President Obama will have a chance to do penance next month for last week’s insult of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu when he makes what could be an awkward appearance at the biennial gathering of the Union for Reform Judaism, which represents the largest Jewish denomination in the United States.
The appearance, which has not yet been announced by the White House, will occur sometime during the group’s meeting in Washington Dec. 14-18, according to the URJ.
Obama desperately needs to hold the strong advantage he had among Jews in 2008, particularly in must-win states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania where a move toward the Republican candidate by Jewish voters could tip the result against the president.
It emerged earlier this week that in a private meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy last Friday, Obama, thinking microphones that would broadcast an upcoming press conference to reporters were turned off, failed to contradict Sarkozy’s assertion that Netanyahu is a liar. Instead, Obama suggested Bibi was pain in the neck, grumbling to Sarkozy, “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you.”
The statement is sure to be the elephant in the room as Obama appears before the Jewish group, where he we likely offer an unusually emphatic statement of support for Israel.
The president will almost certainly have to address the slight he made toward Netanyahu, even if indirectly, or risk leaving the impression that he would indeed prefer not to deal with Israel’s leader during a time of heightened peril for the embattled U.S. ally. Israel’s relationship with Palestinian leaders is increasingly contentious, and it may soon have to decide whether to use military force to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program.
The White House has so far refused to comment on Obama’s remarks to Sarkozy.