Tuesday, February 23, 2010
'Support Israel at this crucial time'
E.B. SOLOMONT, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
In spite of differences, US Jews must defend Israelis, ambassador says.
WASHINGTON – Ambassador to the US Michael Oren urged a gathering of American Jews to support Israel despite any reservations or differences of opinion regarding Israeli policy.
“In spite of some of the differences that sometimes divide you and in spite of the differences you may have with our decisions, respect them, for they have been made by the majority of Israelis, through one of the world’s most resilient democracies,” he said Sunday night, addressing the Jewish Council for Public Affairs annual plenum in Dallas, Texas In blunt words, he urged American Jews to support Israel while it is at a “crucial crossroads” in the peace process.
“Support us, too, if we decide the peace being offered us is not a real peace and does not warrant those sacrifices and risks,” he said. “Join us in fighting for Israel’s right to defend itself, in fighting for Israel’s right to exist.”
The comments, which seemed directed at the US administration’s frustration with the peace process, also come after Oren softened his view of J Street, the self-described “pro-peace, pro-Israel” lobby. The Netanyahu government has had an uneasy relationship with J Street, and this past fall Oren pointedly declined an invitation to attend the group’s kick-off policy conference in Washington.
But in a February 10 interview with the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Oren said J Street had moved “much more into the mainstream.”
“The major concern with J Street was their position on security issues, not the peace process. J Street has now come and supported Congressman [Howard] Berman’s Iran sanction bill; it has condemned the Goldstone Report; it has denounced the British court’s decision to try Tzipi Livni for war crimes, which puts J Street much more into the mainstream,” Oren said.
The ambassador opened his talk on Sunday by discussing another speech, given on February 8 at the University of California, Irvine, where 11 students heckled him off the stage. He returned and finished his speech, and the students were later arrested.
“Their goal was to undermine the freedom of expression and at the same time to delegitimize the Jewish state,” he said.
“Civility, the ability to hear others’ opinions and be heard, is an essential weapon in Israel’s defense. We have a case to be made,” he said.
During his talk Sunday, Oren referenced “long-simmering issues” between American and Israeli Jews.
“While Israelis turned toward the center and right,” he said, “American Jews gravitated in the other direction, casting 80 percent of their ballots for Barack Obama.”
Mentioning issues of conversion, he also focused on the “Women of the Wall” incident at the Kotel earlier this month, when 200 women wearing tallit were heckled and called Nazis by haredi men.
“There are good solutions for the issues at the Kotel,” he said during a question-and-answer session. “It will require compromise on everyone’s behalf.”