Obama seeking Ross’s advice on Middle East

Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told a group of Jewish communal lay leaders that he is receiving advice on Middle East issues from Dennis Ross.

The Democratic presidential hopeful made the disclosure during a closed meeting in New York with 25 Jewish leaders, according to a Jewish organizational source familiar with what was said at the gathering. It comes as the senator’s campaign is making a concerted effort to reach out to the Jewish community across the country.

The association with Ross could help Obama solve a key dilemma: how to win the confidence of hawkish pro-Israel donors without alienating his anti-war base.

Ross, who served in the State Department of both Bush administrations and the Clinton administration, has displayed a rare ability to command respect from a wide swath of the political spectrum in the Jewish community. As the architect of President Clinton’s Middle East peace efforts and a consistent voice for more robust American diplomatic efforts, Ross has secured the support of the community’s more dovish wing. At the same time, he has earned respect in more hawkish circles with his willingness to blame Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the collapse of the peace process and challenge those who say the pro-Israel lobby controls U.S. foreign policy.

Eric Lynn, Obama’s liaison to the Jewish community, told JTA that his boss and Ross have had a relationship for several years.

“He says, ‘Tony Lake and Susan Rice are my top foreign policy advisers,’ but when it comes to the Middle East, Dennis Ross informally advises the senator.”

The campaign would not name those who attended, noting that the meeting was private and off the record. Jewish communal and Obama campaign sources said the meeting was a success.

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