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Jewish Groups Poised To Back Obama on Syria

An array of Jewish organizations are set to endorse President Obama’s call for military strikes against Syria, although the degree of support is not yet clear.

A number of organizations — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Zionist Organization of America, Americans for Peace Now and the Anti-Defamation League — will participate in a conference call on Syria at 2:15 with administration officials. The call is being organized by the Presidents’ Conference.

Following the call, the President’s Conference will convene its own conference call to shape a statement, Malcolm Hoenlein, the foreign policy umbrella body’s executive vice president, confirmed to JTA. Hoenlein also confirmed also that the statement would support Obama’s call to action, but he could not say to what extent.

Others predicted wholehearted endorsement.

“I would predict that the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community will support the president’s decision on moral grounds and national security grounds,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, told JTA.

Obama on Tuesday met with top congressional officials and repeated his appeal to support limited on strikes on Syria to degrade its chemical weapons capability. That meeting came on the heels of the president’s decision over the weekend to seek congressional approval prior to any military move.

“This is a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message not only to the Assad regime, but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms, that there are consequences,” Obama said before the meeting.

As he has done repeatedly since first indicating his intention to strike Syria, Obama cited the potential threat to Israel, among other American allies, as one of his concerns.

“This norm against using chemical weapons that 98 percent of the world agrees to is there for a reason,” he said. “Because we recognize that there are certain weapons that, when used, can not only end up resulting in grotesque deaths, but also can end up being transmitted to non-state actors; can pose a risk to allies and friends of ours like Israel, like Jordan, like Turkey; and unless we hold them into account, also sends a message that international norms around issues like nuclear proliferation don’t mean much.

A number of officials close to Jewish organizations said a full endorsement was a natural for a community that watched in horror after a suspected chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government killed an estimated 1,400 people — including 400 children — in an attack last month near Damascus.

“It’s hard to imagine there’s a rabbi alive who has a High Holiday service who is not going to talk about a Syria,” said one Jewish official who often brokers relations between the White House and the Jewish community.

Until Obama declared over the weekend that he was ready to strike, however, Jewish groups had been reluctant to weigh in on American intervention, in part because of the hangover from unwarranted attacks in the last decade blaming Jewish lobbying for the Iraq War. Foxman said such hesitations were obviated by Obama’s explicit call for a strike.

“The president has made his decision and we’re not ahead of it,” Foxman said. “He’s not doing this for Israel. This may have serious ramifications for Israel which are negative.”

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