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Jewish Leaders From Conservative Movement Praise Obama After White House Meeting With Rabbis

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President Barack Obama speaks during a reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month on May 17, 2011, in the East Room of the White House.
President Barack Obama speaks during a reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month on May 17, 2011, in the East Room of the White House.

A group of rabbis and leaders from the Conservative movement of Judaism are commending President Barack Obama after a White House meeting on Tuesday, when they questioned him on issues ranging from the environment and immigration to the Israel-Palestine conflict and sanctions against Iran.

The informal meeting was held in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with 19 leaders from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), which is the primary organization of the Conservative Jewish movement. It was scheduled to only be with White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, but the president made an unscheduled appearance.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive officer of the USCJ, said the meeting was "warm and productive" and attempted to position his denomination as crucial to Obama's support among Jews.

“Going into this upcoming election, the role of the Conservative Jewish community is critical; it quite literally constitutes the swing vote," he said in a statement. "While the Orthodox community can be counted on to vote predominantly Republican and the Reform community largely Democratic, Conservative Judaism –- as the central address of contemporary Judaism -- represents the epicenter of our people’s political allegiances."

According to a press release, the president thanked the rabbis and lay leaders for the work they do in communities around the country and "reiterated his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security."

The USCJ represents 630 congregations in North America with just above one million total members. Of the 6,588,000 American Jews, the Conservative tradition has the second largest membership. The largest is the 1.5 million-member Reform movement with nearly 900 congregations. Orthodox, Reconstructionist and other movements have smaller followings.

While American Jews tend to largely vote Democratic, there have been claims that the president may lose support among Jews because of his policies toward the Middle East and his shaky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But polls have shown that Obama, who won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, continues to have similar levels of support from American Jews. An April poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 62 percent of Jewish voters would vote for Obama over a generic Republican candidate. Among those who previously voted for Obama, 86 percent said they wanted him reelected. The poll also found that the economy is the top issue among most Jewish voters, while Israel is the top issue among 4 percent of the demographic.

More recently, the president's announcement that he supports same-sex marriage was hailed by the USCJ and the Union for Reform Judaism, but was criticized by Orthodox groups, including the Orthodox Union.

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