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Obama Talks Up Jewish Ties in Boca

By Shailagh Murray
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Sen. Barack Obama was greeted warmly at the B'nai Torah synagogue here, although his so-called "Jewish problem" did flare up once.

About halfway through the town-hall meeting, a male audience member asked Obama about his relationship with Rashid Khalidi, director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University and an advocate for Palestinian rights. Obama got to know Khalidi when the prominent scholar was a University of Chicago professor.

The relationship concerned him, the man said, and he asked Obama to name "close personal friends" who are Jewish and who "know what you're thinking," to show that he was the hearing from the other side in the Israel debate.

The crowd started to boo and tried to shout down the man. But Obama agreed to respond, although he said, "I have to be very cautious about this because you remember the old stereotype, 'I'm not prejudiced, some of my best friends are Jewish,' right? 'I'm not prejudiced, some of my best friends are black.'"

Obama named Penny Pritzker, his finance chair and "one of my closest friends." Prizker is a Chicago billionaire whose family founded the Hyatt Hotel chain. Obama called the Pritzkers "a fairly prominent Jewish family."

His Illinois co-chair, he added, is James Crown, whose father, Lester Crown, is another Forbes 400 perennial. Obama described the Crown family -- which holds stakes in the Chicago Bulls, Hilton Hotels and Maytag, to name a few -- as "pretty prominent."

Another one of Obama's "dearest friends" and advisers on Israel policy, is Lee Rosenberg, a member of AIPAC's board of directors. One of his political mentors was Abner Mikva, a former congressman from Chicago and federal judge.

Obama continued, "The irony is, when I was in Chicago, one of the raps on me when I first ran for Congress in the African American community was, he's too close to the Jewish community. You can look this up. All his friends are Jews. He's from Hyde Park, He's from the University of Chicago. That's part of why this kind of conversation is frustrating."

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 22, 2008; 7:47 PM ET
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