Obama: Securing Israel critical for peace


WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama told American rabbis that securing Israel was critical to the peace process.

The president, in a 35-minute Rosh Hashanah call Tuesday with 600 rabbis of all denominations, said his administration’s efforts to reassure the Israeli government of U.S. backing for its security helped bring about the renewed peace process.

The Obama administration in the past year has enhanced intelligence sharing and missile defense cooperation with Israel, and has taken the lead in isolating Iran until it makes transparent its nuclear program.

Obama said it was the U.S. and Israeli assessment that the Iranian government was "shocked" by the effectiveness of recent enhanced sanctions by the United States, Europe, Japan and the U.N. Security Council.

The U.S. leader also said that he was "pleasantly surprised" by the cordial tone at the outset of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks last week.

Obama inaugurated the pre-Rosh Hashanah call last year, when it focused more on domestic policy — particularly his ultimately successful effort to pass health care reform in Congress.

There were fewer questions about domestic policy this year. Obama said that he would push environmental and energy consumption reforms by executive order now that the passage of related legislation seemed unlikely.

He also spoke about interreligious relations, saying that this was a dangerous moment for American Muslims particularly, and calling on religious leaders to speak out for tolerance.

Also Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden hosted a Rosh Hashanah reception for the organizational Jewish leadership and Israeli U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren at the vice president’s residence. Jewish leaders praised the level of outreach following a year marked by tensions over differences with Israel over settlement building.

"It is important at times to get together in situations where policy is temporarily secondary and the main focus is on good relations and communications," said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the director of American Friends of Lubavitch.

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