Several Jewish officials said yesterday that President Barack Obama’s efforts to reassure them on US policy towards Israel had not assuaged their concerns. Though they welcomed Monday’s intimate face-to-face discussion at the White House and were pleased that Obama acknowledged that some in the community were worried, they said it was insufficient to dispel their doubts about his approach towards Israel.
In the meeting, according to participants, Obama expressed strong support for Israel and acknowledged a ‘misperception’ that the US was disproportionately pressuring Israel, indicating that the US would be doing more to prod the Palestinians and Arab countries forward. But he also defended positions that have precipitated some of the most public disputes between the US and Israel in years.
The Orthodox Union, which stakes out positions in keeping with a constituency that is largely right of center, was the only organization of the 14 included to issue a statement taking the president to task, while the progressive groups present largely applauded Obama’s positions.
Stephen Savitsky, president of the Orthodox Union, was among a small group of American Jewish leaders who met with President Obama.
Mr. Savitsky issued the following statement commenting upon the meeting:
“The Orthodox Union appreciated The White House’s invitation to participate in this meeting with the President at which issues of concern and interest to the Jewish community were discussed respectfully and candidly. I was honored to represent the organization and our community in the meeting.
The Orthodox Union thanks President Obama for his clear statement of support for Israel’s security and his express commitment to thwart Iran’s effort to obtain nuclear weapons, which would pose a grave threat to the nations of the Mideast, including Israel, and undermine global stability.
The Orthodox Union subscribes to the serious concern, expressed by several participants in the meeting, that the Administration has allowed a perception to develop that the onus for progress toward peace between Israel and Arabs lies with Israel, and also that the U.S. is pressuring Israel to undertake various steps while demanding little of the Palestinians or other Arab governments. We welcome the President’s recognition that this perception gap is problematic and his stated intention to recalibrate his Administration’s actions in the coming weeks to make clear that the U.S. insists that concrete steps – with regard to incitement and other anti-Israel activities – must be taken by the Palestinians and others.
However, while the President’s acknowledgment of this perception gap is encouraging, the Orthodox Union remains deeply troubled by the President’s underlying approach – which is to have the U.S. play an “evenhanded” role. The Orthodox Union asks our President to recognize that there are no moral equivalencies between Israel, which has acted time and again to defend itself while actively seeking peace, and those who reject Israel’s legitimacy and make war against her. We look to the United States to be Israel’s friend in a world of enemies and we support the view, expressed to the President in our meeting, that while allies may of course disagree on specifics, there ought not be significant ‘daylight’ between the United States and Israel that would give the nations’ mutual enemies comfort and encouragement.
We appreciate the opportunity to have spoken with President Obama about these matters and look forward to continuing conversation with him about these matters.”