PHILADELPHIA, PA.--Speaking to a group of area Jewish community leaders and clergy--in a meeting organized to address concerns about him and his support for Israel-- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said Wednesday he would not sit down with Hamas--unlike former President Jimmy Carter, who will be meeting with Hamas leaders.
Obama speech, as prepared; Lynn Sweet pool report at the click
National pool report
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) met with Philadelphia area Jewish community leaders at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., a Reform synagogue. The session took place in a chapel. The speakers, including Obama, stood on the bima—the raised platform in front of the Ark, where the Torah is kept.
EVENT SUMMARY: Introductions with mentions of the upcoming Passover holiday (first seder is Saturday night) more details below.
Obama, with no fanfare, read prepared remarks, at the top wishing all a Happy Passover and a joyful seder. Obama travelling press chief Jen Psaki already sent out copies of his prepared text, delivered practically as written. Obama then took eight questions. The questions touched on Hamas, Iran, Jerusalem, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and a last query from a Swarthmore student wondering if Obama could be compared to failed Democratic presidential candidates McGovern and Dukakis. Obama makes a reference to the flap over his “bitter” remarks in his answer here.
After the questions, Obama said he wanted to make final comments about his relationships with the Jewish community and brought up his middle name, some Jewish authors who have influenced his thinking, his being African-American and tensions between blacks and Jews.
Men were not required to wear skull caps, though some did; Obama did not. About 75 people attended. Buttons with Barack Obama’s name spelled out in Hebrew were handed out by the campaign.
Before Obama spoke, there were remarks by Susan Klehr, President, Rodeph Shalom Synagogue; Rabbi Kuhn, Senior Rabbi, Rodeph Shalom Synagogue; Deputy Speaker of the PA House Rep. Josh Shapiro; Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) and Rep.Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Obama campaign Middle East Policy Advisor Eric Lynn. Lynn joked that Obama sometimes likes to say he is “Sen. Baruch Obama,” using the Hebrew version of his name. Baruch in Hebrew means blessed.
Rothman and Wexler delivered impassioned speeches on behalf of Obama, stressing his support for Israel. Wexler stressed that Obama “unequivocally” “rejects a Palestinian right of return.
Since Obama was delayed, Rothman and Wexler took questions. Wexler was asked about what he was doing to get the Florida votes counted. He said he was part of a group that met with DNC chair Howard Dean last week.
“We got him to move a huge amount in terms of what his position was previously, which was he used to talk about how the sides needed to come to a conclusion, there needed to be some kind of amendment to the process to perform the move, now senator, chairman Dean, Governor Dean went out in front of the DNC last week and said he’s going to do everything within his power to make certain that the Florida delegation is seated and Florida will be fully represented, and I’m confident that’ll be the case. I’m very confident that will be the case.”
THE EIGHT QUESTIONS
After his speech, Obama took eight questions. If someone needs even more quotes, please e-mail me.
First one, from a Rabbi: “You have said that you did not agree with President Carter’s decision to meet with members of Hamas this week; at the same time you said if elected president you would pursue aggressive diplomacy with Iran. Could you help articulate why you would not support President Carter’s decision to speak to Hamas but at the same time you would aggressively pursue diplomacy in Iran?”
OBAMA said, “Hamas is not a state. Hamas is a terrorist organization. They obviously have developed great influence within the Palestinian Territories , but they do not control the apparatus of power; they are not legitimately recognized as a state. They do not have a seat in the United Nations. And so I think there is a very clear distinction; not necessarily in terms of some of the odious rhetoric that comes out of Irans’ leadership versus Hamas’ leadership. But there is a distinction in terms of their status within the international community.
“And yet my interest in meeting with Iran is practical; it is not based on my assessment of who they are or my judgment about their values, but rather it is a practical assessment in terms of how we can best achieve our ultimate goal, which is an Iran that is not threatening its neighbors, is not threatening Israel, does not possess nuclear weapons, is not funding organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.
And so in that sense I view them in the same way that I view North Korea, in the same way that I view Syria, in the same way that historically presidents like FDR viewed Stalin or Kennedy viewed Khrushchev or Nixon view Mao, or Reagan viewed Gorbachev.
“We, I believe benefit in terms of legitimacy around the world if we say we are willing to talk directly, not because we approve of these states but because it shows that we are willing to listen.
By doing so I think we are actually further isolate Iran as opposed to, aah, as opposed to, strengthening them. I know there is an argument about what kind of a propaganda coup it would be for Iran.
“I actually think that the propaganda coup for Iran has been this sense of being embattled and attacked and as a consequence it gives an excuse for countries like China or countries like Russian to sit on the sidelines and not engage in the kinds of aggressive pressure that is needed for them to step down on their nuclear program and, yet frankly .the unilateral approach that President Bush has taken, the manner in which he went into Iraq, has not only strengthened Iran strategically, they have been, as I said, the biggest beneficiary of the war in Iraq, but it also has also given Iran an excuse not to engage the international community. And to suggest that, well, we are just the victims of a scheme on the part of the United States to execute regime change throughout the Middle East. That I think is a mistake.
“Now let me be very clear about what I mean when I say direct talks. What it means is that we come to the table with a very clear set of objectives and a very clear set of demands: that Iran ceases from pursuing nuclear weapons; that it stop funding Hezbollah and Hamas that it ends its noxious statements about Israel and the threats directed to Israel.
“They may not agree to any one or all of those demands. But, by having made them directly, it becomes much more difficult for them, I think, to posture on the international stage and it then positions us to be able to obtain the kinds of assistance from potential allies that we need.”
Question two from another Rabbi “What I haven’t heard…is some sense that you understand there are also some actions by the Israeli government, notably its settlement policies…that also contribute…to the inability to achieve peace and I wonder as president…what you would do…
OBAMA said, “Look there is no doubt that the situation on the group is complex and one of the things I loved about visiting Israeli was to see Israelis argue among themselves. There is just a healthy debate that takes place that some times is not as open….as in the United States, which is understandable; in your own family you feel you can argue a lot more than you can outside the family.
But I think the majority of Israelis recognize that for peace to move forward, there is going to have to be a shift in settlement policy. I don’t think that in and of itself is controversial. My instinct is, and probably the reason that I don’t focus on it as much in my discussions is that it is very hard to move that discussion forward if you feel as if there is no partner on the other side to actually enforce and deliver on an agreement.
And so in discussions that I have had with Israelis, both in government and outside of government, I think there is an understanding that there is going to have to be movement on both sides, that if we are going to achieve a two-state solution that the Palestinians are going to have to recognize the right of return as they understood it historically would extinguish Israel as Jewish state and that’s not an option.
And that conversely, Israelis are going to have to create, they are going to have to concede enough territorially that you got a coherent Palestinian state, not one that is just a state in name, but one that is functional, that works.”:
Third question, about what to do with Iran if it has nukes and if “aggressive diplomacy doesn't work.”
Obama said, “What I will say is that I will do everything I can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and what I've also said is that I will leave all military options on the table in achieving that.”
Fourth question, on Jerusalem.
Obama said it is not a U.S. matter. Reaffirmed Israel’s “historic” claim to Jerusalem, noted claims from Christians, Jews, Islam. Said “I think it is very important for us to find a way in which all those claims are respected…..”I believe that it is not an acceptable option for Jerusalem to be severed from Israel along the lines of the 1967 border, so that is not going to be an option.”
Fifth question, on whether an Obama UN ambassador would veto anti-Semetic resoulutions?
Obama said, “Absolutely. That's unequivocal. Part of the task I think of the United States, and part of – part of the leadership I think I can provide is – I think I can be a powerful voice on the world stage in saying 'let's stop with the nonsense with respect to Israel.”“…I think that kind of blunt talk is something that I can deliver with more credibility than maybe some other presidents might…..I think I can be an honest critic of the United Nations…
Sixth question, about Rev. Wright. “After you became aware of his inflammatory remarks, did you discuss them with him?
I'll be honest with you. I did not become aware of them until I started running for president. And at that point, yes, I had conversations with him, which I shared with him my deep concerns….. But I think it's very important to understand that my values and ideals with respect to both the United States, with respect to my foreign policy, with respect to Israel, nobody's actually questioned, or nobody can find anything in my behavior or writings that is anything other than unequivocally supportive of my love of this country, or indicative of my love of this country.”
He talked about the black-Jewish civil rights alliance, the shared history of discrimination “whose entire story is rooted in what we celebrate this week in Passover.”
The seventh question, on what can be done to reduce Iran’s influence as a regional power broker.
Obama said, “The key then becomes what’s the nature of their influence? Is their influence destructive or is at least neutral, and I think that to the extant that we have at least put the burden on Iraq to arrive at accommodation …What we should be doing making sure that the Shiia in Iraq have their own sense of identity. That they are not aligned with Iran because they have a common enemy with the U.S. and its occupation. ….
"One last point I will make, I do think that if we can at least move forward on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict that that will strengthen the hand of Sunni Arab states and put them in a better position to align with us against Iran."
The eighth question, from a Swarthmore senior, Nate Allen, who was wearing a button with Obama’s name spelled out in Hebrew. He said people are more concerned that you are like Dukakis and McGovern and can’t win the general election and will Wright hurt him.
Obama said, “And so, it’s interesting just over the last couple of days, I’m suggesting people are bitter about the state of their economic lives that the Washington beltway hall of mirrors has just gone nuts, and then they open the paper look at the polling yesterday it turns out most people it hasn’t had an impact in terms of how they’re thinking.”
Obama makes some comments about McCain I think don’t pave much new ground, then plugs his considerable political talents re McGovern and Dukakis. Comparison is not apt, he said, because “ I’m a pretty darn good politician. I think and I can give a pretty good speech and I can connect and inspire the American people in ways that have become apparent. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t pretty good at mixing it up.
*”Nobody has been able to identify any set of comments that I’ve made or set of positions that I’ve taken that’s contrary to the Jewish community or Israel,” Obama said.
* “But if people don’t mind I’d like to be honest, a lot of the concern has been generated because of scurrilous emails that have been sent, generated based on speculation of the fact that my middle name is Hussein.”
*Jewish writers who have influenced him..Saul Bellow and thinker like Theodore (I think he said Herzel). And Phillip Roth
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 Iraq 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, Israel. 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 Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”
The relationship between the United States and Israel 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 Israel’s security, and to the friendship between our countries.
Two years ago, I travelled to Israel and the experience made a powerful impression on me. I have long understood Israel’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 Israel; seeing the terrain; and experiencing the powerful contrasts of a beautiful, holy land that faces a constant threat of deadly violence. The people of Israel 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 Israel achieve that peace. I will support Israel’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 Israel’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 Israel 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 Israel from Lebanon in 2006. And we see it today in the Qassams that Hamas fires into Israel 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 Israel’s destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.
As President, I will do everything that I can to help Israel protect itself from these and other threats. We will make sure that Israel can defend itself from any attack, whether it comes 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 that it can be deepened and strengthened.
The gravest threat to Israel today comes from Iran. 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 Israel. The threat from Iran is real, and my goal as President will be to eliminate it. Ending the war in Iraq will be an important step toward achieving this goal, because it will increase our flexibility and our ability to deal with Iran. Make no mistake – Iran has been a strategic beneficiary of this war, and I intend to change that.
My approach to Iran 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 Israel 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 Iran outside of the UN. We will be in a stronger position to achieve tough international sanctions if the United States 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 Iran.
As President, I will leave all options on the table for dealing with the threat from Iran – 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 Israel and the United States. The current policy of not talking is not working. It’s time for a change.
I am running for President because I believe that America 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 America and Israel. And together, we can repair our world anew.