Analysis: Obama turns on the charm

By Nathan Guttman, July 16, 2009
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“It was a wonderful exchange of views,” said Andrea Weinstein, chairwoman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “I felt at ease,” added Marla Gilson, Washington representative of Hadassah. “He was masterful,” concluded Ira Foreman, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

The famous Obama charm definitely worked on leaders of the Jewish community in their first face-to-face meeting with the president on Monday afternoon.

The meeting could not have come at a more important time. The Jewish community — President Obama’s strongest ally during the elections — is experiencing a growing unease stemming from the strained relations between his administration and the Netanyahu government.

This concern was boldly presented to President Obama at the meeting by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League and one of Jewish America’s strongest organisational voices.

“I said it was about the tone and about the lack of intimacy in the relations,” Mr Foxman later said.

He, and other Jewish representatives, said that the president’s repeated demand for Israel to freeze settlement activity and the harsh tone used made it seem as if Israel is the only side bearing blame for the Middle East peace process stalemate.

President Obama moved to assuage concerns and made it clear pressure was being applied to all parties, including the Palestinians and the Arab states.

He said that the dispute over the settlements is akin to a disagreement within the family and, as such, it draws much more attention from the media. But he was unapologetic and made clear that he would not shy away from publicly stating his differences.

It was this candidness that won over the Jewish activists attending the meeting.

“I came out feeling I am willing to give this president an opportunity to try his strategy,” said Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

The White House meeting also helped reassure President Obama and his team that support from the Jewish community is as strong as ever.

Although they complained about his tone when talking to Israel, none of the Jewish leaders — who represented a wide variety of organisations — questioned President Obama’s actual position on the peace process or his demand for settlement freeze.

The warm atmosphere in the meeting and the praised showered on the president by participants after the event, made clear to the White House that the Jewish community was on Mr Obama’s side.

At least until the next time he pressures Israel.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010