"Jewish Americans have always stood up for freedom and democracy around the world," noted Obama.
Some 300 Jewish guests attended the reception, including seven senators, members of the House of Representatives, Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Professor Elie Wiesel and
During his speech Obama thanked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for "doing fine work representing our great friend, the state of Israel."
Obama praised the Jewish community in the US for their contribution throughout the American history.
"For hundreds of years, Jewish Americans have fought heroically in battle and inspired us to pursue peace," he said. "They’ve built our cities, cured our sick. They’ve paved the way in the sciences and the law, in our politics and in the arts. They remain our leaders, our teachers, our neighbors and our friends."
A few hours prior to the reception, the Jewish leaders participated in a Holocaust commemoration ceremony held at the Washington Holocaust Museum.
'Israel has right to defend borders'
Obama is set to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a couple of hours in Friday, according to an official announcement by the White House. The two will meet around noon local time for a business meeting followed by a lunch together with their staff.
The US president is expected to try and push Netanyahu to find "the magic formula" to enable renewal of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Washington is hoping that Netanyahu will mention the issue of the 1967 borders, widely considered the future borders of a possible Palestinian state, during his upcoming speeches.
The White House Press Secretary Jay Carney discussed the non-violent demonstrations against Israel, such as the flotillas to the Gaza Strip, stressing that "just like any other country, Israel has the right to defend its borders."
Carney added the conflict is "being exploited so as to divert the focus from other issues." He noted that 'Nakba Day' events along the Syrian border were Syrian President Bashar Assad's attempt to shift focus from inner problems.
Obama's Thursday speech will not focus on the peace process, sources say. Carney said the president will mention the Israek-Palestinian situation, but that the speech would be more extensive, focusing on historical developments in the Mideast since the Tunisian uprising sparked revolts throughout the Arab world.
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