In a rare rebuke of Israel, the Anti-Defamation League is criticizing the Knesset for passing a bill that denies residency permits to Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens.
The decision to speak out, albeit gently, puts the ADL in the unusual position of joining the European Union and international human rights organizations in criticizing Israeli policy. The group’s director, Abraham Foxman, has long argued that American Jewish groups should generally defer to the democratically elected Israeli government on security-related matters.
In a statement Monday, Foxman acknowledged that the Israeli government has “vital security concerns,” but added, “We hope the Knesset will review this law when it expires in a year and explore other methods to ensure Israel’s security needs.”
Foxman’s statement marked the second time in less than two weeks that a top Jewish communal leader in North America criticized Israeli policy. Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, recently co-signed a letter to President Bush stating that Israeli efforts to build a security fence in the West Bank are “potentially problematic.”
In response, the senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress, Isi Leibler, sent a highly charged letter Monday to Bronfman, insisting that the beverage magnate “retract and apologize forthwith” or resign. Bronfman was also criticized by the Religious Zionists of America.
Leibler, a former leader of the Jewish community in Australia, who now lives in Israel, called Bronfman’s move “an act of perfidy that will not be swept under the carpet.”
Rumors were swirling that the letter was part of an effort to oust Bronfman.
Bronfman told the Forward that he has no plans to resign or to retract his letter, which was also signed by former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger. “Nothing Leibler ever says surprises me because he is a right-wing dog,” Bronfman said.
Bronfman drew support from the chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Israel Singer, who noted that Leibler frequently condemns Israeli policy from a right-wing perspective in opinion essays for the Jerusalem Post.
Leibler rejected such criticisms, arguing that Bronfman had crossed the line by criticizing a policy that, according to one recent poll, is supported by 80% of Israelis.
While Leibler roundly condemned Bronfman, however, he expressed understanding for Foxman’s decision to issue a statement about the recent Knesset vote regarding residency for Palestinian spouses: “I know making that statement would tear him part. And he didn’t make it to the president of the United States.”
Foxman was criticized, however, by the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, who defended the Knesset law on the grounds that it was necessary “to protect the Jewish nature of the state.” He said that Foxman “should retract his statement.”
The ADL statement comes on the heels of the State Department’s announcement that it will examine whether the new legislation is consistent with the administration’s position on preventing discrimination.
The European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Giancarlo Chevallard, described the legislation as “discrimination against the Palestinians in the very sensitive area of family rights.” The E.U. will examine whether the legislation violates any agreements that it has signed with Israel, Chevallard said. Upholding “human rights is an integral part of Israel’s ties with the E.U.,” the diplomat said.
Ha’aretz contributed to this report.