Kerry makes case for Obama in Israel

Says presidential hopeful has "no illusions" about Iran, has "deep understanding" of Jewish history.

john kerry 88 (photo credit: )
john kerry 88
(photo credit: )
Barack Obama is a "100 percent supporter of Israel," and if elected, he will bring new spirit to peacemaking efforts, US Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said Monday. The unsuccessful 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, on a congressional visit to Israel, also said an on-line campaign questioning Obama's background and credentials was character assassination. The main allegation is that Obama is a closet Muslim. Kerry also tried to counter concerns expressed by some American Jews that Obama would not support Israel if elected president. "This is a man who has been in a minority status in his life, a man who understands what discrimination and even persecution can be, and I think he has a really deep personal understanding of what Jewish history is," Kerry told The Associated Press. "He understands the emotional, cultural, historical, political, strategic connection, and I think he honors that." Kerry met Monday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for what were described by diplomatic sources as "serious talks" about the Palestinian and Syrian tracks, as well as Iran. The officials did not say whether Obama was a focus of the discussion, which were held first with advisers and then in private. Obama announced on Saturday that he would visit Israel in the upcoming months as part of an international trip that would also take him to Jordan, France, Germany and Britain. Obama's stop in Israel is widely believed to be an effort to persuade skeptical Jewish voters of his support for Israel. The Jewish vote is considered to be extremely important in the upcoming elections in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Kerry, who came in to Israel from Saudi Arabia, is also scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni before leaving on Tuesday for Egypt. According to one diplomatic official, Kerry takes a keen interest in the Middle East and visits Israel regularly. He was last here a year ago. Kerry helped Obama burst onto the national stage by selecting the then-Senate candidate to deliver the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Kerry has been a strong and vocal backer of Obama's 2008 campaign. The Massachusetts senator lost to President George W. Bush in a closely contested election. Kerry, a Vietnam war veteran like Republican candidate John McCain, believed overall American Middle East policy would change "regardless of who is elected." But he said Obama represented a more "sensible approach," particularly on Iraq and Iran. "He is a 100 percent supporter of Israel, and he is committed to Israel in all the ways that all of us are, but I think he understands that there is a better way to achieve our goals in Iraq," he said. "He has no illusions about the difficulties in Iran. Iran is a risk, a danger, a threat and a challenge, and we have to deal with it." Kerry said Bush had made many mistakes in the region, but he praised the president and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, for refocusing their efforts in the last year of the Bush presidency. "Ambition with respect to the Middle East is never a bad thing, but I think the clock is ticking very fast and there is a lot of fragility in the process that is out of their control. But I think it is well worth pushing, and I'm glad they are," he said. Kerry is a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.