Obama Meets With Jewish Leaders


Published February 28, 2008, issue of March 07, 2008.
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Barack Obama met with Cleveland Jewish leaders in a private meeting Sunday a few hours before his chief Jewish surrogate, Florida Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, took questions from a crowd of 500 at a local synagogue.

Obama suggested in his meeting that a driving force in his Jewish campaign was fighting back against an Internet campaign depicting him as everything from a secret Muslim to being surrounded by advisers who are soft on Israel.

“I don’t think that we are in an era anymore where you can just ignore these things and not dignify them,” Obama told the 150 leaders at a suburban meeting hall. “There was a time when they would be amplified as consequence of you calling attention to it. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, because of our media age.”

He added, “You know we saw what happened with the Swift boat situation back in 2004,” referring to false attacks on the military record of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential candidate. “And so what we’ve done is try to lift it up and actively debunk it and encourage stories about it.”

Obama’s campaigners in Ohio say there is more to the Jewish campaign than simply quashing innuendo before it becomes a threat: The big prize is a key primary state that once trended strongly for Clinton but is shown in recent polls possibly to be up for grabs in the March 4 vote.

In an address before the Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in suburban Cleveland, Wexler recalled the historic alliance between the synagogue’s late rabbi, Arthur Lelyveld, and Martin Luther King.

“He was an extraordinary hero,” Wexler said to murmurs of agreement before pivoting to Obama’s campaign, describing both the effects of an Obama presidency on Israel and America’s place in the world after years of what Obama said was a neglect of alliances by President Bush.

“When that new day of trans-Atlantic relations emerges, Israel, too, will be a great beneficiary,” he said.

In a late move, after it was clear that Obama was making a big Jewish push in the state, the Clinton campaign put together an event Monday night, featuring a talk by one of the New York senator’s supporters, former diplomat to the United States and Middle East negotiator Martin Indyk.

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