Second major American Jewish organization sends Open Letter rebuking President Obama

Obama-in-Rhiyad2GETTY-WEB A few days ago I printed an open letter by the World Jewish Congress to President Barack Obama, citing his responsibility for the current deterioration in U.S. – Israel relations.

Now the America-Israel Friendship League has published a similar criticism, very politely asking the American President to reconsider some his recent actions.

The AIFL makes several good points in its letter, one of which calls attention to the detrimental effects of the U.S. aligning itself with the Arab League in its demands on Israel. I really think that’s a first for us.

Here is the letter:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

On behalf of the Executive Committee of the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL), we write to express our concern about deteriorating relations that appear to be developing between the United States and Israel. The AIFL is committed to advance the friendship between Israel and the U.S. We know that you share our commitment to this very special relationship and recognize the need for it to grow and develop based on our shared values, traditions and vision for free and democratic societies in the Middle East and worldwide. We know of your deeply felt commitment to Israel and your vision for democratic societies and that is why we are led to write you about our concerns. For these reasons, we urge you to reconsider what appears to be your policy of pressing Israel to abandon its long established Jerusalem policy as a precondition to any Proximity Talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (the ”PA”).

It has been Israel’s policy for 40 years that construction activities may proceed normally in Jerusalem. That policy was not an impediment to Egypt which established peace with Israel under Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1979. It did not preclude Jordan in 1994 from signing a peace treaty with Israel under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. And it did not interfere with the PA negotiating twice with Israel in 2000 and 2008 with Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.

It should therefore not be surprising that Israel’s policy is to allow construction in East Jerusalem to continue. Notwithstanding the agreement reached between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, which your Administration has apparently decided not to recognize, Israel accepted the terms of the Proximity Talks and suspended construction plans in the West Bank for 10 months, with the reservation regarding East Jerusalem.

Israel’s announcement of its decision by a low level bureaucrat during Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel did not justify unduly critical comments. We acknowledge that Israel’s announcement was poor timing given the purpose of Vice President Biden’s trip to Israel and his deep commitment to Israel. The Israeli Prime Minister quickly recognized this unfortunate indiscretion and extended his public apology-an appropriate and proper response to the United States. But instead of this matter being put to rest and any further differences privately resolved as befitting close allies, the incident was used as grounds for criticizing Israel publicly, and perhaps attempting either explicitly or implicitly to humiliate its Prime Minister. Such actions are not justified against a close, democratic ally with whom policy differences arise. Both Democrats and Republicans on the AIFL Board were distressed by the actions of the government in this very public shaming of Israel. At a time when Israel is facing a very well financed and concerted campaign by its enemies to delegitimize its existence as a state (e.g., the Goldstone Report), the actions of your Administration were not in line with our values. Israel’s conduct cannot serve as a basis for any radical change in U.S. policy.

The demand by the United States in aligning itself with the Arab League that Israel should rescind its core principle regarding its policy on Jerusalem as a precondition to the Proximity Talks reflects an unjustified change in U.S. Middle East policy.

This new policy is an adoption of the position of the Arab League and the PA, who have only been emboldened by this deterioration of relations between the United States and Israel. Any change in Israel’s position regarding Jerusalem should come only in the course of face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the PA.

When Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a 10 month freeze to new construction in the West Bank (but exempting East Jerusalem) it was perceived by Secretary Clinton as ”unprecedented”. It is now viewed as insulting and demanding of an immediate termination. Will Israel’s failure to comply with the demands of U.S. policy now lead the United States to terminate the Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries signed in 2007 regarding security assistance to Israel? What further escalating measures will be taken in order to ensure compliance with new U.S. policies? Will future use by the U.S. of its veto on resolutions in the Security Council of the United Nations be contingent on compliance with this U.S. policy? We respectfully suggest that the actions detailed above are not justified between close allies and could provide our common adversaries with succor.

Our concerns are not only with the breach of good relations between two countries that we love and hold dear to us but we are concerned with the possibility that such extreme words coming from the United States following numerous apologies from the Prime Minister will give aid and comfort to those who seek to incite hatred of Israel and, indeed of Jews.

The United States, the world community and Israel face unparalleled challenges from Iran. This is not a time to exacerbate any real or perceived slights. It is a time for U.S. leadership to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons as has been repeatedly advocated by you. We applaud your pledge and support your objectives.

Finally, the opening of a rift between the U.S. and Israel on these issues must create doubt among other U.S. allies. It cannot be too comforting to our allies that if Israel can be disdained with such ease, what does this say about the U.S. and its steadfastness with its other allies?

Jerusalem has always occupied a special place in the hearts and dreams of Israel and the Jewish people. The Bible records (Second Book of Chronicles 36:23) that in his first year (516 BCE), Cyrus, the King of Persia (now Iran), in order to reverse the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 BCE, and to fulfill the prophesy of Jeremiah, proclaimed that he had been charged by the Lord to build a house in Jerusalem and to send the Jews in his kingdom to ”go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (he is the God) which is in Jerusalem”. The Jewish claim to the Land of Israel originated long before the Holocaust and derives from the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus, King David and the prophets. It has abided for more than 4,000 years and is reflected in the cry ”next year in Jerusalem” which ends the Yom Kippur fast and Passover Seder. For most of those 4,000 years, Jews have lived in the Land of Israel in an unbroken chain with Jewish communities continually remaining in places like Jerusalem, Hebron and Safad.

We view with alarm any effort to create distance between the United States and Israel on fundamental policies. Where there are legitimate differences, such should be resolved in normal diplomatic fashion. We sincerely hope that the hope and support that reflected your election can be restored. It is not an exaggeration to say that both the United States and Israel need nothing less.

We would look forward to an exchange of ideas with your Administration now and in the future about how to advance the United States’ interest in securing peace and justice in the Middle East and ensuring security for Israel.

Respectfully yours,

For the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors
America-Israel Friendship League

Kenneth J. Bialkin, Chairman, AIFL

Harley Lippman, President, AIFL

Charlotte K. Frank, Chair, Executive Committee

Paul M. Kaplan, Chair, Law Committee

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