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Obama Vows to Support Israel

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day - history cracked. And now what? I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. We'll follow this stunning political story throughout the show today. A black American clinches the Democratic presidential nomination. We'll speak with political leaders and analysts here and overseas.

CHADWICK: But we'll begin with a reporter. NPR's Scott Horsley, he watched a victorious Barack Obama today give a speech in Washington. Scott, welcome back. Senator Obama was speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that's a major organization for a traditional Democratic group that's been a little nervous about him, American Jews. What did he say?

HORSLEY: That's right, Alex. And the first thing Obama did, in an effort to reassure Jewish voters, is to just give a straightforward declaration of his unqualified support for Israel. He also talked in sort of personal terms about his own understanding of the Jewish state, which he got from a camp counselor as a child. He talked about the history of Jews and African-Americans standing shoulder-to-shoulder, even shedding blood together during the civil rights struggle.

And he confronted head-on some of the Internet rumors and the false emails that continue to circulate suggesting that he's a closet Muslim or that somehow he wouldn't stand up for Israel.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): They're filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for president and all I want to say is, let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama because he sounds pretty scary. But if anybody's been confused by these emails, I want you to know that today, I'll be speaking from my heart - and as a true friend of Israel.

(Soundbite of applause)

CHADWICK: Scott, it was Senator McCain speaking to this same group on Monday, and he was very critical of Senator Obama for his willingness to negotiate with Iran's president. So did the senator speak about that today? Was there a response on that point?

HORSLEY: Yes, Senator Obama said he was hesitant to be too partisan because he didn't want anyone watching in this country of another country to think that America's support for Israel was somehow a partisan thing. He said it crosses party lines; both Democrats and Republicans support Israel. And he acknowledged that Iran is a serious threat throughout the Middle East. But he also argued that Senator McCain's policy, in particular McCain's ongoing support for the Iraq War, have not made either Israel or the United States more safe.

Senator OBAMA: Senator McCain refuses to understand or acknowledge the failure of the policy he would continue. He criticizes my willingness to use strong diplomacy, but offers only an alternate reality - one where the war in Iraq has somehow put Iran on its heels. The truth is the opposite.

CHADWICK: And you know, these events are scheduled, I guess, months in advance, so the speaker following Senator Obama was Hillary Clinton. She spoke just moments after he did - didn't begin her speech with any reference to the events of yesterday, didn't in any way concede her role as a Democratic candidate. She did offer a note of support for Senator Obama.

HORSLEY: That's right. For a while, it looked as if Hillary Clinton might just ignore what happened yesterday altogether. But then she did pivot a bit and tried to reassure the AIPAC audience that Barack Obama shares her unqualified support for Israel now and forever, she said.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): It has been an honor to contest these primaries with him. It is an honor to call him my friend. And let me be very clear, I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: Senator Clinton also gave a partisan plug for electing a Democrat in November, whichever Democrat may be on the ballot, and she said it's not just Israel that faces challenges. She said the U.S. can only be a strong ally to Israel if it gets stronger here at home and strengthens its reputation in the world. I should say, by the way, that Senator Obama certainly congratulated Clinton for the way she had run the campaign, as did Senator McCain today. Both Obama and McCain are going to be working hard to win over Hillary Clinton's supporters.

CHADWICK: NPR's Scott Horsley in Washington for us today. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.