For some critics, it became the central example of how Obama does not understand how the Jewish people view the modern state and its historical claims.
Obama’s visit to Israel, which will be focused in Jerusalem, is an effort to reset his relationship not with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he has had a rocky one, but with a still-suspicious Israeli public.
Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union, said he told Obama at the Thursday meeting that he must reach out not only to young secular Israelis but also to the nation’s growing religious community.
“I emphasized the importance that as part of what he does in that regard is speak, directly and symbolically, to the religious sectors of society and the millennia of connection the Jewish people have with the land of Israel,” said Diament, whose organization is the largest orthodox Jewish umbrella group.
Asked if that would help correct the impression left with Israelis in his Cairo speech, Diament, who attended Harvard Law School with Obama, said, “No comment.”
Obama was also urged Thursday to deliver a message to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, whom Obama will meet in Ramallah, that Palestinians should not obstruct Israeli peace efforts.
According to participants, Obama said he would. But he added that he also planned to tell Israelis that they must do more than talk about peace.
He said they must also act in a way that encourages an acceptable resolution with the Palestinians, according to several participants.
“And that will be a difficult balance to accomplish,” Obama said, according to one participant.
White House officials said Thursday that Obama had no plans at this point to meet with Palestinian — or other Arab — leaders before the trip.
A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting, said Obama during the Thursday meeting “noted that the trip is not dedicated to resolving a specific policy issue.”
“He also underscored that the trip is an opportunity for him to speak directly to the Israeli people about the history, interests and values that we share,” the official said.
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