Jews For Obama

Barack Obama’s Breakfast on February 24 with Ohio Jews

Barack Obama had a “private breakfast” with approximately ninety prominent northeastern
 Ohio Jews. One of them in attendance was Josh Rolnick. Josh was there for his father-in-law,  Joe Kanfer, owner of Go-Jo (Purell).
 Below are Josh’s impressions.

 

Dear friends and family,


I’ve received many questions over the last month about Barack Obama, his positions on Israel, and his relationship with the Jewish community. I’ve
 been deeply troubled by smears directed at Obama – claiming that
 he attended
 a radical Islamic school, suggesting that he is anti-Semitic, or implying
 that he is anti-Israel. On Sunday, February 24, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting
 of a small group of Jewish leaders in Cleveland with Obama,
 during which he
 answered questions about these smears and discussed a wide range
 of issues
 that are critically important to the Jewish community.




Because I think it’s important for voters, in particular Jewish
 voters, to
 know where Obama stands on all of this, I wrote up this report.





Please feel free to forward it widely.




Best,




Josh

 

Obama walked into the room at Landerhaven banquet hall shortly
 after 9 a.m. and was greeted with a warm ovation. There were about ninety Jewish leaders in the room, some supporting Obama, some not. Ron
 Ratner, who organized the event, was the first to speak. He said he
 had been supporting Obama for eight months, and had literally “given him his first-born son,”
 Matt, who is working on the campaign.




Next to speak was Congressman Robert Wexler, who represents a district including Boca Raton, Florida, with 300,000 Jews. He spoke
 enthusiastically about Obama, saying he was a “unique person” who 
would deliver on a “moderate progressive agenda,” mentioning health
care, the environment, and the economy as key issues. He said Obama is a “stalwart supporter
 of the State of Israel,” with a conviction that Israel needs to
 maintain its “military advantage.” Obama, he said, unequivocally understands “America’s heartfelt and long-term friendship with
 Israel.”

He cited a letter sent by Obama in January to the US ambassador to the United Nations, urging the UN to fully condemn Hamas. (In that letter, Obama wrote:
 “The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the
 rocket attacks against Israel, and should make clear that Israel
 has the right to defend itself against
 such actions. If it cannot bring itself to make these common
 sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at
 all.” Here’s a New Jersey Jewish Standard article about the letter:


http://www.jstandard.com/articles/3790/1/Obama-supporters-speak-out%3B-he-writes-to-U.N.-on-Israel)

Wexler also noted that Obama was one of
 the first US
 Senators to express US support for Israel during the war against
Hezbollah in Lebanon. After Obama spoke at a recent AIPAC
 conference, Wexler said, he sought out Bibi Netanyahu, and the two
 discussed ways to isolate Iran economically. (AIPAC has stressed
 that it is satisfied with Obama’s
 positions on the Middle East; a spokeswoman recently told the New
 Republic: “Like all the leading presidential candidates, the
 senator has a strong record on issues of importance to the pro-Israel community.”)

Wexler noted that Obama is the lead sponsor of
 legislation, currently pending in the
 Senate, promoting divestment from Iran. (The legislation would “provide needed information about which companies are supporting
 Iran’s energy industry, clarify that state and local governments
 have the authority to divest of such companies, and provide legal
 protection for those governments
 that wish to do so.”)

He mentioned an article by New Republic
editor Martin Peretz, a staunch and long-time supporter of Israel,
 arguing that Obama has 
it absolutely right on Israel. (“Can Friends of Israel — and
 Jews — trust
 Obama? In a Word, Yes.” Read the article here:
 


http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=6bd11ed5-bf80-44a0-b683-a0563e11ab89&k=6923)




Wexler said Obama would promote a two-state solution in the
 Middle East, and
 understands that we can not “unilaterally ask Israel to make concessions.”




He concluded with a flourish: “Obama had the wisdom of judgment to oppose the Iraq war, and to oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales.
 He fully 
appreciates that what is needed to be done is to change the
 ideology of
 Washington that permitted the war in the first place.”




Obama took the podium, and, again, was greeted with a warm ovation. He
 started by thanking Ratner, and then acknowledged Mark Dann,
 “your terrific
 attorney general,” and his wife, Alyssa, who were in the audience. He said he was thankful for the “support of so many friends in the Jewish
 community, 
dating back to my first days in public life in Chicago.” He
 mentioned the
 late Chicago businessman and philanthropist Irving Harris as an
 early
 supporter, and noted that the “strong support of the Jewish
community” in
 Chicago has been vital to his political success.




Obama next spoke generally about issues of importance to him, 
including health care, the need for an energy policy that “not only creates jobs and
 secures our planet but also stops sending billions of dollars to 
dictators 
and effectively leads us to fund both sides of the war on 
terror,” and a
change in foreign policy, beginning with ending the war in Iraq.




“These changes are founded in a view of the world that I believe is deeply 
embedded in the Jewish tradition,” Obama said, “That all of us
 have a
 responsibility to do our part to repair the world. That we can
 take care of
 one another and build strong communities grounded in faith and
 family. That
 repairing the world is a task that each of us is called upon to
 take up
every single day.”




He then said that he will carry with him to the White House “an 
unshakable
 commitment to the security of Israel and the friendship between 
the United
 States and Israel. The US-Israel relationship is rooted in shared
 interests,
 shared values, shared history and in deep friendship among our
 people … I
 will work tirelessly as president to uphold and enhance the
 friendship
 between the two countries.”




Obama next described a trip he took to Israel 2 years ago, and
 his travels
 around the country, saying it “left a lasting impression on me.”




“Seeing the terrain,” Obama said, “experiencing the powerful
 contrast
 between the beautiful holy land that faces the constant threat of
 deadly 
violence. The people of Israel showed their courage and
 commitment to
 democracy every day that they board a bus or kiss their children
 goodbye or 
argue about politics in a local café.




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




He continued: “I also expect to work on behalf of peace with the
 full 
knowledge that Israel still has bitter enemies who are intent on its 
destruction. We see their intentions every time a suicide bomber
 strikes, we 
saw their intentions with the Katusha rockets that Hezbollah
 rained down on
 Israel from Lebanon in 2006, and we see it today in the Kassams
that Hamas
 fires into Israel every single day from as close as Gaza or as 
far as
 Tehran. The defense cooperation between the United States and 
Israel has
been a model of success and I believe it can be deepened and
 strengthened.”




He went on to say that “the gravest threat … to Israel today I
 believe is from Iran,” noting that the “radical regime” is continuing to
 pursue nuclear 
weapons.




“President Ahmadinejad continues his offensive denials of the
 Holocaust and
 disturbing denunciations of Israel,” Obama said. “He recently 
referred to
Israel as a deadly microbe and a savage animal. Threats of Israel’s
 destruction cannot be dismissed as rhetoric. The threat from Iran 
is real and my goal as President would be to eliminate that threat.




“Ending the war in Iraq, I believe, will be an important first
 step in 
achieving that goal because it will increase our flexibility and
 credibility
when we deal with Iran. Make no mistake: I believe that Iran has
 been the 
biggest strategic beneficiary of this war and I intend to change 
that.




 “My approach to Iran,” he continued, “will be aggressive diplomacy. I will  
not take any military options off the table. But I also believe
 that under 
this administration we have seen the threat grow worse and I
 intend to
 change that course. The time I believe has come to talk directly
 to the Iranians and to lay out our clear terms: their end of pursuit of
 nuclear
 weapons, an end of their support of terrorism, and an end of
 their threat to
 Israel and other countries in the region.




“To prepare this goal I believe that we need to present 
incentives, carrots, 
like the prospect of better relations and integration into the
 national 
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 Iran outside of the UN, and I believe we will be in a
 stronger
 position to achieve these tough international sanctions if the
 United States
 has shown itself to be willing to come to the table.”




He added: “We have not pursued the kind of aggressive and direct 
diplomacy
that could yield results to both Israel and the United States.
The current
 policy of not talking is not working.”






All told, he spoke for about ten minutes. Then, he opened the 
floor to 
questions.




The first questioner asked about Obama’s affiliation with his
 church in
 Chicago, and his Reverend, Jeremiah Wright. The questioner asked 
if Obama
was still a member, noting that Rev. Wright has preached anti-Israel
 sermons, and that the pastor has a close relationship with Louis
 Farrakhan
 of the Nation of Islam.




Obama started by describing his church, the Trinity United Church
 of Christ,
 to which he has belonged for 20 years. It’s a “very conventional”
 African-American church, he said. If you go on any given Sunday,
 you hear
 gospel music and “people preaching about Jesus.”



He then said: “It is true that my pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who
 will be
 retiring this month, is somebody who on occasion can say 
controversial 
things. Most of them, by the way, are controversial directed at
 the African
American Community and calling on them to start reading books and 
turn off the
TV set and engage in self help. And he is very active in prison 
ministries
 and so forth.




“It’s also true that he comes out of the ’60s, he is an older
 man. That is
 where he cut his teeth. That he has historically been interested in the African roots of the African-American experience. He was very
 active in the South Africa divestment movement and you will recall that there
 was a
 tension that arose between the African American and the Jewish
 communities 
during that period when we were dealing with apartheid in South
 Africa,
because Israel and South Africa had a relationship at that time.”




Obama said that relationship was “a source of tension” for his 
pastor.




“So there have been a couple of occasions where he made comments
 with relation, rooted in that,” Obama said. “Not necessarily ones that I share.
 But that is the context within which he has made those comments.
 He does not 
have a close relationship with Louis Farrakhan. Louis Farrakhan 
is a
 resident of Chicago and as a consequence he has been active in a
range of
 community activities, particularly around ex-offenders  and
dealing with
 them.




“I have been a consistent, before I go any further, denunciator 
of Louis
Farrakhan, nobody challenges that.” (Here is a link to an Anti-Defamation
 League statement, praising Obama’s condemnations of Farrakhan:




http://www.adl.org/PresRele/NatIsl_81/5208_81.htm)




Noting that Farrakhan was given an award, in 2007, by the
 Church’s magazine (for his work on behalf of ex-offenders), Obama said: “I believe
 that was a
 mistake and showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community
 and I said
 so. But I have never heard an anti-Semitic [comment] made inside
 of our
 church. I have never heard anything that would suggest anti-
Semitism on part
 of the pastor. He is like an old uncle who sometimes will say 
things that I
 don’t agree with.”




Obama went on to talk more broadly about the relationship between 
blacks and
 Jews, saying: “the point I make is this: that I understand the concerns and
 the sensitivities and one of my goals constantly in my public
 career has
been to try to bridge what was a historically powerful bond
 between the
African American and Jewish communities that has been frayed in 
recent
 years. For a whole variety of reasons. I think that I have served
 as an
 effective bridge and that’s the reason I have overwhelming
 support among the
 Jewish community that knows me best, which is the Jewish
community in
 Chicago.”




Then, returning to the question of his pastor, and repeating that 
his pastor 
is retiring this month, Obama said: “this is always a sensitive
 point, what you don’t want to do is distance yourself or kick somebody away
 because you
 are now running for President and you are worried about perceptions, particularly when someone is basically winding down their life
 and their 
career.”




(The Anti-Defamation League confirms that there is no evidence of
 anti-Semitism from Wright. The ADL has also said Obama has
 sufficiently condemned Farrakhan. The ADL does, however, continue to call on 
Obama to 
challenge his pastor for his pastor’s connection to Farrakhan.
 For a recent
 JTA article examining these issues in more depth, see “ADL leader
 says Obama
 has Settled Farrakhan Issue”:
 


http://www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/news/article/2008022720080227obamafarrakhandebate.html)




 

The second questioner asked Obama about emails that have
 circulated, suggesting he’s Muslim.




Obama called the emails “virulent;” they started early in the
 campaign, he said, and have come out in waves, “magically
 appear[ing]” in states before primaries and caucuses. They contend
 that Obama is Muslim, that he went to a madrassa, that he used a 
Koran to swear himself into the Senate, that he 
doesn’t pledge allegiance to the flag.




“If anyone is still puzzled about the facts, in fact I have  never
been a Muslim,” he said. “We had to send CNN to look at the school
 that I attended in Indonesia where kids were wearing short pants
 and listening to iPods to indicate that this was not a madrassa but
 was a secular school in Indonesia.”




The next questioner asked about the reports that Obama’s advisors included Zbigniew Brzezinski (Jimmy Carter’s national security
 advisor) and several others perceived as anti-Israel.




“There is a spectrum of views in terms of how the US and Israel
 should be interacting,” Obama said. “It has evolved over time.”
 Obama said that when Brzezinksi was national security advisor, he
 would not have been considered outside the mainstream of that
 spectrum. Noting that Brzezinski “is now considered by many in the
 Jewish community anathema,” Obama said: “I know Brzezinski. He’s
 not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve
 exchanged emails with him maybe three times. He came to Iowa to
 introduce me for a speech on Iraq. He and I agree that Iraq was an
 enormous strategic blunder and that input from him has been useful
 in assessing Iraq, as well as Pakistan … I do not share his views 
with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally.”



He went on to say that the other advisors who he’s been
 criticized for having on his staff are former members of the
Clinton administration. He mentioned Tony Lake, the former national
 security adviser, and Susan Rice, the former assistant secretary of
 state for African Affairs.




“These are people who strongly believe in Israel’s right to 
exist. Strongly believe in a two-state solution. Strongly believe
 that the Palestinians have been irresponsible and have been
 strongly critical of them. [They] share my view that Israel has to
 remain a Jewish state, that the US has a special relationship with
 the Jewish state.”




He then departed, a bit, from the topic of his advisors, and
 spoke more generally. “This is where I get to be honest and I hope I’m not out of school here,” he said. “I think there is a strain
 within the pro-Israel
 community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likkud
 approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the 
measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have an honest
 dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we’re not going to make progress.”




He took issue with commentators who suggest that talk of anything 
less than “crushing the opposition” is “being soft or anti-Israel.”




“[If] we are never ever going to ask any difficult questions about how we move peace forward or secure Israel” in ways that are “non-military,” he said, then “I think we’re going to have problems
 moving forward. And that I think is something we have to have an
 honest dialogue about.”




He pointed out that none of the emails about his advisors mention
 people on the other side such as Chicago businessman, global nonprofit activist, and philanthropist Lester Crown, a member of 
Obama’s national finance committee, “considered about as hawkish
 and tough when it comes to Israel as anybody in the country.”




“So, there’s got to be some balance here,” he said. “I’ve got a
 range of perspectives and a range of advisors who approach this issue. They would all be considered well within the mainstream of
 that bi-partisan consensus in terms of being pro-Israel. There’s
 never been any of my advisors who questioned the need for us to provide Israel with security, with
 military aid, with economic aid. That there has to be a two-state 
solution, that Israel has to remain a Jewish state. None of my 
advisors would suggest that, so I think it’s important to keep some
 of these things in perspective. I understand people’s concern with
 Brzezinski given how much offense the Israel lobby has raised, but
he’s not one of my central advisers.”




He then noted that there has been a “fairly systemic effort” by Hillary Clinton’s campaign to “feed these suspicions” about his
 advisors, citing a new Newsweek article documenting the effort.
 (Read the article here:




http://www.newsweek.com/id/114723?from=rss)




The next question was sort of a follow-up. “Given your range of
 dvisors, “the questioner asked, “how would you approach foreign
 policy decision-making on Israel and the Middle East?”




“Well here’s my starting orientation,” Obama said: “Number one: Israel’s
 security is sacrosanct, is non-negotiable. That’s point number one.
 Point number two is that the status quo I believe is unsustainable 
over time. So we’re going to have to make a shift from the current 
deadlock that we’re in. Number three, that Israel has to remain a
 Jewish state and what I believe that means is that any negotiated
 peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is going to have to 
involve the Palestinians relinquishing the right of return as it
 has been understood in the past. And that doesn’t mean that there
 may not be conversations about compensation issues. It also means the Israelis will have to figure out how do we work with a
 legitimate Palestinian government to create a Palestinian state 
that is sustainable. It’s going to have to be 
contiguous, it’s going to have to work — it’s going to have to
 function in some way.




“That’s in Israel’s interest by the way. If you have a balkanized
 unsustainable state, it will break down and we will be back in the
 same boat. So those are the starting points of my orientation. My
 goal then would
 be to solicit as many practical opinions as possible in terms of
 how we’re going to move forward on an improvement of relations and
 a sustainable peace. The question that I will be asking any advisor
is how does it achieve the goal of Israel’s security and how does
 it achieve the goal of sustainability over the long term and I want
 practical, hardheaded, unromantic advice about how we’re going to
 achieve that.”




He added that when he was in Ramallah, he told the Palestinians, “you can’t fault Israel for being concerned about any peace
 agreement if the Palestinian state or  Palestinian Authority or
Palestinian leadership does not seem to be able to follow through
 on its commitments.” With respect to
 negotiations, he said, “you sit down and talk, but you have to
suspend trust until you can see that the Palestinian side can
 follow through and that’s a position that I have consistently taken
 and the one I will take with me to the White House.”




“One of the things that struck me when I went to Israel,” Obama
 continued, “was how much more open the debate was around these
 issues in Israel than they are sometimes here in the United States.
 It’s very ironic. I sat down with the head of Israeli security
 forces and his view of the Palestinians was incredibly nuanced 
because he’s dealing with these people every day. There’s good and
there’s  bad, and he was willing to say sometimes we make mistakes 
and we made this miscalculation and if we are just pressing down on
 these folks constantly without giving them some prospects for hope, that’s not good for our security situation. There was a very
 honest, thoughtful debate taking place inside Israel. All of you,
I’m sure, have experienced this when you travel there. Understandably, because of the pressure that
 Israel is under, I think the US pro-Israel community is sometimes
a little more protective or concerned about opening up that
 conversation. But all I’m saying though is that, ultimately, should
 be our goal — to have that same clear-eyed view about how we approach these issues.”




The next questioner asked what Obama would say to the Jewish
 community about George Bush and his support for Israel.




Obama noted straight off that the Jewish community is “diverse”
and “has interests beyond Israel.” He said the Jewish community in
America has a tradition as a “progressive force” concerned with
 children, civil rights, and civil liberties.




“Those are values … much more evident in our Democratic Party
and that can’t be forgotten.”




He said that to the extent some Jews have gone over to the GOP,
 it’s been because of Israel. “And what I would simply suggest is
 look at the consequences of George Bush’s policies. The proof is in 
the point. I do not understand how anybody who is concerned about
 Israel’s security and the threat of Iran could be supportive of
 George Bush’s foreign policy. It has completely backfired. It is indisputable that Iran is the biggest strategic beneficiary of the
 war in Iraq. We have spent what will soon be close to a trillion
 dollars strengthening Iran, expanding their influence. How is that 
helpful to Israel? … You can’t make that argument.




“And so the problem that we’ve seen in US foreign policy
 generally has been this notion that being full of bluster and
rattling sabers and being quick on the draw somehow makes you more 
secure.




“And keep in mind that I don’t know anybody in the Democratic
 Party, and I will say this for Hillary Clinton and I will say this for myself, who has indicated in any way that we would tolerate and
 allow to fester terrorist threats, that we wouldn’t hunt down, 
capture, or kill terrorists, that haven’t been supportive of Israel
 capturing or killing terrorists. So it’s not like we’re a bunch of
 folks asking to hold hands and sing ‘Kumbiya.’




“When Israel launched its counterattack against Hezbollah in 
Lebanon during the summer of 2006, I was in South Africa at the 
time, a place that was not particularly friendly to Israel at the
 time and I was asked by the press, what did you think? And I said,
 if somebody invades my country or is firing rockets into my country
 or kidnapping my soldiers, I will not tolerate that. And there’s no 
nation in the world that would.”




At this point, one of Obama’s aides told him he had time for one
 more question. A questioner asked him about press reports that he
 would consider Sen. Dick Lugar for his administration, given,
 again, his lack of friendliness toward Israel.




Obama said he was good friends with Lugar, and that Lugar
 “represents old school bi-partisan foreign policy.” He said that,
 among Republicans, Lugar was less ideologically driven, more driven
 by facts on the ground. After characterizing Lugar, he said he 
would “not be so presumptuous” to start talking about his cabinet, given that he is not yet the Democratic nominee.




Obama then decided, since his answer was relatively short, that
 he would take more questions. I raised my hand, and Obama called on 
me. I told him that I thought his approach to foreign policy –
 negotiating with your enemies – could be powerful strategically. I
 said that a few days earlier, I had met with my rabbi in Akron, and
 mentioned to him that I was going to be here this morning.




“The rabbi asked me to ask you whether you would meet with
 Hamas,” I said.




 “The answer is no,” Obama said.




“What’s the distinction, then,” I asked, “between Hamas and Iran?”




“The distinction would be that they’re not the head of state,”
 he said. “They are not a recognized government. There is a
 distinction to be drawn there and a legitimate distinction to be
drawn.”




“Now, again,” he continued, “going back to my experiences in
 Israel and the discussions I’ve had with security officials there,
 I think that there are communications between the Israeli 
government and Hamas that may be two or three degrees removed, but 
people know what Hamas is thinking and what’s
 going on and the point is that, with respect to Hamas, you can’t
 have a conversation with somebody who doesn’t think you should be
on the other side of the table. At the point where they recognize
 Israel and its right to exist, at the point where they recognize
 that they are not going to be able to shove their world view down the throats of others but are going to have to sit down and 
negotiate without resort[ing] to violence, then I think that will
 be a different circumstance. That’s not the circumstance that we’re in
 right now.”




He then turned to the audience to take one more question, about
 Indonesia (where Obama lived as a child) and the United States’
approach to the Muslim world.




Obama said Indonesia represented a good case study. He said Indonesia actually had a very mild, tolerant brand of Islam when he
 was living there. In 1997, he said, the Asian financial crisis hit
 very hard, and Indonesia’s GDP contracted by 30 percent.
 Essentially, a poor country had been hit with 
a Great Depression. “There was a direct correlation between the
 collapse of that economy and the rise of fundamentalist Islam
 inside of Indonesia,” he said.




Obama said there is a hard-core group of jihadist fundamentalists 
in the Islamic world who “we can’t negotiate with.” He said Richard
 Clarke, the former chief counter-terrorism advisor in the Bush
administration, estimates that there are between 30,000 and 50,000 
jihadists worldwide — “the hard
 core jihadists [who] would gladly blow up this room.” He added,
 though, that it’s a “finite number.”




“We have to hunt them down and knock them out. Incapacitate them.
 That’s the military aspects of dealing with this phenomenon … and
 that is where military action and intelligence has to be directed.”




“The question then is what do we do with the 1.3 billion Muslims
 who are along a spectrum of belief? Some extraordinarily moderate,
 some very pious but not violent. How do we reach out to them? And
 it is my strong belief that that is the battlefield that we have to
 worry about, and that is where we have been losing badly over the
 last seven years. That is where Iraq has been a disaster. That is
 where the lack of effective public diplomacy has been a disaster.
 That is where our failure to challenge seriously human
 rights violations by countries like Saudi Arabia that are our
 allies has been a disaster. And so what we have to do is to speak
 to that broader Muslim world in a way that says we will
 consistently support human rights, women’s rights. We will
 consistently invest in the kinds of educational opportunities for
 children in these communities, so that madrassas are not their only
 source of learning. We will consistently operate in ways that lead
 by example, so that we have no tolerance for a Guantanamo or
 renditions or torture. Those all contribute to people at least
 being open to our values
 and our ideas and a recognition that we are not the enemy and
 that the Clash
 of Civilizations is not inevitable.”




Obama closed with this: “Now, as I said, we enter into those
 conversations with the Muslim world being mindful that we also have
 to defend ourselves against those who will not accept the West, no
 matter how appropriately we engage. And that is the realism that
 has to leaven our hopefulness. But, we
 abandon the possibility of conversation with that broader Muslim
 world at
 our own peril.”




(After the event, the Obama campaign released a partial
 transcript to the
 press. You can find it here:


http://elections.jta.org/2008/02/25/obama-reaches-out-to-jewish-leaders/)




 Again, Obama received an extended standing ovation. He had spoken
 for about 45 minutes. And he was mobbed by well-wishers at the
 podium. One woman asked him why he was not nearly as specific in
 the debates. “We have thirty seconds!” Obama said. Another woman said:
 “It is so refreshing to hear someone think.”




When it was my turn, I shook his hand, introduced myself, and
 told him I had been working hard to defuse the smear campaigns
 directed at him. “It means a lot,” he said. “Thank you.”




I asked him if he could give me an autograph for my sons, Meyer
 and Heshel, and handed him a piece of paper and pen. As he began to
 write, I started spelling the names. “M-E-Y-E-R,” I said, “and
 Heshel, H-“




But Obama cut me off: “Like Abraham?” he asked.




I was surprised that Obama knew Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
 Maybe I shouldn’t have been. After all, Heschel had marched with
 Martin Luther King, Jr., and had been an outspoken critic of the
 Vietnam War; Heschel was a pious, pluralistic Jew committed to
 social action. But so few Jews today are even aware of Heschel and
 his legacy.




I nodded — Heschel had inspired the naming of our son — though
 we spelled it without the “c,” something that I forgot, in that 
moment, to add.




“To Meyer and Heschel,” he wrote. “Dream Big Dreams. Barack Obama.”




I felt a keen sense, leaving the meeting room Sunday, that the
 media “storyline” I’d been hearing and reading of late — that
 Obama is all eloquence, no substance; that he is a rock star
 generating a mindless cult of personality — is itself overly
 simplistic and false. Obama showed a gut-level understanding of
 Israel’s security needs and the US-Israel friendship. He exhibited
 a deep sensitivity to the Jewish community’s concerns and addressed 
them, one-by-one. He spoke eloquently and precisely,
 without notes, demonstrating a nuanced grasp  of the complexities
of Middle East politics, and a clear-eyed vision of how he would
 proceed as Commander-in-Chief.




And he was all the more credible because he did not pander. He
 knew his audience. He knew not everyone in the room would be 
satisfied when he said he met with Brzezinski because of his views 
on Iraq. Not all would agree when he said that we have to allow for
 a debate in this country beyond the
 hawkish Likkud party position, or when he said a future
 Palestinian state would have to be contiguous. He said those things
 anyway – just as he told Palestinians in Ramallah that they would
 have to give up the right of return. He said them because he
 believes them. And he believes, ultimately, they would help Israel
 remain a vibrant and secure homeland for the Jewish
 people.




Obama clearly understood that he needed to reach out to the
 Jewish community. That’s why he convened such a remarkable meeting,
 nine days before the Ohio primary. He also understood Jewish
 leaders needed to feel free to ask the toughest questions in an
 intimate setting. That’s why the event was not on his official
 schedule; that’s why the media was not invited.




But he also knew, or course, that only speaking to those ninety or so
 people would not be enough. As things were coming to a close, after
 he finished taking questions, he turned back to the room one more
time. “And go out and write emails, guys,” he said.

 

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3 Comments »

  1. Old enuf to remember the depth 0f
    the close relationship between Blacks
    and Jews, I know Obama cAn rebuild
    that relationship. He is honest, brilliant
    and a clear thinker,exactly whAT we’ve
    been missing for over 7 years of oil-
    enwrapped “rapture” mAdness & war.
    I believe he is a man of peace and strength And goodness.

    Comment by CONSTANCE RABINOwitz — May 16, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

  2. I’m a member of a Democratic Club in Orange County, California. We’re looking for someone to come speak in our area to help garner support for Obama among liberal Jews with concerns about his stand on Israel. Thanks for any help you can give me.

    Comment by Susan Dearing — June 13, 2008 @ 11:55 am

  3. Neat article. I will come back again.

    Comment by Freeddychedly — May 20, 2009 @ 1:36 pm


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