WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democratic presidential leader Barack Obama said he regrets the division that has grown between Jews and blacks and he remains committed to ensuring Israel's security.
Obama discussed his relationship with the Jewish community and Israel in an interview posted Monday on The Atlantic magazine's Web site, part of his continuing effort to reassure Jewish voters who have expressed some unease about his candidacy. The situation didn't improve as an adviser to the militant Palestinian group Hamas recently said they hope Obama wins the presidency.
Obama said some in the Arab world may be attracted to his candidacy because he spent part of his childhood in the Muslim nation of Indonesia, has the middle name Hussein and advocates presidential-level talks with foreign leaders ostracized by the Bush administration.
"I welcome the Muslim world's accurate perception that I am interested in opening up dialogue and interested in moving away from the unilateral policies of George Bush, but nobody should mistake that for a softer stance when it comes to terrorism or when it comes to protecting Israel's security or making sure that the alliance is strong and firm," Obama said. "You will not see, under my presidency, any slackening in commitment to Israel's security.
"I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism," Obama said. But he added, "That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it's a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don't always act with justice uppermost on our minds."
Obama said his ideas about Israel date to the sixth grade, when he had a Jewish camp counselor who talked about how his people had been uprooted. Obama, the son of a Kenyan father who left the family when he was a toddler, said he identified with that feeling.
"The idea of Israel and the reality of Israel is one that I find important to me personally," Obama said. "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 that is frustrating about the recent conversations on Israel is the loss of what I think is the natural affinity between the African-American community and the Jewish community, one that was deeply understood by Jewish and black leaders in the early civil-rights movement but has been estranged for a whole host of reasons," Obama said.
Obama said that early in his political career in Chicago, some blacks criticized him for being too close to the Jews.
"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," he said. "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."
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