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Wexler: Why I back Obama

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Robert Wexler, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida, is the chairman of Barack Obama's Florida campaign. ()

Robert Wexler, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida, is the chairman of Barack Obama’s Florida campaign. ()

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (JTA) – Rarely do Americans have the chance to vote for a truly transformational leader as our next president, but this year we do: Sen. Barack Obama.

There are many reasons why I support Barack Obama for president. He offers an opportunity to end the divisive politics of the past and reconnect Americans to the political process by bringing all voices to the table on contentious issues and working out common sense solutions. He is committed to making sure every American has access to quality health care and to ending our dependence on foreign oil, and he has a proven ability to develop bipartisan coalitions to achieve his goals. He had the judgment to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning – and he has a sound plan to end it.

But as a Jewish member of Congress who is passionate about strengthening and protecting America’s historic relationship with our ally Israel, I could not support Barack Obama if I were not completely convinced of his own commitment to supporting Israel. In fact, my long conversations with Senator Obama about his travels in Israel and his views on the importance of the American-Israeli alliance factored greatly in my decision to support him.

As a legislator in Illinois and now as a United States senator, Barack Obama has been an ironclad supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and repeatedly has been at the forefront ensuring Israel’s security in the face of Palestinian terrorism, Hezbollah rocket attacks, threats from Syria and a burgeoning Iranian nuclear threat. Barack Obama emphatically stated while giving a March 2007 speech to AIPAC members in Chicago that he has a “clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy.”

Senator Obama has been vocal in condemning Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket attacks into the southern Israeli city of Sderot, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Israelis in 2006 during Israel’s war with Hezbollah.

“When Israel is attacked,” he said, “we must stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself.”

But like the vast majority of the American Jewish community, Barack Obama believes that a comprehensive settlement – including Israel and a peaceful Palestinian state living side by side – is the best way to ensure Israel’s security and guarantee that Israel will always be a Jewish state. He commended Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for coming to Annapolis to launch a renewed effort to negotiate peace. As president, Barack Obama will make a personal commitment and a sustained effort to help the parties succeed in their negotiations.

He has no illusions about the difficulty of resolving the core issues of the conflict. For example, he has stated clearly that the Palestinians must “reinterpret the notion of right of return in a way that would preserve Israel as a Jewish state.” Nor does he underestimate the determination of rejectionists like Hamas, who he believes must remain isolated until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and abides by all agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority. But he will not be deterred, and he will make resolving this conflict an important priority of his foreign policy.

No one has been more resolute than Barack Obama in addressing the most serious security threat facing the United States and Israel – a nuclear Iran. He has stated that ‘the world must work to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands” of a “radical theocracy.”

Obama has led efforts in the Senate to ratchet up economic pressure on Iran by introducing the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007. It aims to change Iran’s destructive behavior by denying President Ahmadinejad and his regime billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues that are used to fuel Tehran’s nuclear program and global terror network.

The American Jewish community could not have a better friend and supporter in Washington than Barack Obama. That is why it was deeply disturbing to read the proliferation of e-mails personally attacking Senator Obama, questioning his religious beliefs as well as his support for Israel.

I stand with the leadership of nine major American Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, who issued a statement on Jan. 15 rejecting “hateful e-mails that use falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterize Senator Barack Obama’s religious beliefs and who he is as a person.”

Barack Obama’s message of optimism and vision for change represent an unparalleled opportunity to unify our nation. His candidacy is especially compelling because it represents a historic opportunity to elect an inspirational figure who is capable of repairing America’s image globally and addressing the challenges facing the United States.

Robert Wexler, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida, is the chairman of Barack Obama’s Florida campaign.

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