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Obama talks Middle East, education with rabbis

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama discussed the Middle East and education policy in a pre-Rosh Hashanah call with rabbis.

Nearly 900 rabbis listened in on Obama’s call Sept. 22, which was arranged by the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. Obama has made several such calls since 2009, the first year of his presidency.

He fielded two questions, one about what the changes of the Arab Spring mean for Israel, the other about funding for schools. Obama said the United States was committed to Israel. He noted close U.S.-Israel cooperation and his efforts to isolate Iran as long as it advances its suspected nuclear weapons program.

In remarks obtained by the Washington Jewish Week, Obama said: "The most important thing we can do to stabilize the strategic situation for Israel is if we can actually resolve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis because that’s what feeds so much of the tumult in Egypt. That’s what I think has created the deep tension between Turkey and Israel and Turkey has historically been a friend and ally of Israel’s. That’s why we think direct negotiations are so critical."

Rabbi Avi Shafran, the spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, said the phone call and Obama’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly created a positive impression.

"He spoke about his commitment to Israel and to peace around the world," Shafran said.

In response to concerns expressed about poor funding for schools, Obama agreed and touted his recently unveiled jobs program, which includes a major teacher hiring component.

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