Obama Tells Rabbis: No Leader Ties Hands

Discusses Iran and Arab Tumult in Pre-Rosh Hashanah Call

By Nathan Guttman

Published September 14, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In between briefings and phone conversations with Arab leaders, President Barack Obama took time on Friday for a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference call with 1,200 rabbis from all Jewish denominations.

getty images

Obama, speaking as news on anti-American protests poured in from capitals across the Arab world, acknowledged the difficulties the United States faces in dealing with the changing face of Arab countries. “The United States must be aligned with democracy and human rights,” he said, adding, however, in reference to the Arab Spring that “I knew this process will not be easy.” The President told listeners on the call that there are “streams of extremism” within Islam, which include anti-Semitism.

Touching on the troubled relations with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the issue of Iran, Obama made clear his refusal to set “red lines” as Israel demanded.

“No leader ties his hands,” Obama said, according to participants. “It won’t be easy, but if we would resort to military action, it would not involve me laying out a set of conditions.” The President made clear he will not declare “red lines” and argued that the Israeli prime minister wouldn’t either.

Obama attempted to convince the Jewish audience that there is no difference between his view of Iran and that of Netanyahu’s. “There is no daylight,” Obama said. The President added that “there may come a time” when the U.S. decides to take military action, but that will not happen until “we’ve exhausted all options.” Obama told the rabbis he believes there is still “time and space” for diplomacy.

In the phone conversation the president explicitly acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself. “Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about our resolve and about Israel’s right to defend itself.”

The conference call was organized by leaders of the rabbinical arms of all four denominations and was hosted by Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Obama greeted the rabbis for the new year and said it is a time for reflection and for a look at the future.


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!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • 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.