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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

February 14, 2014  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Obama administration enlisting Jewish groups to counter attacks on Kerry

By RON KAMPEAS JTA news service

WASHINGTON – A letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed by 152 Jewish Americans, including top centrist leaders, praised the peace efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The letter was issued in the midst of an effort by the Obama administration to push back hard against Israeli critics of its peace efforts, enlisting American Jewish groups to respond to personal attacks on Kerry.

“As American advocates for a strong, Jewish and democratic Israel, we have been heartened by Secretary of State John Kerry’s extraordinary resolve to advance this process consistent with America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” said the letter sent Wednesday, Feb. 12, and initiated by the Israel Policy Forum.

“We believe Secretary Kerry’s determined diplomatic effort offers an unprecedented opportunity to ensure Israel’s security, to enhance its prosperity, and to avoid the existential threat to the Jewish state posed by bi-nationalism.” The letter comes in the wake of attacks on Kerry and his peace plan by top Cabinet members in Netanyahu’s government.

Netanyahu and his foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, have praised Kerry and said personal attacks are inappropriate, but there remain gaps between what appear to be the outlines of a Kerry-drafted framework for a peace accord and Netanyahu’s red lines, particularly regarding security measures in the West Bank.

Among the letter’s signatories are Jewish leaders who are noted for their outspoken defense of Israel and at times of Netanyahu’s government, among them Alan Dershowitz, the legal expert and author; Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust scholar; Mel Levine, a former Democratic congressman; Michael and Susie Gelman, major philanthropists and leaders in the Washington community; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; and major fundraisers for Democratic political campaigns, including Marvin Lender, Alan Solow and Alan Solomont.

In recent weeks, administration officials have strongly condemned Israeli critics of Kerry’s peace bid. In response to some of the harshest anti-Kerry rhetoric, Jewish groups weighed in with their own denunciations. Some responses from the Jewish groups reflect a concern that the tone of some of the criticism could damage relations between the administration and the Israeli government.

“Even if people, be they in Israel or in the United States, have disagreements with what John Kerry is proposing, it’s absolutely essential that those disagreements are expressed on the substance and not through personal attacks,” said Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, which issued a statement condemning a small number of Israeli rabbis who warned that Kerry could face divine punishment.

But defending Kerry’s future proposals may be one of the motives behind the administration’s aggressive pushback. Administration officials and Jewish groups sympathetic to Kerry’s initiative say there is a longerterm agenda in preempting attacks on the framework peace agreement that the Obama administration is expected to propose soon.

The administration has tapped sympathetic Jewish figures and groups to prepare the ground in the Jewish community for the difficult compromises on territory and Jerusalem that will be embedded in the framework peace plan.

Robert Wexler, a former Florida congressman, is traveling to Jewish communities around the country advocating for the compromises likely to appear in the framework proposal. J Street, the dovish Israel policy group, has launched a campaign of town hall meetings across the country to support a two-state solution.

“As Kerry’s initiative gathers steam and Israeli and Palestinian leaders near a moment of decision, we expect sadly to see more outrageous attacks on one of the greatest friends Israel has,” J Street said in a Feb. 4 statement.

The harshest public attacks on Kerry – the ones that drew the rebukes from centrist American Jewish groups – have come from fairly marginal Israeli figures. U.S. officials, however, also are upset by criticism of Kerry coming from more significant figures within the Israeli government.

Senior Obama administration officials told JTA that Kerry has made his unhappiness clear in the daily phone calls he has with Netanyahu.

The prime minister has been responsive. According to The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu told a party faction meeting that the best way to disagree with the Obama administration is by “substantively discussing the issues and not by engaging in personal attacks.” Israel Foreign Minister Liberman told a group of businessmen in Tel Aviv that Kerry is a “true friend of Israel.”

“We deeply appreciate Secretary Kerry’s commitment to Israel’s security and to helping Israel achieve a lasting and secure peace with the Palestinians,” Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, told JTA.

Most of the statements from centrist Jewish groups were triggered by remarks last month by Moti Yogev, a backbench Knesset member from the Jewish Home party who said in an interview that Kerry’s “obsessive” focus on the talks “may have anti-Semitic undertones.”

The American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and World Jewish Congress condemned Yogev’s remarks. The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, called the comments “offensive” and “beyond the bounds of legitimate critique.”

The Orthodox Union’s statement, which it issued with the Rabbinical Council of America, condemned the Israeli rabbis who had put out a letter likening Kerry to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who destroyed the First Temple, and warning that the secretary of state could face “heavenly retribution.”

But criticism of Kerry has come, too, from Israelis who are closer to the center of power.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was quoted in the Israeli media last month privately calling Kerry’s peace efforts “messianic.” Yaalon later said he apologized if the remarks attributed to him had offended Kerry.

Last week, after Kerry had warned that a failure to achieve a peace agreement could spur more boycotts against Israel, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett accused Kerry of “amplifying” the boycott movement and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz called Kerry’s warning “intolerable.”

Administration insiders say the Bennett and Steinitz attacks rankled Kerry more than those by Yogev and the rabbis.

The ADL also issued an open letter to Kerry criticizing his warning that a peace setback could fuel boycotts of Israel. At the same time, Foxman’s letter criticizing Kerry, stressed that the ADL backs his efforts to achieve peace.


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