Barack Obama pledges to protect Israel and highlights his affinity for the Jewish ideal -- his latest attempt to reassure Jewish voters and tamp down any lingering controversy over an official with the terrorist group Hamas praising his candidacy.
He and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain tangled last week over McCain making an issue of Hamas. In an interview posted today on The Atlantic magazine's website, Obama says, "My position on Hamas is indistinguishable from the position of Hillary Clinton or John McCain. I said they are a terrorist organization and Iíve repeatedly condemned them. Iíve repeatedly said, and I mean what I say: since they are a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and abide by previous agreements."
Obama acknowledged some tension lately between the African-American and Jewish communities. In a Gallup poll last month, Obama received 61 percent among Jewish voters to McCain's 32 percent, compared to the 75 percent that Democrat John F. Kerry got in 2004.
As president, Obama said, he would keep America's firm commitment to Israeli security.
"I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if youíve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens. That makes it a fundamentally just idea. That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because itís a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and donít always act with justice uppermost on our minds. But the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world.
He also said that his own history draws him to the Jewish state. "I had a camp counselor when I was in sixth grade who was Jewish-American but who had spent time in Israel, and during the course of this two-week camp he shared with me the idea of returning to a homeland and what that meant for people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. There was something so powerful and compelling for me, maybe because I was a kid who never entirely felt like he was rooted. That was part of my upbringing, to be traveling and always having a sense of values and culture but wanting a place. So that is my first memory of thinking about Israel. And then that mixed with a great affinity for the idea of social justice that was embodied in the early Zionist movement and the kibbutz, and the notion that not only do you find a place but you also have this opportunity to start over and to repair the breaches of the past. I found this very appealing."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.