Before White House meeting, Obama and Rivlin reaffirm strong US-Israel ties
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Before White House meeting, Obama and Rivlin reaffirm strong US-Israel ties

US President Barack Obama meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Dec. 9, 2015  (Aude Guerrucci - Pool/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Dec. 9, 2015 (Aude Guerrucci – Pool/Getty Images)

(JTA) — In advance of their first White House meeting together, President Barack Obama and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin reaffirmed the friendship between the two allies.

At a joint news conference Wednesday, Rivlin said there is “no greater friend to Israel than the United States” and thanked Obama “from the bottom of my heart” for the U.S. military assistance and diplomatic support, according to a press pool report.

Rivlin added that “we are not at war with Islam but with extremists.”

Comparing Obama to the Hanukkah menorah’s shamash candle, which is used to light all the other candles, Rivlin said, according to a transcript provided by the White House: “We know, Mr. President, that you have lit the candle for the last seven years to show the right way for your people, and for the entire world, and we are very sure that the eighth candle that you will light in the next year will be the same, and show the whole world how to fight what we should not accept.”

Obama welcomed Rivlin and reaffirmed the U.S. military commitment to Israel’s security.

“Although obviously this is a time in which the prospects of serious peace may seem distant, it is important that we continue to try,” Obama said.

The U.S. leader added that he has asked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to end the anti-Israel incitement among Palestinians. He also praised Rivlin for “making it one of his hallmarks to improve dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and Arab-Israeli citizens and the large majority.”

Rivlin arrived in the United States on Tuesday and has met with members of Congress from both parties. He was expected to attend one of the two Hanukkah parties at the White House later Wednesday.

Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu long have had a tense relationship, one that came to a head in March when Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to speak at a joint session of Congress. The two sharply disagreed on the Iran nuclear deal, which the Islamic Republic and six countries, including the United States, signed over the summer.