WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner says the U.S. commitment to Israel should be stronger now as the American ally faces challenges to its existence in the volatile Middle East.
In an address Sunday to the Jewish National Fund conference in Cincinnati, the Ohio Republican dismissed suggestions that Israel has isolated itself and he argued that the Jewish state stands above others as the "one true beacon of freedom and opportunity" in the region.
The U.S., he said, must stand by Israel's side "not just as a broker or observer — but as a strong partner and reliable ally."
A text of Boehner's address was made available in advance.
Boehner's remarks come on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York, which is shaping up as a difficult diplomatic period for Israel.
The Palestinian Authority intends to seek recognition of statehood despite a threat of a U.S. veto in the Security Council and the strong objections of the United States and Israel.
Boehner also noted that the U.N. will highlight the Durban Declaration, viewed by many as an anti-Semitic statement, and that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a foe of Israel, will address the General Assembly.
Boehner's speech comes amid renewed attention to President Barack Obama's policies toward Israel. Republicans say the president isn't forceful enough on behalf of Israel, and political questions have been raised on whether the GOP can capitalize on the discontent and make inroads with Jewish voters.
Last Tuesday, Republican Bob Turner scored a surprising win in a historically Democratic New York congressional district in part because of complaints about Obama's Mideast policies. The district also has a large concentration of Orthodox Jews.
In May, Obama called for Israel's 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps to serve as the starting point in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. That proposal was rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Boehner, in his speech, did not mention Obama, but did recall his invitation to Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, also in May, and the message the prime minister delivered.
"The American people deserved to hear from him — and Washington, quite frankly, needed to hear what he had to say," Boehner said. "I invite the people in this room — and anyone as concerned as I am about the future of Israel — to speak out. Washington needs to hear from you, too."
Boehner said Israel has shown that it seeks "nothing more than peace ... a peace agreed to by the two states and only the two states." The speaker said Netanyahu understands that peace will require compromise.
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