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Obama says support for Israel 'unshakable'

By Erica Werner

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 16 2011 2:10 p.m. MST

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the 71st General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism, Friday, Dec. 16, 2011, in National Harbor, Md.

Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Defending himself sharply against Republican attacks, President Barack Obama told a Jewish group Friday that his administration has done more than any other in support of Israel's security, and he declared his support for Israel to be "unshakable."

"So don't let anybody else tell a different story," Obama said. "We have been there and we will continue to be there. Those are the facts."

Obama never specifically referenced his GOP critics in his remarks to more than 5,000 listeners at a conference of the Union for Reform Judaism, which represents a large and generally liberal branch of North American Judaism. But his comments came amid sustained attack from the GOP presidential field over his record on Israel, with Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and others accusing him of throwing Israel under the bus and siding with the Palestinians.

Ahead of Obama's remarks Friday, the Republican National Committee organized a conference call where former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota asserted that Obama "has a serious policy problem with Israel."

Obama strongly disputed any such criticism.

"I am proud to say that no U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel's security than ours. None. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. It is a fact," he said.

"We will keep standing with our Israeli friends and allies just as we've been doing when they needed us most."

In support of Obama's claim, administration officials cite high levels of defense spending and military cooperation as well as comments from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other Israeli officials.

Barak also spoke at the conference and Obama met with him Friday on the sidelines.

Republicans point to Obama's public pressure on Israel over building settlements in disputed areas and on the peace process, including a call to use Israel's 1967 borders, with agreed-upon land swaps, as the basis for peace negotiations. Critics say those borders are indefensible, though they often neglect to mention Obama's emphasis on land swaps to account for Jewish settlements and other current conditions.

Obama expressed frustration Friday with the stalled peace process, which his efforts have failed to revive. But he promised to keep trying.

"I have not wavered and will not waver," the president said.

"The special bonds between our nations are ones that Americans hold dear. ...They're bonds that transcend partisan politics — or at least they should."

Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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