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Barack Obama claims Jewish "kinship"

April 16, 2008 |  1:51 pm

His racial makeup, his middle name and "scurrilous e-mails" about him are partly responsible for the discomfort some people have with him, Barack Obama told Jewish leaders during a private meeting in the Philadelphia area today.

He also told his audience of about 75 people at a synagogue that he feels a sense of "kinship" with the Jewish community, and that he has been influenced in his life by Jewish writers, philosophers and friends.

"There is a kinship and a sense of shared community that predates my political career and will extend beyond this particular election," Obama said, according to the pool report from the closed-door event. "Know that I will be there for you, just as I believe that you will be there for me."

Stressing the point, he added: "My links to the Jewish community are not political. They preceded my entry into politics."

Before Obama showed up, several of his supporters spoke to the assembly at Rodeph Shalom synagogue, according to Larry Eichel, the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who filed the account for the traveling press corps.

All of the speakers offered assurances that Obama is a friend of Israel and of the American Jewish community.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) told the group that Obama "unequivocally rejects the Palestinian right of return" because he understands that Israel must remain a Jewish state, according to Eichel's report.

Also from the report:

  • Obama was asked why he favors meeting with Iranian leaders but criticized President Carter's recent meeting with Hamas. He responded: "Hamas is not a state, Hamas is a terrorist organization ... so I think here is a very clear distinction."
  • Asked under what circumstances he'd use force against Iran, he declined to specify.
  • He pledged to continue the U.S. practice of vetoing anti-Israeli resolutions at the U.N. and said that he would be "uniquely positioned" to do so due to his background. "That kind of blunt talk is something I can deliver with more credibility than some other presidents might," he said.
  • Asked if he ever talked to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright about his ex-pastor's controversial remarks, Obama said he had done so privately. He also said that there was nothing in his own background that shows anything but a love of country and an understanding of the importance of the relationship between blacks and Jews.

-- Christi Parsons

Christi Parsons writes for the Swamp of the Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau

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