WASHINGTON — Seeking to reassure Jewish Democrats, Senator Obama said yesterday that his commitment to Israel is "unwavering" and that he has not only "talked the talk" but "walked the walk" in standing up for the security of the Jewish state.
The first-term Illinois senator was one of four Democratic presidential candidates to address the National Jewish Democratic Council here yesterday.
His most direct comments about Israel came in response to a pointed question from an audience member who cited Mr. Obama's support among Muslim Americans and asked how he could make Jewish voters "totally comfortable" on the issue of the Middle East conflict.
"My support within the Jewish community probably has been much more significant than any support that I have received from the Muslim American community," Mr. Obama said, adding that he welcomes support from Muslim Americans.
"Those who have worked with me in Chicago, in the state Legislature, and now in the United States Senate, I think will testify that I haven't just talked the talk, I've walked the walk when it comes to Israel's security," he said.
Mr. Obama said America "cannot ask Israel to take risks with respect its security," but he said he would rely heavily on diplomacy to try to achieve peace between Israel and its enemies.
He also said his experience living for four years in Indonesia — the world's most populous Muslim country — is a strength that could give him an advantage in dealing with the Muslim world. "It allows me to say things to them that other presidents might not be able to say," he said to applause from an audience of more than 200 at the Almas Temple. "And that's part of, I think, what's promising about this presidency."
The man who asked the question, Robert Seidemann of West Palm Beach, Fla., said Mr. Obama gave a "reasonably good answer" and about 95% what he wanted to hear.
"I know he's very strongly anti-terrorism, and that is very good," he said. "The thing that concerns me a little is whether his background will allow the pro-Israel side to dominate 100% throughout all of the discussions."
Members of the council received Mr. Obama warmly yesterday, and several spoke highly of his remarks about Israel.
They said the questions about his views stemmed from his lacking the long track record of several of his Democratic rivals on foreign policy issues. He faced skepticism after saying last month in Iowa that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people."
Senators Dodd and Biden preceded Mr. Obama in addressing the council, and each spoke at length about their history of support for Israel. A former North Carolina senator, John Edwards, spoke Monday night, and Senator Clinton is scheduled to address the conference this morning, along with Governor Richardson of New Mexico.
Mrs. Clinton has a large base of support among Jewish voters dating back to her husband's years in the White House. "The Jewish community loved the Clinton administration," the vice chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Marc Stanley, said. The group will not endorse any candidate in the Democratic primary, he said.
Mrs. Clinton was in Washington yesterday afternoon addressing a rally to mark "Equal Pay Day," as she repeated her call to pass legislation aimed at closing the gap in earnings between men and women.
She is sponsoring a bill that would increase penalties for violations of "equal pay" laws and create a training program to help women improve negotiating skills, among other measures.
In conjunction with the event, Mrs. Clinton also announced the endorsement of Senator Mikulski of Maryland, who in 1986 became the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right.