President Obama will appear at a conference of 6,000 Jewish Americans Friday at a time when the president is eager to convince Jewish voters that his administration has been a committed ally of Israel.
Obama is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism in Washington. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also are set to speak at the event.
The president’s 51 percent approval rating among Jews in a recent Gallup poll is higher than his national average — 48 percent — but it is the lowest among Jews in his three years in office.
And his appearance at Friday’s conference comes after a pair of controversial, highly publicized statements related to Israel and Jews by Obama and one of his ambassadors.
Last month, foreign reporters overheard Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy griping about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Group of 20 economic summit in France.
More recently, several of Obama’s Republican presidential rivals called on the president to fire Howard Gutman, U.S. ambassador to Belgium, after remarks that Gutman made related to anti-Semitism and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Jewish groups also condemned the remarks. Obama has stood by Gutman, a major fundraiser for his 2008 campaign.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said recently that Obama’s policies have “chastened Israel,” “emboldened Palestinian hard-liners and immeasurably set back the prospects for peace in the Middle East.”
Obama has fought back against his critics. At a fundraising event two weeks ago at the New York City residence of Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, the president defended his policies, saying his administration “has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.”
He cited his speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September, at which he rejected the Palestinians’ bid for the U.N. to recognize their statehood bid.
“Whether it’s making sure that our intelligence cooperation is effective, to making sure that we’re able to construct something like an Iron Dome so that we don’t have missiles raining down on Tel Aviv, we have been consistent in insisting that we don’t compromise when it comes to Israel’s security,” Obama said. “And that’s not just something I say privately, that’s something that I said in the U.N. General Assembly. And that will continue.”