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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 15, 2012 By Israel Hayom JointMedia News Service Western European coun- tries including Germany have a distorted view of Is- rael and the threats its faces, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an exclu- sive interview with German newspaper Bild, excerpts of which were published on its website Tuesday. "There is a vast mispercep- tion of Israel in Germany and in Western European society in general," Netanyahu told the newspaper after being confronted with statistics that show only 36 percent of Germans find Israel sympa- thetic, while only 21 percent believe Israel respects human rights. "We are a vibrant democ- racy faced with Iran and its violent proxies, defending itself against thousands of rockets and Islamist con- vulsions all around us," Netanyahu continued. "It is the only democracy, the only beacon of freedom, of human rights in this region. How many Germans know there are over a million Arab citizens in Israel who enjoy full civic rights? ... Israel is maligned day in, day out, and this maligning filters into the public consciousness. That's a general problem. But it is particularly unfortunate with Germany because of the unique relationship and the unique history [the two countries share]." Netanyahu said that while it is unfortunate that "the slanders that were once re- served for the Jewish people are now directed at the state of the Jewish people," he believes Germany's commit- ment to Israel is "real and tangible." Commenting on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's dedication to Israel's secu- rity, the prime minister said, "There is a commitment to Israel's security that is exem- plified by the recent sale of another German submarine, an important adjunct to our national security, so I believe this is all real and tangible." Der Spiegel reported Sunday that Germany has provided Israel with five submarines capable of fir- ing nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, the first time that Germany has confirmed the submarines are intended to provide Israel with a nuclear second-strike capability. Netanyahu told the Bild that "one of the great trans- formations in the reconstitu- tion of the Jewish state" is Israel's ability to defend itself against its enemies. "We have never asked for other countries to come and physically defend us," he said. "It's a main principle of our security policy, so while I ap- preciate Germany's concern for Israel's security the most important assistance that can be given to Israel is--to paraphrase Churchill--to give us the tools and we will do the job of defending ourselves." In the interview, Netan- yahu addressed regional hot topics including the Iran nuclear program, the violence in Syria and the changes in Egypt. He said that the Iranians have not slowed down their nuclear program "by one millimeter" but added that Israel would prefer economic sanctions curb Iran's ambitions rather than military action. "The Iranians were only asked to stop 20 percent enrichment of uranium," Ne- tanyahu said. "That doesn't stop their nuclear program in any way. It actually al- lows them to continue their nuclear program." On Syria, Netanyahu ac- cusedIranand Hezbollah of be- ing behind the bloodshed that has continued in the country since March oflastyear."Killers supporting killers, giving them weapons, personnel to actually do the ldlling," he said. "This is whatwe are facing: Iran, which brutally murdered its people on the streets; Syria, which has EPA/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE Germany has a vast misperception of Israel, Netanyahu, seen here with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2011, told German newspaper Bild in an interview Tuesday. perfected the technique of shell- ing its own civilian population with artillery. This is what we are fighting. What we are fac- ing is illegitimate regimes that are pursuing illegitimate goals with illegitimate means. They are committing war crimes left and right. This has to be stopped." Netanyahu, however, did not say whether he supported Western military interven- tion in Syria. As for Egypt, the prime min- ister expressed hope that Cairo and the international com- munity would continue to support the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. "The Israeli-Egyptian peace has been the anchor of peace for over thirty years in the heart of the Middle East," he said. By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- President Obama is spread- ing the word, one Jewish constituency at a time: He has Israel's back. Obama defended his record on Israel and on religious freedoms last Tuesday dur- ing a White House meeting with Orthodox leaders. Chal- lenged by one of those leaders on the efficacy of his perceived even-handedness in dealing with Israel and the Palestin- ians, Obama countered that he has not been even-handed; he has favored Israel. Obama's meeting was the second such encounter in a week; six days earlier he met with leaders of the Conserva- tive movement. The meetings come in an election year in which the Obama administration has in- tensified its Jewish outreach. Obama spoke to the Union for Reform Judaism's biennial in December, and then to the American Israel PublicAffairs Committee in March. Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly in May, and later the same month hosted a briefing day for about 70 leaders convened by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Or- ganizations. The last two meetings have come in the form of informal "drop-bys" on meetings that various Jewish umbrella groups routinely convene with Jack Lew, his Jewish chief of staff. White House meetings have been com- monplace for decades, and generally take place once or twice a year with the presi- dential adviser designated as the senior outreach official for Jewish groups. Although Obama's "drop- by" at the last two meetings was described as informal by Jewish and White House offi- cials, it seemed to be carefully Official White House Photo by Pete Souza President Barack Obama is photographed with Orthodox Jewish rabbis in the Oval Office, June 5, 2012. planned. The Orthodox Union leaders arrived prepared with a gift for the president. Obama's outreach, particu- larly on Tuesday to the Or- thodox leaders--whose con- stituency increasingly tends to favor Republicans--fits in with a strategy that senior Democratic officials have in the past described as tamping down pockets of hostility as much as it is about cultivating the party's natural base in the Jewish community. The meeting last Tuesday, convened by the OU, was friendly, in depth and con- structive, participants on all sides said. However, the Orthodox leaders pressed Obama harder on some issues than had their Conservative counterparts, particularly on how he has handled the U.S.-Israel rela- tionship and on his decision to mandate contraceptive cover- age for employees at some religion-based institutions. An OU official asked Obama what lessons he had learned about promoting Israeli- Palestinian peace, consid- ering his perceived even- handedness and how his first two years in office had been marked by tensions with Israel. Participants said that Obama responded by reject- ing the notion that he was even-handed in his attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Insisting that the U.S. posture was pro- Israel, he pointed to his calls for making Israel's security needs paramount in any final- status deal. He said his calls to freeze settlement expansion re- flected the same positions of his four predecessors, and blamed differences with Israel in part on the quirk of history of a centrist U.S. government and a right-wing Israeli gov- ernment coexisting. Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to act without restraints, but that he understood him-- most leaders want to act without restraints. He said peace was critical as the Arab democracy move- ment swept the region but worries that the Palestinian leadership was no longer as interested in advancing toward peace. When it came to Israel, Obama asked the group not to doubt his "fidelity" to their cause, according to one participant. Another OU official reiter- ated the group's unhappiness with Obama's decision to require contraceptive cover- age for employees at religious institutions not directly involved in religious activity, like hospitals or orphanages. The official noted that the OU did not oppose contra- ceptive coverage, but was concerned that the two-tier system was confusing and represented governmental in- trusion into matters of faith. Roman Catholic groups have led the opposition to the man- dated coverage, introduced by Obama earlier this year. Obama said he was proud of his administration's record of defending religious liberty, but that the contraceptive coverage case presented him with a dilemma: How to protect the right of mil- lions of women working at religiously run institutions. He defended his solution, exempting purely religious establishments like churches and providing the contracep- tive coverage through third- party insurance companies, instead of the religiously run institution. He said the solution allowed religious individuals who objected to contraceptive coverage not to participate, but simply to passively tolerate others receiving the coverage. Asked about assistance for students in parochial schools, Obama said he was open to expanding federal assistance to such schools. Before Obama arrived, the group had discussed with Lew Iran policy and Homeland Security Depart- ment funding for protecting nonprofits. The taikwith Obama lasted 45 minutes, and ended when the group presented Obama with a framed reproduction of George Washington's letter to the Jews. The group then moved from the Roosevelt conference room to the Oval Office for a photo. Participants included much of the OU's leadership: Simcha Katz, president; Rabbi Steven Burg, managing director; Nathan Diament, Washington director; and Ye- huda Neuberger, public policy chairman. Among those also attending were Richard Joel, the president of Yeshiva Uni- versity; Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the director of American Friends of Lubavitch; Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinic Council of America; Solomon Werdi- ger, a member of Agudath Israel of America's board of trustees; Aaron Kotler, CEO of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, N.J.; and rabbis of leading Orthodox shuls, including Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun in New York City and Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida. "We are deeply appreciative to President Obama and Chief of Staff Lew for meeting with us to discuss the president's priorities and the Orthodox Jewish community's values and interests," Katz said in a statement after the meeting. AWhite House official said that "the president discussed with the rabbis and lay leaders a variety of issues of mutual concern on issues related to both domestic and foreign policy. The president reiter- ated his unwavering support for Israel's security and his commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."