Obama to Address Jewish
Group on Israel, Mideast Peace
December 15, 2011
President Barack Obama on Friday delivers an address to an American
Jewish group in Washington likely to focus on the U.S. relationship with
Israel and his administration's efforts to move the Israel-Palestinian
peace process forward. He is expected to reaffirm strong support for
Israel, which Republican presidential candidates have questioned in
Mr. Obama's speech to the Union of Reform Judaism comes at a delicate
time for Mideast diplomacy, and as he tries to solidify support among
American Jewish voters for his re-election in 2012.
Efforts with international partners to get Israel and Palestinians back
to direct negotiations are apparently making little progress. Republican
presidential candidates, meanwhile, have escalated their attacks on the
president's Mideast policies.
Last week, Republican hopefuls used appearances before a conservative
Republican Jewish organization to accuse Mr. Obama of mis-treating
Israel, and mis-handling strategy on Iran's nuclear program.
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, the
current Republican front-runner, said "This one-sided continuing
pressure that says it is always Israel's fault, no matter how bad the
other side is, has to stop."
That is not, in fact, how the administration has pursued efforts to
bring Israelis and Palestinians back to direct talks, but such remarks
can gain significant political traction, especially in an election year.
Friday's speech will be another opportunity for Mr. Obama to talk about
what he has frequently described as "unshakeable" support for Israel, as
he did at a recent White House reception for Jewish community leaders
marking the Jewish Chanukah observance. "This is also a time to be
grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our
nations, and that includes of course our unshakeable support and
commitment to the security of the nation of Israel," he said.
While he and administration officials never fail to emphasize this
commitment, critics have seized on various statements to back up their
assertion that Mr. Obama is unnecessarily tough on Israel.
On Thursday, a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel, backed
by leading conservative critics of Mr. Obama, published an ad in The New
York Times and other major newspapers accusing him of using Israel as a
It listed such things as the recent remark by Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta, who responded this way during a discussion in Washington when
asked what Israel should do to move peace efforts with Palestinians
forward. "Just get to the damned table. Just get to the table," he said.
Though Panetta appeared to aim his response at both Israel and the
Palestinians, critics said the remark reflected an overall tough
approach Mr. Obama has applied to Israel.
Also on critic's list was the off-microphone exchange during the G-20
summit in France in which Mr. Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy
aimed personal barbs at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Republican presidential candidates and many Jewish groups also
criticized the U.S. ambassador to Belgium after remarks the diplomat,
who is Jewish, made on the subject of anti-semitism.
Mr. Obama has returned fire, responding directly and bluntly to a charge
by Republican candidate Mitt Romney that he has pursued an "appeasement"
policy abroad. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Newt
Gringrich's remark that the Palestinians were an "invented people."
The administration, meanwhile, continues to press both sides to get back
to the negotiating table, most recently in talks in New York of the
Quartet group including the U.S., United Nations, Russia, and European
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "We support steps taken by
both sides that make that more likely, and we oppose steps taken by
either side that make it less likely, that make it harder to
Obama's former Mideast peace negotiator Dennis Ross, spoke recently at
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy."These are two peoples,
they are not going to go away, they have to co-exist. The only way they
co-exist is in two states. So, we still have to try to find a way to get
there, you still have to try to find a way to get to negotiations,
because you are not going to achieve an outcome without negotiations,"
With his address on Friday, Mr. Obama will be trying to bolster his job
approval rating among American Jews, which according to Gallup stood at
54 percent three months ago. The president won 78 percent of the Jewish
vote in the 2008 presidential election.
However, other statistics apply when it comes to his handling of U.S. -
Israel relations. A poll by the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy
organization, found 53 percent of those surveyed disapproving of his