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Schumer walks back criticism of Obama’s Israel approach

The Obama White House has improved its approach to both Israel and the American Jewish community in the last week, according to Sen. Charles Schumer, who has emerged as a tough critic of Obama’s handling of the Israeli government. Schumer made big news last week when he said on said on the Nachum Segal Show ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The Obama White House has improved its approach to both Israel and the American Jewish community in the last week, according to Sen. Charles Schumer, who has emerged as a tough critic of Obama's handling of the Israeli government.

Schumer made big news last week when he said on said on the Nachum Segal Show that Obama's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "counterproductive." He also said there was a battle going on about the policy inside the Obama administration and that if his side didn't win, "we'll have to take it to the next step."

The Obama White House has improved its approach to both Israel and the American Jewish community in the last week, according to Sen. Charles Schumer, who has emerged as a tough critic of Obama’s handling of the Israeli government.

Schumer made big news last week when he said on said on the Nachum Segal Show that Obama’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "counterproductive." He also said there was a battle going on about the policy inside the Obama administration and that if his side didn’t win, "we’ll have to take it to the next step."

Backing off those comments Tuesday, the New York senator said that he now sees changes in the White House’s approach to dealing with pro-Israel groups in the United States and can envision the "possibility" of changes in the administration’s policies toward Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Schumer referred to a letter Obama sent to the Conference of Presidents, a coordinating body representing several dozen U.S. Jewish groups, on April 21 (note: this was before Schumer leveled his harsh critique) and said he had several "productive" discussions with White House officials over the last week that assured him they got the message.

"The interactions we’ve had are bringing people together and people in the pro-Israel community are feeling a sense that they’re being listened to and there might be some changes," Schumer claimed.

National Security Advisor James L. Jones seemed to roll out a new tone last week, talking simultaneously about what the Obama administration wants to see from the Israelis and the Palestinians during remarks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that were overshadowed by the controversy over a Jewish joke Jones told (and for which he has subsequently apologized).

"In any sense they are asking Israel to do something, they want it to be closely interwoven with things they are asking of the Palestinians," WINEP’s executive director Robert Satloff said after the speech.

The Cable asked Al Franken, a former comedy writer who is now a senator from Minnesota, if Jones’s joke was appropriate or at least funny. Franken, who is Jewish, wasn’t aware of the fracas.

"I’d have to hear the joke … I’d have to see him deliver it. It’s all about context," Franken said.

Meanwhile, Jones, Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates all met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday. Some have speculated that the administration’s hosting of Barak might undercut the ongoing negotiations with Netanyahu, but Pentagon sources dismissed that as ridiculous, citing the historically close ties between the Defense Department and the Israeli military.

Meanwhile, U.S. special envoy George Mitchell spoke with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday to update him on the negotiations. Mitchell was in the region last week and is expected to return shortly in hopes of reviving the "proximity talks" announced weeks ago.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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