Hoenlein Hits Obama On Speech, Then Retreats

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 17, 2009, issue of June 26, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A top Jewish leader whose coalition speaks on behalf of organized Jewry is again under fire after being quoted as saying Jews were “very concerned” about President Obama’s recent speech reaching out to the Muslim world.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, American Jewry’s umbrella group on policy issues involving Israel, said the quotes were taken out of context, but that did little to stop the criticism.

In an interview with the conservative Web site Newsmax, Hoenlein was quoted as saying that Jewish leaders “are expressing concern about what was said” in Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo to the Muslim world. According to another quote, Hoenlein said: “I’ve heard it from some of his strongest supporters. It’s expected from his detractors. Even people close to him have said to us that there were parts of the speech that bothered them.” Hoenlein, according to the article, said he was expressing his personal views.

The interview, presented as an exclusive, was written by Ronald Kessler, the Web site’s chief Washington correspondent, who was among those leading the charges about ties between Obama and the controversial minister the Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the election campaign.

Hoenlein’s quotes, which seemed to indicate a widespread concern within the Jewish community over Obama’s policies, drew immediate criticism from Jewish activists. The National Jewish Democratic Council, a Democratic Party support group, issued a statement saying Hoenlein’s comments represented a mistaken reading of Jewish public opinion.

The Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish membership organization represented in the Presidents Conference, sent a letter to Alan Solow, its chairman, criticizing Hoenlein’s remarks, according to sources who saw the letter’s contents. Solow is one of Obama’s top supporters in the Jewish community.

Hoenlein did not return calls requesting his comment.

In an interview with JTA, Hoenlein said his answers in the interview were presented out of context and that all he was trying to say was that the Jewish community “is not monolithic.”

This is not the first time that Hoenlein — whose job duties include publicly representing the communal consensus on critical issues — has been accused of going beyond communal consensus to criticize Obama. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Hoenlein was among the organizers of a rally against Iran, at which then vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was invited to speak. She was disinvited, after activists learned there would not be a senior Democratic counterpart speaking at the event. Later, he came under fire for helping to organize a conference call with Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

In June, in an interview with the 5 Towns Jewish Times, Hoenlein was quoted as saying that J Street and Americans for Peace Now, two dovish-leaning Jewish groups, are distorting Obama’s message and trying “to rattle Prime Minister Netanyahu” and “to do what they can to unseat him.” APN is itself a member agency of the Presidents Conference.

APN spokesman Ori Nir said the group sent Hoenlein a letter denying the allegations in the article and demanding an apology. Hoenlein replied in a letter to leaders of APN that he had not mentioned any group’s name in the interview. He added that he had contacted the paper and was assured it would publish a correction.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.