Introduced as the nominee of the Democratic Party, Senator Barack Obama drew several standing ovations from a vastly Jewish crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington on Wednesday, talking tough on the Iranian threat to Israel while also promising that he would lead in pursuing a peace settlement in Israel.
Mr. Obama endorsed a two-state, Israel-Palestine settlement, and took an implicit poke at President Bush. He was speaking, as did John McCain before him on Monday, to a policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major lobbying organization for Israel.
“I won’t wait until the waning days of my presidency,” Mr. Obama said. “I will take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration.”
As president, he added: “I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.”
Shortly after he spoke, his former rival, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton came a touch closer than she did last night to acknowledging that he is the nominee of the party. She vouched for Mr. Barack’s friendship and concern for Israel, but did not call him the nominee.
“Let me be very clear,” she said, “I know Senator Obama will be a good friend of Israel.”
Mr. Obama defended his stance that he would negotiate with the nation’s enemies, but coupled that with a pledge of unstinting support for Israel’s security. He also promised to send military hardware to Israel under the same conditions governing NATO nations.
He talked tough on Iran, describing it in terms suggestive of a rogue nation. He made clear that he would place the military might of the United States behind Israel in the event of an Iranian attack on the Jewish state.
But he stopped short of explicitly echoing Mrs. Clinton, who earlier in the primary campaign threatened to obliterate Iran if it used nuclear weapons against Israel. Some more conservative Jewish Democrats have sought a similar declaration from Mr. Obama, which he did not deliver.
“I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said, adding for emphasis: “Everything.
“That starts with aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests.”
He gave a brief nod at his speech’s start to the Internet rumors that swirl about his commitment to the Jewish state.
“Before I begin, I want to say that I know some provocative e-mails have been circulating throughout Jewish communities across the country,” he said. “A few of you may have gotten them. They’re filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for president.
“All I want to say is, let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty scary.”
This elicited some modest laughs from the audience, which throughout the first half of his speech seemed most intent on listening and drawing his measure.
So he continued: “But if anyone has been confused by these e-mails, I want you to know that today I’ll be speaking from my heart, and as a true friend of Israel.”
Characteristic of this politician, he then framed Israel’s struggle in the lens of his own experience and understanding of history.
“I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was 11 years old. I learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve their identity through faith, family and culture. Year after year, century after century, Jews carried on their traditions, and their dream of a homeland, in the face of impossible odds.
“The story made a powerful impression on me. I had grown up without a sense of roots. My father was black, he was from Kenya, and he left when I was 2. My mother was white, she was from Kansas, and I’d moved with her to Indonesia and back to Hawaii. In many ways, I didn’t know where I came from. So I was drawn to the belief that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional and cultural identity. And I deeply understood the Zionist idea that there is always a homeland at the center of our story.”
He finished by invoking the legacy of the many Jews who joined the civil rights struggle in this nation, and referenced the fraying of that alliance these past few decades.
“Their legacy is our inheritance,” he said. “We must not allow the relationship between Jews and African Americans to suffer. This is a bond that must be strengthened. Together, we can rededicate ourselves to end prejudice and combat hatred.”
Now, he said to loud
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