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Mainstream Jewish Leaders Indicate Frustration With Netanyahu’s Policies

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September-October 1997

Discussing the reaction to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s visit to the Middle East in September, The Washington Post (September 10, 1997) reports that she "had an enthusiastic source of domestic support when she struck a tough balance in Israel . . . demanding that Palestinians crack down on terrorism and that Israelis halt ‘provocative’ unilateral acts that jeopardize peace talks. Albright’s boosters are prominent, mainstream American Jewish leaders who have begun publicly to signal their frustration with the policies of Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — which they consider partly responsible for the breakdown in the peace process — by urging the Clinton Administration to adopt a more activist role in dealing with both sides."  

Post correspondent Caryle Murphy writes that, "These Jewish leaders . . . have concluded that a more muscular U.S. role, even if it involves pressure on Israel, is necessary to revive negotiations over implementing the 1993 Oslo Accords, several of them said in interviews. They said they have asked the administration, in private meetings and public letters, to use its influence with Israel to discourage one-sided actions that damage the climate for peace, such as settlement expansion in the West Bank and construction of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. They have also urged Washington to make clear to Israel that the U.S. has other national interests in the Middle East, such as the flow of oil and the stability of friendly Arab governments, which are all being adversely affected by lack of progress on the Oslo peace process. Several of these leaders said that they were pleased by Albright’s blunt approach during her first trip to the region as secretary of state, in which she said she aimed to provide the Israelis and the Palestinians a ‘reality check.’"  

Theodore R. Mann, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said: "I’m very happy . . . that Madeleine Albright did what I hoped she would do, which is that she would emphasize not only Arafat’s obligation to give 100 percent effort on the security issue but to emphasize as well that there isn’t going to be a peace process with unilateral actions by Netanyahu."  

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said: "It was absolutely essential for the president’s representative to make clear there would be no bending" on the issue of terrorism. "In that context, the rest of her statements . . . were also appropriate because . . . she was pointing out to the government of Israel that what they do is also important. It can’t be solely and exclusively a discussion of terrorism."  

J.J. Goldberg, author of the book Jewish Power, pointed out that, "What we’re seeing is a much greater willingness by mainstream Jews and Jewish groups to distance themselves from Israeli policy. These groups are becoming more willing to encourage American pressure because there’s a widespread anger at the Likud . . . over the perception that it’s undermining the peace process."  

The Post notes that, "In interviews several Jewish leaders said they have been telling administration officials that there is no reason to fear a backlash from Jewish voters if they adopt a more assertive stance in the peace process."  

Robert K. Lifton, chairman emeritus of Israel Policy Forum and past chairman of the American Jewish Congress said he and other Jewish figures met Albright last spring to tell her that "a large segment of the Jewish community . . . would support pushing the parties to agreement" and if that involves "pushing Israel, that is okay."

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