White House Enlists Jews To Push Back Hard Against Critics of Peace Process

J Street Leads Charge as Rhetoric Gets Ugly


By Ron Kampeas

Published February 10, 2014.
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The letter was issued by a group calling itself the Committee to Save the Land and People of Israel, which said on its website that “dozens” of rabbis had signed on, though it named only five who are all affiliated with Israeli municipalities.

But criticism of Kerry has come, too, from Israelis who are closer to the center of power.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was quoted in the Israeli media last month privately calling Kerry’s peace efforts “messianic.” Yaalon later said he apologized if the remarks attributed to him had offended Kerry.

Last week, after Kerry had warned that a failure to achieve a peace agreement could spur more boycotts against Israel, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett accused Kerry of “amplifying” the boycott movement and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz called Kerry’s warning “intolerable.”

Administration insiders say the Bennett and Steinitz attacks rankled Kerry more than those by Yogev and the rabbis.

“Ad hominem, on-the-record attacks by a series of senior Israeli officials against Secretary Kerry were deeply concerning and crossed the line,” a White House official told JTA.

In a series of Twitter postings Monday, Susan Rice, the national security adviser, called personal attacks “in Israel directed at Sec Kerry totally unfounded and unacceptable. John Kerry’s record of support for Israel’s security and prosperity rock solid.”

Even as they condemned Yogev, Jewish groups have not necessarily been on the same page as the Obama administration regarding the remarks from more influential Israeli officials.

Foxman called the furor over Yaalon’s alleged comments a “tempest in a teapot,” noting that they were made in private. The ADL also issued an open letter to Kerry criticizing his warning that a peace setback could fuel boycotts of Israel.

Kerry’s boycott remark, the Foxman letter said, “will inevitably be seen by Palestinians and anti-Israel activists as an incentive not to reach an agreement.”

Still, Jewish groups have tried to strike a supportive tone. Foxman’s letter criticizing Kerry also stressed that the ADL backs his efforts to achieve peace. The day after Rice’s tweets, the AJC’s executive director, David Harris, said that Kerry deserved plaudits.

“Bravo, then, to Secretary of State John Kerry for his current effort to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he said in his weekly radio commentary.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has been responding not only to attacks from Israeli officials but also from nongovernmental groups. Kerry’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, cited among other “mischaracterizations” of Kerry’s record a satirical video in which an Israeli actor bewigged with a gray bouffant declares Jerusalem holy to Klingons and Hobbits, among other groups.

The point of criticizing the video, Obama administration officials said, is that it was funded by the Yesha Council, the umbrella body for West Bank settlers funded indirectly by government subsidies for settlements.

Dani Dayan, a senior Yesha Council official, said he was amazed at Psaki’s reaction. The satire in the video, he said, was aimed at Kerry’s policies, not his person.

“It’s nonsense, he’s not anti-Semitic — I even suspect he’s philo-Semitic,” Dayan told JTA. “His policies are misguided, the solutions he proposes do not solve the problems.”

Kerry is firing back at his critics.

“No one should distort what we’re doing or saying because they’re opposed to the peace process or don’t like two states or whatever,” Kerry told CNN last week.


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