Obama 'Offended' When Jewish Members of Administration Attacked Over Iran Deal

U.S. president tells the Forward that דtrained ties with Israel won't affect Jews' support for Democrats.

Obama speaking at American University in Washington, August 5, 2015.
Obama speaking at American University in Washington, August 5, 2015.Credit: Bloomberg

President Barack Obama said people who attack Jews who support the Iran nuclear deal are like African-Americans who differ with him on policy and then conclude he's "not black enough."

Obama, in an interview with the Jewish newspaper Forward, was asked whether it hurt him personally when people say he's anti-Semitic.

"Oh, of course," Obama said. "And there's not a smidgeon of evidence for it, other than the fact that there have been times when I've disagreed with a particular Israeli government's position on a particular issue."

The president added, though, that he's "probably more offended when I hear members of my administration who themselves are Jewish being attacked. You saw this historically sometimes in the African-American community, where there's a difference on policy and somebody starts talking about, `Well, you're not black enough,' or `You're selling out.' And that, I think, is always a dangerous place to go."

Obama didn't mention any specific critics or targets by name.

Asked to whom the president was referring, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday mentioned former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's charge that the nuclear deal was like "marching the Israelis to the door of the oven," a reference to the Holocaust. Earnest added: "It's certainly not the only example of the kind of political rhetoric that certainly the president and others find objectionable."

Obama's Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who is Jewish, was heckled this summer at a Jewish-themed conference in New York when he defended the nuclear deal and spoke of the administration's support for Israel. Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, has received "threatening letters related to the Iran deal," according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The president was also asked on the effect the strained relations between the U.S. and Israel may have on the historical ties between the Democratic Party and the Jewish community. Obama insisted that the Jewish community doesn't base its decisions on a single issue, and has concerns that go beyond the Iran deal. These are issues which are traditionally raised by the Democratic Party, such as student loans, housing, poverty and women's health, Obama said.

Obama added, however, that the Jewish community - which he called "intellectually vigorous and morally grounded," will realize the value of the Iran deal in the end, once "the smoke clears in the debate."

Despite his conviction that the ties between his party and the Jewish community won't suffer from the Iran deal debate, Obama did voice concerns over the U.S.-Israeli relationship turning into a partisan issue, and criticized "some of the activities that have taken place up in Congress," which "involved politics rather than policy." Obama noted in particular Netanyahu's Congress address against the deal in March ("not the wisest thing to do," said the president) and the Republican opposition to the deal, announced before its details were published.

Obama told the Forward that he owes his political accomplishments to the support he received from American Jews.

"It’s not just that I’ve received votes from the Jewish community; it’s that I have received ideas, values, support that helped shape me into the person I am. And the friendships that I have are ones that will last me a lifetime — and those include friendships with people who are opposed to this deal," he said.

The interview with the Forward, the largest Jewish newspaper in the United States, was Obama's second salvo directed at gaining the Jewish community's support for the deal, after a live online address to U.S. Jews on Friday.

In the address, Obama said that those debating the nuclear deal with Iran must keep in mind that "we're all pro-Israel," in a criticism of verbal attacks against lawmakers who have voiced their support of the deal.

"I challenge those who say there was heated rhetoric from both sides," Obama said, pointing out the "appalling" attacks Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) suffered after he announced his support for the deal last week.

"The commitment to Israel is sacrosanct, non-partisan, and always will be," Obama said in the webcast, co-hosted by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The U.S. Congress has until September 17 to vote on a resolution of disapproval of the Iran deal, which would eliminate Obama's ability to waive all sanctions on Iran imposed by the U.S. Congress, a key component of the agreement.

Obama has promised a veto if it is passed by the House and Senate.



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