend, Obama said "whenever I think back to what my friend said to me, that night outside the theater, it somehow makes me ashamed."

Like other Americans, Jews who support Obama will be making a bet that -- despite his limited national political experience (another similarity with Lincoln, who served only one term in Congress before his election to the presidency) -- he has what it takes to move America beyond multicultural clichés to engaging real 21st century challenges, including our inescapable post-Iraq War responsibilities in the Mideast.

Like Stevenson, he will have to "talk sense to the American people," especially the left wing of his own party.

Like Lincoln, he will have to harness "the better angels of our nature" to reconcile Americans with each other, and challenge them to intelligently engage the rest of the world.

 

Harold Brackman, a historian who has written extensively on the history of Black-Jewish relations, lives in San Diego.

 



The Jewish Journal, September 17, 2008
Obama conference call with rabbis covers education, the meaning of the shofar, support for Israel
By Eric Fingerhut

Barack Obama told a conference call of rabbis this morning that he supports government funding for after-school and mentoring programs in faith-based schools.

Speaking to 900 rabbis on a pre-Rosh Hashanah call, Obama said he opposes "vouchers" for private schools, but would continue to support funding, as is currently provided in the No Child Left Behind law, for after-school, tutoring, mentoring and summer programs at private and religious schools, according to a press release from the Orthodox Union and other rabbis who participated in the call.

Participants said Obama talked about a number of issues and took four questions from leaders of the four major denominations during the more than 40 minutes he spent on the call. The economy, education, energy, Israel and Iran were among the topics he discussed, reiterating the "unacceptability" of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

With the call coming less than two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the Democratic nominee wished the group "Shanah Tovah." He also discussed how the shofar raises people from "slumber" to "set out on a better path" and how he hoped his campaign could do the same, according to rabbis on the call.

Rabbi Sam Gordon, who introduced Obama and serves as co-chair of "Rabbis for Obama," said he believed that a presidential candidate speaking to hundreds of rabbis was "unprecedented" during a political campaign, and that Obama showed an impressive "depth of knowledge" -- at one point referring to the largest modern Orthodox high school in Chicago by name, the Ida Crown Academy, when discussing faith-based schools.

The one complaint about the call was the speech of the other rabbi introducing Obam by Elliot Dorff, vice chair of the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and a professor at the American Jewish University (AJU). One rabbi who did not wish to be identified said Dorff's speech was "way too partisan" and the Orthodox Union's blog said Dorff essentially compared John McCain to Haman.

The Obama campaign has released portions of his remarks on the call:

"I know that for rabbis this is the busiest time of the year as you prepare for the High Holy Days. So I am grateful for a few minutes of your time. I extend my New Years greetings to you and to your congregations and communities. I want to wish everybody a Shana Tovah and I hope that you will convey my wishes to all of those you pray and celebrate with this Rosh Hashanah.

The Jewish New Year is unlike the new years of any other cultures. In part because it's not simply a time for revelry; it's a time for what might be called determined rejoicing. A time to put your affairs with other people in order so you can honestly turn to God. A time to recommit to the serious work of tikkun olamof mending the world."

Senator Obama noted the significance of the Shofar in our lives for Rosh Hashanah and beyond, stating:

"And I know that the Shofar is going to be blown in your synagogues over Rosh Hashanah and there are many interpretations of its significance. One that I have heard that resonates with me is rousing us from our slumber so that we recognize our responsibilities and repent for our misdeeds and set out on a better path. The people in every community across this land join our campaign and I like to think that they are sounding that Shofar and to rouse this nation out of its slumber and to compel us to confront our challenges and ensure a better path. It's a call to action. So as this New Year dawns, I am optimistic about our ability to overcome the challenges we face and the opportunity that we can bring the change we need not only to our nation but also to the world."

Barack Obama also stated the need for leadership in both our troubled economy and foreign policy. Speaking of his recent trip to Israel and his unwavering commitment to the US-Israel relationship and Israel's security, he noted: "I think that it's also important to recognize that throughout my career in the State Legislature and now in the U.S. Senate I have been a stalwart friend of Israel. On every single issue related to Israel's security, I have been unwavering, and will continue to be unwavering. My belief is that Israel's security is sacrosanct and we have to ensure that as the soul democracy in the Middle East, one of our greatest allies in the world, one that shares a special relationship with us and shares our values, we have to make sure that they have the support whether its financial or military to sustain their security and the hostile environment. And its also important that we are an effective partner with them in pursuing the possibilities of peace in the future, and that requires not only active engagement and negotiations that may take place with Palestinians but it also requires that we stand tough and with great clarity when it comes to Iran and the unacceptability of them possessing nuclear weapons. During my recent visit to Israel, I had the occasion to meet with all of the major political players. That was my second visit there and I think that they all came away with assurance of my commitment with respect to Israel"

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 19.9.2008
Obama wishes happy Rosh Hashanah to 900 rabbis
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Ha´aretz Correspondent

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama held a conference call on Wednesday with more than 900 rabbis to extend greetings to them and their congregants ahead of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sunset on Sept. 29.

Obama told the rabbis that the Jewish New Year themes of renewal and rededication to improving our world resonate with him, as they echo the themes he has emphasized in his life and during his campaign.

I extend my New Year's greetings to you and to your congregations and communities," Obama told the rabbis. "The Jewish New Year is unlike the new years of any other cultures, in part because it's not simply a time for revelry; it's a time for what might be called determined rejoicing - a time to put your affairs with other people in order so you can honestly turn to God, a time to recommit to the serious work of tikkun olam - of mending the world."

To further strengthen his ties with the U.S. Jewish community, Obama last month announced the appointment of a senior policy adviser on Middle East issues and Jewish outreach coordinator.

Speaking to the rabbis on Wednesday, Obama reiterated his support for a close relationship between the United States and Israel. It's important "to recognize that throughout my career in the State Legislature and now in the U.S. Senate, I have been a stalwart friend of Israel," said Obama. "On every single issue related to Israel's security, I have been unwavering, and will continue to be unwavering."

"My belief is that Israel's security is sacrosanct and we have to ensure that as the sole democracy in the Middle East, one of our greatest allies in the world, one that shares a special relationship with us and shares our values, we have to make sure that they have the support whether its financial or military to sustain their security and the hostile environment," the presidential hopeful added.

Obama also touched on the significance of the Shofar, the ram's horn sounded on Rosh Hashanah. "I like to think that they are sounding that Shofar and to rouse this nation out of its slumber and to compel us to confront our challenges and ensure a better path," he said. "It's a call to action. So as this New Year dawns, I am optimistic about our ability to overcome the challenges we face and the opportunity that we can bring the change we need not only to our nation but also to the world."

 



The Jewish Week, 8 March 2007
Obama Pivots Away From Dovish Past
By Larry Cohler-Esses

Chicago -- Presidential candidate Barack Obama's maiden speech to the pro-Israel lobby last week saw a man described by early supporters as an ardent dove on Israel take flight as a bird of considerably more hawkish mien.

Obama, Illinois' Democratic junior senator, told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last Friday that he was committed, above all else, to "peace through security" for the Jewish state.

It was a phrase that appeared with variations repeatedly throughout the 30-minute speech, delivered according to many in attendance in a stilted monotone curiously devoid of passion. The more venerable formulation "land for peace" was nowhere to be found. Absent, too, were any references to "settlements," "occupation" or "territorial compromise" in a talk before a hometown Chicago audience of some 800 sponsored by the pro-Israel lobby's Midwest region.

While not surprising for a talk before the pro-Israel lobby -- where such terms are usually few and far between -- some found it surprising for a candidate known not too long ago to some as an unabashed dove.

"He was on the line of Peace Now," said Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, of KAM Isaiah Israel, who lives across the street from Obama in the University of Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, one of the country's most liberal electoral districts. "He was a moderate peacenik."

Rabbi Wolf, himself a longtime dove, said that today Obama is "very, very cautious -- with AIPAC, excessively cautious."

Some with dovish views took comfort that at the end of a speech emphasizing the multiple threats facing Israel, Obama spoke of the importance of more active U.S. diplomacy to help Israelis and Palestinians "fulfill their national goals: two states living side by side in peace and security." He spoke also of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin's "vision to reach out to longtime enemies" and former leader Ariel Sharon's "determination to lead Israel out of Gaza." Israelis were prepared to make "further sacrifices" for peace, he said, without going into further detail.

But Obama, who has rocketed from an obscure state senator to a presidential candidate in little over two years, was until recently known to those involved in Middle East issues in his Hyde Park base on Chicago's South Side as a man of considerably bolder views.

Despite his strict avoidance of details on what it will take to make progress toward peace, said Rabbi Wolf, "He has a lot to say about that. He's thought about it."

Ali Abunimah, a Hyde Park Palestinian-American activist, said that until a few years ago, Obama was "quite frank that the U.S. needed to be more evenhanded, that it leaned too much toward Israel." It was vivid in his memory, said Abunimah, because "these were the kind of statements I'd never heard from a U.S. politician who seemed like he was going somewhere rather than at the end of his career."

In 2000, Abunimah recalled, Professor Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian American advocate for a two-state solution and harsh critic of Israel, held a fundraiser in his home for Obama, embarked then on an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the House of Representatives. "He came with his wife," Abunimah said. "That's where I had a chance to really talk to him. It was an intimate setting. He convinced me he was very aware of the issues [and] critical of U.S. bias toward Israel and lack of sensitivity to Arabs. ... He was very supportive of U.S. pressure on Israel."

Khalidi, now the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, and head of that school's Middle East Institute, declined to comment on Abunimah's recollections. But in an interview in Tuesday's Daily News, he said he hosted the fundraiser because he and Obama were friends while the two lived in Chicago. "He never came to us and said he would do anything in terms of Palestinians," Khalidi told the paper.

Nevertheless, one Hyde Park source close to Obama, speaking only on condition of anonymity, recalled, "He often expressed general sympathy for the Palestinians -- though I don't recall him ever saying anything publicly."

Asked to comment on these recollections of his views, a spokesperson for Obama's campaign did not challenge them, saying only: "The speech is a clear articulation of his positions related to Israel."

At the AIPAC event, Obama talked in detail about his first trip to Israel, in January of last year. Traveling with several prominent Chicago Jewish activists, Obama saw a house in Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanese border, that had been hit by a Katyusha rocket fired by Hezbollah, the radical Shiite group based in South Lebanon.

"The family who lived [there] was lucky to be alive," he said. "It is an experience I keep close to my heart ... Too many others have seen the same kind of destruction, have lost their loved ones to suicide bombers and live in fear when the next attack might hit."

Six months after his visit, Obama noted, "Hezbollah launched 4,000 rocket attacks just like the one that destroyed the home in Kiryat Shmona and kidnapped Israeli service members." The rockets killed 39 Israeli civilians. An additional 120 Israelis died in combat during the war Israel launched in response to the kidnappings.

As he did last summer, Obama defended Israel's bombing of targets throughout Lebanon during last summer's war, bombing widely criticized elsewhere for hitting many civilians and demolishing civilian infrastructure sites. AP estimates 1,035 to 1,191 Lebanese died during the war, of which 250 were Hezbollah fighters.

"When Israel is attacked, we must stand up for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself," said Obama. ... "Hezbollah attacked Israel. By using Lebanon as an outpost for terrorism, and innocent people as shields, Hezbollah has also engulfed that entire nation in violence and conflict, and threatened the fledgling movement for democracy there."

Obama also warned of the danger Israel faces from Iran's drive to develop a technical capability that would enable it to develop nuclear arms. Noting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's questioning of the reality of the Holocaust and declared wish for Israel's elimination, Obama said, "His words contain a chilling echo of some of the world's most despicable and tragic history."

At the same time, he de-emphasized a military solution to the problem. "While we should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means," he said. Obama advocated direct talks and "tough-minded diplomacy" with both Iran and Syria -- an approach the Bush administration has rejected. It has recently, however, agreed to attend a meeting about the crisis in Iraq that those two countries will also attend.

Obama said the administration had actually empowered Iran by its invasion of Iraq, noting, "I opposed this war from the beginning." He advocated a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops out of Iraq, to be completed by March 2008. A "limited number" of troops should remain to prevent Iraq from becoming a terrorist haven, he added.

Obama supported Israel's refusal to conduct peace talks with the Palestinian Authority government controlled by Hamas, a group responsible for terrorist attacks that denies Israel's right to exist. A recent unity agreement between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas -- "a Palestinian leader I believe is committed to peace" -- still failed to satisfy the international community's conditions for ending the Hamas government's international isolation, he said.

"We should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis," he said.

But in a seemingly oblique criticism of the administration's reported opposition to any Israeli response to entreaties by Syria to restart peace negotiations, Obama said, "No Israeli prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States."

Audience members offered varying views of whether Obama had met the bar for their support.

"I found it a little uninspired," said Amy Rashkow, an AIPAC member who works for American Friends of Magen David Adom. "He said the right things [but] delivered it without the panache for which he's known."

Rashkow and others said they found Obama's delivery stilted and lacking emotion, even when they agreed with the words he was reading. He sometimes seemed to trip over his text, as if reading it for the first time.

"Look at the comparison for him the next day in Selma," she said, referring to a speech Obama gave there to mark the 40th anniversary of a famed civil rights protest there. "That was typical Obama."

But Alan Mesh, another AIPAC member, said that even though "he was not able to articulate passion ... I was very glad to hear him speak his support for Israel. He talked about his first-hand experience being there. You could tell he understood the problem."

Campaign spokesperson Jen Saki stressed that Obama was "passionate" about Israel. "Any hint of fatigue was the result of a recent cross-country campaign tour, not a lack of enthhusiasm for the issues important to this community," she said.

For at least some, the jury appeared to still be out. But Obama has already started to garner pro-Israel financial support. A review of donations to his campaigns for federal office since 2000 by the Center for Responsive Politics showed Obama had received more than $110,000 from pro-Israel sources through last June. Prominent among his backers are the Chicago-based Pritzker family, which owns the Hyatt chain of hotels. Lee Rosenberg, AIPAC's treasurer, is also a backer, and a member of Obama's finance committee.

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 24/07/2008
Obama pledges to coordinate Iran policy with Israel
By Barak Ravid

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama pledged to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Wednesday that if elected, he will coordinate his policy on Iran with Israel.

Iran was the major issue of the senator's hour-and-a-half meeting with Olmert, which was also attended by advisers of both leaders. Olmert told Obama that the timetable on Iran was very short. He said Israel believed that Iran could achieve the technology to manufacture a nuclear bomb by the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010. He said there was no time for long-term policy and that action had to be taken quickly.

Olmert told Obama that between the insufficient steps currently being taken and aggressive all-out military action, there were a number of other possible steps. According to Olmert, these moves must be made urgently, while not taking any option off the table.

A senior official in Olmert's bureau said that "Obama's remarks about Iran led us to believe that he certainly understands the seriousness of the Iranian threat."

Olmert and Obama also discussed the Palestinian issue. Obama said he had the impression that the Palestinians feel there have been great progress in negotiations. Olmert responded that the gaps were smaller than ever before, and now was the time for brave decisions on both sides so an agreement could be reached.

Olmert briefed Obama on the state of negotiations with Syria and said that weapons continued to be smuggled to Hezbollah via Syria, which was a matter of great concern to Israel.

Obama told Israeli officials that he supported negotiations between Israel and Syria and that he would work to cut Syria off from Iran. He said at a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak that he had talked about Syria with other leaders in the region and the talks were worth a try.

Obama said in all his meetings that the Iranian question was at the top of his priorities and that a nuclear Iran would have negative implications for the entire Middle East, in terms of American interests as well. Barak said it was clear to him that the Iranian issue was urgent because a nuclear Iran would be intolerable.

Officials who were at the meetings with Obama said he reiterated that he had come to Israel to learn but also to explain his positions. He said he recognized that there were concerns about him and that he knew he was being closely scrutinized, the officials said.

On his arrival at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, Obama greeted President Shimon Peres warmly. The two walked arm-in-arm on the red carpet and held a working meeting in the garden. Obama said during his meeting with the president that he wanted Peres' "recipe for looking as good he does." Peres gave Obama an autographed copy of the English translation of his book "Imaginary Voyage: With Theodor Herzl in Israel."

Before Obama's meeting with Peres, the candidate visited Yad Vashem and laid a wreath in the commemoration hall. "I am always taken back to sort of the core question of humanity that the Holocaust raises. That is, on the one hand, man's great capacity for evil, and on the other hand, our ability to come together to stop evil," Obama said.

Toward evening Obama headed south by helicopter to Sderot, accompanied by an entourage of cabinet ministers including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Barak and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter.

Obama met in Sderot with Osher Twito, who was seriously wounded in a Qassam rocket attack. He embraced Twito and had his picture taken with him. Dichter described to the senator the situation in Sderot before the current lull took effect. He also told Obama that his 85-year-old mother, who lives in Ashkelon and lost her entire family in the Holocaust, now had to live in fear of Qassam and Katyusha rockets. Dichter said he had visited the U.S. border with Mexico and that if rockets were being fired from Mexico, the U.S. would bomb Tijuana.

Former defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai was also on hand to greet Obama when his helicopter landed, although he had not been invited.

 



Ynetnews.com - Israel News, 01.28.08
Obama rejects Palestinian right of return
By Yitzhak Benhorin

Presidential candidate presents views on Mideast in talk with Israeli, Jewish journalists; senator reaffirms support for Israel, says he backs dialogue with Iran

WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate reaffirms support for Israel, but backs Iran dialogue: Senator Barack Obama presented his views on Israel and the Middle East Monday in a phone conversation with Israeli and Jewish journalists.

As he reaffirmed his commitment to Israel, Obama spoke about his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum: "This is something that was brought home to me during my visit to Israel, when I went to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the power of the names, to see each name and the life it represents, to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it I think spoke, not only to our strategic interests in Israel but also our deep moral commitments there."

Referring to his discussions with the Jewish community, Obama said: "I'm reminded of not just Israel's long standing role as a democracy in the Middle East and the friendship between our governments but also the way in which the Jewish people have been able to transform themselves post WWII and the State of Israel's incredible resolve to face down the constant threats that it's faced."

Tough stance on Hamas

Obama declared that he objects to a Palestinian right of return into Israel and to negotiations with Islamic group Hamas as long as it clings to its current stance, which rejects Israel's right to exist. He added that he will make sure to guarantee Israel's security should he be elected president.

"I've also repeatedly made clear that I'm committed to ensuring that Israel remains a Jewish state and that's why I've pledged my personal leadership in a process to establish two states living side by side in peace and security," he said.

Turning his attention to the Jerusalem question, Obama said that the contentious issue will be settled through talks between Israel and the Palestinians. However, Obama also noted that he supported dialogue with Iran, while charging that President Bush's Iran policy has failed.

The presidential candidate warmly spoke about his visit to Israel and conversations with Israelis under rocket attacks.

"When I visited Israel, we met victims of constant rocket fire into civilian neighborhoods; it drove home for me the vulnerability of so many Israeli residents and stiffened my resolve to ensure that Qassam rockets will not be fired, whether from the north or the south. No country which takes its obligation to protect its citizens would tolerate such attacks and certainly the United States would no," he said.

Mudslinging campaign

Obama also charged that he was the target of an online mudslinging campaign aimed at portraying him as a Muslim, particularly in the eyes of the Jewish community. He stressed that he was no Muslim, but rather, a Christian.

"I never practiced Islam. I was raised by my secular mother," Obama said. "I have been a member of the Christian religion and an active member of a church. I was sworn in with my hand on my family Bible."

Obama easily won South Carolina's Democratic presidential primary Saturday with the help of heavy black support on, dealing a setback to rival Hillary Clinton after a week of political brawling.

Obama, an Illinois senator who would be the first black US president, routed Clinton in the latest showdown in a back-and-forth fight for the right to represent the Democratic Party in November's presidential election.

Obama had doubled Clinton's vote total, winning 55 percent to her 27 percent. 

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 16/04/2008
Obama slams Carter for meeting Hamas, tries to reassure Jewish voters
By The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - U.S. Senator Barack Obama on Wednesday criticized former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for meeting with leaders of the Islamic terrorist group Hamas as he tried to reassure Jewish voters that his presidential candidacy is not a threat to them or U.S. support for Israel.

The Democratic presidential candidate's comments, made to a group of Jewish leaders in Philadelphia, were his first on Carter's controversial meeting scheduled this week in Egypt.

Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting John McCain called on Obama to repudiate Carter in a speech Monday.

Obama told the Jewish group he had a fundamental disagreement with Carter, who was rebuffed by Israeli leaders during a peace mission to the Middle East this week.

"We must not negotiate with a terrorist group intent on Israel's destruction," Obama said.

"We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements," he added.

Obama has been working to reassure Jewish voters nervous about his candidacy in the wake of publicity about anti-Israel sentiments expressed by his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Obama's rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, also criticized him during a February debate, saying he did not immediately rejected an endorsement from black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. Obama responded that he already denounced Farrakhan, but would reject his support as well.

Obama told the group that he had not been aware of Wright's more incendiary speeches before launching his presidential campaign last year, even though he had been a member of Wright's congregation for nearly 20 years. Obama said he had spoken to Wright and privately conveyed his concerns about some of his sermons once he learned of their content. But he acknowledged that he had declined to be more public in his criticism until recently, since Wright was preparing to retire from ministry at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.

"You make a decision about how are you going to handle it," Obama said. "Do you publicly denounce his comments? Do you privately express concern but recognize you are still part of a broader church community that is going to be transitioning? I chose the latter."

Obama has stepped up his outreach to the Jewish community in recent weeks after videos of Wright's speeches surfaced where he criticized Israel and expressed sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

Among other things, Wright has denounced Israel as racist and suggested tension between Israel and the Palestinians had contributed to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Obama also met privately with about 100 Jewish leaders in Ohio before that state's primary March 4.

Obama has been the subject of persistent Internet rumors suggesting he is a Muslim who was educated at a Madrassah in Indonesia and took the oath of office with his hand on a Koran. Obama did spend part of his childhood in Indonesia but attended Catholic and public schools there. He took the oath of office on a Bible.

Obama delivered a well-received speech last month addressing the Wright controversy, in which he criticized many of his former pastor's views. But the issue has continued to dog him.

Obama told Jewish leader he would work as president to diminish tensions between the black and Jewish communities, noting that both groups shared the experience of suffering discrimination.

Obama also said at the meeting that he is willing to make diplomatic overtures to Iran even thought it has funded Hamas and other militant groups.

 



Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Sep 3, 2008
Biden on the line: Israel needs to decide on Iran, AIPAC does not represent the entire Jewish community
By Ami Eden

[...]

UPDATE III: And now Obama campaign spokeswoman Wendy Morigi: “Barack Obama and Joe Biden have both enjoyed close and effective cooperation with AIPAC over many years, grounded in their respect for its important mission to support Israel’s security and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. That is a mission they share, and they look forward to continuing to work closely with AIPAC on their common goals.”

 



New York Post, August 26, 2008
Giuliani Rips Obama´s Israel Policy - Says Its Ambiguous At Best
By Maggie Haberman

DENVER - Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani ripped Sen. Barack Obama as "ambiguous" in his stand on support for Israel, miles from the convention hall where the Democrats are celebrating the near-nominee.

Giuliani, who's known as being staunchly pro-Israel and in favor of a strong relationship between the US and the Jewish state, made the comments in a sit-down with The Post as he started a two-day attack on Democrats during their convention, acting as a surrogate for GOP Sen. John McCain.

[...]

The comments from Giuliani, who enjoys strong popularity in Jewish communities -- which could play a key role in the swing state of Florida -- came as some Jewish voters have expressed hesitance over Obama, and have cited Israel as the reason.

Obama took a widely covered trip to the Mideast and visited Israel last month, and described the US as a "strong friend" of Israel.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor shot back.

"Barack Obama has been a strong friend of Israel in the Senate, as has Sen. Biden, and both will have an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security. Mayor Giuliani has now made more false attacks than John McCain has houses, so voters won't take this latest one too seriously," he said.

 



The New York Sun, March 2, 2007
Obama Will Seek To Convince Aipac That He Is a True Friend of Israel
By Josh Gerstein

Senator Obama of Illinois plans to use a speech Friday to convince skeptical Jewish voters that he is as reliable a supporter of Israel as any of the better-known contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"He recognizes that he is fairly new to the national scene and fairly new to the issues the Jewish community is concerned about," an adviser to Mr. Obama, who asked not to be named, said. "People are curious and wondering where he stands on Israel. … This is an opportunity to just lay it all out."

Mr. Obama is to speak in Chicago at a forum arranged by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The venue was chosen so that the Illinois senator could be surrounded by Jewish Democrats who have backed him for years and say he is sensitive to the issues facing Israel.

One such supporter, Alan Solow, said he expects Mr. Obama to demonstrate that the first-term senator is as positive toward Israel as other presidential contenders. "I can't tell you if it will be different or the same as others. I certainly don't think it's going to be any weaker than what anybody else is saying," Mr. Solow, an attorney and chairman of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, said.

One area where Mr. Obama may show some individuality is on Iran, an issue that has tripped up several other Democratic hopefuls in recent weeks. "The kinds of communications that he would engage in and the pressure he envisions on Iran may differ in some respect from the other candidates," the adviser to Mr. Obama said.

At an Aipac dinner in Manhattan last month, Senator Clinton encountered some negativity when she mentioned her support for a direct dialogue between America and Iran, a position Mr. Obama shares. In recent days, the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2004, John Edwards, got into hot water for talking about the possibility of a nonaggression pact with Iran. In a less-noticed comment, another hopeful, Governor Richardson of New Mexico, told MSNBC that a nonaggression treaty is "an option" for resolving the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The chief Washington correspondent for an Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, said yesterday that Mr. Obama is making the Chicago speech to assure Jewish donors that he is an acceptable choice. "I don't think his real motive is to win votes. It's, of course, Jewish money. In the Democratic Party, Jewish philanthropy plays a significant role," the journalist, Shmuel Rosner, said.

A panel of Israeli opinion leaders regularly surveyed by Mr. Rosner often gives Mr. Obama lower ratings than other Democrats, a showing the journalist attributed to the Illinois senator's short track record. He said Mr. Obama's team is aware of this skittishness and hopes to extinguish it with Friday's speech. The address is being prepared by the Illinois senator's main foreign policy adviser, Mark Lippert, and a former Senate aide who advises Mr. Obama on the Middle East, Daniel Shapiro.

Mr. Obama's record and past statements on Israel are fairly consistent with those of other prominent Democrats. He has condemned terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah while also criticizing the Bush administration for not doing enough to promote a peace accord between Israel and Palestinian Arab leaders.

"Israel wants more than anything to live in peace with their neighbors, but Israel also has real and very dangerous enemies," the senator told Ha'aretz recently.

Mr. Obama opposed the Iraq war from the outset and suggests at campaign rallies that he is the most authentic anti-war candidate. While his unabashed anti-war stance may turn off some hawkish Jews, it could burnish his appeal with most Jewish voters. A recent retabulation of Gallup polls taken over the past two years found that 89% of Jewish Democrats called the Iraq war a mistake. Given overall trends in public opinion, the current measure of Jewish opposition to the war could be even higher.

Mrs. Clinton's camp, as has become its custom, tried to upstage Mr. Obama yesterday by announcing the New York senator's sponsorship of a congressional resolution calling for the release of three Israeli soldiers captured by terrorist groups last year.

An aide to Mr. Obama said the senator met with the mother of one of the soldiers earlier this week. The Illinois senator promised to keep the plight of the missing soldiers in the spotlight and plans to follow through by raising the issue during his speech on Friday, the aide said.

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 23/07/2008
Obama, in Sderot: World must prevent Iran from obtaining nukes
By Barak Ravid, Ha´aretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and News Agencies

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama visited the rocket-battered southern town of Sderot on Wednesday, where he said that the entire world must act to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"A nuclear Iran would pose a grave threat and the world must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama stated.

The Illinois senator also warned that a situation in which Iran had achieved this capability would be "game-changing."

"Not just in the Middle East, but around the world," he added. "Whatever remains of our Non-Proliferation Treaty would begin to disintegrate."

Obama vowed that as president he would not force Israel into making concessions that would put the country in danger for the sake of the peace process.

"I don't think that Ms. Livni or Mr. Barak or Bibi [Opposition leader Benjamin] Netanyahu or the others, President Peres, when they spoke to me today got any sense that I would be pressuring them to accept any kinds of concession that would put their security at stake," he said in answer to a question from a journalist.

Later in the day he meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for dinner, at which point he told reporters that he had found among the Palestinians "a strong sense that progress is being made and honest conversations are taking place" in the peace talks.

"Indeed, that's right," answered Olmert, who has pursued several diplomatic initiatives even as a corruption probe threatens to force him from office.

At the Sderot press conference, Obama said that Israel had every right to defend itself against attacks on its civilians, referring to the Qassam rockets that plagued the southern town and neighboring communities until a recent cease-fire with Gaza's Hamas rulers.

"If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything in power to stop that, and would expect Israelis to do the same thing," he said.

In Gaza, Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum called Obama's remarks part of the American policy of bias toward Israel and giving legitimacy to Israeli crimes against our people.

The presidential hopeful was accompanied on his Sderot stop by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Earlier Wednesday, Obama pledged that as president he would preserve the close relationship between Washington and Jerusalem, and vowed that Israel's security would be a top priority in his administration.

"I'm here on this trip to reaffirm the special relationship between Israel and the United States and my abiding commitment to Israel's security and my hope that I can serve as an effective partner, whether as a U.S. senator or as president," Obama said during a meeting with President Shimon Peres.

Obama, after vowing to immediately work for a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations if elected U.S. president, plunged into the intricacies of the region's conflict Wednesday with a packed schedule of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

He visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and held meetings with Peres, Barak and Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, the Likud chairman and former prime minister, said following their talks Obama promised never to seek to damage Israel's security. Both men agreed on the "primacy" of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, Netanyahu said.

During his visit to Yad Vashem, Obama laid a wreath, lit a memorial flame, and deemed the place to ultimately be a place of hope.

"At a time of great peril and torment, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man's potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world," he wrote in the visitors' book.

American tourists who passed him by at the memorial told him, "Remember what you see here," and he replied, "Yes, I understand, I understand," said Yad Vashem's director, Avner Shalev.

Security guards at the memorial kept back the few American and European visitors who had hoped to get a closer glimpse of the presidential contender.

But the somberness of the occasion at Yad Vashem also gave way to moments of warmth and lightheartedness.

Peres gave him an effusive welcome, saying he had read Obama's two books and was moved by them. The Israeli president handed Obama an English translation of a book he himself wrote, The Imaginary Voyage: With Theodor Herzl in Israel.

Obama praised Israel's accomplishments 60 years after its creation, and complimented the 84-year-old Israeli president on his youthful appearance.

"I also want to get his recipe for looking as good he does," Obama said.

Obama meets Abbas, Fayyad in Ramallah

In the afternoon Obama made the short drive from Jerusalem to the West Bank town of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Obama's trip to the West Bank on Wednesday appeared to generate some goodwill among Palestinians, though deep skepticism about U.S. policy remains.

Obama met with Abbas for an hour Wednesday under heavy security at Abbas' West Bank government headquarters.

Obama deepened Palestinian fears of an irrevocable U.S. bias towards Israel in a speech to American Jewish leaders in June when he said Jerusalem must remain Israel's undivided capital - even though no U.S. government has recognized Israel's 1967 annexation of east Jerusalem, the sector claimed by the Palestinians as their future capital.

Obama later clarified that he believes the future of Jerusalem is to be determined in negotiations - Washington's longstanding policy. The fate of the city is currently on the table in U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Palestinian officials said they didn't bring up the Jerusalem remarks in their meeting with Obama on Wednesday.

However, Kadoura Fares, a legislator in Abbas' Fatah movement, said Obama's slip-up on such a key issue caused serious damage. "His correction was not enough," Fares added. "He should have said he recognizes the Palestinian right to freedom."

The Islamic militant Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip, said Obama was not welcome and criticized Abbas, a bitter rival, for receiving him. "Obama wants to go to the White House through Tel Aviv, at the expense of the Palestinians," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.

Abbas aides insist the Palestinian leader's meeting with Obama offered an important opportunity.

Abbas listed Palestinian grievances, including Israel's "continued settlement construction and refusal to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank," said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, Rosner's Blog, [undated but seems the blog-entry was written in Feb 2007]
Obama will soon make the case that he'll be as strong on Israel as anyone
By Shmuel Rosner - Ha´aretz´ Chief U.S. Correspondent

My weekend column for the Hebrew print edition is a lengthy piece on U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois). Most Israelis don't know him, and my editors thought he was enough of a political phenomenon to make him worth writing about, even at this early stage of the campaign. Most of the piece was not translated into English, as much of the material in it will not be of any value to American readers who have gotten more than their fair share of Obamania in the last couple of months. The only part of it that's worth presenting here is the section on Obama and Israel. (You can read a news story on Obama's comments about Israel here.)

I've written about Obama and Israel before, in the context of The Israel Factor project. My goal at the time was to try to explain why this bright, charismatic, viable candidate was not getting high marks from our Israel Factor panelists: What is it about Obama that makes them uncomfortable about his possible future attitude toward Israel?

If you don't know someone, then you don't trust him. And "if you don't trust someone, you try to be careful with him," one panelist told me. It's "the unknown factor," another one explained. "What kind of constituency does he bring with him, and how will they influence his positions?"

"We need more time to trust him," a panelist told me. "Voting for Israel a couple of times doesn't constitute enough of a track record on which to make a more favorable judgment." Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union, who knows Obama from their days at Harvard, made a similar argument this week in his blog: The short political life of Obama hasn't "provide[d] many opportunities for a new politician to establish the kind of record that longer-serving officeholders have built up over time."

Obama has not been deaf to such suspicions. And now that he is not just a "possible candidate" but an officially declared one, he will try to fix these perceptions. "Israelis want more than anything to live in peace with their neighbors, but Israel also has real - and very dangerous - enemies," were Obama's words to Haaretz. "My view is that the United States' special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction."

In my 60-minute interview with him last week, Obama was not shy about explaining why a viable peace has not yet been achieved. Like all the other major Democratic candidates, he will be a strong advocate for American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nonetheless, he said he is yet to see - "particularly in the Palestinian community - "leaders who have both the will and the capacity to renounce violence as a strategy to resolve the problems and to actually enforce any agreement that might be reached with the Israelis." Talking about the current prospects for an agreement, Obama said that under the existing conditions, "I think we're not going to see much progress."

But this is just the short version of the policy Obama will be officially presenting soon. This week I was told that while the venue has yet to be selected, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in Washington at the end of February is one possibility. There's also a chance that he will make his comments on Israel at a Washington rally calling for the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers or while speaking to a group of Chicago Jews. One thing is quite clear: It will happen in the next two to three weeks.

I asked about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention in March and was told that he will speak there too, but wants to have another speech sooner. Obama doesn't want to wait such a long time - not when he is running a campaign in which he will need the support of many people who care deeply about Israel. (Oh, let's just say it: Jewish voters are major donors to the Democratic Party and its nominees.) He also wants to make sure that people will hear him, and him alone. After all, Obama will not be the only candidate speaking and getting attention at the AIPAC conference.

On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Dan Shapiro, a senior adviser to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), was saying goodbye to the job he has held for six years. He is as knowledgeable as anyone on Israel and the Middle East, and apart from the "real" job he got himself now, he has joined Obama's campaign as an adviser on issues related to Mideast policy.

I spoke to Shapiro about Obama and his views earlier this week, and I asked him to highlight for me the differences between Obama and the current Bush policy regarding Israel. The first difference, he said, will be a greater emphasis on the need for constant engagement by the U.S. Obama will tell you that Bush wasted some long years without investing in diplomacy. You can either agree with him on that or not, but this has become the Democratic party line. All candidates condemn Bush for the hands-off approach.

A second possible difference will involve the question of whether to talk to Syria. Obama believes that America should talk to the Assad regime, so it's hard envisioning him objecting to an Israeli-Syrian dialogue. And then there's the question of Iran - the most important of them all.

A Washingtonian familiar with the Obama campaign reminded me that Obama is the anti-war candidate, and thus will have some maneuvering to do on Iran. He will probably warn of a possible deterioration in relations that could lead to an unintentional war, but by the same token he can also be expected to agree that Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons and that no U.S. president should take any of the options off the table.

This will be a position similar to those of other Democratic candidates. Some might say that it's a problematic position when it comes to the real world - what if talks with Tehran do not provide an agreement that can actually prevent a nuclear Iran - but nevertheless, it's a good one politically. It sounds anti-war enough for the Democratic Party at large, and anti-Iran enough for those who really understand the significance of the issue at hand.

All these policy points will not even wait for the promised speech. A position paper outlining Obama's views is in the making, and will be distributed to as many Jewish voters as possible.

Will he be able to win over these voters?

After talking to people about him all week, I can tell you this: They very much want to be persuaded that Obama should win their backing, as they all understand the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy and the importance of Obama's adding his voice to the camp of Israel supporters.

With such an attitude, it is relatively easy to be convinced.

 



The Washington Times, September 4, 2008
Evangelical faith drives Palin's pro-Israel view
By Ralph Z. Hallow

[...]
On the Democratic side, presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., while not identifying with neoconservatism, have put themselves solidly in the friends of Israel camp.
[...]
In June, Mr. Obama pledged his support before a powerful pro-Israel lobby, though not couched in biblical or religious terms.

"I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington. "Let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel."

Not to be outdone, Mr. Biden appealed in person to elderly Jewish Floridians on Wednesday.

"I am chairman of the [Senate] Foreign Relations Committee," he said. "I give you my word as a Biden I would not have given up that job to be Barack Obama's vice president if I didn't in my gut and in my heart and in my head know that Barack Obama is exactly where I am on Israel. And he is."
[...]

 


Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, Rosner's Blog, [undated but seems the blog-entry was written in March 2007]
Obama supports Israel. Period.
By Shmuel Rosner - Ha´aretz´ Chief U.S. Correspondent

Barack Obama's big speech on Israel is now over, and as expected, the candidate made no secret of his support and dedication to the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. "My view is that the United States' special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction," were Obama's words to Haaretz last week. Today, he sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Giuliani. At least rhetorically, Obama passed any test anyone might have wanted him to pass. So, he is pro-Israel. Period.

Iran

"The kinds of communications that he would engage in and the pressure he envisions on Iran may differ in some respect from the other candidates," an adviser to Barack Obama told the NY Sun yesterday. And in the speech he made today, in Chicago, Obama showed his cards. He was clear, but not as tough as Edwards' "Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons" or Clinton's "we cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons."

Here's what Obama said: "The world must work to stop Iran's uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. And while we should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons."

As I wrote for Slate last week, I don't believe there's a big difference between Democrats and Republicans in regards to Iran-policy. Nevertheless, Obama today sounded somewhat different, more cautious, than the 2004 Obama I quoted at the end of that Slate piece: "In light of the fact that we're now in Iraq, with all the problems in terms of perceptions about America that have been created, us launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in ... On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran."

Speech

On engaging Iran: "We need the United States to lead tough-minded diplomacy. This includes direct engagement with Iran similar to the meetings we conducted with the Soviets at the height of the Cold War."

On stopping Iran: "Tough-minded diplomacy would include real leverage through stronger sanctions. It would mean more determined U.S diplomacy at the United Nations. It would mean harnessing the collective power of our friends in Europe who are Iran's major trading partners. It would mean a cooperative strategy with Gulf States who supply Iran with much of the energy resources it needs. It would mean unifying those states to recognize the threat of Iran and increase pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. It would mean full implementation of U.S. sanctions laws. And over the long term, it would mean a focused approach from us to finally end the tyranny of oil, and developing our own alternative sources of energy to drive the price of oil down."

On Iraq and Israel: "A consequence of the Administration's failed strategy in Iraq has been to strengthen Iran's strategic position; reduce U.S. credibility and influence in the region; and place Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril."

On American aid to Israel: "We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs."

On diplomacy: "Our job is to do more than lay out another road map."

On Israel's security: "Our job is to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the region. That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: Our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. That will always be my starting point."

On the Palestinian leadership: "We should all be concerned about the agreement negotiated among Palestinians in Mecca last month."

On U.S. mediation: "We should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests. No Israeli prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States" - or is that about Syria?

Rivals

Is he really as friendly to Israel as any other candidate? Yesterday, writing about Clinton and Edwards, I mentioned the fact that "the constant interest in, and the open sympathy for, Israeli affairs that is required of all important elected officials in the most Jewish of states in the U.S. has had its effect on" Clinton and Giuliani, The Israel Factor favorites. Obama doesn't have this advantage. He isn't from New York and, more importantly, is relatively new to the public sphere.

Money

It is no secret that Jewish money plays a big role in the Democratic Party. "They don't have the number [of voters], but have the means to get the voters," a prominent Democratic operative told me last week. That's why I told the told the NY Sun that "I don't think his real motive is to win votes. It's, of course, Jewish money." Will he get it? Here's one clue. Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida is going to co-chair Barack Obama's White House drive in the state. And why would Wexler do such thing? Because "I have spoken with Barack to discuss the dangers facing our ally Israel, and I am convinced there will be no stronger supporter of Israel than President Obama", his statement says. It "appears as Obama plans a big day on March 25 of fundraising in Florida, where he will be looking for help from the Jewish Democratic donor community", writes Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times today.

Conclusion

So, did Obama achieve his goal? Sorry, but I will have to repeat here what I wrote just a week ago. It is as true today as it was then: "After talking to people about him all week, I can tell you this: They very much want to be persuaded that Obama should win their backing, as they all understand the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy and the importance of Obama adding his voice to the camp of Israel supporters. With such an attitude, it is relatively easy to be convinced."

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 23/09/2008
Rabbis support Obama, and McCain too
By Shlomo Shamir

The American Jewish community and analysts following presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama's campaigns do not remember such direct or extensive involvement of rabbis in the political arena.

Veteran reporters remember that a group of rabbis once publicly supported candidate Ronald Reagan, and a few rabbis issued a statement backing Bill Clinton. But the strong presence of rabbis on the front line of spectators in the current campaign is seen as an exciting novelty. The group of 300 rabbis who recently came out in support of Obama has grown to 430, the petition's organizers say. Others are signing on rabbis to a soon-to-be released statement backing Republican candidate McCain.

The pro-Obama support declaration was initiated and organized by Rabbis for Obama, an organization set up by two Reform rabbis of Illinois, Sam Gordon and Steven Bob. Gordon confirmed in a conversation with me that most rabbis who signed the declaration were Reform rabbis, and a considerable number were Conservative. Orthodox rabbis have also signed.

"More rabbis wish to sign and even Chabad functionaries support Obama, but wish to remain unnamed," he said. "More than we wanted to state our support for Obama, we felt the need to demonstrate our sympathy for him in response to the smear campaign waged against him in the Jewish community." Gordon said he knew Obama from the beginning of his public career. "I've met him several times and believe he will be an excellent president."

In a country that consecrates the separation of state from religion, many see the rabbis' open support for a political candidate, and a presidential one at that, as inappropriate.

Rabbi Eric Yoffe, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, says rabbis, as citizens, have the right to express their opinions and political preferences. As long as they do not do so from the synagogue podium and don't say which community they serve, there's nothing wrong with it, he believes. However, probably for fear that rabbis' involvement in the political process may lead to irregular conduct, Yoffe says he held a conference call with hundreds of Reform rabbis last week, setting boundaries for openly supporting one of the candidates.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, former Yeshiva University president and a leading Biblical authority in Modern Orthodoxy, objects to any involvement of rabbis in politics, especially the presidential elections. A rabbi who comes out in support of a presidential candidate annoys members of his community who support a rival candidate and estranges himself from part of his community, he argues. The justification that rabbis who sign support statements for candidates hide their synagogue's identity is false, he says. Anyone who wants to knows very well what synagogue they serve in.

Certain commentators see a turnabout in the Democratic Party's attitude toward representatives of the various religions, especially toward the rabbis. For the first time in the party's history, officials of religions active in the United States addressed the opening session of the Democratic National Convention, including three rabbis and a female rabbi. A Reform rabbi from Alabama said a short prayer at the Republican Party's opening session.

Last week Obama held a conference call with some 1,000 rabbis from all the factions in the United States ahead of Rosh Hashanah. He wished them a happy new year and promised that if he is elected president, Israel will receive all the support it needs, "whether financial or military to sustain security in the hostile environment."

Orthodox Rabbi Marc Schneier of New York, who took part in the interfaith gathering that kicked off the Democratic convention and said a prayer at the opening ceremony, believes a new reality has formed in the political arena. The two main parties have increased their awareness of religion's importance in America's public discourse and no longer refrain from mixing religion and politics, he said.

Even if all the figures regarding rabbis' involvement in the presidential campaign are accurate, these rabbis are still a small segment of some 3,000 active rabbis in the four Judaism streams in the United States. But the significance of rabbis' intervention in politics is that while Jewish organizations in America are declining, rabbis' influence in the community has been increasing in recent years.

 



The Jewish Daily Forward, Jan 26, 2007
Hillary the Favorite in Race for Jewish Donations - Biden, Obama Expected to Make Some Inroads
By E.J. Kessler

[...]
The Jewish backers of the other Democratic contenders, meanwhile, refuse to lie down in the face of the Clinton juggernaut.

The chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Michael Adler, is raising money for Biden’s bid. “The biggest concern the American electorate has is security,” Adler said, citing the fact that Biden has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and that he has done “tremendous work on the crime bill.”

Adler said that since Biden hasn’t pursued the presidency since 1988, “he’s not caught fire” with the public as have some other contenders. But he maintained that Biden has shown on the campaign trail that he “understands the American public” and his public performances “create a lot of loyalty and passion.”

Linda Sher, a Chicago-area Democratic activist who founded the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, a pro-Israel and pro-choice body, is raising money for Obama.

Several Democratic hands said Obama would attract money from the more liberal precincts of the Jewish community. That proved true during his 2004 Senate bid, when he grabbed the support of the heavily Jewish “Lakefront liberals” in his state’s hotly contested primary.

“I’m getting a good response,” Sher said of her efforts. “The people I’m calling seem enthusiastic. They want to do more than give money. They want to be part of it.”
[...]

 



The Washington Times, Hillary, March 14
Hillary, Obama woo Jewish vote

Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are going head to head for the money and backing of Jewish voters, trying to woo them by asserting their support for Israel and concern about Iran.

The senators held dueling receptions at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference Monday night even though neither formally addressed one of the most influential lobbying groups in the nation.

"I need your help," Mrs. Clinton told the hundreds packed into her dessert-and-coffee reception Monday night after an AIPAC gala dinner.

In her brief remarks, Mrs. Clinton said lawmakers must "try to figure out how to exercise leverage to prevent [Iran] from becoming a nuclear power" and that the U.S. should "exert pressure" on the Iranian government and make sure sanctions are both clear and enforced.

"Israel's freedom, Israel's democracy must be protected," Mrs. Clinton told the cheering crowd.

A few doors down, AIPAC attendees flooded an Obama reception but quickly left after he finished speaking, rushing to hear what the former first lady had to say.

Several AIPAC attendees said Mr. Obama appeals to them because of his anti-war stance -- he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, while Mrs. Clinton voted to give President Bush war authority -- but noted he remains an unknown entity on foreign relations compared with his top rival for the Democratic nomination for 2008.

Mr. Obama gave a major address earlier this month at the AIPAC policy conference in Chicago, outlining his positions on Israel.

"Our job is to never forget that the threat of violence is real. Our job is to renew the effort to help Israel achieve peace with its neighbors while remaining vigilant against those who do not share this vision," he said at the March 3 conference.

"Our job is to do more than lay out another road map; our job is to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the region."

"That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy," Mr. Obama said.

But some at AIPAC this week grumbled about comments the Illinois senator made about Palestinians recently in Iowa.

"Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people," Mr. Obama said, according to the Des Moines Register. "If we could get some movement among Palestinian leadership, what I'd like to see is a loosening up of some of the restrictions on providing aid directly to the Palestinian people."

In the same appearance, Mr. Obama insisted that Israel must remain an ally and said the U.S. has a "huge strategic stake in bringing about a peaceful resolution to the conflict," between the two nations, according to the Register.

The threat of a nuclear Iran and the prolonged war in Iraq has many AIPAC members worried and makes Jewish voters even more important.

"Never before have my interests as a supporter of Israel and my interests as an American been so closely aligned," said Lloyd P. Levin, a mortgage broker from Milwaukee. "No thinking American wants Iran to become a nuclear power."

Though Mrs. Clinton won Monday's popularity contest, the Democrats don't have the market on this voting bloc.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani tops a list compiled by an Israeli newspaper, ranking above all the other 2008 candidates for his stance on Jewish issues, and the Republican is a favorite candidate among Jewish voters.

"Israel and the security of Israel is pivotal and it will have a direct impact on the security of the United States," said Julie Brown, a delegate to AIPAC from Los Angeles. "The candidates recognize the importance of that and the impact the Jewish vote will have on the election."

Miss Brown predicted Jewish voters will be interested in Mr. Giuliani because of his liberal social views and strong record on Israel. He is friends with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Democrat Fran Fine said she isn't 100 percent sold on Mrs. Clinton because she likes Mr. Obama and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., but noted: "I liked what I heard from her husband."

"This country was very safe when Bill Clinton was president, and their views on foreign policy are the same when it comes to Israel," said Ms. Fine, a lawyer from Henderson, Nev.

Many attendees said they were familiar with the Clinton position and wanted to see a new face.

"I've been to this thing four times and I've never seen this kind of electricity," real estate lawyer Jerry Slusky said of Mr. Obama. "Hillary is OK, but she's no rock star."

Mr. Slusky made his observation before dinner, before security had to turn away overflow crowds from the Clinton reception owing to a fire hazard.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, in a feature on the 2008 candidates, has Mr. Giuliani at the top, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republican Sen. John McCain, Mrs. Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Sam Brownback and with Mr. Obama last, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mr. Brownback, Kansas Republican, also had a big draw as the only Republican hosting a reception at AIPAC Monday. Several praised him as strong on Israel, and noted his appeal to Orthodox Jews.

Mr. Biden, Delaware Democrat, told his reception attendees: "We need Israel in the Middle East as much as Israel needs us," and praised the country for being a democratic beacon.

Jewish voters are estimated to be 2 to 3 percent of the electorate.

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 17/02/2007
Sen. Obama: U.S. must support Israel's right to self defense
By Shmuel Rosner, Ha´aretz Correspondent

WASHINGTON - United States Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat from Illinois who is competing for his party's presidential nomination, told Haaretz on Thursday that the United States should help protect Israel from its "dangerous" enemies.

"My view is that the United States' special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction," he said.

"Israelis want more than anything to live in peace with their neighbors, but Israel also has real - and very dangerous - enemies," Obama said.

Obama, the first black candidate with a real chance at the Democratic nomination, intends to present his policy regarding Israel soon, and his staff has been drafting a speech on the subject.

In his speech, Obama intends to remove any doubts that the Democratic Party's donors and constituents, many of whom are Jewish, may have about his support for Israel.

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 27/02/2008
Obama: I'm a 'stalwart friend' of Israel, its security is 'sacrosanct'
By Shmuel Rosner and Ha´aretz Service, (brackets [ ] added below by Ha´aretz)

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Tuesday stressed his "stalwart" support for Israel and his ties to American Jews, during a presidential debate with rival candidate Hillary Clinton.

During the debate, Mediator Tim Russert pressed Obama on the endorsement he got from the anti-Semitic African-American leader Louis Farrakhan.

Obama said: "I have been very clear in my denunciations of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. I did not solicit this support."

Obama leveled criticism on Farrakhan's anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements, calling them "unacceptable and reprehensible."

He added that has always been "a stalwart friend of Israel's" and said he considers Israel to be one of the U.S.' "most important allies in the region [Mideast]."

"I think that their security is sacrosanct," he added.

In response to Obama's remarks, Clinton argued that there was a difference between denunciation and rejection of the endorsement.

"You asked specifically if he [Obama] would reject it [the endorsement] and there's a difference between denouncing and rejecting," she said.

"If the word 'reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce', then I'm happy to concede the point and I would reject and denounce [Farrakhan]" Obama responded.

Obama spoke about this same issue a few days ago as he was meeting a group of Jewish activists in Cleveland.

Some who attended the event and do not belong to his camp said he was very convincing.

"At his best," one of them said.

But in the debate he was even better and was able to score again on the same topic, elaborating on something of great importance to Jewish liberals.

Obama, talking about Farrakhan - and about anti-Semitism among African-Americans, which he also denounced in his speech on Martin Luther King Day - touched a sensitive nerve when he was talking about one possibility that's inherent to his candidacy: the chance to restore the alliance between blacks and Jews.

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 28/02/2008
Obama tells Jewish leaders: I have never been a Muslim
By The Associated Press

For Barack Obama, it is an ember that he has doused time and again, only to see it flicker anew: links to Islam fanned by false rumors, innuendo and association.


Obama on cover of Israeli paper Ma´ariv 2008-06-05.

The Democratic presidential front-runner and his campaign reacted strongly this week when a photo of him in Kenyan tribal garb began spreading on the Internet.

And the praise he received Sunday from Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the black Muslim group Nation of Islam, prompted pointed questions during Tuesday night's presidential debate and in a private meeting over the weekend with Jewish leaders in Cleveland, Ohio.

During the debate, Obama repeated his denunciation of Farrakhan's views, which have included numerous anti-Semitic comments. And, after being pressed, he rejected Farrakhan's support in the presidential race.

The Democratic candidate says repeatedly that he is a Christian who took the oath of office on a family Bible. Yet on the Internet and on talk radio, and in a campaign introduction for Republican candidate John McCain this week, he often is depicted, falsely, as a Muslim with shadowy ties and his middle name, Hussein, is emphasized.

"If anyone is still puzzled about the facts, in fact I have never been a Muslim," he told the Jewish leaders in Cleveland, according to a transcript of the private session.

The photo of Obama wearing Kenyan tribal raiment, taken by an Associated Press photographer during his 2006 visit to the country where his father was born, resurfaced on the Internet amid unsubstantiated claims that it was being circulated by members of Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. Clinton and her aides said they had nothing to do with it. The Obama campaign accused them of shameful, offensive fear-mongering.

On Tuesday McCain denounced the introduction he got in Cincinnati that criticized Obama in vivid terms. Talk show host Bill Cunningham referred to Obama three times as Barack Hussein Obama and called him a hack, Chicago-style politician during Cunningham's introduction of McCain.

The Obama campaign is closely attuned to the rumors and insinuations.

Information on Obama's Christian faith is prominently available on the Know the facts page of his Web site. The campaign has distributed flyers to churches in states with presidential contests. It encourages supporters to flag any attack that may make its way into cyberspace.

"Our campaign is vigilant in quickly responding to any information about Senator Obama that surfaces, be it on the Internet, in the media or from our opponents," spokesman Bill Burton said Wednesday.

"If there is confusion - and opportunity for political mischief - it derives at least in part from Obama's rich cultural background. His mother was a white woman from Kansas, his father was Kenyan, and he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country.

"My grandfather, who was Kenyan, converted to Christianity, then converted to Islam," Obama said Sunday. "My father never practiced; he was basically agnostic. So, other than my name and the fact that I lived in a populous Muslim country for four years when I was a child, I have very little connection to the Islamic religion."

Obama has become careful in denouncing the links, lately noting that some rumors about him also have been insulting to Muslims. Jim Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, said many Arab Americans are drawn to Obama because of his cultural background.

"It is clear he wants to have a broader relationship with the Muslim world," Zogby said. "He has a biography that connects him to the Muslim world."

Obama, though in the presidential limelight now for more than a year, is still introducing himself to voters. An AP-Yahoo poll in January asked people to volunteer the first few words that came to mind about each of the candidates, and 4 percent of the respondents, unprompted, mentioned the word Muslim when describing Obama.

Some of the rumors and allegations about Obama clearly are not true yet still spread, often anonymously:

-A debunked chain e-mail circulating widely on the Internet suggests he is hiding his Islamic roots. It says he was sworn into the Senate on the Quran and turns his back on the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

He took his Senate oath with his hand on a family Bible, and he says, "Whenever I'm in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. In fact, no candidate could survive if he publicly spurned the pledge."

-Another false report says he attended a Muslim madrassa school as a child in Jakarta. Obama was born in Hawaii and moved to Indonesia when he was 6 to live with his mother and stepfather. He returned to Hawaii when he was 10 to live with his maternal grandparents.

Interviews last year by The Associated Press at the Catholic elementary school in Jakarta found that it is a public and secular institution and has been open to students of all faiths since before Obama attended in the late 1960s. Said vice principal Akmad Solichin: "Yes, most of our students are Muslim, but there are Christians as well. Everyone's welcome here."

-Obama also has faced questions about his pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where he has been a member for 20 years. Trinity calls itself Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian. But it accepts nonblack congregants. The United Church of Christ's president and general minister, the Rev. John H. Thomas, was quoted in a church publication as pointing out that the Rev. Jane Fisler-Hoffman, Illinois Conference Minister, who is white, has been a member of the congregation for years.

-Obama has been asked about Farrakhan's words of praise and Farrakhan's receipt of an award from Trumpet Newsmagazine, a Trinity church publication last month. Obama told Jewish leaders Sunday: "An award was given to Farrakhan for his work on behalf of ex-offenders completely unrelated to his controversial statements. And I believe that was a mistake and showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community, and I said so."

Farrakhan did not endorse Obama but said Sunday: "This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better."

Asked Tuesday night whether he would accept support from Farrakhan, Obama said: "I live in Chicago. He lives in Chicago. I've been very clear, in terms of me believing that what he has said is reprehensible and inappropriate. And I have consistently distanced myself from him."

Following an exchange with Clinton, he then added: "There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word 'reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce."

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 26/09/2008
Survey: American Jews favor Obama over McCain
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Ha´aretz U.S. Correspondent

An annual survey published by the American Jewish Committee on Thursday revealed that American Jewish voters favor Senator Barack Obama over Senator John McCain for U.S. president by a margin of 57-30 percent.

The surprising figure to emerge from the survey was the unexpectedly large number of undecided voters, at 13 percent.

Though the percentage of Jews in the U.S. is merely 2 percent, 4 percent of the votes in the presidential elections are generally cast by American Jews. In certain states, such as Florida, the Jewish vote is considered crucial.

In addition, more than 40 percent of American Jews contribute to presidential campaigns, comprising one fifth of all campaign contributions.

Therefore, it came as no surprise that Obama appealed to the debate committee on Thursday, asking them to rebroadcast his upcoming debate against McCain, scheduled for Friday evening, at a time when observant Jews can watch without violating the laws of the Sabbath. Obama's campaign has invested much time and energy courting the Jewish community, but despite their efforts, 13 percent of American Jewish voters are still undecided.

According to the survey, 56 percent of American Jews define themselves as Democrats, 17 percent as Republicans and 25 percent as Independent.

While Obama leads McCain by 27 percentage points in the survey, his numbers pale in comparison to those received by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry. Some claim that fraudulent rumors and e-mails suggesting Obama is Muslim have affected his standing. However, Republicans prefer the theory that since the September 11, 2001 attacks, American Jews have begun to rethink which policies are safer for them and for Israel.
[...]

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 18/08/2008
Israel Factor: Panel doesn't worry about Obama on Israel-Palestine
By Shmuel Rosner
(who consults an Israeli panel analyzing the US presidential candidates, (brackets [ ] added below by Ha´aretz)

This last Israel Factor survey for Haaretz compares the two near-certain nominees - Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama - on a number of issues that are all important to Israelis to some extent.
[...]
Others [in the panel], however, favor Obama because they think it is in Israel's best interests to feel some American pressure, and think that Obama might try to nudge Israel in areas in which it has difficulties making its own decisions.

Whatever the reason, the bottom line is clear, at least on the more troublesome Palestinian front: the panel does not fear Obama, and does not see him as someone ready to make Israel make unacceptable concessions.

For a candidate that is still under constant attack and suspicion regarding this issue, this is something to highlight. Most Israeli experts on this panel do not see any reason to fear any "pro-Palestinian" tendency on the part of Barack Obama.

 



The Jewish Daily Forward, Sep 02, 2008
Michelle Obama Has a Rabbi in Her Family - Capers Funnye, Leading Black Israelite, Is Aspiring First Lady’s Cousin
By Anthony Weiss

While Barack Obama has struggled to capture the Jewish vote, it turns out that one of his wife's cousins is the country's most prominent black rabbi - a fact that has gone largely unnoticed.

Michelle Obama, wife of the Democratic presidential nominee, and Rabbi Capers Funnye, spiritual leader of a mostly black synagogue on Chicago's South Side, are first cousins once removed. Funnye's mother, Verdelle Robinson Funnye (born Verdelle Robinson) and Michelle Obama's paternal grandfather, Frasier Robinson Jr., were brother and sister.

Funnye (pronounced fuh-NAY) is chief rabbi at the Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in southwest Chicago. He is well-known in Jewish circles for acting as a bridge between mainstream Jewry and the much smaller, and largely separate, world of black Jewish congregations, sometimes known as black Hebrews or Israelites. He has often urged the larger Jewish community to be more accepting of Jews who are not white.

Funnye's famous relative gives an unexpected twist to the much-analyzed relationship between Barack Obama and Jews in this presidential campaign. On the one hand, Jewish political organizers, voters and donors played an essential role in Obama's rise to power in Chicago, including some of the city's wealthiest and most prominent families. But the Illinois senator has struggled to overcome suspicions in some parts of the Jewish community, including skepticism about his stance on Israel and discredited but persistent rumors that he is secretly a Muslim.

Funnye, who described himself as an independent, said he has not been involved with the Obama campaign but that he has donated money and was cheering it on.

"I know that her grandfather and her father and my mom and all of our relatives that are now deceased would be so very, very proud of both of them," Funnye told the Forward.

Michelle Obama and the Obama campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Funnye told the Forward that he has known Michelle Obama (born Michelle Robinson) all her life. His mother and her father, Frasier Robinson III, enjoyed a close relationship, and Funnye said he saw Michelle several times a year when they were growing up, mostly at family functions and on occasional visits to her house.

"Her father was like the glue of our family," Funnye said. "He always wanted to keep the family very connected and to stay in touch with each other."

Funnye, 56, said he and Michelle, 44, were not especially close growing up, but he remembers her as "energetic and smart and very caring."

The two fell out of touch when they grew older and went their separate ways but then reconnected years later when Michelle Obama was working for the University of Chicago and Funnye was leading a local social service organization called Blue Gargoyle. Funnye also worked with Barack Obama, then a state senator, who came and spoke at events for the organization. When Barack and Michelle Obama married, Funnye and his family attended the wedding.

Although Funnye's congregation describes itself as Ethiopian Hebrew, it is not connected to the Ethiopian Jews, commonly called Beta Israel, who have immigrated to Israel en masse in recent decades. It is also separate from the Black Hebrews in Dimona, Israel, and the Hebrew Israelite black supremacist group whose incendiary street harangues have become familiar spectacles in a number of American cities.

Funnye converted to Judaism and was ordained as a rabbi under the supervision of black Israelite rabbis, then went through another conversion supervised by Orthodox and Conservative rabbis. He serves on the Chicago Board of Rabbis.

Funnye's relationship with the Obama family was reported in the Chicago Jewish News in an article dated August 22. A Wall Street Journal article in April reported that the aspiring first lady had a cousin (whom the paper mistakenly referred to as a second cousin) who is a prominent black rabbi but did not mention Funnye by name.

The rabbi's familial connection with the Democratic presidential nominee is also a matter of common knowledge in Funnye's synagogue.

"He really jumped on everyone's radar after the 2004 convention," Funnye said. "That's when some people said, 'Isn't he related to you or something?' I said, 'Yeah, he's married to my cousin, and she's making him everything that he is.'"

 



Israeli newspaper Ha´aretz, 06/10/2008
Top Israeli defense officials star in pro-Obama ad
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Ha´aretz Correspondent, and News Agencies

A Jewish political action committee that supports Barack Obama's bid for the American presidency has "recruited" former senior Israeli defense officials to the campaign by collating flattering statements about the Democratic senator from seven such officials into a new advertisement that will begin running on Monday.

However it seemed some of the participants - including former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy and Brigadier General (res.) Uzi Dayan - were unaware they were aiding an Obama campaign ad.

The ad was produced by the Jewish Council for Education and Research, which is already responsible for two other projects aimed at attracting Jewish voters to Obama, JewsVote.org and the Great Schlep.

JCER Co-Executive Director Mik Moore downplayed concerns that the defense officials were being used to endorse the candidate against their will.

"The purpose of the film is to educate Jewish voters about support within Israel's security establishment for policies Obama has advanced regarding Israel," said Moore.

"The Israeli producers have assured us that all participants were fully informed of the nature of the project. While JCER has endorsed Barack Obama forPresident, neither the film, nor any of our subsequent remarks imply that those interviewed are endorsing Obama's candidacy," he added.

The new effort is meant to reassure Jews who fear that Obama's conciliatory approach to diplomacy will result in his being soft on terrorists, and hence bad for Israel.

The ad opens by declaring that men who have risked their lives for Israel will now explain their choice for the U.S. presidency. This is followed by quotes from the former officials, along with pictures of them during their service.

"Eight years of the Bush regime that according to the accepted criteria was supportive of Israel, the most friendly president in the history of Israeli-American relations, in my opinion caused major damage to the interests of Israel," said Brigadier General (res.) Shlomo Brom.

"Most probably, Barack Obama will be a better president for Israel than Mr. McCain, because it seems that the policies of Mr. McCain will be too close to the current policies of Mr. Bush, that are not so helpful to Israel, to say the least," he said.

Former Mossad Senior Officer Yossi Alpher said: "McCain, one has to presume, on the basis of what I've heard him say, will more or less maintain the same pose that the Bush administration has adopted, which has failed."

"The Bush Doctrine has created the current situation where the fundamentalist Islamic forces are getting stronger, as well as the radical forces of Hamas, and the Islamic Jihadists," said Brigadier General (res.) Shaul Arieli.

"I would say that an American president, in my personal opinion, needs actually to be engaged with Iran," said Dayan, Likud Knesset candidate and nephew of the famed general Moshe Dayan.

"You can't not talk to the Iranians and then one day attack them. I'm not saying give in to them, because ultimately, you need to stop Iran from reaching nuclear capability."

"I think that Obama is a breath of fresh air," said Ephraim Halevy.

"Given their intimate understanding of Israel's security situation, these widely respected officials and officers speak with great authority," said Moore. "We will do our best to make sure that anyone voting in this election that cares about Israel's future sees this film before November 4."

Some of participants, apparently were unaware they were aiding a campaign ad. Dayan, for instance, claimed on Sunday that he had no idea he was appearing in the ad, that his words had been taken out of context, and that he neither supports nor opposes Obama, as he opposes any Israeli involvement in American politics.

"I never said I support Obama or his opinions," Dayan said. "They interviewed me in early July and said the interview would be devoted to questions of Middle East policy that would be on the new president's desk ... I don't know what I'm doing in a campaign video."

He added that he has asked the council to remove him from the clip and that he would consider his next moves after receiving its response.

Halevy also denied ever having expressed support for Obama. "I said he's a fresh, interesting personality and so forth, but I also said positive things about McCain," Halevy said. "I told them I thought it was inappropriate for an Israeli to express an opinion on who should be president of the U.S. I learned of this only today, and it angers me. I think it was an improper use of the interview with me, and I will demand that they correct it.

Spokesman: Obama committed to increasing aid by $30 billion

U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama has promised not to cut foreign aid to Israel if he is elected in November, a spokeswoman for Obama has said.

In a statement to the Israeli business daily Globes, a spokeswoman for Obama said he would honor existing agreements pertaining to foreign aid and as such was committed to "increasing aid to Israel to $30 billion over 10 years."

In the vice presidential debate last week, Obama's running mate Senator Joe Biden said their administration would have to hold back on plans to double foreign aid in general in light of the financial crisis in the U.S.

Israel is estimated to receive over $2.5 billion each year in foreign aid from the U.S., in addition to other grants for projects, such as joint military research and development.

 



The Jewish Daily Forward, Oct 16, 2008
McCain and Obama Camps Woo Ohio’s Undecided Jews - Buckeye State Is ‘Center of the Political Universe’
By Brett Lieberman

Beachwood, Ohio — With independent polls showing Ohio to be a tossup in the presidential race, the state’s large number of undecided Jewish voters are considered critical by both sides to winning the White House.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain and their surrogates have been intensely wooing the Buckeye state’s Jewish voters, located largely in Cleveland’s eastern suburbs, as well as in Columbus and Cincinnati.

They are being inundated with ads in a Jewish newspaper in Cleveland and visits by prominent Jewish leaders who aim to persuade wavering voters with personal anecdotes and talk of Middle East policy decisions. The campaigns hope these visits will create a personal connection that will last until voters cast their ballots.

From a vote standpoint, the Jewish vote really matters,” said Matt Ratner, the Jewish outreach coordinator the Ohio Democratic Party hired for the election, at a forum for Obama near Beachwood.

Ratner estimated that 100,000 Ohio voters could still be persuaded, just three weeks before the November 4 election, and as many as 30,000 of those undecided voters may be Jewish.

“We represent 1% of the population of Ohio and we could make up as much as one-third of the margin,” Ratner said.

That would make the estimated 700 Jews attending the October 12 Obama event at the Landerhaven banquet hall “the center of the political universe,” as Ohio’s lieutenant governor, Lee Fisher, told them, hoping to convey their potential for once again deciding the election.

The mostly middle-aged and older crowd sat and listened politely to the speeches during the 90-minute forum. The crowd’s silence was interrupted periodically with bursts of heavy applause, like when Rep. Jane Harman of California reminded them that Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, supported abortion rights.

Alan Solow, a Chicago attorney and friend of Obama shared stories about the candidate’s understanding of Israel and Jewish values. “I like to say he’s going to be the first Jewish president of the United States,” Solow said, to hearty laughter.

In 2004, George W. Bush won Ohio by just 118,000 votes of the 5.6 million cast in the state that year. This year, Ohio, with its 20 electoral votes, is seen as a must win by McCain to have a chance of moving into the White House. A victory here by Obama would almost guarantee him the presidency.

If the Cleveland area Jewish population is a major focus of the campaigns, then the heart of the Jewish community in the neighborhoods of Beachwood, Mayfield Heights and Solon, a booming Jewish suburb to the east, is ground zero. One doesn’t have to go far in these few miles from the popular Corky & Lenny’s deli to the nearby JCC and nearby synagogues to find the election a popular topic of discussion.

“Everyone’s talking about it, and everybody has an opinion,” said Earl Stein, the deli’s co-owner.

Jews in Ohio cite as their top concerns the economy, the Iraq war, Iran, Israel’s security and social justice. Ohio is home to an estimated 144,000 Jews, but it was unknown how many of them are registered voters.

On the same day as the Landerhaven rally, the large Jewish population in Columbus was also receiving its share of attention from both camps. Former Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross attended a rally in Columbus for Obama before attending a campaign event in Cleveland. Meanwhile, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was stumping for McCain in Columbus.

One example of how this battle has manifested itself is the air war. The non-partisan Wisconsin Advertising Project estimates the two sides spent $3.9 million — more than in any other state — on television commercials during the week of Sept. 28 to Oct. 4. The campaigns also have large staffs on the ground and the candidates have visited Ohio so frequently that Fisher joked that McCain and Obama could buy homes there.

The fact that so many Jewish voters, traditionally a bloc that favors Democratic candidates nationally and in Ohio, remain undecided illustrates the opportunity that both campaigns have to sway voters in the Jewish community, which appears extremely divided based on interviews with voters, rabbis and other community leaders.

Jewish leaders in the state predict Obama will garner a majority of Jewish votes. Gains by McCain with Jewish voters in urban and suburban areas would put less pressure on him to draw heavily in rural parts of the state that traditionally vote Republican.

With that in mind, both campaigns are pulling out all the stops to reassure Jewish voters that McCain and Obama can be counted on to be good friends of Israel, and to address lingering concerns among some voters. Those worries include fears that Obama will put pressure on Israel to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians or may be unwilling to pull the trigger on Iran, as well as the unease many Jews voiced about McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

A look at how the campaigns are deploying their resources in Ohio—as well as two other battleground states, Pennsylvania and Florida—shows just how important they consider these states. For example, Ratner’s job didn’t exist four years ago, and Obama’s top national Jewish coordinator, Dan Shapiro, plans to practically take up residence in Ohio until Election Day.

“Those three are the three swing states with the largest Jewish population that really has the most likely chance of affecting the outcome,” Shapiro said.

About the same time as the Landerhaven rally, Lieberman was speaking to about 200 McCain volunteers at a nearby campaign call center. He also met with dozens of area Jewish leaders the next morning. “I think he pulls a great deal of weight,” Josh Mandel, a Jewish Republican and state representative said after the breakfast.

This fight for Jewish votes has at times become a pitched and bitter battle. Fueled in part by competing ads from the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council, some individuals in the community have taken out their own ads in the Cleveland Jewish News to rebut charges and advocate for their candidate.

“The only thing I have not run into is people who don’t care,” said Stephen Hoffman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

Negative messages, particularly those by RJC and other McCain surrogates, have hurt the Republican’s campaign message among Jewish voters, said Rabbi Richard A. Block, who used his Rosh Hashanah sermon at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood to complain about the “coarsening and poisoning of our public discourse.”

Until recently, many Jews in the Cleveland area said they sensed a possible shift in some Jewish voters that would favor McCain. But McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate and the nation’s financial crisis may be turning the tide in the other direction.

Rabbi Melvin Granatstein of the Green Road Synagogue, one of the region’s largest Orthodox shuls, said of the financial crisis now gripping the entire country: “I have to believe it changed some minds.”

 

 



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