President Barack Obama told a delegation of the U.S. Orthodox Jewish community at the White House on Tuesday that his administration is decidedly more attentive to Israel than it is to the Palestinians.
Obama was speaking at a meeting between White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community, including Dr. Simcha Katz, Rabbi Steven Burg and Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union.
Meeting participants who wished to remain nameless told Haaretz that the delegation asked Obama what lessons he has learned from events related to the Israel-Palestine peace process, and that the U.S. president said that it is very difficult, and that there are many possibilities for misunderstanding. There is only tension because both sides feel pressured to compromise, he said.
Obama also said that he understands the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants no restraints, like the leader of any country. He assured his guests that he and Netanyahu get along well on a personal level – but that Netanyahu does not want to appear weak.
In the past, President Obama and other administration officials warned the window of opportunity for making peace might not remain open for long. At Tuesday’s meeting he said that maybe it is already closed, but still expressed hope that progress is still possible, although he admitted that the position of the Palestinians has deteriorated.
We’ll keep trying, he promised his guests – and asked them not to doubt his fidelity to this cause. Being a friend, he stressed, doesn’t mean to agree with Israeli leaders on every single issue.
Obama said that peace is good for Israel, and stressed that he has been a stalwart believer that Israel should thrive – and that he has provided much support for the country. According to Obama, recent events in Syria and Egypt provide yet another example of why a solution to the conflict is needed.
Part of the discussion was dedicated to the issues of state and religion – especially the controversial issue of whose responsibility it is to pay for contraception – and whether religious hospitals should perform abortions and circumcisions.
Obama said he is a person of deep religious conviction and a strong supporter of causes of conscience. It is not that he thinks the government can do it better, he said – but stressed that millions of women working in religious institutions shouldn’t be discriminated and not receive their healthcare because of their employers objections to contraceptives.
Tuesday’s meeting followed a meeting last week, between Obama and White House Lew and about 20 Conservative Jewish community leaders, in which they thanked them for the work they do to improve communities around the country, and discussed their shared commitment to rebuilding the U.S. economy.