WASHINGTON – Jewish members of Congress urged US President Barack Obama Tuesday to visit Israel as part of an effort to improve relations with the Jewish state.

The lawmakers conveyed the suggestion during a meeting Obama had with them at the Executive Office Building, his first invitation to Congress’s unofficial Jewish caucus.

The overture came on the heels of a White House meeting with rabbis last week, a series of high-profile speeches by top administration officials to the Jewish community in recent weeks and ahead of the first-ever reception in honor of American Jewish History Month next Thursday.

“There’s obviously concern for the way the administration is being portrayed” when it comes to its stance on Israel, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California) explained to The Jerusalem Post following the meeting.

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Outreach to the Jewish community has taken place after ties with Israel frayed over construction in east Jerusalem and difficulties in getting indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians started earlier this year. The administration has been criticized in Jewish quarters for its public criticism of Israel and for blaming Jerusalem more than Ramallah for the strained atmosphere.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York) said the legislators on Tuesday “reiterated to the president the urgency for him to strengthen the longstanding friendship between United States and Israel,” and “urged him to make clear to the Palestinians that the US will not do their work for them,” according to a statement from his office.

He described the encounter as “a fruitful meeting” in which Obama “was receptive and genuinely interested in our advice.”

The White House characterized the one-and-a-half hour conversation as “a wide-ranging and productive exchange about their shared commitment to peace and security in Israel and the Middle East.”

“Many of us believe that President Obama himself needs to speak about this a little more himself,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-New Jersey) told the Post, stressing the need to push back against what he called the Republican “lies and mischaracterizations” about Obama’s commitment to Israel.

He said that as part of this effort, the group recommended he return to Israel. Obama last visited during the presidential campaign in 2008.

“He didn’t respond directly, but I believe it will happen,” Rothman said.

According to Sherman, when the suggestion was made, “I think he nodded and smiled.”

Other issues broached included Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the recent boost in US assistance to Israel’s short-range missile defense program.

Participants said Obama reiterated his pledge that Iran would not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon, noting that all options remain on the table, and that he stressed he had no intention of imposing a solution on Israelis and Palestinians despite media speculation to that effect.

Thirty-seven House and Senate members – nearly all the Jewish legislators in Congress minus Republican Rep. Eric Cantor – attended the event. Among the senators in attendance was Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who had leveled some of the harshest criticism at Obama for his stance on Israel.

“I told the president, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk,” Schumer said last month on the Nachum Segal radio show.

He also alluded to State Department officials’ comments that seemed to suggest the US-Israel relationship hinged on its stance toward the peace process.

“That is the dagger because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans – Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew – would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, ‘If you don’t retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this,’” Schumer said.

At that time, Schumer also said that many Jewish congressman would soon be meeting with Obama, “and we are saying that this has to stop.”

Schumer’s office did not respond to calls from the Post Wednesday.He also alluded to State Department officials’ comments that seemed to suggest the US-Israel relationship hinged on its stance toward the peace process.

“That is the dagger because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans – Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew – would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, ‘If you don’t retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this,’” Schumer said.

At that time, Schumer also said that many Jewish congressman would soon be meeting with Obama, “and we are saying that this has to stop.”

Schumer’s office did not respond to calls from the Post Wednesday.


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