A persistent questioner at a campaign stop Thursday grilled Barack Obama on his ties to a professor with pro-Palestinian views, prompting Obama to speak at some length against "guilt by association" and about his support for the Jewish community.
The at-times heated exchange occurred during a town hall event held at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Fla. The questioner focused on Obama's relationship to Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University who has drawn fire for some of his criticisms of Israel.
Obama responded by saying he has met Khalidi and spoken with him in an academic context, when Obama was teaching at the University of Chicago.
"He is not one of my advisers. He's not one of my foreign policy people," Obama said. "He is a respected scholar, although he vehemently disagrees with a lot of Israel's policy."
Obama then objected to the suggestion that his contacts with Khalidi mean he shares Khalidi's views.
"Part of my philosophy … is I believe in listening to people even when I disagree with them," Obama said. "And part of the reason that the Jewish community in Chicago is so close to me is because they know that on many occasions I've spoken out vigorously against anti-Semitism, even in my own community, even when it's not convenient.
"But that doesn't mean that I'm not listening to different perspectives on a whole host of issues. That's part of my job as an elected official. That will be part of my job as president."
Obama has also come under fire from some critics for his ties to William Ayers, a college professor who once was a member of the violent radical group Weather Underground. Obama has responded similarly to those criticisms, saying that he knows Ayers but doesn't share his views.
Some Jewish voters are turned off by Obama's willingness to negotiate with countries like Iran and Syria. Others reject Obama because of e-mails spreading false rumors about him.
Obama has stressed that he wouldn't negotiate with the militant Palestinian group Hamas and is promising an "unshakable commitment" to Israel if he is elected president.
The Illinois senator also says he hopes his presidency would help improve strained relations between American black and Jewish communities.
Democratic presidential candidates didn't campaign in Florida during the primary, but Obama is focusing on the state now that he's close to wrapping up the nomination.