Obama: Israel's security sacrosanct

Says he is a "stalwart friend of Israel", denounces Farrakhan; Clinton disowns turban photo.

Obama supporters 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Obama supporters 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Senator Barack Obama voiced unreserved support for Israel on Tuesday night, but he clashed with Senator Hillary Clinton over campaign tactics and the war in Iraq during a crackling debate one week before a pivotal group of primaries. While discussing issues of anti-Semitism, Obama said: "One of the reasons why so many of my supporters come from the Jewish community...is that I have been a stalwart friend of Israel and supported the special relationship we enjoy with it... They are among our most important allies and their security is sacrosanct." Obama also sought to distance himself from an endorsement from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the controversial Chicago-based former head of the black Muslim group who has made numerous anti-Semitic comments in the past. Obama said he had not sought the endorsement, and that he had denounced the remarks. Clinton interjected at one point, saying that in her initial Senate campaign in New York in 2000, she was supported by a group with virulent anti-Semitic views. "I rejected it, and said it would not be anything I would be comfortable with," she recalled. Clinton said rejecting support was different from denouncing it, an obvious jab at Obama. He responded by saying he did not see the difference, since Farrakhan had not done anything except declare his support. But given Clinton's comments, he said, "I happily concede the point and I would reject and denounce." His statement drew rapturous applause. Charges of negative campaign tactics were high on the program, too, in Tuesday night's debate. Clinton said as far as she knew, her campaign had nothing to do with circulating a photograph of Obama wearing a white turban and a wraparound white robe presented to him by elders in Wajir, in northeastern Kenya. "I take Senator Clinton at her word that she knew nothing about the photo," Obama said. On the war, both candidates denounced President George W. Bush's record on Iraq, then restated long-held disagreements over which of them was more opposed. Clinton said she and Obama had virtually identical voting records on the war since he came to the Senate in 2005. The former first lady voted in 2002 to authorize the war, at a time when Obama was not yet in Congress. Asked whether she would like to have the vote back, she said, "Absolutely. I've said that many times." Obama tried to use the issue to rebut charges that he was ill-prepared to become commander in chief. "The fact is that Senator Clinton often says that she is ready on day one, but, in fact, she was ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue," Obama said.