Obama during a news conference at the White H
Obama during a news conference at the White H Reuters

US President Barack Obama defended his policies regarding Iran in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic published Thursday, and claimed that most US Jews still support him.

There’s “not really a bifurcation with respect to the attitudes of the Jewish American community about me,” he said, when asked about his billionaire Sheldon Adelson and other critics in the US Jewish community. “I consistently received overwhelming majority support from the Jewish community, and even after all the publicity around the recent differences that I’ve had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the majority of the Jewish American community still supports me, and supports me strongly.”

Obama explained that his criticisms of Israel reflect his high expectations from the Jewish state, and his concern that Israel may be straying from the moral path of its founders, and risking its long-term survival as a Jewish and democratic state.

“But you can’t equate people of good will who are concerned about those issues with somebody who is hostile towards Israel,” he argued. “And you know, I actually believe that most American Jews, most Jews around the world, and most Jews in Israel recognize as much. And that’s part of the reason why I do still have broad-based support among American Jews. It’s not because they dislike Israel, it’s not because they aren’t worried about Iran having a nuclear weapon or what Hezbollah is doing in Lebanon. It’s because I think they recognize, having looked at my history and having seen the actions of my administration, that I’ve got Israel’s back, but there are values that I share with them that may be at stake if we’re not able to find a better path forward than what feels like a potential dead-end right now.”

Is Iran rational or not?

Goldberg asked Obama to reconcile his past statements that anti-Semites “are not rational, are not built for success, are not grounded in a reality that you and I might understand,” with other statements he made, according to which the Iranian regime, which he himself called anti-Semitic, “is practical, and is responsive to incentive, and shows signs of rationality.”

“Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival,” replied Obama. “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.”

He stressed that he has a personal stake in making sure a deal with Iran stops it from developing nuclear weapons, saying: “Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this.”

Obama also said that there has been “no indication from the Saudis or any other [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries that they have an intention to pursue their own nuclear program.”

“Part of the reason why they would not pursue their own nuclear program—assuming that we have been successful in preventing Iran from continuing down the path of obtaining a nuclear weapon—is that the protection that we provide as their partner is a far greater deterrent than they could ever hope to achieve by developing their own nuclear stockpile or trying to achieve breakout capacity when it comes to nuclear weapons, and they understand that,” he explained.

“Their covert—presumably—pursuit of a nuclear program would greatly strain the relationship they’ve got with the United States.”