Obama Tells Rabbis: No Leader Ties Hands

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.

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.

Tagged as:

Your Comments

The 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 Forward requires 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 and will be deleted. Egregious commenters will be banned from commenting. 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 Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

Obama Tells Rabbis: No Leader Ties Hands

Thank you!

This article has been sent!

Close