In meeting with Blinken, Jewish leaders air frustrations over Gaza, Iran policy

Blinken offered strong support for Israel as it faces threats from Iran, but said it wasn’t in U.S. or Israel’s interests to escalate the situation


Secretary of State Tony Blinken gives statements to the media inside the Kirya, which houses the Israeli Defence Ministry, after their meeting in Tel Aviv on October 12, 2023.

This story was updated at 9:10 p.m.

Days after the U.S. helped defeat an Iranian missile attack launched against Israel, Secretary of State Tony Blinken met at the State Department on Tuesday morning with roughly a dozen Jewish leaders, in an hour-long conversation that exposed growing fault lines between the Biden administration and some in the Jewish community. 

In the meeting, Blinken relayed a message of strong support for Israel in the face of threats from Iran, according to two people who participated in the meeting. Attendees expressed gratitude to the U.S. for coming to Israel’s defense on Saturday. 

Blinken shared the sentiment of the Biden administration that it is not in America’s interests or Israel’s interests for the situation with Iran to escalate, one person who attended the meeting told Jewish Insider. (Attendees requested anonymity to discuss the off-the-record meeting.) But Blinken also reiterated that the matter of how or whether to respond to Iran is for Israel to decide alone. 

The meeting at Foggy Bottom was attended by representatives from organizations across the ideological and religious spectrum within the Jewish community. Participants did not present a unified vision about how the U.S. should deal with Iran, or whether the U.S. should support an Israeli counterattack, according to those in attendance. 

Discussion also centered on Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. Some attendees used the meeting — described as more of a listening session — to offer criticism of what one attendee called the “daylight” that has emerged between the U.S. and Israel as a result of Israel’s actions in Gaza. Several people in the room expressed concern about the divergence between U.S. and Israeli public messaging on the war, worried that it signifies a “rift,” one person told JI. 

“He heard the point and acknowledged that it’s a concern,” that attendee said of Blinken. 

Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, told JI after the meeting that everyone in the room thanked Blinken for what transpired over the weekend.

“Even across disagreements or differences of opinion among Jewish leaders as to the exact details of how we navigate the situation in Gaza, there’s universal gratitude and agreement that the administration’s unfailing commitment to Israel and its defense this weekend was real and deeply appreciated,” Spitalnick said.

Other participants included AIPAC, J Street, Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, Hadassah, the National Council for Jewish Women, Israel Policy Forum and the Jewish Democratic Council of America. Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, was also in attendance.

Blinken offered an update on hostage negotiations, but the tone was not hopeful, one attendee said. According to recent reporting, Hamas has rejected American and Israeli offers — and has increased its demands in hostage talks. 

The meeting was arranged last week, before Iran’s attack. The White House has said that the Biden administration spent the previous 10 days preparing for the threatened attack. 

A State Department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

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