Obama Denies Animus Toward Israel During Speech at D.C. Synagogue

Will continue to be vocal about disagreements with Jewish state

President Obama speaks at Adas Israel in Washington, D.C. / Getty Images
May 22, 2015

President Barack Obama rejected claims that he harbors an animus toward Israel during a speech Friday morning at a synagogue in Washington, D.C.

Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel, a Palestinian state, and a "good deal" with Iran over its nuclear program during wide-ranging remarks, in which he rebuffed critics who claim that his administration has been unsupportive of the Jewish state.

"When I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully," Obama said to applause from members of the Adas Israel synagogue, a prominent D.C. shul whose membership includes many from the worlds of politics and media.

Obama went on to say that his respect for Israel compels him to speak up about what he views as the improper treatment of Palestinians.

"For us to paper over difficult questions, particularly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about settlement policy, that’s not a true measure of friendship," he said.

"And it is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel—it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America—that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland," Obama added, again to applause.

"Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land as well," he said.

Israel’s vibrant democracy leads Obama to dwell on the plight of Palestinian children, he said.

"The rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity," he said. "That’s what Jewish values teach me.  That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me.  These things are connected."

Obama said that he would continue to vocalize his disagreements with Israel—and that the Israeli government will do the same about his administration.

"That does not mean that there will not be, or should not be, periodic disagreements between our two governments," he said. "There will be disagreements on tactics when it comes to how to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that is entirely appropriate and should be fully aired."

"I welcome that scrutiny," Obama said.

"There are also going to be some disagreements rooted in shared history that go beyond tactics, that are rooted in how we might remain true to our shared values," the president said.

Despite these constant disagreements, Obama claimed that "no administration has done more to ensure that Israel can protect itself than this one."

Touching on the ongoing negotiations with Iran, Obama said that he "will not accept a bad deal."

While some in the Jewish community have been skeptical about the president’s diplomatic overtures to Iran, Obama claimed that the deal currently in the works would block "ever single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon—every single path."

However, nuclear experts have cast doubt on this statement.

"I'm interested in a deal … that imposes unprecedented inspections on all elements of Iran’s nuclear program, so that they can’t cheat; and if they try to cheat, we will immediately know about it and sanctions snap back on," he said. "A deal that endures beyond a decade; that addresses this challenge for the long term."

Iran has continued to reject all inspections of its military sites and has insisted that after a period of 10 or so years it will be permitted under any deal to fully restart its program with no limitations.