Israel’s security is more important than evenhandedness in US policy on Palestinians, Obama tells Orthodox leaders (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By ARI BEN GOLDBERG and JTA 06/06/12)
TIMES OF ISRAEL
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In a Tuesday meeting at the White House, US President Barack Obama
told a group of Orthodox Jewish leaders that Israel’s security needs
are more important than maintaining an evenhanded approach to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to a participant who agreed
to speak on the condition of anonymity.
The source said the president stressed that his administration has
pressed the Palestinian leadership – not just Israel – to make
necessary concessions for a peace deal. The source added that Obama
makes no apologies for pursuing peace and believes it is in Israel’s
interests to do so as well.
One source reported that Obama said his calls to freeze settlement
expansion reflected the same positions of his four predecessors, and
blamed differences with Israel in part on the quirk of history of a
centrist US government and a right-wing Israeli government coexisting.
Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to act
without restraints, but that he understood him — most leaders want to
act without restraints.
He said peace was critical as the Arab democracy movement swept the
region, but worried that the Palestinian leadership was no longer as
interested in advancing toward peace.
Anyone expecting a less convivial meeting than the president’s
discussions with Conservative rabbis and leaders last week would have
been disappointed. According to Orthodox Union (OU) Public Policy
Director Nathan Diament – who was a driving force in making the
meeting happen – the conversation was “serious, straightforward, and
civil, punctuated by a few lighthearted, warm moments.”
Diament said the group of about a dozen rabbis and lay leaders met
with Obama for 45 minutes in the Roosevelt Room following a half hour
meeting with White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew. Afterwards, Obama
invited the delegation to the Oval Office, where the Orthodox leaders
presented him with a framed reproduction of President George
Washington’s letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island —
the first occasion upon which Jewish leaders and an American
president exchanged their views.
In a meeting with Conservative Jewish leaders last week, Obama
lamented the “unfounded” depiction of his administration as hostile
to Israel by some quarters of the Jewish community.
Many of the president’s critics within the Jewish community are
Orthodox; they disagree with him on issues such as federal funding
for religious day schools, gay rights, and parts of Obama’s
healthcare law that they claim infringe on the rights of faith
Those issues all came up and, according to a source, the president
was particularly understanding on the subject of the high cost of
Jewish day school tuition. The source said Obama expressed his
willingness to find ways of working together to tackle the problem.
“We are deeply appreciative to President Obama and Chief of Staff Lew
for meeting with us to discuss the President’s priorities and the
Orthodox Jewish community’s values and interests,” said OU President
Dr. Simcha Katz.
In addition to Katz, Diament, and OU Managing Director Rabbi Steve
Burg, participants included rabbis and lay leaders from several OU-
affiliated synagogues — Rabbi Haskel Lookstein from New York City,
Shira Yoshor from Houston, Rabbi Binny Blau from Cleveland, Rabbi
Efrem Goldberg from Boca Raton, and Ellen Lightman from Baltimore.
Other influential Orthodox Jewish leaders at the meeting included
Yeshiva University President Richard Joel, Chabad’s Washington, DC
emissary, Levi Shemtov, and Lakewood Yeshiva head Aaron Kotler.
Although the Orthodox Jewish community is far smaller and more
politically conservative than its liberal counterparts, its members
still have an open line of communication with the White House, thanks
in no small part to Diament, who attended Harvard Law School with
Diament was one year behind the president at Harvard, but the two
were friendly and spent a good deal of time together on the
basketball court in the law school gym. When Obama took office, he
named Diament to his Faith Advisory Council and consults with his
former classmate on issues that matter to the Orthodox community. (©
2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL 06/06/12)
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