Barack Obama faulted elements in the pro-Israel community that he says equate being pro-Israel with being pro-Likud.
"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel," the Illinois senator and contender for the Democratic presidential nominee told a group of Jewish leaders in Cleveland on Sunday. "If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress."
The Likud Party, in the Israeli opposition, advocates minimal territorial concessions to the Palestinians and promotes settlement in the West Bank.
Obama was addressing a series of attacks, most from Republicans, that suggest that he has surrounded himself with anti-Israel advisers. He noted that he did not take the advice of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter administration national security adviser named in some of the attack e-mails.
Obama explained that he accepted Brzezinski's endorsement, based on shared views on ending the Iraq war, but did not share Brzezinski's critical views of Israel. Nonetheless, he cautioned against marginalizing those with different views.
"Frankly some of the commentary that I've seen which suggests guilt by association or the notion that unless we are never ever going to ask any difficult questions about how we move peace forward or secure Israel that is non military or non belligerent or doesn't talk about just crushing the opposition that that somehow is being soft or anti-Israel, I think we're going to have problems moving forward," he said.
Obama also said he encountered more nuanced views among Israelis than Americans.
"There was a very honest, thoughtful debate taking place inside Israel," he said. "All of you, I'm sure, have experienced this when you travel there. Understandably, because of the pressure that Israel is under, I think the U.S. pro-Israel community is sometimes a little more protective or concerned about opening up that conversation. But all I'm saying though is that actually ultimately should be our goal, to have that same clear eyed view about how we approach these issues."
The meeting, taking place as the campaigns of Obama and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) blitz the state ahead of a March 4 primary, was off the record, but a rough transcript was later made available.
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