Jewish Leaders in the White House: Take Two

President Barack Obama spoke directly and powerfully to the concerns of the Jewish community today.

Obama invited 16 Jewish leaders from 14 organizations into the White House for a wide-ranging discussion focused on Israel, Middle East policy, and Iran. There’s no transcript, but what comes through in press reports — based on interviews with those in attendance — is President Obama’s iron-clad support for Israel as a safe, secure Jewish state.

Most fundamentally, he addressed head-on community concerns that by calling on Israel to freeze settlements, he is applying more pressure on Israel than he is on the Palestinians.

The National Jewish Democratic Council’s executive director Ira Forman, one of the 16 invitees, told Politico’s Ben Smith that Obama “said we have been very specific with the Arab world on incitement, violence, commitments on accepting the reality of Israel and conveying that to their street as well.”

According to The Forward, the president said that “forceful” pressure is being applied to the Palestinians to move forward on the peace process — flatly contradicting claims by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that all Palestinians have to do is sit and wait for Israel to make concessions. The president told the group that among other things, he has sent letters to all the Arab states, urging them to join the peace process.

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

One participant quoted the president as saying that “There’s not a lot of courage among the Arab states; not a lot of leadership among the Palestinians.” …

“The view was expressed among the organizations at a minimum there was concern about an imbalance in pressures placed on Israel as opposed to on the Palestinians and Arab states,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JTA. “The president indicated he had a sensitivity to the perception of that imbalance and had to work harder to correct that perception.”

Moreover, Obama specifically said, according to the Jerusalem Post, there’s a “likelihood that Israel would retain the major settlement blocs in any final peace deal with the Palestinians, but said it was an issue that needed to be resolved between the parties.”

And yet again — and this always strikes me about Obama — he didn’t kowtow to his audience by telling them only what they wanted to hear. This, for example, is from the AP report:

Some participants in the meeting flatly told Obama that only when the United States are Israel are in lockstep support is any progress made. Obama replied that there was no distance between the U.S. and Israeli positions for the last eight years, and that no progress was made under President George W. Bush.

“Where people pushed back, the president stood firm,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a pro-Israel and pro-peace political action committee and lobby.

“I don’t think the peace process will be advanced by hiding natural disagreements, disagreements within the family,” Obama was quoted in The Forward as saying. 

Which, ultimately, gives him infinite credibility when his White House puts out statements like this, as it did after the meeting today: “The President reiterated his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and reiterated his commitment to working to achieve Middle East peace.” 

“[Obama] talked about Israel as a Jewish state with no hesitancy,” Forman told ABC News.  “He also reiterated what he has said before about the fundamental bond between Israel and the United States and the fundamental commitment the U.S. has, no matter what disagreements there are, to Israel’s peace and security.”

It’s high time for the skeptics in the Jewish community to take him at his word.

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