U.S. President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, appeared at the Jewish Federation of North America’s annual general assembly on Tuesday, taking the place of the president, following the latter’s last-minute cancellation.
“It is only through dialogue that we can achieve the lasting peace that Israel seeks,” Emanuel told the crowd.
“Make no mistake, the path toward peace is not one that Israel should be asked to walk alone. That is why the U.S. will remain actively engaged, and Israel’s one true friend. The Palestinians must come to the table, recognize Israel’s right to exist and reject violence,” he went on to say.
“As the president has said many times, as the president said in Cairo, the bond between the Israel and the U.S. is unbreakable,” Emanuel said. “It’s a bond rooted in shared interests and shared values.”
He also assured the audience that while Obama engages the Arab world more, it is not at the expense of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.
“There are those who have questioned that, as this administration has sought to be engaged in the region,” Emanuel said. “There are some who suggest this implies a diminished level of support for Israel… That is not the intent and that is not the case, and never will be.”
However, Emanuel also took the opportunity to reiterate the U.S. position that Israel must halt construction in West Bank settlements. “No one should allow the issue of settlements to distract from the goal of a lasting peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab world,” he said.
Obama’s chief of staff was introduced to the predominantly Jewish audience as “one of us” and someone who deeply cares about helping Obama in efforts to make the world a safer place.
“Today thanks to the work of the president there is strong and growing international consensus against a nuclear armed Iran,” he said adding that Israel has been “a beacon of democracy in a region too often defined by strife.”
Emanuel’s address before the GA marked the first time since taking office that he spoke publicly about his own family’s connection to Israel.
He thanked the audience and spoke about the spirit of community that he learned from his parents. “My father is a Jewish Israeli,” he said describing the values that were instilled in him of commitment to the community, and not just to oneself.
Obama met Monday night with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who addressed the GA earlier Monday. The two discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the stalled Middle East peace talks.
“The president reaffirmed our strong commitment to Israel’s security, and discussed security cooperation on a range of issues,” said a statement issued by the White House following the hundred-minute session held behind closed doors.