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Jewish Leaders Meet With Obama

And everyone seems impressed

Michael Weiss
July 14, 2009
Obama at Yad Vashem last year.(Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
Obama at Yad Vashem last year.(Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

President Obama met yesterday with 16 leaders of 14 major U.S. Jewish groups, including the counterposed Israel advocacy lobbies, AIPAC and J-Street. In a bid to reassure those who have argued that his Middle East policy is one-sided, or focused too much on pressuring Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank and focusing too little on thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Obama seems to have emerged with nothing but favorable media coverage. Ironically, the media is precisely what Obama blamed for this perceived policy imbalance.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, wrote on the lobby’s blog that “[i]t was made clear to the President and his team the strong support that exists among American Jews and the broader public for a strong push to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for a two-state solution, and for a regional and comprehensive approach to the peace process.” The left-leaning M.J. Rosenberg at TPM Café added: “When one of the main rightwingers told Obama that he should keep his differences with the Israelis private, Obama said that had not worked in the past and he’ll go the public route.” And Lynn Sweet at The Chicago Sun-Times reports: “According to a source familiar with what occurred at the 45-minute meeting who briefed me, Obama said that he was pushing Arab and Palestinian leaders too, but the press was focused on finding divisions between the U.S. and Israel.”

Even those who disagree with Obama’s stance on settlements had warm things to say about the powwow. The Jerusalem Post quotes Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League: “He understood why we are anxious. He understood and said they have to find ways to [emphasize] the requirements they have made of the Palestinians.” And Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union, who was also present for the meeting, told the paper “the president acknowledged there’s certainly a perception problem that the U.S. is pressing Israel and not the other side.” Ben Smith at Politico quotes Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council as commenting 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 New York Times’s Caucus blog, however, the only real critic at the meeting was Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who briefly argued with the president. Hoenlein said that diplomatic progress in the Middle East only happens when there is “no light” between the U.S. and Israel, to which Obama countered that “no light” was the situation under George W. Bush and yet nothing got done.