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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.

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“He has to make the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” says Chaim Twerski. “If they don’t do that, it puts all the pressure on Israel. If they don’t do that, there’s probably going to be some disappointment [among Jewish voters in the US].”

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But Rabbi Aaron Petuchowski, senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago, commends Obama for his “leadership, his courage, and his willingness to take risks.”

“Drawing a line in the sand about specific borders may undermine some aspects of conversations moving forward,” Rabbi Petuchowski acknowledges. “Yet the realism conveyed and the frustration expressed by our president are real. Most Jews who share both a genuine love for and commitment to a Jewish state at the same time believe in the notion of freedom and dignity for law-abiding nonterrorist Palestinians.”

Some close observers perceive a shift in Obama’s attitude toward the Middle East.

Writing for the Jewish news agency JTA, Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas notes that Obama is “moving away from what was perceived as his previous over-eagerness to engage with the region's autocrats … unstinting in [his] condemnation of Syria and Iran.”

In its statement, the ADL said, "This administration has come a long way in two years in terms of understanding of the nuances involved in bringing about Israeli-Palestinian peace and a better understanding of the realities and challenges confronting Israel.”

There may be a very practical political reason for this.

“Jewish donors and fund-raisers are warning the Obama re-election campaign that the president is at risk of losing financial support because of concerns about his handling of Israel,” The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Among the complaints: Obama’s repeated criticisms of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank; the perception that Obama is pushing Israel harder than he is Palestinians to negotiate a peace settlement; and the fact that Obama has yet to visit Israel since becoming president.

Recognizing the problem, the Obama campaign has enlisted Penny Pritzker, Obama's 2008 national finance chairwoman and a member of one of the country’s wealthiest Jewish American business families, to talk with Jewish leaders about their concerns.

"I do think there's an education job to be done, because there's lots of myths that abound and misunderstandings of the administration's record," she told The Wall Street Journal. "The campaign is aggressively getting the information out there."


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