Obama used to joke with staff that he’s ‘basically a liberal Jew’

Former U.S. president Barack Obama at Temple Emanu-El in New York City, Jan. 24, 2018. (Gili Getz/Facebook)

Former U.S. president Barack Obama at Temple Emanu-El in New York City, Jan. 24, 2018. (Gili Getz/Facebook)

(JTA) – Barack Obama said his administration refrained from vetoing a 2016 United Nations Security Council resolution critical of Israeli settlements because the pace of their construction “skyrocketed.”

The former U.S. president, speaking Wednesday at New York’s Temple Emanu-El, also said that he and his staff would often joke that he was “basically a liberal Jew,” according to the British Daily Mail.

In the waning days of his second and last term, Obama declined to veto a Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement construction while simultaneously declaring them illegal. President-elect Donald Trump called on Obama to veto the resolution, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the U.S. of a “gang-up” with Israel’s antagonists.

“The pace of settlement construction skyrocketed, making it almost impossible to make any kind of Palestinian state,” Obama said in his synagogue talk, according to the Mail. “Voting against the resolution would have damaged our credibility on affirming human rights only when it’s convenient, not when it has to do with ourselves and our friends.”

To be “a true friend of Israel, it is important to be honest about it, and the politics of this country sometimes do not allow for it,” Obama also said.

Describing Israel’s security as “not a subject for dispute,” Obama pointed to the September 2016 signing of a $38 billion US aid package for Israel, the largest ever provided by a U.S. administration to any country.

Separately, it was revealed Thursday that Obama in 2005 posed for a photo with Louis Farrakhan, the virulently anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam movement and that the Congressional Black Caucus helped repress the photo. Obama was the U.S. senator from Illinois at the time.

The Trice Edney News Wire first published the photo and reported that the photographer, Askia Muhammad, was immediately asked not to run the photo by an unidentified member of the Congressional Black Caucus, where the meeting had taken place. Muhammad gave the disk with the photo to Farrakhan’s chief of staff. There was already talk in 2005 of Obama running for president, and the Congressional Black Caucus and Farrakhan did not want to harm his chances. It’s not clear who was employing Muhammad at the time, but he had previously worked for the Nation of Islam publication, The Final Call.

Farrakhan apparently referred to the photo in 2016 toward the end of Obama’s second term, when Farrakhan revealed he had met privately with Obama and had a photo of them together.

Farrakhan expressed support for Obama’s candidacy in 2008, and Obama’s pastor at the time, Jeremiah Wright, had praised Farrakhan on multiple occasions. That made Farrakhan an issue during the primaries campaign that year, and Obama’s rival at the time, Hillary Clinton, called on him to repudiate Farrakhan. Obama did so during a primaries debate.

Talking Points Memo, which also reported Thursday on the photo, solicited comment from Obama. A spokesman directed the liberal news site to an interview Obama gave in 1995 when he was first running for Illinois state senate, and after he had attended Farrakhan’s Million Man March on Washington.

“What I saw was a powerful demonstration of an impulse and need for African-American men to come together to recognize each other and affirm our rightful place in the society,” Obama told the Chicago Reader, describing his impressions of the march. “There was a profound sense that African-American men were ready to make a commitment to bring about change in our communities and lives.”

But he continued: “But cursing out white folks is not going to get the job done. Anti-Semitic and anti-Asian statements are not going to lift us up. We’ve got some hard nuts-and-bolts organizing and planning to do. We’ve got communities to build.”

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