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'I am the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office': Obama's extraordinary claim

One of Barack Obama's most senior advisers has told how the president said to him: 'I'm the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office.'

David Axelrod, one of the key figures in Obama's rise to the presidency and his first term in office, revealed the claim at the same time as the president tried to reduce tensions with Israel over an impending nuclear deal with Iran.

Axelrod made the assertion during an interview with Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan of Channel 2 news, according to news siteJPUpdates.com.

'You know, I think I am the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office,' the president said, according to Axelrod's account. 'For people to say that I am anti-Israel, or, even worse, anti-Semitic, it hurts.'

The claim was revealed hours before Channel 2 conducted its own interview with Obama, who has a difficult relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has been openly critical of attempts to negotiate a deal with Iran which would see sanctions on the hardline regime lifted in return for a 10-year guarantee that it would not develop a nuclear weapon.

Obama told the Israeli TV channel that he and Netanyahu 'have good conversations'.

'They're tough, they're forceful, we disagree, but I enjoy jousting with him, I do,' he proclaimed.

The U.S. president suggested that the discord between he and his Israeli counterpart was had been exaggerated and framed in 'personal' terms in the media because it makes for a better narrative.

The two men couldn't agree less on the way to handle Iran, an enemy of Israel, though.

The disagreement became an ugly public stand off when Netanyahu came to Washington, D.C. to beg the U.S. Congress not to enter into an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.

Arguing against the lifting of sanctions on the country in exchange for promises that it wouldn't continue building a bomb, Netanyahu said that Iran has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted.

He has continued to work against the deal being brokered by the U.S. and five other countries with Iran as the June 30 deadline for a formal accord comes closer.

There's little to stop Iran from using the money its economy gains as a result of reduced sanctions on terrorism activities that it will primarily direct at its sworn enemy, Israel, Netanyahu has said.

Obama contended in his interview with Channel 2 today that 'we shouldn't assume that we can perpetuate the sanctions forever anyway' even if Netanyahu and other detractors of the proposed deal end up being right.

'There's a shelf life on the sanctions, because the reason the international community agreed was to get to the table to deal with the nuclear issue, not to deal with all of these other issues,' he said. 'So we will get a diminishing return just on maintaining sanctions.'

The president further proclaimed that there's 'enormous political pressure' on the government of Iran to broker a deal in order to boost the country's ailing economy.

'And they've also shown themselves, regardless of sanctions, to be willing to finance Hezbollah with rockets and others even in the face of sanctions,' he added.

'So the question then becomes are they going to suddenly be able to finance 10 times the number of Hezbollah fighters? Probably not.'

Axelrod was less diplomatic in his response to Netanyahu's security concerns.

'The world of politics everywhere is divided into two categories: the first and more common is the people who run for public office because they want to be somebody,' Axelrod said in his interview.

'A smaller group is made of respectable people who run for public office because they want to do something – something positive. Shape the future in a positive way.'

Continuing, he said, 'I think Benjamin Netanyahu completely falls in the first category. He is a great politician. He knows what he needs to do to get through the next election. But it seems to me that Israel has to think about what they need to do to get through the next generation.'

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said today that he couldn't speak to Axelrod telling how Obama said he was the 'closest thing to a Jew' to have occupied the Oval Office.

The president does feel a 'kinship' with the country, though, because the U.S. and Israel have similar values, he said.

The spokesman has previously highlighted the American decision to pay for the Iron Dome missile defense system for Israel as evidence of Obama's determination to keep the country secure.

The president has no known Jewish ancestry. His wife Michelle has a paternal great-grandmother with the surname Cohen, but what connection this has to the Jewish religion is unclear, the New York Times reported in 2012.

It suggested that Rosella's parents' names are not properly recorded but could be Caeser and Tira Cohen, both born into slavery, and possibly linked to slaveowners called Cohen in South Carolina who were descended from Moises Cohen, the first chief rabbi of Charleston, who emigrated from London to the then colony around 1750.

Many African-Americans held in slavery took - or were given - the names of the owners.
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