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Obama meets with Jewish leaders

The candidate met this morning with leaders of the local Jewish community and offered them assurances on Israeli and other issues of concern to them.

Obama meets with Jewish leaders

Larry Eichel reports:

Barack Obama spent about an hour this morning meeting with 75 leaders of the Philadelphia-area Jewish community. The meeting took place at Rodeph Shalom on North Broad Street.

In essence, Obama offered the leaders assurances that he would be both a friend of the Jewish community and a friend of Israel. Backing him up in all of this -- and speaking before he arrived -- were two Jewish members of Congress, Robert Wexler of Florida and Steve Rothman of New Jersey.

I'm attaching a copy of his prepared text, with which he began his appearance. The talk took about ten minutes, then he took questions. He was warmly received.

Asked why he favors meeting with Iran but rejects the idea of President Carter meeting with Hamas, he answered that “Hamas is not a state, Hamas is a terrorist organization…so I think here is a very clear distinction.” Said his desire to meet directly with Iran is “practical.”

Asked whether he understand that some Jews think that some of the things the Israeli government does don’t help the cause of peace, he said he knows that “Israelis will have to make some wrenching political decisions” if there is to be peace but that first Israel must know it has a partner on the other side that is capable of making commitments and carrying them out.

Asked about the future of Jerusalem, he said that was for the parties to decide but said “it is not an acceptable option” for the city to be partitioned as it was prior to 1967.

Asked whether he would he continue to veto anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN, he said that he would and that he'd be “uniquely positioned” to do so due to his background. “That kind of blunt talk is something I can deliver with more credibility than some other presidents might.”

Asked whether he talked to Rev. Wright about the pastor’s controversial remarks, he said he did so privately. Said that nothing in his own background that shows anything but a love of country and an understanding of the importance of the relationship between blacks and Jews.

He closed by saying that he thought that some of the discomfort people have about him has to do with scurrilous emails, his middle name (Hussein), and his race.

“My links to the Jewish community are not political. They preceded my entry into politics.”

He talked about being influenced by Jewish writers, philosophers and friends.

“There is a kinship and a sense of shared community that predates my political career and will extend beyond this particular election…Know that I will be there for you, just as I believe that you will be there for me.”

The full text is below:


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Senator Barack Obama

Philadelphia Jewish Community Event

April 16, 2008

I’ve been honored to have the support of so many friends from the Jewish community dating back to my first days in public life in Chicago , and I’ve been honored to have strong support from the Jewish community in my campaign. Before we begin, I just want to wish you all a Happy Passover this weekend, and hope that you have a joyful Seder with family and friends.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been travelling around Pennsylvania and talking about the change that this country needs. Americans want to move beyond a politics that divides us. Americans are tired of an economic philosophy that tells people: “you’re on your own.” Americans want to turn the page on a foreign policy that has left us less secure and less able to lead the world.

This time – in this election – it’s time for fundamental change in Washington . To make that change, we need to draw on a spirit that is deeply embedded in the Jewish tradition – a view that says we all have a responsibility to do our part to repair this world; that we can take care of one another and build strong communities grounded in faith and family; that repairing the world is a task that each of us takes up every day. That is how we are going to meet the challenges we face.

This really is a defining moment in history. It’s a time when the size of our challenges is eclipsed only by the opportunities before us if – and only if – we finally put an end to the division and distraction in our politics. We can make health care affordable for all Americans. We can have an energy policy that creates jobs, saves our planet, and stops sending billions of dollars to dictators. We can rebuild our schools and renew our stake in each other’s success. We can do this.

We can also end this war in responsibly so that we can focus on the common threats of the 21st century – terrorism and nuclear weapons; a genocide in Darfur and deadly disease; poverty and hopelessness around the world. And we can work for lasting peace and security for our ally, . We can do this. But only if we come together behind a common purpose.

Now I know that many of you who share this belief were upset by the comments of my former pastor. I want to be clear that not only do I absolutely reject the anti-American statements of my former pastor – I reject the anti-Israel statements as well. That is why, in my speech here in Philadelphia, I condemned the point of view that sees the “conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like , instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”

The relationship between the and is rooted in shared interests, shared values, and deep friendship among our people. It is supported by a strong, bipartisan consensus that I have been proud to be a part of, and a broad majority of the American people. And when I am in the White House, I will bring with me an unshakeable commitment to ’s security, and to the friendship between our countries.

Two years ago, I travelled to and the experience made a powerful impression on me. I have long understood ’s great dilemma – its need for security in a difficult neighborhood, and its quest for peace with its neighbors. But there is no substitute for meeting the people of ; seeing the terrain; and experiencing the powerful contrasts of a beautiful, holy land that faces a constant threat of deadly violence. The people of show their courage and commitment to democracy every day that they board a bus, or kiss their children goodbye.

I know how much Israelis crave peace. I know that Prime Minister Olmert was elected with a mandate to pursue it. And I pledge to make every effort to help achieve that peace. I will support ’s security; strengthen Palestinian partners who support that vision; and personally work for two states that can live side by side in peace and security – with ’s status as a Jewish state ensured, so that Israelis and Palestinians can pursue their dreams.

I will work on behalf of peace with the full knowledge that still has bitter enemies. We see their intention every time a suicide bomber strikes. We saw their intentions in the Katyusha rockets that Hezbollah rained down on from in 2006. And we see it today in the Qassams that Hamas fires into every day from Gaza . That is why I have a fundamental difference with President Carter, and disagreed with his decision to meet with Hamas. We must not negotiate with a terrorist group intent on ’s destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize ’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.

As President, I will do everything that I can to help protect itself from these and other threats. We will make sure that can defend itself from any attack, whether it comes from as close as Gaza or as far as Tehran . The defense cooperation between the and has been a model of success, and I believe that it can be deepened and strengthened.

The gravest threat to today comes from . There, a radical regime continues to pursue the ability to build a nuclear weapon, and continues its support for terrorism across the region. President Ahmadinejad continues his offensive denials of the Holocaust, and his disturbing denunciations of . The threat from is real, and my goal as President will be to eliminate it. Ending the war in will be an important step toward achieving this goal, because it will increase our flexibility and our ability to deal with . Make no mistake – has been a strategic beneficiary of this war, and I intend to change that.

My approach to will be based upon aggressive diplomacy. Under this Administration, the threat has grown worse. I will change course. The time has come to talk directly to the Iranians, and to lay out our clear terms: an end to their pursuit of nuclear weapons; an end to their support of terrorism; and an end to their threats against and other countries. To achieve this goal, I believe that we must offer incentives – like the prospect of better relations and integration in the international community; as well as disincentives – like the prospect of increased sanctions.

I would seek these sanctions through the United Nations, and encourage our friends in Europe and the Gulf to use their economic leverage against outside of the UN. We will be in a stronger position to achieve tough international sanctions if the shows that we are willing to come to the table. And I would continue the work that I have started in the Senate by enacting my legislation to make it easier for states to divest their pension funds from .

As President, I will leave all options on the table for dealing with the threat from – including the military option. But I believe that we have not pursued the kind of aggressive and direct diplomacy that could yield results to better secure both and the . The current policy of not talking is not working. It’s time for a change.

I am running for President because I believe that can do better – at home and abroad. But only if we challenge ourselves to reach for what’s possible. For too long, we have been trapped by our own division, and doubt, and cynicism. It’s time to reject the politics of the past, and to embrace a politics founded in hope;

This weekend, as we mark another Passover holiday, we remember the story of Exodus, and we are reminded of the power of faith and the promise of renewal. The deliverance of the Israelites from bondage put the Jewish people on the long path to the Promised Land. But as we recall this triumph of justice, we know that we must constantly seek new frontiers of peace and promise.

Together, we can perfect this union that we love. Together, we can strengthen the ties that bind and . And together, we can repair our world anew.

About this blog

The Inauguration: Jan. 20 blog brings you coverage of President-elect Barack Obama's transition into office.

It's written by political journalists from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Send us your comments -- and news tips -- at this address.

Thomas FitzgeraldThomas Fitzgerald joined The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000, and has covered Harrisburg as well as city, state and national politics for the newspaper. He was a “boy on the bus” in the 2004 presidential campaign and during primary contests in 2000 and 1996.

Nathan Gorenstein has covered politics and government in the city, state and nation for the Inquirer. He's worked in the city hall bureau, had a stint on the business desk, and once covered the suburbs. After serving as assistant regional editor, he was named editor of the "Politics" web site.

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