According to the White House Media Affairs Office, the conversation included an update on proximity talks and administration efforts to strengthen Israel’s security, including the administration’s recent decision to provide Israel with an additional $205 million in funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system.
The president also briefed the Jewish senators and congressmen on the proposed draft of UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran.
The meeting was described as a “wide ranging and productive exchange about their shared commitment to peace and security in Israel and the Middle East.”
The senators urged Obama to increase his involvement in Washington’s Israel-related policies, and not leave things to the lower ranks of the administration.
Such involvement, they advised, would help clear up any misconception as to his attitude towards Israel. The senators and congressmen also suggested Obama visits Israel again.
The 90-minute meeting also included US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her deputy, James Steinberg.
Congressman Steve Rothman (New Jersey) said that much of the meeting focused on Iran, as well as the Republican Party’s efforts to misrepresent Obama’s stands on the issue and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rothman added that he believes that Obama was the best president Israel ever worked with, in terms of security and intelligence cooperation.
Obama reportedly told the Jewish mission that he made some mistakes he when he stepped onto the “minefield” that is the Middle East, triggered several of them and “lost some fingers.”
Nonetheless, the president stressed that Washington’s relations with Jerusalem are strong, and that the reports of tension between the two were overrated.
The meeting came at a delicate time, with U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians getting under way. It also follows a diplomatic spat between the U.S. and Israel in March that occurred when an Israeli panel announced construction plans in contested east Jerusalem in the middle of a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.
The Obama administration strongly rebuked Israel over the incident, but some, particularly conservatives, criticized the U.S. reaction as too strong and unfair to Israel.
“It was agreed that both the Israelis and the U.S. government probably could have handled that situation a little better,” Rothman said, while asserting that from a military and intelligence-sharing perspective, the Obama administration is the best U.S. administration Israel has ever had.
He said administration critics were trying to distort that, and Obama and his Jewish supporters in Congress needed to set the record straight.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., however, said that while she believed the president thought he was doing what was right for Israel and the U.S., concerns remained for those steeped in the issue and highly sensitive to nuances.
“I do want to see the president step up and vocalize his support for Israel far more than he has. He just needs to do that,” Berkley said.
Obama supports a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Berkley said most lawmakers in the meeting did too, but not at the expense of Israel’s security, and it couldn’t be a U.S.-imposed peace.
Berkley said Obama assured the group he had no intention of imposing an American plan on the two parties.
Congressman Eliot Engel (New York) told reporters that the US and Israel cannot allow “recent misunderstandings,” as he called them, to cloud their relationship and distract them from their mutual goals.
Much like in a family, he said, sometimes there are misunderstandings that have to be resolved through dialogue.
“It was one part group hug and one part gripe session,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn-Queens.)
“The President gets it,” said Weiner. “The President was reminded and conceded that there were missteps taken.”