Executive chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations: “Obama eager to talk directly to people”.
MALCOLM HOENLEIN Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
PRINCETON, New Jersey – President Barack’s Obama intent on his visit to Israel this week is to establish a direct rapport with its people, the executive chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, said on Saturday night.
“He’s eager to talk directly to the people of Israel. He wants to address the issues of the special relationship between the US and Israel,” said Hoenlein, speaking to The Jerusalem Post at the Limmud FSU conference in Princeton after receiving an award for his contribution to the struggle for Soviet Jewry at a gala session attended by 750 participants.
Hoenlein was one of the American Jewish leaders who met with Obama last week for nearly two hours, ahead of his first visit to Israel as president. He expressed confidence that Obama would succeed in making a personal connection with Israelis during his two-and-a-half day stay here, where he’ll be meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“[Obama] has a unique communication ability speaking to audiences; that’s why he’s so good on the campaign trail,” said Hoenlein.
“There is a lot of skepticism and questions that I think he can overcome by giving Israelis a sense of confidence and passing on the commitment he has expressed repeatedly in the US about Israel’s security, about Iran and about the issues that so important to both countries.
“I think coming after [the appointment of US Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel, and some of the other debates we’ve had lately amid the perceived tension he’s had with [Netanyahu], I think that Obama can on a personal level communicate and forge a better understanding to the people of Israel.”
Hoenlein said that based on last week’s meeting with the president, it was clear that there would be no grand initiatives announced during the visit from the White House regarding negotiations with the Palestinians. But it wouldn’t preclude a later attempt to revive the sputtered process.
“He’ll be talking about his hope for progress on the Palestinian front, and this won’t stop him in six or nine months from putting forth a plan, but he’s not coming with a plan,” said Hoenlein.
Instead, he expected more emphasis to be placed on Iran and its quest for nuclear weapons. But he hoped that those discussions would remain behind closed doors.
“I hope there will be limited public discussion on this issue, but lots of private discussion,” he said. “I’d rather have the Iranians guessing, because any time you say something publicly, they try to look for any differences between the prime minister and the president.
“I believe that we have the same goal – preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Israel wants to prevent them from having the capability, the US wants to prevent them from having it – the question is how to achieve it? The US and Israel have a different timetable and it should be addressed privately between them.”
Despite flashpoints of conflicting interests between Obama and Netanyahu, Hoenlein said that there’s every reason to expect the visit will be an extremely positive one.
“That doesn’t diminish any issues or eliminate any differences, but it can create the context by which these issues can be dealt with better,” said Hoenlein.
“Then, when these issues rise, you deal with them in a contained and proper manner that seeks solutions and doesn’t add tensions. We can’t afford the US and Israel – given what’s happening today throughout the Middle East – to be at odds.”