Obama speaks at Judaism assembly in Maryland 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
US President Barack Obama courted Jewish voters and defended himself against attacks on his Israel policy from Republican presidential challengers, in a fiery keynote address to the Union for Reform Judaism outside Washington, DC on Friday.
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"No US administration has done more in support of Israel's security than ours. None. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. It is a fact," Obama told a cheering crowd.
Obama did not name names but left little doubt he was responding to Republican candidates who have recently tried to outdo each other in criticizing his policy toward Israel as they seek to cut into his support among Jewish voters.
Mitt Romney said recently Obama has "repeatedly thrown Israel under the bus," and Newt Gingrich thrust himself into controversy last week by declaring that the Palestinians are an "invented" people
who want to destroy Israel.
Obama, in a pointed reference to his Republican opponents, said the bonds between Israel and the United States "transcend partisan politics - or at least they should."
The White House wants to shore up support among Jewish voters for Obama's 2012 re-election bid. He won nearly eight of every 10 Jewish voters in 2008, but a slip would jeopardize his re-election drive in battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where Jews are an important swing bloc.
To back up his position, Obama cited American cooperation with Israel on developing the Iron Dome anti-rocket system
, efforts to clear out the besieged Israeli embassy
in Cairo in September, and actions to counter attempts to delegitimize Israel in international forums
like the United Nations
Shoring up his hard line on Iran, Obama reiterated that no options were off the table in preventing the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear weapon
, and touted his administration's imposition of "the most comprehensive, the hardest-hitting sanctions the Iranian regime has ever faced. We haven't just talked about it, we've done it."
Acknowledging tensions with Israel over the peace process that have
largely resulted from differences over settlement policy
, Obama told the room of American
Jews, "I know that many of you share my frustration, sometimes, in terms
of the state of the peace process."
Obama reaffirmed US support for the eventual creation of "an independent Palestine alongside a secure Jewish state of Israel" and pledged not to waver from that goal.
"America's commitment to Israel and my commitment to Israel and its
security is unshakable," the President concluded, repeatedly re-emphasizing his points. "We have been there,
and we will continue to be there. Those are the facts."
Prior to his speech, Obama met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in their first meeting in two years. The two discussed regional issues and challenges Israel and the US face in light of developments and threats in the Middle East.
The Defense Ministry stated that Barak thanked Obama for "deepening and strengthening security ties between the US and Israel during his term in office." Niv Elis contributed to this report.