Text size

Alan Solow, the chairman of American Jewry's powerful umbrella group, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, raised eyebrows among political observers after his organization issued a statement criticizing President Barack Obama over his stance on Israeli construction in East Jerusalem.

Solow, who is known to have a longstanding relationship with Obama from their earlier days in Chicago, admonished the administration over its recent diplomatic row with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revolving the planned building of new apartment units in the hotly contested eastern part of Jerusalem.

"Hundreds of Arab families have moved into Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the same right should be accorded to Jewish residents to live wherever they choose in Jerusalem," Solow said in a statement released by the Conference of Presidents. "No government of Israel has or can pursue a discriminatory policy that would prevent the legitimate presence of Jews in any area of the capital."

In an interview with Haaretz, Solow denied that the statement is indicative of a personal fallout with the president.

"The Conference has a long-standing policy on Jerusalem, and the disagreement between the governments of the U.S. and Israel were in the news," Solow said.

"Because the Conference had such a clear stated policy, it seemed appropriate to me that despite being someone who has known President Obama for a long time and continues to have very good working relations with him, I thought it was appropriate that the Conference official position be articulated."

"This president understands the difference between having disagreements in particular strategies and a broader fundamental breakdown in our relationship," Solow said.

"He's always respected my right to disagree with him and vice versa. And the fact that I don't agree with him on this particular policy is not a broader reflection of anything deeper than a disagreement on this particular issue at this specific point of time."

Solow refuted allegations made in some right-wing circles that Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is working to drive a wedge between the president and the Israeli leadership.

"There is no evidence that I've seen that indicates that he's in any way acting to undermine the historically strong relationship between the U.S. and Israel," Solow said.