SDEROT, Israel – Barack Obama pledged his support for Israel Wednesday while standing in front of a pile of rocket and mortar casings in a town repeatedly attacked by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“I am here to say as an American and as a friend of Israel that we stand with the people of Sderot and all of the people of Israel,” the Democratic U.S. presidential candidate told reporters at the town’s police station.
Sderot has been a popular stop on the U.S. campaign trail this year. Republican presidential contender John McCain visited the town in March — but with a smaller press contingent — and also spoke to reporters in front of the piles of rockets.
“If people were rocketing my state, I think that the citizens from my state would advocate a very vigorous response,” McCain said at the time.
Obama had a similar view. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” he said. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
Since McCain’s visit, rocket fire on Sderot has largely stopped due to a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Obama’s visit is aimed at allaying wariness among some Jewish voters in the United States who are concerned about his support for Israel and his policies for the Middle East.
Obama, a Christian, has had difficulty dispelling rumors suggesting he is a Muslim and that his advisers have a pro-Arab bent. The New Yorker magazine lampooned the image with a cover cartoon portraying Obama in traditional Muslim garb and his wife sporting an AK-47 — a picture that sparked outrage in many circles.
Obama was ridiculed and criticized in April when a top Hamas adviser told a radio interviewer that the Palestinian militant group — considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government — liked Obama and hoped he would win the U.S. presidential election.
The remarks were labeled a Hamas endorsement and McCain used them as part of a fundraising appeal to supporters.
Hamas changed its mind about Obama last month after he declared strong support for Israel in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The group said the two U.S. candidates had the same policy on the Mideast and so it had no preference.
- Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama walks by shelves of rocket casings in Sderot on Wednesday); Reuters/POOL New (McCain stands in front of rocket casings in Sderot March 19)