Obama: U.S. Not Seeking Fight With Israel Over Settlements

Atmosphere Friendly at Meeting With Jewish Leaders

By Nathan Guttman

Published July 13, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

President Barack Obama sought Monday to address Jewish concerns that his administration is applying uneven pressure on Israel, reassuring Jewish leaders of his commitment to demanding that all sides in the Middle East peace process live up to their obligations.

In a White House meeting with top leaders from a diverse array of Jewish groups, Obama made clear that while he believes Israel must meet its obligations regarding a freeze on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, that issue is not isolated in his view from demands presented to other sides.

“There’s not a lot of courage among Arab states,” Obama said, according to one participant. He added that he had sent letters to all Arab leaders urging them to join the peace process.

Obama complained that the press only focuses on the “inter-family squabble” between the U.S. and Israel, while “forceful” pressure is also applied on the Palestinians and on the Arab countries to move in support of the peace process.

The president described at length his view of a long-term framework to ensure Israel’s future security as part of a peace agreement and said he sees a window of opportunity that needs to be pursued. According to participants, Obama said repeatedly he knew that achieving peace would be a difficult task, “even more difficult than healthcare.”

When he invited questions from the Jewish leaders, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, spoke of the perception that Israel is the only side being asked to compromise. And Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, spoke of the political difficulties in Israel. At this point Obama turned to his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, sitting next to him and told the crowd: “Rahm is teaching me about politics, and I’ve learned from him there is a lot of politics involved in this issue.”

President Obama made clear in the meeting he was not seeking a fight with Israel over the settlement issue, but at the same time he said he will not avoid making his demand public and open. “I don’t think the peace process will be advanced by hiding natural disagreements, disagreements within the family,” he said, adding that he does not believe the past eight years of the Bush administration did much to promote peace.

Sixteen Jewish leaders were invited to the White House meeting. The list included most major national Jewish groups, as well as representatives of two dovish organizations: Americans for Peace Now and J Street. Notably missing from the list were any groups aligned with the Israeli right wing. The president was accompanied by Emanuel, David Axelrod, Daniel Shapiro, Valerie Jarrett and staffers of the public liaison’s office.

Jewish leaders leaving the meeting showered praise on the president. Marla Gilson, Washington director of Hadassah, said the atmosphere in the meeting was positive and the all participants felt at ease. Ira Foreman of the National Jewish Democratic Council chose more colorful terms to describe the event. “It was a room full of friends,” he said. “At the end of the meeting everyone was glowing.”

Introducing the Jewish leaders, Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations told Obama that the Jews have a history of speaking truth to power. He gave the example of Abraham negotiating with God the future of Gomorrah. “I’m no Abraham,” Solow said. And Obama was quick to answer: “And I’m no God.”


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!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • 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.