Many American senators and congressmen “keep quiet” and refrain from criticizing Israeli policies because they “live in fear” and are “intimidated” by pro-Israeli groups such as the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), according to J Street founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami.
Ben-Ami’s bald assertion came during a debate with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a director of ECI, held on Tuesday night at Manhattan’s palatial B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue and moderated by Jane Eisner, the editor of the Forward. Ben Ami said that because of accusatory ECI ads in the New York Times and other media outlets, members of Congress are afraid of being branded as anti-Israel and are deterred by the “ramifications” of voicing open criticism of Israeli policies.
It was a rare moment of tension in an otherwise civil and even friendly debate, which pitted representatives of the two diametrically opposed poles of the current Jewish debate on Israel – the controversial lobby J Street on the left and the no-less contentious Emergency Committee on the right. The crowd of 700-800, mainly from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, clearly favored Ben Ami’s positions though they were obviously pleased by Kristol’s agreement to debate him.
Another reason for the amicable nature of the debate was that Kristol “didn’t supply the goods,” as Israelis would put it. He voiced surprisingly moderate positions about President Obama and about the creation of a Palestinian state, which seemed completely at odds with the harsh tone of ECI advertisements and especially of its popular 30 minute television film “Daylight: The Story of Obama and Israel.”
While the film depicts Obama’s attitude toward Israel as “alarming” and “damaging to the relationship” between the U.S. and Israel, Kristol told the audience that Obama had, in fact, “moved to the center” on both Iran and the peace process, and that his policies today resemble those of his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
And while the ECI committee has run billboard campaigns describing Obama as “not pro-Israel,” Kristol told the audience that the president had evolved considerably between his 2009 Cairo speech and his 2012 AIPAC speech, and that “the difference” between Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney on issues relating to Iran and Israel “is not that great.”
“I am happy to agree with Obama to a considerable degree,” said Kristol, one of America’s most well-known conservative commentators. He added that he does not expect Israel to be “that great an issue” in the upcoming November elections.
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This story "Ben-Ami: Politicians Fear Pro-Israel Intimidation" was written by Chemi Shalev (Haaretz).