US rabbis laud PM's policy speech

Bodies representing Orthodox, Reform rabbis praise Netanyahu's call for demilitarized Palestinian state.

netanyahu leaves stage speech 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
netanyahu leaves stage speech 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's endorsement of a demilitarized Palestinian state is drawing widespread praise from US Jewish groups, including two main bodies representing Reform and Orthodox rabbis. The statements of support, coming from both sides of the aisle, came after Netanyahu said in his speech at Bar-Ilan University on Sunday that he would entertain a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a move the White House praised. This week, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents nearly 2,000 Reform rabbis, and the Rabbinic Council of America, a body representing some 1,000 Orthodox rabbis, issued statements supporting the prime minister's vision of a two-state solution. Both emphasized that their support, like Netanyahu's, hinged on demilitarization. "We are also in complete agreement with Prime Minister Netanyahu's insistence that Israel can live side-by-side with a Palestinian state only if the latter recognizes the permanent Jewish character of the State of Israel," said the Central Conference of American Rabbis statement, signed by Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, the group's president, and Rabbi Steven A. Fox, its executive vice president. "Surely, the insistence that the future Palestinian state be demilitarized is a reasonable starting point for negotiations," it continued. But in a nod to the continuing question of settlement activity, the Rabbinic Council of America said, "We commend Prime Minister Netanyahu's pledge to allow for the natural growth of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria in line with the reassurances tendered by previous governments of the United States." After meeting in Washington on Thursday, both Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated their positions, with Lieberman refusing to completely freeze settlement expansion. On Thursday, the dovish Israel lobby group J Street sent an e-mail to its members in support of the Obama administration's position on freezing settlements. Earlier this week, a central figure in the Jewish community caused a stir when he said in an interview that American Jewish leaders were troubled by Obama's Middle East policies so far. Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, made the comments during an interview with the Newsmax Web site that was published on Sunday. US Jewish leaders, he was quoted as saying, were "expressing concern about what was said" in Obama's June 4 speech in Cairo. "I've heard it from some of his strongest supporters. It's expected from his detractors. Even people close to him have said to us that there were parts of the speech that bothered them." But Hoenlein has since distanced himself from his statements, alleging in an interview with JTA that Newsmax "conflated the questions with the answers." He told JTA he was trying to explain that some American Jews were concerned about aspects of Obama's speech, not that the president had lost support among Jews. But the Newsmax article prompted Jewish groups to quickly distance themselves from the idea that their support for Obama was diminished. The National Jewish Democratic Council swiftly issued a statement rebutting Hoenlein's comments to Newsmax. "We take issue with Hoenlein's anecdotal analysis of Jewish public opinion," wrote NJDC chairman Marc R. Stanley and CEO Ira N. Forman. "Our outreach to Jewish Democratic leadership shows strong and consistent support for the president's efforts to bring peace and security to Israel."