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President Obama continued to seek Jewish support Dec. 16, delivering an impassioned speech to about 6,000 people gathered for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) convention.
Throwing in a joke about his daughter Malia being in the midst of bar mitzvah season, he borrowed from her resulting Jewish knowledge to begin with a Torah portion, and based the rest of his speech on Joseph’s words, “Hineni,” or “Here I am.”
“Today we’re beginning to see what change looks like,” he said, recounting his record by listing the nomination of two female supreme court justices, health care reform, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ending the war in Iraq, and raising fuel efficiency standards as examples.
Obama then shifted the conversation to bring into question the values of the nation. “I laid out a vision in our country where everyone gets a fair shot, does their fare share,” he said, “this is not just a political debate, this is a moral debate, this is an ethical debate, it’s a values debate, it’s the defining issue of our time, a make or break moment for the middle class and for everyone fighting to get in.”
We are at a crossroads, he said, and have to decide who we are as a country.
“Is this a place where everyone is left to fend for themselves, or do we come together to make sure that working people can make enough to raise their family…buy their own home?” He continued, “I won’t be afraid to ask the most well-off among us to pay their fair share so that everybody’s got a shot.”
Obama reaffirmed his support of Israel, urging the crowd to doubt claims that other administrations had a stronger record as he invoked his continuation of the routine military support that previous administrations have provided for decades.
“No U.S. administration has done more in support to Israel’s security than ours. None. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. It’s a fact,” he stated. He mentioned U.S. foreign aid to Israel, a missile defense system that was an Israel-U.S. collaboration, and “hard-hitting sanctions” and leaving “no options off the table” for Iran as examples of this support.
Republicans have responded by strongly criticizing the Obama administration’s record on Israel.
William Kristol, chairman of the Emergency Committee on Israel, protested that, “It is not a fact that [Obama’s] administration has been strong in support of Israel. It is a fact that in the past month alone, Obama administration officials have blamed Israel for the failure of the peace process, blamed Israel for fraying relations with the increasingly Islamist governments in Egypt and Turkey, compared Israel to Iran, and blamed Israel for Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe. The president hasn’t clarified or repudiated any of these remarks.”
Republican Jewish Coalition Director Matthew Brooks issued the following statement: “President Obama still excels at delivering speeches, but Jewish voters—and all Americans—need more than lip service to our ideals of a more just and secure world.”
The president concluded by essentially restating his bid for the presidency, thinly masking his request for every American to state, “Here I am, I’m ready to keep alive our country's promise, I am ready to do what needs to be done, the work might not be finished in a day…in a term, but I'm ready to do my part.”
He walked off the stage to thunderous applause and an electrified crowd.