Jstreet anti-Netanyahu campaign.
(photo credit: PR)
J Street’s campaign to enlist American Jews to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming congressional address is “inflammatory and repugnant,” Anti-Defamation League chief Abraham Foxman said on Wednesday.
Foxman, who himself has entreated Netanyahu to rethink the speech, took issue with the lobbying group’s claim that he “certainly cannot claim any mandate to speak for Jews in the United States.”
Netanyahu recently told a gathering of French Likud activists that, just as he traveled to Paris following the Charlie Hebdo attack “not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people,” he would also “go anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us,” Haaretz reported.
In response, J Street initiated a campaign in which it exhorts American Jews to make their voices heard by signing a petition if they do not believe that Netanyahu speaks for them.
“He’s in the middle of a tough election campaign, battling along with other party leaders for the right to represent Israelis – but he certainly cannot claim any mandate to speak for Jews in the United States,” the petitions reads.
“The prime minister has in the past and will again use the US Congress as a prop in his political campaigns,” J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote on his organization’s Facebook page.
Foxman criticized Ben- Ami’s campaign despite his own outspoken opposition to Netanyahu’s plans, asserting in a statement that “at the height of the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to Congress, J Street’s petition campaign that attempts to distance itself and American Jews from Israel’s duly elected prime minister is inflammatory and repugnant and exacerbates an already heated and politicized moment for US-Israel relations at a critical juncture in the West’s negotiations with Iran.
“Let’s remember what is at stake: preventing extremist Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel’s very existence. In that goal, Mr. Netanyahu surely does represent not only Israelis, but American Jews as well.”
In an interview with the Jewish Daily Forward last week, Foxman called the prime minister’s plan to address Congress “a tragedy of unintended consequences.”
Telling the newspaper that the media frenzy surrounding the oration “turned the whole thing into a circus,” Foxman said that “one needs to restart, and it needs a mature adult statement that this was not what we intended.
“Now is a time to recalibrate, restart and find a new platform and new timing to take away the distractions.”
While Foxman did not dispute the urgency of dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the central focus of the speech, he told the Forward that the controversy detracts from Netanyahu’s message.
J Street countered Foxman’s condemnation by citing a 1950 statement by David Ben-Gurion in which the founding prime minister said that “the State of Israel speaks only on behalf of its own citizens and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of Jews who are citizens of any other country; and that the Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have no political attachment to Israel.”
In a counter-statement, the organization said it was “astonished and taken aback” by Foxman’s words and said that there was “nothing inflammatory or repugnant in either the form or content of our actions.”
J Street’s call for Netanyahu to postpone his speech until after Israel’s elections is no different from Foxman’s, the group stated, adding that the only difference between the two is that J Street has “provided a mechanism for the many American Jews who do not feel that Netanyahu speaks for them to express that sentiment.”
Netanyahu has asserted the importance of speaking to the American people by March 24. That was the date that 10 Democratic senators, upon agreeing to delay a vote on new “trigger” sanctions legislation on Iran, gave the president as a deadline, after which they would cooperate with the Republicans.
The lobbying organization also asserted that the overwhelming majority of American Jews supports the Obama administration’s approach to Iran over Netanyahu’s.
The only inflammatory and repugnant speech on the issue “has come from rightwing groups such as the Zionist Organization of America, which has compared opponents of the speech to appeasers of Hitler during the 1930s,” J Street asserted.
“Everybody would readily admit these days that the American Jewish leadership during the late 1930s even going into the 1940s was AWOL, missing in action,” replied the ZOA ’s Jeff Daube.
“Those that are critical of those that are critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu are simply trying to raise consciousness so we do not have a repeat of 1939,” he explained, adding that the prime minister is “bringing an equal existential threat to the attention of the world, because we were talking about six million people then and we are talking about six million Jews in Israel now.”