Sen. Barak Obama’s campaign staff and colleagues spoke out this week against allegations questioning the senator’s support of Israel, while the presidential hopeful urged the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to either condemn Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel or remain silent about events in Gaza.
In a letter to Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Obama wrote, "All of us are concerned about the impact of the closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this . Israeli citizens are being bombarded by rockets on an almost daily basis . Israel has a right to respond ." (See letter at right.)
Click to read the letter
Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), the northeast coordinator for Obama’s presidential campaign, plans to hold a community forum at Temple Sholom in River Edge next week to answer questions about Obama, particularly on the senator’s views of Israel, which have been the subject of rumors and e-mails calling Obama a Muslim, among other claims. (See related story.)
"There has been a despicable campaign of lies about Sen. Obama that have been circulating across the Internet for months on a variety of subjects, including his record on the State of Israel," Rothman told The Jewish Standard Tuesday.
Temple Sholom is not endorsing Obama or any candidate in the Feb. 5 primaries, but it wants to give people an honest look at the candidate, said the Reform congregation’s Rabbi Neal Borovitz. The synagogue would open its doors to advocates for other candidates as well, he said.
"It’s very important that people have a chance to hear the truth and hear the facts about every one of the candidates," he said. "The reality is that with Sen. Obama, as well as Sen. Clinton and Sen. Edwards, their positions and records of support for Israel and Israel security are unquestionable."
Still, the negative e-mails about Obama "have raised questions and I think they need to be answered," which is the goal of next week’s forum, Borovitz said. "My concern is that no one should not vote for Sen. Obama because of a fear of him being anti-Israel because it’s not true."
Seven senators, who have not endorsed a candidate, signed an open letter to the Jewish community about the "hateful e-mails" that "use falsehood and innuendo about Sen. Barack Obama’s religion and attack him personally." The letter urged the Jewish community to support whichever candidate they believe would make the best president and not to base that decision on "false charges circulated by anonymous mass e-mails."
In a statement to the Standard on Tuesday, Obama thanked his colleagues for speaking on his behalf.
"I am proud of my close relationship with the Jewish community and appreciate the resolve of the community to look for the truth in the face of these false attacks," he said.
The e-mails were created to scare the Jewish community by targeting an issue close to many American Jews, Rothman said.
"They certainly get the attention of people who care about Israel," he said. "But once those people are given the facts, they understand that these outrageous and false statements on the Internet are nothing more than attempts to scare Jewish Americans and other Israel-supporters into holding off on endorsing an otherwise extremely appealing candidate for the Jewish community."
Asked for comment about the letter, a spokesman for New Jersey’s Sen. Frank Lautenberg, one of the letter’s signatories, said the senator is letting it speak for itself in regards to why it was necessary.
To set the record straight, Rothman told the Standard that Obama’s position is that Israel is and should always remain a Jewish state and that the Palestinians should have no right of return to Israel. Further proving Obama’s commitment, Rothman said, the senator does not change his position based on his audience. Rather, Obama speaks of a strong Israel in front of both pro-Israel crowds and those not so friendly toward the Jewish state.
"Those who have worked with him the past ‘0 years in the Illinois pro-Israel and Jewish communities are crazy about him," Rothman said. "They understand how deep his commitment is to the long-standing and essential U.S.-Israel relationship as well as Obama’s personal view that Israel is now and must always remain a Jewish state."
A founding member of the Englewood-based pro-Israel NORPAC and a past president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the precursor to UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, Rothman cited himself as an example of why the pro-Israel community should accept Obama’s commitment.
Rothman will speak at Temple Sholom in River Edge at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31. The event is open to the community.