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Jewish Journal

Obama on ‘the kishke question’

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 12, 2008 | 1:50 pm

Jeffrey Goldberg, who made an appearance here last week, spent part of his weekend asking Barack Obama about being endorsed by Hamas (he didn’t care for it), Jimmy Carter’s portrait of Israel as an apartheid state (“I strongly reject that characterization”), whether Israel hurts the U.S. image abroad (“no, no, no”) and the lingering feeling among many Jews that he can’t be trusted.

Here is Obama’s response to “the kishke question”:

I think the idea of Israel and the reality of Israel is one that I find important to me personally. Because it speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus, it describes the history of overcoming great odds and a courage and a commitment to carving out a democracy and prosperity in the midst of hardscrabble land. One of the things I loved about Israel when I went there is that the land itself is a metaphor for rebirth, for what’s been accomplished. What I also love about Israel is the fact that people argue about these issues, and that they’re asking themselves moral questions.

Sometimes I’m attacked in the press for maybe being too deliberative. My staff teases me sometimes about anguishing over moral questions. I think I learned that partly from Jewish thought, that your actions have consequences and that they matter and that we have moral imperatives. The point is, if you look at my writings and my history, my commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is more than skin-deep and it’s more than political expediency. When it comes to the gut issue, I have such ardent defenders among my Jewish friends in Chicago. I don’t think people have noticed how fiercely they defend me, and how central they are to my success, because they’ve interacted with me long enough to know that I’ve got it in my gut. During the Wright episode, they didn’t flinch for a minute, because they know me and trust me, and they’ve seen me operate in difficult political situations.

The other irony in this whole process is that in my early political life in Chicago, one of the raps against me in the black community is that I was too close to the Jews. When I ran against Bobby Rush [for Congress], the perception was that I was Hyde Park, I’m University of Chicago, I’ve got all these Jewish friends. When I started organizing, the two fellow organizers in Chicago were Jews, and I was attacked for associating with them. So I’ve been in the foxhole with my Jewish friends, so when I find on the national level my commitment being questioned, it’s curious.

In other Obama news (analysis), the Crunchy Con discusses the passages he found most interesting from the New York Times’ lengthy profile of Obama’s rise and on the op-ed page, Edward N. Luttwak argues that Obama is not going to be the miraculous American emissary to the Muslim world that some hope.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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