Texas Jewish Post (Fort Worth, Tex.), Vol. 64, No. 20, Ed. 1 Thursday, May 20, 2010 Page: 4 of 24
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4 I May 20,2010
TEXAS JEWISH POST £ SINCE 1947
White House meets with rabbis to
assuage concerns on Israel
By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA) — If you tell the rab-
bis, they will spread the word.
That was the thinking behind two intimate
White House meetings — the second of which
took place on May 13 — with a carefully se-
lected slate of 15 rabbis from across the country
and representing the Orthodox, Reform and
lack Moline, a Conservative rabbi at Congre-
gation Agudas Achim in Alexandria, Va., initi-
ated the meetings after a talk he had with his
friend Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief
of staff, about the Obama administration's per-
ceived lack of frien dliness toward Israel.
The two meetings, the first of which was
held last month, were part of a charm offensive
after relations between the Obama and Netan-
yahu governments hit a low in early March,
when Israel announced a major building start
in Eastern lerusalem during a visit to Israel by
U.S. Vice President loe Biden. The Obama ad-
ministration wants Israel to freeze settlement in
the West Bank and building in the Eastern part
of lerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967
Six-Day War and subsequently annexed.
In recent weeks, several high-profile lewish
communal figures have slammed the Obama
administration over the intensity and pub-
lic nature of its criticisms of Israeli actions on
these fronts. Some of the critics accused the
White House of exerting much more pressure
on Israel than the Palestinian Authority.
Moline said the rabbis, all of whom attended
both of the meetings, were selected because of
the high profiles they have in their communi-
ties, and because they had concerns about how
the Obama administration was conducting
Middle East policy — but they had not dis-
played outright hostility to the president.
"The rabbis who were in this group were
chosen because they're in touch with their dif-
ferent congregations in different parts of the
country," Moline said.
Not all the rabbis came away entirely molli-
fied, but nonetheless they were impressed by the
seriousness of the outreach.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of the Orthodox Boca
Raton Synagogue in Florida said he left the
meeting still wondering if the administration is
on the right track, but "cautiously optimistic"
because of the depth of commitment to Israel
"I left with a clear impression that these in-
dividuals have a real passion about Israel," even
Photo: Creative Commons
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, seen here at the na-
tional menorah lighting last Decemeber, arranged two White
House meetings in recent weeks for a selectgroup of rabbis.
if he did not agree with them on tactics, Gold-
berg said. Their interlocutors at the two meet-
ings were high level: Dennis Ross, who runs
Obama's Iran policy; Dan Shapiro, the deputy
national security adviser who supervises poli-
cy for Israel and its neighbors; Susan Sher, the
chief White House liaison to the lewish com-
munity; and Emanuel.
"Among the rabbis there was a diversity of
those who support the administration policies
and feel the message hasn't trickled down, and
those who have problems with some of the poli-
cies," Goldberg said. "But the universal message
was you need to show more love, this is not how
you treat family."
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of B'nai Tzedek, a
Conservative congregation in suburban Poto-
mac, Md., said he felt it was especially incum-
bent upon the administration to explain its ac-
tions given the misgivings about Obama that
had circulated in the lewish community prior
to his election in a rumor campaign driven by
e-mail that described him as anti-Israel and
sympathetic to Muslims.
"I even mentioned hesitantly the flurry of
e-mails prior to the election that were widely
circulated in the lewish community," he said.
"This was one of the reasons there was concern,
and this was why the concerns had to be al-
layed. The potential for that perception is out
there, and the recent actions didn't contribute
to dispelling that approach."
The rabbis put questions to the group that
ranged from the substantive to repetitions of
rumors about the president and how he was
perceived to have treated Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu poorly during a visit to
Washington in March,
The White House staffers answered the
questions politely and with equanimity, Moline
"There was a lot of highlighting of the actual
activities and policies of the administration,"
Moline said — "and some frustration that"
what the Obama administration has done for
Israel "has not been comprehensively and accu-
rately reported. They emphasized that whatever
the messaging has been over the past year and a
half, the policies have been in place."
The officials emphasized the closeness of the
defense relationship. On May 13, as the rabbis
were meeting with the staffers, for instance, the
Obama administration authorized $205 mil-
lion on top of the annual $3 billion in defense
assistance for Israel to complete its Iron Dome
short-range missile defense system.
The administration officials "spent a con-
siderable amount of time emphasizing that the
United States is addressing Israel's security con-
cerns in a manner that [Israeli Defense Minister
Ehud] Barak called better than at any previous
time," Moline reported.
The rabbis in attendance — whose congre-
gations ranged from Florida, the Midwest, Las
Vegas, the Northeast and the South — seemed
receptive and took the message home.
"Our president is every bit as committed to
Israel's safety and security as any previous ad-
ministration," Rabbi Aaron Rubinger said in a
May 8 Shabbat morning sermon at Congrega-
tion Ohev Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in
Orlando, Fla. "I do not believe the president is
abandoning Israel or has any intention of aban-
Rubinger seemed even more upbeat in an
extensive interview with the Heritage Florida
lewish News after the second meeting.
The rabbi said he had gone into the first
meeting "with grave concern that even the pub-
lic perception of too much space between Israel
and the U.S. might give a signal to Iran that the
U.S. was not as committed to Israel's security as
previous administrations were."
Now, Rubinger said, he was assuaged.
"We are mending and moving beyond this
controversy," he said.
Rubinger's fellow Floridian Goldberg said
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Wisch, Rene. Texas Jewish Post (Fort Worth, Tex.), Vol. 64, No. 20, Ed. 1 Thursday, May 20, 2010, newspaper, May 20, 2010; Fort Worth, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth188293/m1/4/: accessed October 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .