White House steps carefully around Obama’s reported ‘closest thing to a Jew’ comment

Spokesman confirms president’s sense of kinship with Jewish people, doesn’t affirm Axelrod’s claim that Obama said he sees himself as nearest thing to a Jew in the Oval Office

President Barack Obama walks off after speaking at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, May 22, 2015. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama walks off after speaking at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, May 22, 2015. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The White House on Tuesday partly endorsed comments attributed to US President Barack Obama by a former top adviser, who told Israel’s Channel 2 that the president shares the “common bonds and commons values” of the Jewish community.

However, Spokesman Josh Earnest did not go so far as to confirm ex-Obama senior adviser David Axelrod’s recollection that the president said he considered himself “the closest thing to a Jew” who’s served in the Oval Office.

Earnest was responding to inquiries during a press briefing about remarks made by Axelrod to Channel 2.

“You know, honestly, he said, ‘I think that I am the closest thing to a Jew who’s ever sat in this office. All my values, the people who shape me, and, you know, for people to suggest that somehow I would be anti-Israel or, worse, anti-Semitic, it hurts’,” Axelrod recalled Obama saying in comments which aired on Monday, a day ahead of an extensive interview with Obama broadcast by the station on Tuesday.

In this Friday, May 29, 2009 file photo, Senior White House adviser David Axelrod speaks during a television interview in the press briefing room at the White House in Washington. Britain's opposition Labour Party has recruited Axelrod, a top adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama's campaigns, to help with its leader's election bid next year. (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)
Former Senior White House adviser David Axelrod (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

Earnest said that “I think anybody who listened to the speech that the President delivered at Adas Israel (synagogue) just a week or so ago heard pretty clearly from the president the kinds of common bonds and common values that are embodied in his administration that are advocated by the Jewish community.”

The White House spokesman said “the president does feel that kind of kinship” with the Jewish people thanks to the US’s close ties with the Jewish state and foundation on Judeo-Christian values.

“So for a direct response or for questions about that specific comment, I’d refer you to the remarks that the President delivered just a week and a half ago or so,” Earnest said, referring to Obama’s speech last month at the Washington synagogue.

In the speech marking Jewish American Heritage Month, Obama spoke about how his world outlook has been influenced by Israel, Jewish values, and close Jewish advisors.

In the interview Tuesday with Channel 2’s Ilana Dayan, Obama addressed his low popularity in Israel, saying there was a gap in communication between him and Israelis.

“There are a lot of filters between me and the Israelis,” he said, adding that Israelis were “not receiving” the president’s messages directly from him.

But he emphasized his commitment to Israel’s security.

“It’s a solemn commitment that I’ve made… It’s not conditioned on any policy. I consider it a moral obligation for us to support a Jewish homeland.”

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