President Barack Obama struck an emotional tone at the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. on Friday, in an effort to rally his liberal Jewish base to support his efforts to achieve a deal with Iran.
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"My commitment to Israel’s security is and will always be unshakable,” Obama told over a thousand listeners at the synagogue. The event, marking Jewish American Heritage Month, coincided with Solidarity Shabbat, devoted to expressing unity by political leaders in Europe and North America against the spread of anti-Semitism.
The crowd consisted of Adas congregants and hundreds of Jewish dignitaries. One notable absence was that of Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer. One Israeli official said that Dermer was out of Washington on previously scheduled trip and “unfortunately was unable to return in time to attend the president’s speech."
During his 28-minute speech, the president received many warm rounds of applause. He didn't need to convince them to support his administration's pursuit of a two-state solution, although he spent a significant amount of time asserting the need for peace with the Palestinians and the urgency of the creation of an independent Palestinian state. It was also needless for him to count the many times the United States stood with Israel in international bodies and in times of need. However, in light of the recent Lausanne framework for a deal with Iran and the attempt to finalize an agreement in the coming month, Obama sought to reassure his base that his head and his heart are in the right place and that he'll live up to his commitment of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"This deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure it delivers on its promise," Obama told the members of the Conservative congregation. “The deal we already reached has already halted parts of Iran’s nuclear program."
The overall reaction of the crowd as the president made his way out of the hall was that Obama had hit the right chords.
“If you listen to the speech carefully, and you look at the reasons the president has an affinity with the Jewish community, you understand why when he says the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, he means it,” Alan Solow, a long time Obama supporter and former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, told Haaretz.
As far as to Obama’s comments on Iran, Solow said that it is premature to determine what the deal contains. “This speech was more focused on bringing out the connection he has with the Jewish people and his sense of what Israel stands for,” he said.
Nathan Diament, executive director for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, shared a similar overview of the president’s remarks. “I think it was an accurate reflection of how he thinks about his support for Israel,“ he said. “He has great appreciation and admiration for the Jewish community and for Israel, despite the substantive differences on policies between the two governments.”
But according to Greg Rosenbaum, chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), the president’s emotional approach was more than an appeal to his base among Jewish Democrats, but was also meant to put to rest concerns Israelis and many Americans had about a pending deal with Iran. Speaking to Haaretz, Rosenbaum said he has been saying for some time that if President Obama would be able to express in public the feelings he has for Jewish Americans, for the Jewish people and for the State of Israel the way he does in private, "he would make an emotional connection with American Jews and put to rest some of the concerns that are put there."
"I think he delivered. It's hard for me to imagine how anyone would take issue with what he said in this speech," he stated. "He certainly reassured the Democratic base. I would be upset if it didn't also reassure Israel and the rest of the American Jewish population."
Prior to his address, Obama met with a few leaders and rabbis from the American Jewish community who exemplify the many ways that American Jews contribute to and strengthen our country, the White House said. And on his way out, Obama met with a group of excited preschoolers, who were happy to be photographed with their president.