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May 22, 2015  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Obama: Jewish values compel him to disagree with Israel at times


President Obama visits a classroom of preschoolers and teachers at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. following remarks at the synagogue in honor of Jewish Heritage Month. 
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza President Obama visits a classroom of preschoolers and teachers at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. following remarks at the synagogue in honor of Jewish Heritage Month. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza WASHINGTON (JTA) – Defending Jews from anti- Semitism and defending Palestinian rights stem from the same value system, President Barack Obama told a Jewish audience.

“The rights I insist upon and fight for for all people in the United States compels me to look out for the rights of the Jewish people, and the rights of the Jewish people lead me to think about the child in Ramallah who feels trapped,” Obama said Friday, May 22, addressing the Adas Israel congregation in Washington. “That’s what Jewish values teach me.”

Obama and his administration are making clear they will not back down from making public criticism of Israel when they feel it is warranted. He made a similar pledge this week to The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who is an Adas congregant.


Adas Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Gil Steinlauf greets President Obama, on Friday, May 22, prior to the president’s speech. 
Photo by Ron Sachs Adas Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Gil Steinlauf greets President Obama, on Friday, May 22, prior to the president’s speech. Photo by Ron Sachs In that interview, Obama singled out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Election Day appeal in March to his followers to vote because Arab-Israeli voters were turning out in “hordes.”

Obama strongly criticized the appeal, and Netanyahu later apologized to Arab-Israeli leaders.

“When something like that happens, that has foreign policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues,” Obama said.

“And when I am then required to come to Israel’s defense internationally, when there is anti-Semitism out there, when there is anti-Israeli policy that is based not on the particulars of the Palestinian cause but [is] based simply on hostility, I have to make sure that I am entirely credible in speaking out against those things, and that requires me then to also be honest with friends about how I view these issues.”

The White House had invited Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United Sates, to the appearance at Adas Israel marking American Jewish Heritage Month, but Dermer declined, saying he was out of town at a scheduled event.

During his speech, Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel and said he was committed to combating what he called the “scourge” of anti-Semitism and its resurgence in Europe. “When we allow anti-Semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed.”

The speech drew a mixed response, with some in the packed sanctuary applauding loudly when he reserved the right to criticize Israel when necessary and others staying silent.

“When I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support for Israel I must object,” was a line that drew extended applause and loud cheers – but not from all members of the audience.

Adas Israel, one of Washington’s largest congregations, dates back to 1869 and is affiliated with the Conservative movement. The synagogue’s rabbi, Gil Steinlauf, made headlines last fall when he announced he was gay.


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