Speaking with Orthodox Jewish Americans, Obama reaffirms commitment to Israel
June 6, 2012 Leave a comment
By Lauren Appelbaum, Political Director
Washington, June 6 – Following an address to 400 Jewish American leaders for Jewish American Heritage Month in May and a meeting with Conservative Jewish leaders last week, President Obama met Tuesday with Orthodox Jewish leaders – a group often critical of Obama’s policies – at the White House.
According to Haaretz, Obama said his administration is more attentive to Israel than it is to the Palestinians. And according to Ynet, Obama said the United States’ increased responsiveness toward Israel created a problem with the Palestinians.
Meeting participants who wished to remain nameless told Haaretz that the delegation asked Obama what lessons he has learned from events related to the Israel-Palestine peace process, and that the U.S. president said that it is very difficult, and that there are many possibilities for misunderstanding. There is only tension because both sides feel pressured to compromise, he said.
Obama also said that he understands the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants no restraints, like the leader of any country. He assured his guests that he and Netanyahu get along well on a personal level – but that Netanyahu does not want to appear weak.
Sources who spoke to Haaretz also said Obama believed the window of opportunity for peace with the Palestinians might have already closed but expressed hope that progress is still possible.
“We’ll keep trying, he promised his guests – and asked them not to doubt his fidelity to this cause,” the Haaretz article says. “Being a friend, he stressed, doesn’t mean to agree with Israeli leaders on every single issue.”
Ynet reports Obama believes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may be too weak politically to broker a peace agreement with Israel. Yet Ynet reports Obama will continue to work for a two-state solution.
At every opportunity, Israel calls on the Palestinians to enter direct talks, in line with the proposals of the Quartet – the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.
In the latest signal of Palestinian intent, Abbas is hoping to create a power-sharing deal with Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.
Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas were slated to meet this week to discuss reconciliation and the appointment of a mutually agreeable prime minister, instead of the pro-Western incumbent Salam Fayyad.
The Times of Israel quotes an anonymous source who attended the event as saying that Obama said Israel’s security needs are more important than maintaining an evenhanded approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The source said the president stressed that his administration has pressed the Palestinian leadership – not just Israel – to make necessary concessions for a peace deal. The source added that Obama makes no apologies for pursuing peace and believes it is in Israel’s interests to do so as well.
One source reported that Obama said his calls to freeze settlement expansion reflected the same positions of his four predecessors, and blamed differences with Israel in part on the quirk of history of a centrist US government and a right-wing Israeli government coexisting.
According to the sources speaking to the various news outlets, controversial issues such as federal funding for religious day schools, gay rights, contraception and abortion were discussed.
Orthodox Union (OU) Public Policy Director Nathan Diament organized the 45-minute meeting with Jewish Orthodox leaders. Diament, who attended Harvard Law School with Obama, called the meeting “serious, straightforward, and civil, punctuated by a few lighthearted, warm moments.”
Diament is a member of Obama’s Faith Advisory Council and Obama consults with Diament on issues that matter to the Orthodox community.
Also in attendance were White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and other leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community including, Dr. Simcha Katz and Rabbi Steven Burg.