US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on Jewish American History Month at the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue in Washington May 22, 2015. .
(photo credit: REUTERS / JONATHAN ERNST)
WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama pushed back against criticism of his policies toward Israel on Friday, asserting his objections in a rare speech to a local synagogue.
The address, at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, was a chance for the president to outline his connections with the Jewish people during Jewish American Heritage Month, a federal holiday in the US in May.
American Jews have “helped make our union more perfect,” Obama told the crowd. He grew up alongside the State of Israel, he said, stating that it’s values as a Jewish state had become his own.
But he argued that his identification with Jewish values, the story of Israel, and his fervent belief in the state’s right to exist are “precisely” the reasons why he must speak out against some of its policies toward the Palestinians.
“I must object,” he said to applause in the Conservative synagogue.
“Papering over hard questions,” he said, is “not a measure of true friendship.”
The Democratic president has endured harsh criticism of his tone and treatment of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In recent days, he has suggested that Netanyahu’s treatment of the Palestinians, and of Israeli Arabs, runs contrary to Israel’s constitutional values and to the state’s long-term security.
While Obama said that hard truths would continue to flow from his White House, he suggested they would run both ways.
“The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners,” he quipped, to laughter in the synagogue.
Obama only spoke briefly on Iran, noting that his legacy would rest on the success or failure of a nuclear deal over time. He welcomed the policy debate, he said, which he called necessary for a challenge as daunting as the nuclear file.
And on anti-Semitism across Europe, Obama warned that the phenomenon was “not some passing fad.”
If it festers, it will spread, he warned the audience, which included several European ambassadors. “We are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.”