WASHINGTON — President Obama appealed to a divided and troubled Jewish community on Friday, defending his nuclear accord with Iran as in the security interest of both the United States and Israel, and calling for a more civil debate with a congressional vote just weeks away.
In an Internet broadcast from the White House, Mr. Obama took questions from the largest Jewish umbrella organizations. He pledged that the vitriol surrounding the Iran debate would pass quickly as the United States, Israel and allies in the Middle East move toward confronting Iranian aggression beyond its nuclear ambitions.
“A president 15 years from now will not be in a worse position to respond” if Iran tries to quickly obtain a nuclear weapon after much of the accord expires, Mr. Obama said. “He will be in a better position, or she will be in a better position to respond.”
The interview, conducted by Stephen Greenberg, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Michael Siegal, the chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America, came at a sensitive time for the president.
While Republicans and conservative organizations are nearly unanimous in their opposition to the Iran accord, Jewish groups that traditionally lean Democratic are divided. In September, when Congress takes up resolutions to scuttle the nuclear deal, Mr. Obama will need Democrats to unite, either to filibuster the resolution in the Senate or to sustain his promised veto.
But nowhere has the nuclear accord been more divisive than among American Jews.
Mr. Obama acknowledged the political support that most Jews have given him, saying, “I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for my friends and supporters in the Jewish community.” But he pushed back against the notion that both sides in the Iran debate have been guilty of the same ugly vitriol.
Some Jewish opponents of the deal in Congress have been accused by the left of “dual loyalties” and a lack of patriotism, but Mr. Obama singled out the treatment of supporters of the accord, such as Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and a yeshiva-trained observant Jew, who has been castigated and denounced by other Jews.
“We’re all pro-Israel, and we’re all family, and Jewish members in Congress that are supporting this deal, I don’t need to give you their biographies,” Mr. Obama said.
The president promised that the fierce opposition to the accord from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his allies in the United States would do nothing to impede American-Israeli cooperation in countering Iran’s support for terrorism and its efforts to destabilize the Middle East.
Mr. Obama expressed sympathy for American and Israeli Jews who are worried about Iran’s continuing anti-Semitic statements, Holocaust denial and vows to wipe out Israel. Asked about mockery of him by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the president replied: “The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, and the president of the United States doesn’t respond to taunts. The president of the United States responds to interests.”
After the interview, Mr. Greenberg continued to voice skepticism that the accord offers Washington the flexibility it needs to respond to Iranian aggression short of flagrant violations of nuclear restrictions. Rockets being fired across Israel’s usually quiet northern border have “Iran’s fingerprints all over them,” he said.
But as Mr. Obama pursues diplomatic solutions to Iran’s nuclear efforts, he has shown little inclination to respond to other acts of aggression.
The president probably helped his cause with his pledges of a bipartisan commitment to Israeli security. But, Mr. Siegal said, the rhetorical wounds inflicted in the Iran debate in recent weeks may not heal as quickly as Mr. Obama suggested.
“Nobody forgets,” Mr. Siegal said after the interview. “Every scar hurts, but there is forgiveness in every family.”
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