Obama bristles at anti-Semitism charges during interview with Jewish newspaper

President Obama speaks at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington on May 22, 2015 as part of Jewish Heritage Month. Photo courtesy Ron Sachs
President Obama speaks at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington as part of Jewish Heritage Month. Photo courtesy Ron Sachs.

President Obama speaks at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington on May 22, 2015 as part of Jewish Heritage Month. Photo courtesy Ron Sachs

(RNS) President Obama told the editor of an influential Jewish publication that “there’s not a smidgen of evidence” that he is anti-Semitic, a charge some critics have leveled as the president defends the Iran nuclear deal.

Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of The Forward, used her 45 minutes in the Oval Office Friday (Aug. 28) to ask Obama to respond to critics of the deal, which has divided the Jewish community — and also what she called “a more personal question.”

“Does it hurt you personally when people say that you’re anti-Semitic?”

“Oh, of course,” he told Eisner. “And there’s not a smidgen of evidence for it, other than the fact that there have been times when I’ve disagreed with a particular Israeli government’s position on a particular issue.”

In addition to the interview with The Forward, Obama spoke with Jewish American leaders via a separate video webcast watched live by more than 5,000 YouTube users on Friday.

“Apparently we were able to find one venue we have not already used” to lobby for the Iran deal, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.

Though American Jews are divided over the deal, Israeli Jews largely oppose it, polls show. Earlier this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress and argued that Iran could not be trusted. Congress is expected to vote on the deal in September.

READ: Iran deal debate devolves into clash over Jewish stereotypes and survival

Discussing the vitriolic rhetoric supporters and opponents of the deal have lobbed at each other, Eisner told Obama that “even some of his supporters say that he has contributed to the incendiary language by implying that opponents of the deal are ‘warmongers.’”

“He rejected that outright,” Eisner wrote. “It was the only time during our interview that I saw him bristle and his back stiffen.”

Obama’s use of the term “warmonger” has offended some who note age-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories charging Jews as conniving forces behind war.

“What I said,” Obama explained to Eisner, “is that if we reject the deal, the logical conclusion is that if we want to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, military strikes will be the last option remaining at some point. It may not be under my administration; it might be under the next one. And that is something that has to be taken into account.”

Obama also likened the current chill between him and Netanyahu to a family spat, reaffirmed the historically strong alliance between the U.S. and Israel, and predicted that tensions over the deal would dissipate as the deal itself proved itself the best strategy to assure that Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.

The president received tough but respectful questioning from the moderators of the Friday YouTube webcast, which included leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations of North America.


About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


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  • I don’t think Obama is anti-Semitic but I do think he has feelings about Israel which are at best ambivalent.

    That is, he sees Israel through socialist eyes. When he views Israel as the underdog, he is sympathetic toward it. But when he sees Israel as having the upper hand, he is indignant against it.

    Welcome to the strange thought processes of an indoctrinated socialist, who doesn’t see the inherent rightness or wrongness of things, but who sees equality of outcome as the be-all and end-all of literally everything.

  • I disagree with his ridiculous policies, but Obama has a good suit and a sharp tie. Good for him on that end.

  • A deal in which Iran inspects itself is obviously insane. That is the fox guarding the hen-house. It makes no sense whatsoever.

  • David, you’re thinking too rationally. These people who did the deal with Iran think like cultists….they are otherwise smart people who have surrendered critical thinking to a very toxic way of looking at the world….a way that’s based on the value of feeling good over doing good…..of valuing their own supposedly pure motives over the disastrous outcome of their beliefs and actions.

  • Its telling that the majority of critics of the Iran deal have disregarded military analysts of both the US and Israel or just not bothered to educate themselves of the details of the agreement. Hysteria runs rampant on this one.

    Iran’s nuclear ambitions were going nowhere fast. The conflict they wanted to spark had fizzled. As a consolation prize, we bought off more than 90% of their existing enriched uranium (the remaining amounts is years and billions of dollars away from useful weapons grade), and reduced their enrichment capacity by 80%.

    Military options were already off the table since Israel’s bluff was called last year. The critics don’t seem to understand that negotiations do not mean that you get everything you want.

    Netanyahu’s behavior with America has been the international politics version of the crazy drunk uncle you feel obligated to invite over for Thanksgiving. He makes a mess and usually offends guests, but you still don’t turn him away.