We don't 'pressure' Israel

Clearly, Isi Leibler's quarrel ("When Seymour met Condi," op-ed, November 23) is actually with both the Israeli government and with Israel's closest and most steadfast ally, the United States. He accuses the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), of which I am president, and me personally, of lobbying against their policies, when, in fact, we are advocates of these policies with the Bush administration. In responding to my November 13 column on this page Leibler also accused IPF and me of convincing Rice to "take aggressive action to bring Israel into line" and to exert "pressure" on Israel. Both those accusations are also demonstrably false. More about them later. The policy goal long promoted by IPF and discussed in the meeting of five IPF leaders, myself included, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the same as that set out by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on many occasions during the past three years. On June 4, 2003, for example, he declared that "a democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state." That is the policy goal of the Israeli government, supported by three-quarters of Israelis, as well as by two-thirds of American Jews. Leibler disagrees with this policy of the "democratically elected government of Israel" (Leibler's words), just as he takes issue with the Rafah border crossing agreement, brokered by Rice, willingly entered into by Israel's government. It is his right to disagree with these and any policies of any Israeli government, but it is wrong and even harmful to the Jewish state for him to insinuate that Israel was somehow coerced into adopting such policies. THE FACT is that the Sharon government has determined that the two-state solution in general and the border crossing agreement specifically both serve Israel's security needs. As an organization comprised of American citizens and leaders of the American Jewish community, we publicly support our government's efforts to help the Israeli government implement both these policy decisions. And when Israel concluded that leaving Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank was an important step toward a two-state solution, IPF immediately took the lead in helping build support in the White House and Congress for Israel's policies. Among its activities, IPF organized a full-page ad in The New York Times on Sunday, May 22 of this year in which 27 American Jewish groups wrote Prime Minister Sharon pledging to "encourage the Administration to do everything in its power to help Israel's disengagement plan succeed." As noted earlier, Leibler's malicious accusations that IPF (and I) convinced Rice to "take aggressive action to bring Israel into line" and to exert "pressure" on Israel are untrue and dishonest. The word "aggressive," or any variation of it, does not appear once in my nearly 1,000-word column in this paper. Nor does it appear in the Israel Policy Forum's 1,500-word policy paper we sent to Rice after our November 1 meeting with her. The word "pressure" appears just once in my column and twice in the IPF policy paper, as follows: calling on the United States to "accelerate its pressure on Hamas" and to "incorporate pressure to cut off support for Islamic Jihad." Pressure on Hamas and Islamic Jihad. No reference to pressure on Israel. Of course, words like "pressure" and "aggressive" are the kind of buzzwords Liebler likes. He manipulates them in order to misinform his readers, as was the case when he accused Edgar M. Bronfman, one of the true great leaders of world Jewry, of "perfidy." I need not remind the readers of this paper how easily vitriolic verbal accusations can lead to violence. THE IRONY is that I never used the word "pressure." It has not been in my vocabulary with regard to Israel during my three decades as an American Jewish community leader, which include two terms as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, president of B'nai Brith International, and president of the American Zionist Movement. If Liebler cared about the accuracy of his statements he might have checked and learned this for himself. If Liebler genuinely wished to have an honest discussion about IPF's and my views on America's critical role in helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and thereby saving the lives of Israelis for generations to come - he could have referred to my column in this newspaper, or to Israel Policy Forum's policy paper. But he did neither. Here, briefly, is what these views really are, as outlined in the first three paragraphs of IPF's policy paper: "Israel Policy Forum's work must at all times be focused on the prime target as articulated by President Bush: a two-state solution, encompassing Israel as a Jewish state and Palestine as an independent state for Palestinians, living in peace and security with one another." "Therefore, we believe the Administration should concentrate on ways to pursue three familiar steps, each consistent with the Quartet's road map. The three steps, which should be implemented in tandem rather than in sequence, are as follows: Unambiguous and effective efforts by the Palestinian Authority to control terror and prevent attacks on Israelis; An Israeli freeze on expanding existing settlements, including roads and other associated infrastructure, and the removal of unauthorized settlement outposts; Efforts to help grow the Palestinian economy so that the PA can provide jobs and basic services for Palestinians. These efforts would also help strengthen the PA's position among the various Palestinian factions, including Hamas." The full text of this policy paper and my November 13 column can be found on IPF's Web site, www.israelpolicyforum.org. CONTRARY TO Leibler's assertion, we are now in the midst of a fruitful, harmonious period in Israeli-US and Israeli-Diaspora relations. The Bush administration is working closely with the Sharon government to help realize Prime Minister Sharon's goal, which is shared by President Bush and two-thirds of America's Jews. At the same time, mainstream American Jewish community leaders affiliated with Israel Policy Forum are meeting and working with members of the Bush administration to represent the views of the vast majority of American Jews to convey the strong support that the administration has from American Jews for its efforts to help Israel attain security and live in peace as a Jewish state alongside a democratic Palestinian state. In so doing, we are proudly and effectively continuing the important role American Jewish leaders have played in every American administration since President Truman's by helping to serve Israel's security interests. As an American Jew whose strong support of Israel over three decades has never been questioned, I have personally participated in this role with every American administration since President Reagan's, whether the Israeli prime minister was a member of Labor or Likud. Isi Liebler is free to ask any of these Israeli leaders whether I have done my part, again to use Leibler's own words, so that Israel can "rely on the support of American Jewry in [its] efforts to ensure the security and welfare of its citizens." He won't be surprised by the answers, but he may have a more difficult time bending them to meet his personal political positions. The writer is currently the president of Israel Policy Forum and a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.