WASHINGTON - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Thursday night failed to mention Israel as one of the United States' top allies.
Eight Democratic presidential candidates met at South Carolina State University in the party's first Presidential Debate. The candidates spent most of the 90 minutes attacking the policies of current President George W. Bush in Iraq.
The debate was remarkably low-key, with the eight candidates addressing each other by their first names and preferring to aim their barbs at Bush rather than at each other.
When asked who the United States' top allies are, Senator Barack Obama said the European Union and Japan, but failed to mention Israel.
The debate moderator NBC News anchor Brian Williams interrupted Obama, drawing his attention to the omission and quoting Obama as having once said, "No one suffers more than the Palestinians."
Obama, unperplexed, explained that the Palestinians suffer because of their leadership. "I said that no one suffers more than the Palestinian people because of their leadership's failure to recognize Israel, denounce violence and be serious about peace negotiations and regional security," he said.
"Israel is one of our most important allies in the world. It is the only democracy in the Middle East," Obama added. He even noted that if he was elected, he intended to increase American involvement in the region.
"The United States must be involved in the region, and that is what the current president failed to do, but it's something I plan to do, Obama said.
According to recent polls, Senator Hillary Clinton is the leading candidate, followed by Obama and Senator John Edwards.
News agencies contributed to the report