American Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein on Sunday blasted the sentence handed down two days earlier to the Pentagon analyst who admitted passing on classified information to Israeli diplomats and pro-Israel lobbyists.
Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, labeled the ruling "disturbing," a comment greeted by applause from the audience to whom he spoke about US-Israel relations at the Interdisciplinary Center's Herzliya Conference.
The former analyst, Larry Franklin, was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison for three counts of conspiring to communicate national defense information unlawfully. The sentence was part of a plea bargain between Franklin and the prosecution in which he agreed to testify against two staffers of the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, whose trial begins in late April.
"The very fact that this kind of climate can exist in the capital of the United States is unacceptable," Hoenlein said of the sentencing as well as subtle anti-Semitism heard in the corridors of power.
He added, "[That] two patriotic American citizens who are working for Jewish organizations who did nothing to violate American security, should have to stand trial and be subject to the public scrutiny and public humiliation, frankly I find very disturbing and a matter that we all have to look at in a much more serious way."
Hoenlein also cautioned Israel about its attitude toward the Diaspora.
"There are more Jews in Tel Aviv than in New York and the majority of Jews will live here," he noted. "So there's no need to diminish the importance or the achievements of the Diaspora in order to emphasize the centrality and singular significance of Israel in all of our lives."
Hoenlein was preceded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who also had some words of criticism - of Diaspora Jewry.
He slammed Jewish leaders for making a "major strategic mistake" by criticizing growing ties between evangelical Christians and the State of Israel, arguing that evangelicals pose one of American Jewry's largest threats since their values are so different from that of American Jews.
"You don't need to accept their vision of America. But you don't need to make them the enemy," said Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. "It is the height of irresponsibility for American Jewish leaders to jeopardize the critical support for Israel and the fight against radical Islam and growing anti-Semitism that evangelicals bring to the table." Eckstein warned Israel not to take the support of evangelicals for granted.
He did, however, praise Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for understanding the importance of this constituency.
Another speaker at the same session, American pollster Frank Luntz, also heaped accolades on Olmert. Concluding a lecture on how to use language effectively to get Israel's message across - "it is not what you say that matters in communication; it's what people hear" - he said that the former Jerusalem mayor had mastered his advice.
He played a short video clip of Olmert defending Israeli policies in heavily accented English on international TV.
"This is absolutely perfect communication to Americans," said Luntz, who is a consultant to the Israeli advocacy organization, The Israel Project. He described the clip as "some of the best communication of any Israeli spokesperson. Thank God he is where he is right now."