Last Thursday the President met a cross-section of Jewish leaders in the White House, to engage them in conversation prior to his scheduled forthcoming to Israel. There were a number of items worth noting about the meeting, some of which were mentioned in some of the reports but which have not been viewed collectively.
First the meeting was not listed on the President's daily list of appointments, although it clearly was scheduled. It is likely that the White House wanted to engage the Jewish community before the trip; but he wanted to keep the meeting with as low a profile as possible. This was true with the larger American public, in the wake of the AIPAC policy conference; so as to offend as few Arab countries as possible; and to postpone any negative reaction from within the Jewish community as to why some groups and leaders were chosen and others not.It was important to note that the White House included some partisan groups like the National Jewish Democratic Council; the non-mainstream J Street leaders; only some of the religious groups; and former Congressman Robert Wexler representing a minor left-wing group, the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.
The Obama team needed the meeting but wanted an actual exchange. What appears to be interesting from some of the reports is that while the AIPAC conference had stressed the importance of the Iranian threat, these discussions clearly moved to other issues including the peace process, Syria, and the two state solution; matters which were hardly heard at the policy conference.
President Obama apparently did not merely listen. Reports suggest that he directly engaged with the Jewish leaders for over one hour on substantive issues. While he apparently reiterated that he did not expect any movement towards peace on this trip, he also wanted American Jews to understand both his commitment to Israel, to prevent a nuclear Iran, and to peace.
At its most cynical, President Obama needed this meeting for political purposes; for himself and the Democratic Party. President Obama needed be sure that he can still count on at least the 69% of Jewish support that he received in November while he moves ahead addressing both the Middle East in general and the Iranian nuclear danger, specifically. Finally, he needed to send reassuring signals to Democratic Jewish donors that he needs there largesse for 2014 so he can re-gain control of the House and help his party's nominee in 2016.