Jews push Obama

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama stepped up his outreach
to potential Jewish backers this week, with an address to pro-Israel
supporters in Chicago and the announcement of a fundraising push in
South Florida.

at a policy forum held by (AIPAC)
in Chicago on March 2, the Illinois senator delivered his first
presidential campaign speech on Israel. In the warmly received talk,
Obama echoed the concerns of Jewish organizations over Iran’s nuclear
program and the Palestinian unity deal.

should all be concerned about the agreement negotiated among
Palestinians in Mecca last month,” Obama told Jewish constituents in
the Windy City. “The reports of this agreement suggest that Hamas,
Fatah and independent ministers would sit in a government together,
under a Hamas prime minister, without any recognition of Israel,
without a renunciation of violence, and with only an ambiguous promise
to ‘respect’ previous agreements…. We must tell the Palestinians this
is not good enough.”

At the same time, Obama
argued that the United States should be taking more aggressive
diplomatic steps on several fronts in the Middle East, and he appeared
to take a subtle swipe at the Bush administration for reportedly
blocking Israel from negotiating with Syria.

up his speech in Chicago and his appearance at next week’s Aipac
conference in Washington, Obama plans later this month to make his
entrance onto the Democratic stage of South Florida with five
big-ticket fundraisers slated for March 25. The region boasts more than
300,000 Jewish residents, making it the third-largest Jewish population
center in the country.

Obama’s path in the
Sunshine State is being cleared by Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, whose
heavily Jewish district contains parts of Palm Beach and Broward
counties. Wexler announced last week that he will serve as co-chairman
of Obama’s Florida campaign.

“[Obama] may not
be unique in this regard, but for me, somebody’s passion and stance on
Israel is essential for me to get engaged in their campaign
,” Wexler
said in an interview with the Forward. “We’ve had a very specific
conversation about the American-Israeli relationship, the challenges
relative to the Palestinians, to Syria and most especially to Iran… and
I am absolutely convinced that President Obama will be a historically
strong president for Israel.”

. . .

Jewish push comes on the eve of Washington’s biggest pro-Israel summit,
the annual Aipac conference, which attracts thousands of pro-Israel
activists and political donors from across the country. According to
one Democratic insider contacted by the Forward, the senator’s camp
intended to get a jump on the gathering, which will be crowded with
presidential hopefuls from both parties.

recent weeks, Obama has appeared to make inroads into political turf
previously claimed by the Clinton juggernaut, including red-carpet
Hollywood, which forked over $1.3 million to the Illinois senator’s
campaign last month at a high-profile fundraiser hosted by DreamWorks
executives Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Obama
has recently narrowed Clinton’s lead among voters, with a poll of the
Democratic primary electorate conducted by The Washington Post showing
that the Illinois lawmaker had jumped to 24% from 17% while the former
first lady dropped to 36% from 41%.

Obama has
strong support from Chicago’s Jewish Democratic establishment, which is
solidly backing him over Clinton, according to several Democratic

. . .

Other Jewish
supporters in Chicago include Obama’s national finance chair, business
mogul Penny Pritzker, a major Democratic donor and fundraiser whose
family founded Hyatt Hotels ; Joan Harris, a leading Chicago
philanthropist whose late husband, Irving Harris, served as chairman of
the Liberty Acorn mutual fund, and billionaire financier Lester Crown,
a top supporter and a leader of the city’s Jewish federation.

beloved [by the Chicago Jewish community]. I can’t tell you the passion
that’s behind it,” said Anne Wedner, an Aipac supporter who spearheaded
a get-out-the-vote effort during Obama’s 2004 Senate primary campaign.

potential roadblock on the path of Obama’s Jewish push emerged on
Tuesday, when The New York Times reported on controversy surrounding
the lawmaker’s religious mentor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., senior
pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church.

to the Times, the Senator’s camp disinvited Wright from speaking at
Obama’s presidential announcement due to concerns about his
Afro-centric teachings and past associations.

his enmies found out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli” to visit
Muammar el-Qaddafi, Wright recalled, “with Farrakhan, a lot of his
Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell.”

last week’s Aipac address, Obama argued that “tough-minded” diplomatic
engagement with Iran, combined with sanctions, should be America’s
“primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons,” but that
America’s leaders “should take no option, including military action,
off the table.”

The lawmaker seemed to be
criticizing the Bush administration’s reported efforts to block Israel
from opening peace talks with Syria.

“We also
know that we should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis
and their security interests,” Obama said. “No Israeli prime minister
should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by
the United States.”

The speech is believed to
have been shaped by adviser Dan Shapiro, a former National Security
Council official in the Clinton administration. Shapiro joined the
campaign last month to assist with Middle East policy and Jewish
outreach. Most recently, Shapiro served as deputy chief of staff to
Florida’s Democratic senator, Bill Nelson.

“Barack Obama Steps Up Bid for Jewish Backing –”

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