Under Pressure

Jewish Democrats call on Netanyahu to make concessions ahead of Kerry visit

April 5, 2013

More than 100 Jewish Democrats, Democratic donors, and liberal rabbis sent a letter this week to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him "to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace" with the Palestinians.

In the letter, delivered earlier this week to Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem, the Israeli leader is urged "to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which would represent Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace."

The letter, which arrived ahead of Secretary Kerry's planned visit to Israel and Turkey this weekend, was organized and sent by the left-of-center Israel Policy Forum.

The letter’s signatories comprise a who’s who of President Barack Obama’s wealthy donors, Jewish Democratic operatives, and liberal rabbis, as well as one former adviser to failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

"Be assured that they don’t speak for us or for a majority of Americans," the pro-Israel Emergency Committee for Israel wrote on Thursday in a follow up letter to Netanyahu.

"We not only question the wisdom of their advice, we question their standing to issue such an admonition to a democratically-elected prime minister whose job is not to assuage the political longings of 100 American Jews, but to represent—and ensure the security of—the Israeli people," stated the ECI response.

The Israel Policy Forum letter writers praised Obama’s recent Middle East trip and urged Netanyahu to restart the peace process with the Palestinians.

"We were heartened by President Obama’s recent historic visit," the letter stated.

"We believe that this is a compelling moment for you and your new government to respond to steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the missive continued.

Netanyahu should offer these "painful territorial sacrifices" before the Palestinian Authority even comes to the bargaining table, according to the letter. "Your leadership would challenge Palestinian leaders to take similarly constructive steps, including, most importantly, a prompt return to the negotiating table."

The signatories include former Democratic Rep. Mel Levine (Calif.), National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) officials Marc Stanley and Michael Adler.

The NJDC declined comment.

Another signer is Susie Gelman, a Democratic donor and past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, which has come under fire for funding a controversial D.C. theater that has been accused of hosting anti-Israel plays.

"Susie Gelman signed this as an individual and not as a representative of the Jewish Federation," spokeswoman Stacye Zeisler told the Washington Free Beacon. "Her signature should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the federation."

Several left-leaning rabbis also signed on, including the former head of Reform Judaism’s organizational umbrella Rabbi Eric Yoffie and Rabbi David Saperstein, a longtime Democratic activist and Israel critic who is known as "Obama’s rabbi."

Former congressman Levine maintained that the letter is not aimed at pressuring Israel alone.

"The letter is intended to demonstrate American Jewish leadership support for the message President Obama delivered during his visit to Israel and our desire to see Israel and the US work closely together in pursuit of peace and security," he told the Free Beacon in an email.

Obama "is asking both sides to do what is necessary to accomplish the goal of peace with security which is designed to insure Israel's ultimate security," Levine wrote. "It is quite clear that the Palestinians do not believe he put the onus on Israel."