Obama says he speaks ‘honestly’ about Israel, downplays Iran’s anti-Semitism

President Barack Obama. Credit: Pete Souza/White House.

(JNS.org) In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic that was published Thursday, President Barack Obama attempted to defend his administration’s recent public disputes with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Because I care so deeply about the state of Israel, precisely because I care so much about the Jewish people, I feel obliged to speak honestly and truthfully about what I think will be most likely to lead to long-term security,” Obama said, adding that it would be a “moral failing” of his presidency if he did not “protect Israel and stand up for its right to exist.”

Obama noted that despite policy disagreements with Israel, he still enjoys support from a vast majority of American Jews. He called his administration’s criticism of Netanyahu’s pre-election comments on a two-state solution and Israeli Arab voters “fairly spare and mild.”

“When you get in arguments with friends it’s a lot more newsworthy than arguments with enemies,” Obama said, calling the disagreements with Israel “built up” by the media. 

On Iran, Obama tried to dismiss the argument that because the Iranian government is “anti-Semitic or racist,” it isn’t interested in survival and cannot be a rational actor. 

“It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations,” said Obama.

The president admitted that due to America’s role in world powers’ nuclear talks with Iran, if the Islamic Republic has a nuclear weapon 20 years from now, it will have “my name” on it.

“I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down,” Obama said.

Posted on May 21, 2015 .