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From American Jews, a wide reaction to Obama's Middle East speech

Obama was no doubt mindful of Jewish voters in giving his Middle East speech. He'll need to work hard to win their backing again in 2012, and many are skeptical of his support for Israel.

By Brad Knickerbocker and Mark GuarinoStaff writers / May 20, 2011

President Obama waves to the audience as he arrives to speak at a reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month at the White House on May 17 in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster/AP


President Obama’s Middle East speech on Thursday had several important audiences, most of them overseas in a region marked by political turmoil and long-standing challenges.

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But as he accelerates his 2012 reelection campaign, one domestic audience in particular was no doubt on Mr. Obama’s mind: Jewish voters.

In 2008, Obama won nearly 78 percent of the Jewish vote; just 21 percent went for his Republican rival, John McCain. More than ever, Jewish voters remain a crucial part of his political base – in terms of campaign contributions as well as votes.

Can he retain that kind of Jewish support?

It helps that Obama recently chose US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida as the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). She is an active member of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) and Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.

The NJDC, which describes itself as the “liaison between the organized Jewish community and the Democratic Party,” lauded Obama after his speech for “his strong support for Israel and the pragmatic approach he put forth to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But overall, the reaction – from individual voters as well as major Jewish organizations – was decidedly mixed. Or as the Jewish news agency JTA put it, there were “wildly divergent responses from Jewish groups and opinion shapers, even among some who are otherwise often on the same page.… From accolades like ‘compelling’ to accusations like ‘Auschwitz borders’ to radio silence.”

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) both chose to accentuate the positive, skirting the contentious issue of borders between Israel and a future Palestine. Obama had said such borders “should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”


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