WASHINGTON – Two US Congressmen sent a letter to the White House Tuesday calling on the Obama administration to tone down its attacks on Israel as several members released statements stressing the importance of American-Israeli ties.
“We urge your administration to refrain from further public criticism of Israel,” Mark Kirk (Rep.-Illinois) and Christopher Carney (Dem.-Pennsylvania) wrote to US President Barack Obama.
“While the recent controversy is regrettable, it should not overshadow the importance of the US-Israel alliance,” they said. “A zoning dispute over 143 acres of Jewish land in Israel’s capital city should not eclipse the growing threat we face from Iran.”
The tensions erupted last week when Israel approved construction for 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem, embarrassing US Vice President Joe Biden, who was in the country to reaffirm its strong bond with the United States.
Biden condemned the move several times during his visit – for which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apologized – and the message was reiterated publicly by top administration officials who called it “insulting” and questioned Israel’s commitment to the bilateral relationship over the weekend.
The Kirk-Carney letter was delivered as members of Congress continued to release statements weighing in on the dispute.
While many Republicans have used the opportunity to bash the White House, only a few Democrats have gone so far as to criticize the Obama administration for its handling of the situation.
One, New York Democrat Steve Israel, said in a statement, “The administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find a way to do so in private and do what they can to defuse this situation.”
Elliot Engel (Dem.-New York) offered a slightly more calibrated response in a floor statement Monday.
“I don’t think that we should blow the timing of that announcement out of proportion. We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel,” he said. “We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.”
Several other members emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong and smooth relationship, including Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees aid to Israel.
“Israel is and will remain the United States’ most stalwart ally,” she
said. “I believe the stakes are too high and the threats are too urgent
to allow the unfortunate recent exchange between Israel and the United
States to derail ongoing diplomacy.”
And Steve Rothman (Dem.-New
Jersey), who has championed greater funding for joint US-Israel
military projects during his time on the House defense appropriations
subcommittee, said, “The vital national security interests of the US
heavily depend on the survival and security of the State of Israel,
just as Israel’s vital national security is heavily dependent on its
relationship with the US.”