By Maya Rhodan
May 22, 2015

President Obama sought to reassure American Jews that he fully supports the state of Israel while reiterating the need for a two-state solution at a Northwest Washington synagogue on Friday.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security and my commitment to Israel’s security is and always will be unshakable,” Obama said, adding that not doing so would be a “moral failing.”

Obama spoke at the Adas Israel Synagogue on the inaugural “solidarity sabbath,” a holiday meant to consolidate support for Jews amid rising anti-Semitism that falls toward the end of Jewish Heritage Month. On Friday, lawmakers were slated to appear in congregations across the country to mark the day.

In the wake of attack at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe, there’s been growing attention to the persecution of Jews across the world. Obama noted that the rise of anti-semitism should not be treated as “passing fad.”

“When we allow anti-Semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed,” Obama said. “It will spread.”

The statements follow a wide-ranging interview published by The Atlantic on Thursday, in which President Obama stressed his love for the Jewish state of Israel, telling commentator Jeffrey Goldberg that supporting the rights of Jews abroad is equivalent to supporting the freedom of African-Americans at home.

“There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” he said. “These things are indivisible in my mind.”

On Friday, he reiterated those sentiments, reflecting on his own introduction to the Israeli community. “For a young man like me grappling with his own identity, Obama said, “the idea that you could be grounded in your history as Israel was but not be trapped by it. That idea was liberating”

Obama’s statements to Goldberg and before the congregation at Adas Israel on Friday come amid nuclear negotiations Iran that have put strain on one of the U.S.’ closest relationships. But he made clear Friday that criticism is not going to change his mind.

“I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody the Judeo-Christian and, ultimately then, what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium,” he told Goldberg.

And on Friday, before a crowd in a packed synagogue where the rabbi called him a “champion of freedom,” Obama sought to reassure the congregation that he could be both a friend and a critic of Israel.

“It’s precisely because I care so deeply … that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I feel,” he said.

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