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June 11, 2009 - Image 22

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-06-11

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Mixed Bag

Jewish reaction to Obama's Cairo speech.

Eric Fingerhut

Jewish Telegraphic Agency


ewish organizations raced to
respond to President Obama's
speech in Cairo on June 4. To sum
up in a few sentences: Left-wing Jewish
groups applauded the speech as a whole
while more centrist groups or those that tilt
more to the right had both praise and some
They all liked Obama's affirmation of the
"unbreakable" bonds between the United
States and Israel, and his denunciation of
Holocaust denial, but many thought he
missed an opportunity to affirm the Jewish
people's 3,000-year-old connection to the
Land of Israel. There also was wide disap-
pointment with the portion of the speech on
Iran, which was seen as not forceful enough
in proclaiming U.S. opposition to the
Iranian regime acquiring nuclear weapons.
Here are responses from some of the
• The American Jewish Committee
focused on what it liked about the speech
and gave much less emphasis to its displea-
sure about the Iran remarks. In a release,
the group emphasized the president's
denunciation of anti-Semitism and praised
his language on the "unbreakable" bonds
with Israel and denunciation of Palestinian
violence. Not until the eighth paragraph
did the statement mention that the AJC
was disappointed by Obama's failure to be
"more explicit" about "the danger Iran's
pursuit of nuclear weapons poses to the
entire Middle East and to global security"
• The Anti-Defamation League, by con-
trast, put both praise and criticism near the
top of its news release. The group praised
Obama for broaching issues that never real-
ly had been addressed to the Arab world
before now, but said he failed to put the
conflict in its proper historical perspective.
For example,"whlle he made strong state-
ments against anti-Semitism and Holocaust
denial, it should have been made clear that
Israel's right to statehood is not a result
of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. We
are disappointed that the president found
the need to balance the suffering of the
Jewish people in a genocide to the suffer-
ing of the Palestinian people resulting from
Arab wars." In an interview, ADL National
Director Abraham Foxman added that the
Iran portion of the speech was "very weak."



June 11 2009

• The Conference of Presidents of
Major American Jewish Organizations did
not put out a statement, but its executive
vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, and
chairman, Alan Solow, in interviews both
said they were happy the president spoke
of the "unbreakable" bonds between the
U.S. and Israel, and both praised his con-
demnation of anti-Semitism and Holocaust
denial. Hoenlein, like the ADL, wished the
president had provided more historical
context on the Jewish people's connection
to the Land of Israel, but noted positively
the lack of linkage of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict to progress on the Iran issue. Both
Hoenlein and Solow, though, had hoped for
stronger words on Iran, with Solow — one
of Obama's top Jewish supporters — saying
he hoped the president would use "more
forceful" language in the future.
• The Religious Action Center of
Reform Judaism strongly praised the
speech while also briefly pointing out that
Israel's claim of legitimacy was rooted in
3,000 years of history "He made it clear
that the United States and Israel have an
unbreakable bond and spoke forthrightly
about the need for the Palestinians to
abandon violence if their hopes for a state
are to be achieved;' the group said. The
RAC, unlike some other Jewish organiza-
tions, praised the president's language on
Iran, saying "he was clear in recognizing
the urgency of addressing Iran's pursuit of
nuclear weapons and his support for the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
• B'nai B'rith International emphasized
the positive, but also had some problems
with the speech. In a news release, B'nai
B'rith said that "in the heart of the Arab
world, the president addressed the issue of
Holocaust denial, noting specifically the 6
million Jews who were murdered. In doing
so, President Obama attempted to end an
insidious ongoing campaign against Jews:'
In the second half of its release, it also
expressed disappointment about Iran and
said Obama missed an opportunity "to
discuss incitement — in mosques, schools,
and the news media — against the Jewish
population, and he did not fully address the
long record of Palestinian noncompliance
with peace initiatives."
• Concern about Iran was a main focus
of The Israel Project, which said there was
much to "celebrate" as well. "I am very con-
cerned about President Obama's comments
that Iran has a right to nuclear materials
for energy given the dangerous fact that

A man at an electronics store in Jerusalem watches as President Barack Obama

delivered his speech in Cairo on June 4.

some of those materials could get into the
hands of terrorists, including Iran's proxies,
Hezbollah, llamas and Islamic Jihad',' said
its founder and president, Jennifer Laszlo
Mizrahi."President Obama's speech did not
convey a sense of urgency on stopping Iran
from getting nuclear weapons — although
it is clear he does share the goal of prevent-
ing a weaponized nuclear Iran."
• The Orthodox Union had five "wel-
come" and five "worrisome" aspects of the
speech. It liked Obama's challenge to Arab
states to do more and his denunciation of
Holocaust denial, but was concerned by
his language on Jerusalem and his rein-
forcement of Israel "as a modern colonial
upstart." It also lamented Obama's lack of a
"nuanced approach" on settlements.
• The United Synagogue of
Conservative Judaism applauded the
president for honoring the "strong bonds"
between the United States and Israel. The
speech was vital to the "future relations
between Israel and the Arab world, and
to the United States' Middle East policies:'
said the group.
• J Street was one of a few groups that
had universal praise for the speech. It said
Obama showed "bold, assertive leader-
ship" in reaffirming the two-state solution
while setting out conditions for everyone
involved, and said the "overwhelming
majority of American Jews and other
friends of Israel support his active diplo-
macy, his calls for an end to violence and
settlements — and, most important, his
intention to work publicly and aggressively
to end the conflicts that have plagued the
Middle East for far too long."
• Americans for Peace Now also
lauded Obama's "determined, praiseworthy
leadership" in creating a "historic oppor-
tunity" and his calls on Israelis, Arabs
and Americans to react accordingly. "For
Americans who support Israel, this is also
an important moment in which to stand
squarely with a President who is doing his

utmost to bring peace to Israel," the group
said, adding that its supporters should
make their voices heard.
• The Israel Policy Forum praised
Obama's pledge to "personally pursue" a
two-state solution and lauded his call for
all sides to "live up to their respective 'road
map' obligations. The group also noted that
"the president's message to the Arab states
that they 'must recognize that the Arab
Peace Initiative was an important begin-
ning, but not the end of their responsibili-
ties, is a welcome sign that the president
understands the importance of a regional
approach to peacemaking in the region."
• Brit Tzedek v'Shalom said the
president made a "persuasive case for
the common interest in resolving" the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said it
stands with the president. "The usual sus-
pects will likely rush to characterize the
President's insistence that both Israelis
and Palestinians uphold pre-existing com-
mitments — including a complete freeze
on all Israeli settlement expansion and a
concerted effort by the Palestinians to end
all violence and incitement — as indicative
of an historic realignment that threatens
Israel's alliance with the United States:' said
the group. "In truth, the single most pro-
Israel thing an American president can do
is to actively pursue a negotiated, two-state
resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
as Israel's very future as a democracy and a
Jewish homeland depends on it."
• The one Jewish group to totally pan the
speech was the Zionist Organization of
America. Its national president, Morton
Klein, said it was a "strongly biased speech,
inimical to Israel, supportive of false
Palestinian and Arab claims against Israel,
blatantly factually inaccurate — inaccura-
cies that always benefited the anti-Israel
Palestinian, Arab and Muslim cause." 11

This appeared in the JTA blog Capital J


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