Berkley: Obama has a tin ear on Israel


He's trying but President Barack Obama has a tin ear of sorts when it comes to Israel, Rep. Shelley Berkley said following a meeting this week between the president and a group of Jewish lawmakers.

In her way, Berkley said Obama doesn't fully understand Israel, a key U.S ally.

"You have to have it in the kishkes... in the gut," Berkley said. "You have to feel it. It has to be part of you. I don't think it is in his kishkes."

"I do believe that he believes that he is a strong advocate and a staunch supporter of Israel," Berkley said. "But we talked about nuanced language and the sensitivity of the Jewish community and the concerns of the Israelis born from 6 million dead.

"I think we've earned the right as a people to be a little sensitive about the way things are phrased, the way things are said," Berkley said.

The lawmakers urged Obama to visit Israel. He "needs to step up and assure the Israeli public and the American Jewish community the United States is solidly behind Israel," she said.

The Nevada Democrat was among 37 pro-Israel members of Congress who met with Obama for 90 minutes at the White House on Tuesday.

The meeting came at their request, several weeks after the administration had a major flareup with Israel over the approval of 1,600 new housing units in east Jerusalem.

By several accounts, the meeting was partly a gripe session for the lawmakers and part an effort by Obama to reassure them he supports Israel. According to Berkley. the meeting was light on backslapping and heavy on substance. It touched on sanctions against Iran, the housing controversy and rumors the administration might impose a peace plan on Israel. Obama told them that was not going to happen.

Also discussed were recent comments by Gen. David Petraeus that the failure of Israel to reach peace with the Palestinians was making the United States look bad and endangering U.S. goals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We all dispelled that myth and urged the president to be more forthcoming if he disagreed with (Petraeus), which he said he did. He needs to stand up and speak."

On the flap with Israel over new settlements, Berkley said Obama "throttled back on that a bit."

"He readily admitted his administration has stubbed its toe on a few occasions," Berkley said.

The United States had urged Israel to freeze new settlements, and Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the settlement plan as contrary to U.S. wishes. Further, it embarrassed the administration because the settlements were announced while Biden was visiting the country in March.

Berkley was among pro-Israel lawmakers who said at the time the administration was over-reacting, and was treating a key ally shabbily.

At the White House meeting, "the president kept telling us what the administration's position was, was a pause (on Israeli housing settlements)," Berkley said. "There were a few people who spoke out and said that was not what was communicated to the American people."

"I think he heard everybody," Berkley said. "It was a good meeting but I don't think it dissolved every issue."