PRINCETON, New Jersey – President Barack’s Obama intent on his visit to Israel
this week is to establish a direct rapport with its people, the executive
chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Malcolm
Hoenlein, said on Saturday night.
“He’s eager to talk directly to the
people of Israel. He wants to address the issues of the special relationship
between the US and Israel,” said Hoenlein, speaking to The Jerusalem Post at the
Limmud FSU conference in Princeton after receiving an award for his contribution
to the struggle for Soviet Jewry at a gala session attended by 750
Hoenlein was one of the American Jewish leaders who met
with Obama last week for nearly two hours, ahead of his first visit to Israel as
president. He expressed confidence that Obama would succeed in making a personal
connection with Israelis during his two-and-a-half day stay here, where he’ll be
meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“[Obama] has a unique
communication ability speaking to audiences; that’s why he’s so good on the
campaign trail,” said Hoenlein.
“There is a lot of skepticism and
questions that I think he can overcome by giving Israelis a sense of confidence
and passing on the commitment he has expressed repeatedly in the US about
Israel’s security, about Iran and about the issues that so important to both
“I think coming after [the appointment of US Defense Secretary
Chuck] Hagel, and some of the other debates we’ve had lately amid the perceived
tension he’s had with [Netanyahu], I think that Obama can on a personal level
communicate and forge a better understanding to the people of
Hoenlein said that based on last week’s meeting with the
president, it was clear that there would be no grand initiatives announced
during the visit from the White House regarding negotiations with the
Palestinians. But it wouldn’t preclude a later attempt to revive the sputtered
“He’ll be talking about his hope for progress on the Palestinian
front, and this won’t stop him in six or nine months from putting forth a plan,
but he’s not coming with a plan,” said Hoenlein.
Instead, he expected
more emphasis to be placed on Iran and its quest for nuclear weapons. But he
hoped that those discussions would remain behind closed doors.
there will be limited public discussion on this issue, but lots of private
discussion,” he said. “I’d rather have the Iranians guessing, because any time
you say something publicly, they try to look for any differences between the
prime minister and the president.
“I believe that we have the same goal –
preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Israel wants to prevent them from
having the capability, the US wants to prevent them from having it – the
question is how to achieve it? The US and Israel have a different timetable and
it should be addressed privately between them.”
Despite flashpoints of
conflicting interests between Obama and Netanyahu, Hoenlein said that there’s
every reason to expect the visit will be an extremely positive one.
doesn’t diminish any issues or eliminate any differences, but it can create the
context by which these issues can be dealt with better,” said
“Then, when these issues rise, you deal with them in a
contained and proper manner that seeks solutions and doesn’t add tensions. We
can’t afford the US and Israel – given what’s happening today throughout the
Middle East – to be at odds.”
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!