Obama Denounces Growing Anti-Semitism in Speech at Washington Synagogue; Seeks to Reassure American Jews of Support for Israel

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during remarks on Jewish American History Month at the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue in Washington, May 22, 2015. |

President Barack Obama warned of rising anti-semitism in the world, while seeking to reassure American Jews of his support for Israel, in remarks at Adas Israel Synagogue in Washington on Friday. Obama has spoken at more Jewish synagogues than any other American president.

"Our commitment to Israel's security and my commitment to Israel's security is and always will be unshakable," declared Obama. "We need to stand up to Israel's right to thrive and prosper."

The president also addressed what he sees as a "disturbing rise in anti-semitism," adding, "we know from our history it can't be ignored.

"When we allow anti-semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed. It will spread."

Obama has received criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some American Christians for not taking a firm enough stance in support of Israel, however.

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama bows to applause at the end of his remarks on Jewish American History Month at the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue in Washington, May 22, 2015. |

But in his speech on Friday the president assured the audience that abandoning Israel would amount to a "moral failure" and criticized those who said the United States and Israel cannot have policy disagreements.

"Our strategic partnership with Israel will remain no matter what happens," Obama asserted, "and America has Israel's back, and will always have its back."

He continued: "When I hear people say that disagreements with Israel means a lack support for Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully. For us to paper over difficult questions, particularly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about settlement policy, that's not a true measure of friendship. I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly in what I think is the best path for Israel."

Critics of the Obama administration also disagree with his push to lift sanctions against Iran, and believe such actions will speed up Iran's ability to acquire nuclear weapons.

Speaking on Iran, Obama reiterated his intention that Iran not be able to develop nuclear weapons, saying "I will not accept a bad deal."

"This deal will have my name on it so I have the biggest stake in making sure it delivers on its promise," he said. "No U.S. president, no administration has done more to ensure that Israel can protect itself than this one."

Obama also noted his continued commitment to a free and separate Palestine. "That's two states for two people — Israel and Palestine living side by side."

"Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land as well, he said, adding that Palestinians are "not the easiest of partners."

Joking about his strong support at the polls from American Jews, Obama called himself "an honorary member of the tribe," and boasted about hosting seven Seder dinners at the White House.

He also said the U.S. is "immeasurably stronger" for its track record of welcoming Jews, which he said was a credit to the Bill of Rights.

The first president to speak at an American synagogue was Ulysses S. Grant in 1876. George Washington wrote to Jewish synagogues in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790 defending religious liberty. Washington famously wrote that the U.S. government "gives to bigotry no sanction," and "to persecution no assistance."

Obama mentioned and praised both presidents for their actions in Friday's remarks.

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