WASHINGTON, March 13 — As Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama compete for Jewish donors and voters, Mrs. Clinton is following a tried-and-true rule of hers from New York — support Israel to the last — while Mr. Obama is trying a more delicate strategy that hit some bumps this week.
At a pro-Israel conference here on Monday night, Mrs. Clinton told an audience of 1,000 that Israel deserved “every bit of our support” and that Iran “will not be permitted to have nuclear weapons.” There were no shades of gray about Israel, which has been her style since falling into trouble with Jewish voters in 1999 when she did not quickly denounce controversial remarks about Israel made by Suha Arafat, the wife of the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, is making a personal overture to Jewish voters that threads together history from slavery to the Holocaust to Jim Crow. Yet he is also talking about the needs of the Palestinians. Less experienced than Mrs. Clinton in the thicket of Jewish and Middle Eastern politics, he became a bit tangled in the eyes of some voters during his appearance Monday at the same conference that Mrs. Clinton attended, a forum sponsored by the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac.
Several Jewish conferencegoers said they were concerned by Mr. Obama’s remark Sunday in Iowa where, in a reference to the Middle East, he said, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” According to The Des Moines Register, Mr. Obama put the blame on the stalled peace efforts with Israel and on the refusal of the Palestinian government to renounce terrorism.
Mr. Obama has said in the past that both Israelis and Palestinians had “suffered” because of the lack of a peace agreement, and a spokesman said on Tuesday that Mr. Obama believed “the security of Israel should be America’s starting point in the Middle East.” Yet by singling out Palestinian suffering on Sunday, Mr. Obama could be tempting fate with some Jewish voters.
“Awarding first place in the suffering matrix is odious and infelicitous,” said Rabbi Steven Silver of Redondo Beach, Calif., after listening to Mrs. Clinton speak at a reception at the Aipac conference. “I think a lot of Americans would find that comment offensive, too.”
Mr. Silver’s son, Jesse, a college student who supports Mrs. Clinton, said he was spreading the word at the conference about Mr. Obama’s remark.
“It’s just clumsy of him to say that on the eve of the Aipac conference,” Jesse Silver said. “His inexperience is showing.”
The two candidates’ courting of Jewish voters was also on display as they nearly faced off at the conference: They held receptions in banquet rooms about 25 yards apart at roughly the same time on Monday.
They sounded some of the same themes, yet Mr. Obama proved more expansive by bringing up the Palestinians and ruminating on the Holocaust and slavery and on cynicism in politics.
Using the same language at points, both candidates lamented terrorism aimed at “innocent” civilians. They talked tough about Iran, with Mr. Obama calling Iran “a genuine threat” to the United States and Israel and forswearing “a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
Mrs. Clinton stayed focused on Israel and its safety, emphasizing, as she has before, that “no option is off the table” if a confrontation escalates with Iran. By contrast, while Mr. Obama flatly said at one point, “I am pro-Israel,” he also pointedly mentioned the Palestinians.
Toward the end of his speech, after heaping praise on Israel, he said, “All of us are committed to two states living side by side in peace.” And as soon as there were Palestinian partners who “renounced violence,” he added, peace negotiations with Israel should unfold. These remarks drew scattered applause.