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After his speech at Philadelphia's Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Obama tells Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El that Zbigniew Brzezinksi is not one of his Middle-East Policy advisors. (Photo: AP)
In Their Own Words

Senator Barack Obama
The Presidential Candidate and his Middle-East Advisors address the Philadelphia Jewish Community at Rodeph Shalom.


  1. Eric Lynne. (Transcript, Audio)
  2. Representative Daylin Leach. (Transcript, Audio)
  3. Congressman Steve Rothman. (Transcript, Audio)
  4. Congressman Robert Wexler. (Transcript, Audio)
  5. Question and Answer Period. (Transcript, Audio)
  6. Representative Josh Shapiro. (Transcript, Audio)
  7. Senator Barack Obama. (Transcript, Audio, Video Extract)
  8. Question and Answer Period. (Transcript, Audio Part I, Audio Part II, Video of Question 1, Video of Question 4, Video of Question 5)
  9. Final Remarks (Transcript, Video)

1. Eric Lynn.
Middle-East Policy Advisor

Thank you Rabbi, and thank you President Susan Kline Klehr and Rabbi Michael Stahl for letting us come here today, we’re honored to be here with you.

This is a wonderful opportunity for Senator Obama to be able to speak with the Philadelphia Jewish community as he has in so many other states. As the Rabbi said, I am honored to be the Middle East Policy advisor and the Jewish community liaison to Senator Barack Obama, or as the Senator likes to say himself, Senator Baruch Obama.

I can tell you as someone who has worked my entire life on Middle East policy, lived in Israel myself, and proud to have grown up as an American Jew, that Senator Barack Obama feels the connection with the state of Israel and with the Jewish people. His relationship with the Illinois Jewish community has been spoken of often and his support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is extremely strong. We’re honored here today to have with us a number of the senators, Jewish elected officials who have endorsed him. I wanna thank Congressman Steve Rothman and Congressman Robert Wexler for being with us here today.

I want to take the opportunity to talk to you about two speakers, one you’ll hear from a little bit later and one who will be to follow me.

The speaker you’ll hear later is Rep. Josh Shapiro. Rep Shapiro currently serves as the Deputy Speaker of the Pennsylvania State House. It’s an honor for me personally to speak about Josh as we are friends and have worked together Capitol Hill working on Middle East policy and other issues in the United States Congress. Josh is an effective and strong advocate for people here in Philadelphia area and Harrisburg, and is a rising star in the Democratic Party.

In addition to Josh’s work on the values that we hold in the Jewish communities, we also have with us Rep. Daylin Leach. Rep. Leach is another Jewish elected official, represents Montgomery County for those of you who know, who Senator Obama is honored to have his support. Rep. Leach is a leader here in Harrisburg on issues of importance to people in Montgomery County and Pennsylvania, and also works with Jewish values and believes strongly in the U.S.-Israel relationship, as Senator Obama and you and I do.

Pennsylvania State Representative Daylin Leach is running for State Senate in the 17th District to replace Connie Williams.

2. Representative Daylin Leach.
Pennsylvania's 149th Legislative District
(Upper and Lower Merion)

It’s a tremendous privilege for me to be here today welcoming Senator Obama.

As a public servant I’m captivated by both the prose and the poetry of politics. I believe in the power of public service to make lives better on a day-to-day basis, and I believe when inspired people can change their minds, open their hearts, and in the words of Robert Kennedy, sweep away the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. To me, Senator Obama embodies in a way few other leaders have in my lifetime, the merger of exhortation and exaltation.

When John Kennedy was president, he could go to the tiniest hut, in the most out of the way place in Africa or Asia, and there would be a picture of President Kennedy hanging on the wall. It’s time once again for America to be that lighthouse of hope. As an American, I want once again for people of the world to want to put our president’s picture on their wall.

As a father, I want a president who has a vision for the future which includes a clean planet, and a Supreme Court that believes in the rule of law. As a public servant I want a president who will inspire me to live out the true meaning of that term. And as a Jew, I want a president who will understand, love and protect the land of my heritage.

That’s why I support Senator Obama.

On the wall of my office I hang three pictures of people to remind why I do what I do.

  • One is Justice William Brennan, the Supreme Court Justice who I named my first child after.
  • One is Robert Kennedy, to remind me that you can be tough and compassionate simultaneously.
  • And one is of Senator Obama, to remind me that today anything is possible.

I want to thank Senator Obama for reawakening that in me, and I wanna thank him for joining us here today.

Steven Rothman, U.S. Representative from the 9th Congressional District of New Jersey and Northeast Regional Co-chair for Senator Obama.

3. Congressman Steve Rothman.
New Jersey's 9th Congressional District
(Hudson and Bergen Counties)

Good morning everybody, the distinguished rabbis, the distinguished leaders of the Jewish community, my dear dear friend Congressman Robert Wexler, other outstanding elected officials, and guests and friends one and all.

My name is Steve Rothman. I serve in the United States congress. This is my 12th year. I served as the mayor of a city of 26,000, a judge, practiced law for 16 years. But let me tell you, I’ve been involved in pro-Israel matters for the past 40 years. I’m 55 years old. I went to Israel in 1968 my first trip. I was 15. I went with my parents - 1968. I still remember the burned out Soviet tanks in the Golan and that was my first awakening as a young adult of my own responsibilities as an American and as a Jewish American about what I needed to do to assure the survival of America’s most important strategic, military and cultural ally in the Middle East.

And so not surprisingly, with my mom who had started the Engelwood, New Jersey Evening Chapter of Women’s American ORT around 1956 in 1950 and my dad who was one of the original volunteers to work for the Israel bonds and Jewish Federation of Bergen County in 1951, I took my place early on in that effort, member, the chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Northern New Jersey and other, other roles.

In the United States Congress, I presently serve on the House Appropriations Committee, the only committee in the congress that gives out money – good place to be. All the other committees are authorizing committees. The appropriations committee gives out money. And I’m on a number of subcommittees two of which are relevant, perhaps most relevant to today’s conversation and I wanna say two things: why even though you never heard of me before I’m such a shtaker Rothman, and why such a shtarker would be for Barack Obama.

I serve on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of Appropriations, the 18-member subcommittee that recommends all the foreign aid from the United States, and I serve on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, the 15-member, the 15-member subcommittee that recommends all the military spending for the United States of America - every plane, every ship, every gun, every bullet, every military satellite, everything. So why would I be supporting Senator Barak Obama?

Three reasons. Four, if you really want to know. I’ve got three minutes.

  1. Senator Obama understands, in the core of his being, that Israel’s national, that Israel’s national security, that Israel’s prosperity, its well-being, is directly connected to America’s national security and well-being, and that Israel is literally irreplaceable, cannot be replaced as a strategic, military and cultural ally in that part of the world. Cannot be replaced and whatever we give to Israel, either in military aid which we’re required to spend in the United States, the United States gets back at least 100 times, as you know, in military intelligence, in having a place where our troops can be cared for in hospitals, where we can treat physicians, our military equipment, where we can have our military equipment improved.
  2. He understands that Israel is a Jewish state, and that in fact if Israel were no longer to be a Jewish state, it wouldn’t exist. And so as he has said before Jewish audiences, Palestinian audiences, here in the United States and in the middle east, Israel is a Jewish state, shall always remain a Jewish state, and decisions about peace that are negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians must take into account Israel’s nature as a Jewish state and of course among other things, any right of return negotiated by those two parties cannot include a right of return of descendants of Palestinians who left Israel to come back to Israel proper, because it would destroy Israel’s nature as a Jewish state.
  3. He says that the failure of the peace process between Israelis and the Palestinians is not in any way related to Israel or Israel’s lack of any desire on Israel’s part to make painful concessions for peace with the Palestinians. They have literally offered a sovereign nation for Palestinians next door to them since 1947, and repeatedly ever since. No the failure of the peace process has been solely the result, Senator Obama understands, of the Palestinians’ unwillingness as Golda Meier said, paraphrasing her, to love their children more than they hate the thought of living next to the Jewish state. And so the presence or absence of a Palestinian a true Palestinian partner for peace is what has to date caused the failure of the peace process.
  4. And finally that he understands that any peace between Israel and the Palestinians will only be achieved when and if there is a true Palestinian partner for peace. Israel though will always be, until then, during that time, and after that time, America’s most important strategic cultural national security asset in the Middle East and irreplaceable ally of the United States of America which Barack Obama has committed himself to defend.

And finally what kind of person is Barack Obama. I’m from New Jersey. Would I support somebody who wasn’t a stand-up guy? Would I support somebody who’s word meant nothing, who was untested? After all, I worked with the Clintons as a congressman my first years. My neighbor is Senator Clinton. I know them, yet I’ve chosen Senator Obama to support. I hope you will support him yourself. Thank you very much.

Congressman Robert Wexler represents more Jews than any other member of Congress.

4. Congressman Robert Wexler.
Florida's 19th Congressional District
(Palm Beach and Broward Counties)

Thank you very much. I have the privilege of representing portions of Palm Beach and Broward Counties, in Florida, towns like Boca Raton which is my hometown town, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Deerfield Beach. I’m extremely excited to be here on behalf of Senator Barack Obama but I’m even more excited more excited to meet you because statistically speaking two thirds of you will be coming to Miami. Let me be the first to welcome you to Florida from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other places.

Very briefly because soon you will hear from Senator Obama, I as have Steve have devoted ourselves professionally personally politically to enhancing America’s relationship with Israel. Being a part of Senator Obama’s campaign for me has become a great passion for a number of reasons but if I could just go over quickly Senator Obama’s positions with respect to Middle East affairs and with respect to Israel.

Congressman Rothman said and I want toreiterate Senator Obama unequivocally rejects a Palestinian right of return. He has rejected that Palestinian right of return in Iowa, in foreign policy speeches in Florida, all up and down the east coast, but even more impressively he has rejected it in the West Bank when he spoke to a group of Palestinian community leaders and he told them that in order to pursue a two-state process of peace Palestinians must understand that Israel will remain a Jewish state.

Senator Obama has been a consistent and strong supporter of Israel’s right to build its security fence because he understood both the security and the peace implications of Israel having the necessity, the need and the right to provide for the security of her own citizens. In the war of Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 to this very day from the rocket fire from Gaza, Senator Obama has been a consistent strong unequivocal advocate of Israel’s right of self-defense. Most recently in January he wrote to our United Nations ambassador making certain that the U.N. would take the position of supporting Israel’s right of self-defense.

With respect to Iran this is where I think this candidacy becomes more compelling. Many of us were with him at the AIPAC conference in Washington last year when Senator Obama had the opportunity to go out to National airport and meet with Beebe Netanyahu before he spoke. And Mr. Netanyahu and Senator Obama talked about the need to economically isolate Iran to help prevent it from becoming a nuclear power. Senator Obama went back to the United States Senate and filed the leading divestment bill with respect to Iran, calling upon the world to make certain that businesses do not invest in companies that do business with Iran’s energy sector. He has been out front in terms of providing for increased cooperation between the United States and Israel in terms of developing missile technology.

But the real compelling reason I believe to support Senator Obama is not just because he has that A+ record on Israel, which he does. But it’s that sense of character, the sense of character that permitted him to stand in Martin Luther King’s church earlier in the year speaking to a largely African American audience, and to tell that African American audience that there’s too much anti-Semitism in the African American community today and the African American community should work diligently to make sure that anti-Semitism should have no place in American politics or in the American religious community.

It is that sense of community, that sense of citizenship that allows Senator Obama to speak so passionately about the history of relations between African Americans and Jewish Americans in this country. He has said on a number of occasions that if it weren’t for the principled participation of so many Jewish Americans in that civil rights movement that he would not be a United States Senator and he would not be a candidate for the presidency of the United States today.

This is the kind of character, the character that enables him in Detroit in front of the Manufacturers Association to call for higher conservation standards on automobiles. It’s the ability to understand who he is and have the confidence to deliver messages that gives me the greatest confidence whatsoever that as president, President Obama will not only be an A+ president for Israel, but in terms of how he will deal with the peace process will be something the Jewish community will be incredibly proud of.

Martin Peretz in the New Republic talked about Senator Obama’s understanding of the role of the president in that peace process, and the understanding that while Israel is certainly capable of delivering on the promises that it implements, that it will adhere to in the context of those negotiations, Martin Peretz and Senator Obama understand keenly that the difference between the Israelis and the Palestinians while they are many but one of the principle differences is that Abu Mazzim can agree to many things, but it isn’t necessarily true that he can implement any of them, and that an American president must tread very lightly when dealing with one party that has the capability and the integrity to implement, Israel, and another party that of course is divided event amongst its own house.

With respect to Hamas, Senator Obama has been absolutely unequivocal in terms of demanding that the United States not deal with Hamas until Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist, denounces violence, and incorporates the previous agreements of Palestinian authority to sign into its charter. So, when we talk abut Hamas, when we talk about Hezbollah, as Senator Obama today may talked about when he visited Israel, and when he visited an Israeli family that had been bombarded by the rocket fire and his understanding of the predicament that Israelis find themselves. He may talk about the passion that he appreciated and understood that he internalized when he visited Yad Vashem when he was in Israel.

But the thing that makes me so comfortable in addition to the 70+ Jewish leaders here in Pennsylvania that put their names on the line and said we’re for Barack Obama very prominently throughout the state and put ads in the Jewish newspapers. The Jewish communities in Chicago that know Obama best, are his strongest supporters. The people that have watched him grow, the people that have watched him win and lose, the people that have watched him operate within Chicago’s legal, academic and now political circles, lead, think the world of him. That to me is an extraordinary stamp of approval.

So let me go one step further if I could. President Sarkozy, the new president of France, when he was inaugurated into office, was asked a relatively simple question about the transatlantic relationship the relationship between France and the United States. He was asked what does the United States need to do to be a better America needs to be a better ally for France, for our European allies. And what President Sarkozy said was America needs to become more popular. That was a short answer, but just envision. Envision as I believe president sarcozi was correct, America does need to become more popular. Envision President Obama taking that swearing-in in January 2009. Envision the enthusiasm not just here in America, not just in the inner cities of America but in the small towns in America, the suburban areas of America, but in capitals and in major cities and in small towns in all parts of the world, whether it’s Europe, whether it’s in Asia, whether it’s in Africa, whether it’s in South America, there will be a level of enthusiasm about our nation that has not been felt in a very very long time. The day that Senator Obama takes the oath of office, will be the day that hundreds of millions of people across the globe, wake up and say the United States of America that they loved and revered and respected is back.

And I would respectfully suggest that those of us who care so deeply about the well being of the state of Israel, that there is no nation on earth that suffers more than Israel does when America is isolated. When America is not as capable as we should be to generate the kinds of alliances that we ought to be able to generate amongst our European allies, amongst our Asian allies, amongst South American allies for our initiatives. Whether they are in fact the isolation of Iran. Whether it’s our ability to convince our Caribbean neighbors, our South American neighbors, to stick with us in the United Nations, no nation suffers as much as Israel does when we the United States are not capable of building those bridges, of building those alliances. So I respectfully argue that if Senator Obama becomes president and in fact reinvigorates the Transamerica alliance, a President Obama who builds those bridges to Asia to Africa to South America, there will be many repercussions of that extraordinary development but one of those repercussions will be in fact that the anti-Israel the anti-Semitism that develops when America becomes isolated will become deflated. It won’t be the end of all of Israel’s troubles, certainly not, but it will be the beginning of a new environment, a very new world atmosphere.

Senator Obama has been a leader on many issues of importance to the Jewish community. Whether its universal healthcare, which in my district and in Steve’s district is essential. Senator Obama has a good healthcare plan that will deliver universal healthcare at an affordable rate. Senator Obama understands something that is fair minded, which is the federal government needs to negotiates the price of prescriptions drugs so that we can become like the other industrialized nations on earth, a nation that begins to address the escalation of cost of prescription drugs.

Whether it’s global climate change, whether it’s protecting a woman’s right to choose, whether it’s promoting sensible crime strategies, Senator Obama has been a leader both in the Illinois state legislature as well as the United States Congress.

Some have questioned at times well how long is this commitment to Israel. I find it remarkable when I talk to people in Illinois, the state legislature, that tell me how finely tuned, what a fine keen understanding Senator Obama had as a young man in the Illinois legislature as to the very special relationship that the United States and Israel have. When it came down to issues as whether or not Illinois should engage with Israel bonds, Senator Obama was a leader on those issues. I think he shows the strength of character, the strength of purpose that will make all Americans proud. But as it relates to the American Jewish community I believe that we are about to engage in a relationship of the United States that will be historical, that will in fact bring in an era, and none of us are naïve about the process of peace. We all understand all the hurdles that must be achieved. But Senator Obama will be committed to engaging in a responsible fashion in that process of peace. One of the things that Martin Peretz of the New Republic and Senator Obama understand is that the United States cannot impose upon Israel conditions of peace, and that is a very important understanding that Obama has.

I am in fact very envious of all of you, because the people of Pennsylvania you may determine the next President of the United States. As you may have read People in Florida have had our problems with election, not the least was our last primary we don’t have our votes counted. Steve’s a superdelegate, he counts. I’m not even a superdelegate that counts because we have been stripped of our authority to be a part of the convention, but you have a historic opportunity. In my view the Democratic Party has a luxury of riches in terms of the candidates we have, but we must come together as a unified group to support the winner. But there is one candidate Senator Obama who I think offers an opportunity maybe not just of a generation, but of a lifetime.

And the thing that has impressed me so, my own children, my oldest is 19, my middle is 15, m youngest is 11 and I imagine many of you have children similar ages and nieces and nephews. The level of energy is one that I have never witnessed. That says something good about this campaign, that says something very important about Barack Obama, that says something very hopeful about America. Senator Obama will initiate an era where young people in America are involved in our nation to a degree we haven’t experienced before. This is something that at times caused people to look again.

I remember when Caroline Kennedy wrote her editorial in the New York Times about why she supported Senator Obama, and she talked about how in effect it was her own children that brought her to this conclusion. And I hear that from so many of my own constituents, and you’re about the youngest group of people I’ll speak to for months, but many of my own constituents have said what has brought them around to Obama is the great enthusiasm of their children and their grandchildren.

5. Question and Answer Period.

Q: (Nancy Gordon, JACPAC) What are you doing to make sure the votes of the people of Florida get counted?

Robert Wexler: That’s a great question. I and the other Democrats in terms of membership of the House of Representatives, met with [Democratic National Committee] Chairman 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 the primaries need to come to a conclusion there needed to be some sort of addendum to the process to the convention rules, and now Chairman Dean, Governor Dean went before the DNC the week before last and said he’s gonna do everything in his power to make sure the Florida deegation will be seated and that florida will be fully represented and I’m confident that will be the case.

Q: (Dan Loeb, Philadelphia Jewish Voice) Based on his relationship with the Chicago Jewish community he’s employed the term tikkun olam [repairing the world]. Could you go into more detail on that and how it relates to his political philosophy?

Robert Wexler: I think you read his book and you look at his early years, it was tikkun olam that essentially motivated a young Barrack Obama to become a community organizer. Everything about Barack Obama’s domestic platform, whether its enhancement of the opportunity to go to college, whether it’s a strong stress on the environment, whether it’s his very ambitious plans to rid our dependence of Middle East oil, it’s all infused with the notion that we need to make the world a better place.

Q: Some people say that the process now used to choose the candidate for the Democratic Party is actually causing a lot of animosities within the Democratic Party. What does Senator Obama plan to do to hold the Democratic Party together so there won’t be many defections?

Steve Rothman: Let me assure you Senator Obama understands that once he is the nominee and he has an opportunity simply to express the views he’s been expressing in the debates, throughout his campaign, throughout his career, and that is counterpoised to Senator McCain’s views and record on the economy, on the George Bush policies in the Middle East and internationally which have led to disaster for America, then not only will Democrats be solidly united behind their nominee Senator Barack Obama because they don’t want to have the Republican philosophy of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for another four years to destroy America domestically and internationally. The American people, Independents and Republicans will also gravitate to give their support by overwhelming numbers and I predict when Senator Barack Obama becomes the Democratic nominee he will win in an historic landslide.

Last week, Pennsylvania State Representative Josh Shapiro participated in a debate against Rep. Dan Frankel who supports Hillary Clinton and Scott Feigelstein of the RJC who supports John McCain.

6. Representative Josh Shapiro.
Deputy Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
(153rd District, Abington)

Before I came here this morning, my wife and I put our daughter Sofia on a bus to go to Perelman Jewish Day School, the school that I went to. As she grows older, G-d willing she will go to Akiba or Barrack Hebrew Academy, where I was blessed to go to school.

I have been to Israel six times, in fact my wife and I got engaged at Yemin Moshe right underneath the windmill, I know many of you have been there.

Eight years on Capitol Hill, I had the honor of working for senators and representatives who care deeply about the State of Israel. And in the Legislature I have worked hard, as Senator Obama has on Capitol Hill, to divest Pennsylvania dollars from Iran.

Friends, in short I take my faith and my identity very seriously. I also take my endorsement of Senator Obama, as an American Jew, very seriously. I would not endorse Senator Obama, I would not stand with Senator Obama if he did not believe that Israel’s security was sacrosanct and I would not stand with Senator Obama if he did not demonstrate throughout his career, as he has, the very principles of tikkun olam, of repairing the world.

I ask you friends as Senator Obama approaches to do what we are commanded to do, what we are taught to do, on Pesach coming up in just a few days. To do what our daughter Sofia will do, and that is ask questions and then allow ourselves to hear the answers, to hear the story and then ultimately as we see from Pesach and from the Hagadah, the true lesson is that we must look forward. And friends, that is what a Barack Obama presidency will be all be about; about looking forward, about repairing the world, about bringing people together. That is why I am so proud to stand with Senator Obama, that is why I have worked so hard, as so many of you have, to help him become our next president.

Ladies and Gentleman, the man who I hope will be the next president of the United States, Senator Barack Obama.

Obama tells Philadelphia Jewish leaders that unlike former President Jimmy Carter he would not meet with Hamas leaders.

7. Barack Obama.
United States Senator from Illinois.

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.

Barack Obama answers questions from the Philadelphia Jewish Community at Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

8. Question and Answer Period.

Q: (Rabbi David Glazberg-Krainin, Beth Sholom Congregation) Can you 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?

Barack Obama: Absolutely.

Well, Hamas is not a State. Hamas is a terrorist organization. They have obviously great influence within the Palestinian territories but they do not control the apparatus of power. They are not legitimately recognized as a State. They don’t have a seat at the United Nations. And so, I think there is a very clear distinction. Not necessarily in terms of some of the hateful rhetoric that comes out of Iran’s leadership versus Hamas’ leadership, but there is a distinction in terms of their status in the international community.

And my interest in meeting with Iran is practical. It’s not based on my assessment of who they are or my judgment about their values but rather it’s 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, is not testing nuclear weapons, is not funding organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. And so, in that sense, I view Iran the same way I view North Korea. The same way that I view Syria. In the same way that historically, Presidents like FDR viewed Stalin, or Kennedy viewed Kruschev, or Nixon viewed Mao, or Reagan viewed Gorbachev.

We, I hope, 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 actually further isolate Iran as opposed to strengthening them. I know that there is an argument about what kind of 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. As a consequence it gives an excuse for countries like China or countries like Russia to sit on the sidelines and not engage in the kinds of aggressive pressure that’s needed for them to step down from their nuclear program.

Frankly, the unilateral approach that President Bush has taken and the manner in which he went into Iraq, has not only strengthened Iran strategically (they have been, I expect, the biggest beneficiary of the war in Iraq) but it’s also given Iran an excuse not to engage the international community and to suggest that “Well, we’re just the victims of a scheme on the part of the U.S. to execute regime change throughout the Middle East”. That I think was 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, a very clear set of demands: that Iran ceases from pursuing nuclear weapons, that it stops funding Hezbollah and Hamas, and it ends its noxious statements about Israel and of course directed towards 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 then it positions us to be able to obtain massive assistance from potential allies......

Q: (Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center) I appreciate what you said here and what you said in the Cleveland evening with Jewish leadership about the nuances of the policies necessary to the Palestinian/Israeli relationship. What I haven’t heard, and I – and I know hundreds of Rabbis and hundred of thousands of Jews would like to hear it – is some sense that you understand that there are also some actions by the Israeli government – notably its settlement policy its refusal to – even saying over and over again it is going to withdraw settlements – but its refusal to actually do that – that also contribute (maybe not the most important contribution) but an important contribution, to the inability to achieve peace. I wonder what as President – how you would feel and what you would think and what you would do about that. 

Barack Obama: Well, look. There is no doubt that the situation on the ground is complex. One of the things that I loved about visiting Israel was to see Israelis argue among themselves. There is just a healthy debate that takes place – that sometimes is not as open here in the United States... which is understandable ...when you are in your own family you feel like you can argue a lot more than you can outside the family. But, I think the majority of Israelis recognize that for peace to (unfold?), 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 that (probably the reason that I don’t focus on it as much in my discussions) is that it’s 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 I’ve 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 that the right of return as they have understood it historically would extinguish Israel as a Jewish State and that’s not an option ... and that conversely, Israelis are going to have to concede enough territorially that you’ve got a coherent Palestinian state – not one that is just a state in name but one that is functioning - that works. And I believe that Israelis are going to be prepared to make what will undoubtedly be some wrenching political decisions along those lines. But, my sense is right now that until you get some apparatus – some mechanism – with the Palestinian territories or authority - that gives Israelis confidence that somebody can make a deal and then actually follow through on it, then they’d rather not have to go through what will be a very difficult political discussion and I understand that. I think there has got to be a process of real negotiations before you get a full public airing of how they are going to deal with the settlement issue.

Q: (Richard Berkman, Beth Sholom Congregation) As a follow up, if your aggressive diplomacy does not work in Iran and you believe that they are actually on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons – does your option of keeping all options open mean you would use military force to prevent them from becoming a nuclear power or would you rather live with them becoming a nuclear power?

Barack Obama: This is a question that I think has been posed repeatedly during the course of the Presidential campaign and I think wisely all of us – at least on the Democractic side – but I also think the wiser heads on the Republican side – have not engaged in hypotheticals about what particular actions we would take. But what I will say is that I will do everything I can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. What I have also said is that I will leave all military options on the table in achieving that.

Q: (Representative of Bnai Brith International) What is your position in reference to Jerusalem on the table --- which is a really big concern. With regards now, they have, the Arab community has, changed their process .... in the sense that they are more concerned about the border since 1967. And ... I don’t think we would like to see Israel give up a big chunk of Jerusalem.

Barack Obama: I believe that this is a decision that has to be made by the parties not by the United States. But, let’s be clear. Israel, I think, has a historic claim on Jerusalem. I think that obviously there are sacred sites in the Old City that are central to not just Judaism but also to Islam and Christianity. I think it is very important for us to find a way in which all those claims are respected. And this is something that I think is very important for the parties themselves to decide. But, 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.

Q: (Paula Johnson) Regarding restoring the US reputation in the world. There have been many anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations. Would you instruct, as President, your ambassador to the United Nations to continue to veto those resolutions?

Barack Obama: Absolutely. That’s unequivocal. Part of the task, I think, of the United States and part of a leadership I think I can provide is – I think I can be a powerful voice on the world stage in saying, “Let’s stop the nonsense with respect to Israel”. The reason I say that is precisely because I would - for a variety of reasons – be somebody unique in expressing that. Not just in terms of being the first African American president but also being somebody who has been raised overseas, who has family who lives overseas, had lived in a Muslim country (in Indonesia when I was a child for a time), who has family in Africa...I think for me to speak to the General Assembly and lift up the hypocrisy that has been operating within the United Nations for so long - that targets Israel for constant harassment – often times led by regimes that have no observance of human rights and no regard for their own people. I think that kind of blunt talk is something that I can deliver with more credibility than maybe some other Presidents might. I think that’s important and my argument to the world community would be...This is counter-productive. It is not advancing the interests of those countries. It has become just a sort of like a (inaudible) people just go through the motions of ... oh let’s vote against Israel... periodically... as a way to distract from solving their own problems. Part of my ability to deliver that message is that I am not somebody who is anti-United Nations. I actually believe in the United Nations as a potential forum for resolving disputes and then perhaps ___. Precisely because despite my criticisms of the United Nations (inaudible), I believe in it as an institution and the possibilities for real good. I think I can be an honest critic of the United Nations. In the same way that, for example, when I went to my father’s home country in Kenya, I delivered a major address saying – yes, the United States and other countries need to do more to help poor countries but poor countries have to do more for themselves in rooting out corruption and establishing rule of law. That kind of truth telling, I think, is vital on the international stage.

Q: (Nancy Gordon, JACPAC) I have a question about your former pastor. After you became aware of Reverend Jeremiah Wright's inflammatory remarks, did you discuss the tone and content with him? If so, can you tell us what you said and if your comments had any effect?

Barack Obama: I will be honest with you - I did not become aware of the comments until I started running for President. And at that point, yes, I had conversations with him in which I shared my deep concern; I have to say that the charicatures that has been presented of him is not an accurate depiction of who he is as a pastor.

It is often put forth that Wright was Obama's spiritual advisor. He was my pastor - which meant that when I went to church he did the service - many of then insightful and powerful - speaking about justice and the social gospel. The services that were the source of controversy were deeply disturbing to me and I did tell him that I found them deeply disturbing and wrong.

At this point, he was about to retire and I had to decide how to handle it: do you publicly denounce the comments or do you privately express concern with them but recognize that you are still part of the church community that is going to be transitioning? I chose the latter.

But I think it is very important to understand that my values and ideas with respect to the United States, with respect to my foreign policy, with respect to Israel, nobody 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.

Q: (Dan Loeb, Philadelphia Jewish Voice) I believe the war in Iraq has enhanced Iran's influence as a regional power broker. What can be done to reverse that trend and begin to reduce Iran's influence in the region.

Barack Obama: I can not begin to understand how the Bush administration failed to think through the consequences of our invasion. As monsterous as Sadaam Hussein was, he was a buffer against Iran's power, and that was well known. There was not a writer on the Middle-East who did not understand that. 

You have got a Shi'ite majority in Iraq. So the idea that you have free elections in Iraq would lead to a government that would have ties to Iran. 

So I think it is not totally possible to put the "genie" back in the bottle. Iran is going to have some influence in Iraq. During my questioning of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker this past week, they conceded this much: There is going to be some influence. I think then 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 put the burden on Iraq to arrive at accommodation between the parties, I think we can then exploit a real division between Arab Shia and Persian Shia. You know Iranian Shia are not the same as Iraqi Shia. The Sadr Brigade has some links to Iran, but also there is enmity there as well and jockeying for position. What we should be doing is 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. And what I think you will see is that those links will not be as strong as they are now when there is a perception that both Iran and a large elements of the Shia population in Iraq have been focused on driving out the United States.

But ultimately we have to go to the source which is Iran, and that's why I think that threats along with the ability to make alliances will tighten the vise which is around Iran. It must be understood that they are responsible, and this is completely central to my approach.

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. Right now so many Arab states use the Arab-Israeli conflict as an excuse for their own failures, and as a way to paper over differences among the Muslim world, and if we could start moving the Arab-Israeli conflict forward, it becomes a lot harder for them to paper over those differences. And the same is true for US occupation. Being anti-Israel and anti-US hides all sorts of conflicts that if you talk privately with leaders in like Saudi Arabia they are more concerned at times with Iran than with Israel, but they cannot say that publically. They are not willing to acknowledge their differences because they would be perceived as breaking ranks. We have got to take some of that hesitance off the table.

Final Remarks

Let me make one last comment about my relationship to the Jewish community as I depart here today. I've spoken a lot about policy and I think that nobody has been able to identify any set of comments that I've made or any positions that I've taken that are contrary to the interests of the Jewish community or Israel. But if people don't mind I'd like to be honest, a lot of the concern has been generated as a consequence of scurrilous emails that have been sent. A lot of it has been generated based on speculation of the fact that my middle name is Hussein. A lot of it has been generated as a consequence of the fact that I'm African American and at times there have been tensions between the African American leadership and the Jewish community. So I just want to emphasize I guess what's in my heart, which is that my ties to the Jewish community are not political. They precede me entering politics…

I think about novels by writers like Philip Roth. And when I think about my friendships through my college years and my early public life and who supported me and who's been most sympathetic to the causes that I care about, so many of the people have been rooted in the Jewish community. And so there is a kinship and a sense of shared commitments that predates my politics and will extend beyond this particular election. And so what I've asked people to do is to not base decisions about who to support or not on emails or superficial characteristics or associations that are tangential to who I am and what I believe in. And know that I will be there for you, just as I believe you will be there for me. And that if we can work together, I'm confident that we can actually move forward in a direction that is not only good for the Jewish community or the African America community, but good for America, good for our children, and good for our grandchildren, so, thank you very much.

To view previous editions of "In Their Own Words", please click here.

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