NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (JTA) — President Obama told a gathering of Reform Jewry not to let anyone challenge his record of support for Israel, which he said was "unprecedented."
"No U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours — none," he said in an address last Friday afternoon to more than 5,000 people at the biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism. "Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. It is a fact."
The crowd at a suburban Washington hotel gave the president a standing ovation.
"Even though it is a few hours early, I’d like to wish all of you Shabbat shalom," Obama opened. "I want to give a shout-out, NFTY I understand is in the house," he went on, earning a raucous cheer from the National Federation of Temple Youth.
After a brief d’var Torah — "It never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion," Obama said — the president listed several areas of close cooperation with Israel and the Jewish community, including missile defense and Iran sanctions. Of the sanctions, he said they were the "hardest hitting" ever. He repeated his pledge that he would take "no options" off the table when it comes to forcing Iran to back down from its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Obama peppered his speech with Jewish references, joking about his daughter Malia’s eagerness to attend bar and bat mitzvahs. His speech was based on the story of Joseph’s declaration "Hineni" — "Here I am" — to his father, Jacob.
To repeated applause, Obama ran through his domestic policy achievements on health care, and women’s and gay rights, among others.
Republicans have scored Obama for his at-times tense relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly over the peace process. Obama said he was still dedicated to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace but did not allude at all to his differences with Israel over settlement building in the West Bank.
The Republican National Committee published data last Friday showing Obama vulnerable to losses among Jewish voters in key states, particularly Florida.
"The truth is, America’s security interests are intertwined with Israel’s, and when President Obama does a disservice to Israel, he does a disservice to our country as well," RNC Chairman Reince Preibus said in an Op-Ed in the conservative Human Events magazine.