Obama electrifies crowd at Reform Jews’ parley

Ehud Barak thanks president for "deepening and strengthening security ties between the US and Israel."

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDEN
December 18, 2011 01:37
3 minute read.
Obama speaks at Judaism assembly in Maryland

Obama speaks at Judaism assembly in Maryland 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

 
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WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama was on friendly turf Friday afternoon, talking up his commitment to Israel and tough stance on Iran before thousands of participants in the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) biennial event near Washington. “America’s commitment and my commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable,” declared Obama in an address that seemed at times more like an election rally. “We have been there, and we will continue to be there. Those are the facts.”

“As president I have never waivered in my pursuit of a just and lasting peace – two states for two peoples, an independent Palestine along a secure Jewish state of Israel. I have not wavered and will not waver, that is our vision,” he continued, greeted by ringing applause.

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Addressing the historically left-leaning movement, Obama delivered a report card of his administration’s performance on issues viewed to be crucial to American Jewry. He emphasized his administration’s support for “the most comprehensive, the hardest-hitting sanctions the Iranian regime has ever faced,” telling the sold-out audience, “We haven’t just talked about it, we’ve done it.”

Obama reiterated what is likely to be a major talking point in his campaign for the American Jewish vote – that under his administration, Israel has secured the most foreign aid funding in the history of Israeli-US relations. Current aid for Israel is approximately $3 billion. He cited the Iron Dome missile defense program, as well as strong US support defending Israel in the United Nations.

Republican presidential candidates have recently made support for Israel a major issue both in trying to differentiate themselves from their fellow primary contestants, and in trying to pull in some of the over 70 percent of US Jews who voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential elections.

During his speech, Obama made a veiled reference to the GOP’s attempts, arguing that US support for Israel “transcends partisan politics – or at least it should.”

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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,” he argued.

Earlier this week, a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel, including major Republican Jewish figures, took out an advertisement in five major American newspapers accusing Obama of “treating Israel like a punching bag.”

Support for Israel was also a major issue at last week’s Republican presidential debate, with all candidates other than Ron Paul vying to assert that their support for Israel and coordination with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ran deepest.

Prior to his address, Obama met with fellow URJ biennial speaker Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the first meeting between the two in two years. According to the Defense Ministry, the two discussed shared challenges faced by the US and Israel in the Middle East.

The Defense Ministry said Barak thanked Obama for “deepening and strengthening security ties between the US and Israel during his term in office.”

On Thursday, Barak addressed the URJ plenary, telling attendees that under the Obama administration, ties between Israel and the United States have become stronger.

The Reform Movement in Israel has taken a lead role in combating a number of laws supported by the coalition in which Barak’s Independence party is a member, and Barak told American Reform Jews that “as the defense minister of the State of Israel, I can assure you that I will stand rock solid against any attempt to curb freedoms or undermine our democracy. I will not allow politicized, targeted legislation to undermine the value of the supremacy of the law.”

In a possible nod to the movement’s efforts to secure greater religious pluralism in Israel, Barak emphasized that “the only Jewish democratic state in the world must remain exactly that: a Jewish and democratic state.”

Barak also addressed Israel’s foreign policy concerns, saying that, “we are preparing for an ‘Islamic Winter’, although in the long run we hope to be part of a democratic neighborhood.”

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