The Anti-Defamation League on Wednesday branded as “inflammatory and repugnant” a J Street petition against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak before the US Congress in defiance of the White House’s opposition to the event, and despite the ADL’s own misgivings about the speech.
“At the height of the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to Congress, J Street’s petition campaign that attempts to distance itself and American Jews from Israel’s duly elected prime minister is inflammatory and repugnant and exacerbates an already heated and politicized moment for U.S. Israel relations at a critical juncture in the West’s negotiations with Iran,” the group said in a statement.
The condemnation came two days after J Street, a liberal pro-Israel lobbying group, launched its petition denouncing Netanyahu’s claim that his controversial March 3 speech before Congress would be delivered on behalf of all Jews.
“I’m a Jew. Bibi [Netanyahu] does NOT speak for me!” the petition read, adding that the Israeli prime minister “is not the spokesman for all Jews.”
Netanyahu intends to present to Congress reasons for increasing international pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, which Israel maintains must be dismantled to prevent Tehran form producing nuclear weapons.
“Let’s remember what is at stake: Preventing extremist Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel’s very existence,” the ADL cautioned. “In that goal, Mr. Netanyahu surely does represent not only Israelis but American Jews as well.”
J Street dismissed the ADL’s criticism, saying that it was “astonished and taken aback by today’s intemperate statement.”
The “contention that Netanyahu represents American Jews in his hardline opposition to a negotiated agreement with Iran over its nuclear weapons program is not borne out by the facts,” J Street said in a statement posted to its website Thursday. “There is near unanimity among Jews, which we share, that the Iranian nuclear program poses a serious threat to Israel which must be dealt with. But there are sharp differences over how to deal with it. The evidence from opinion polls suggests that a large majority of American Jews backs President Obama’s attempts to end the crisis diplomatically rather than Netanyahu’s approach.”
In what has become a complex issue dividing US Jewish opinions, even the ADL has voiced its disapproval of Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress, which many US Democratic lawmakers said they would not attend. US President Barack Obama does not plan to meet with Netanyahu during his time in Washington. Netanyahu has faced accusations that the speech initiative, following an invitation from Republican lawmakers who oppose the president’s policies on Iran, has put undue strain on US-Israel relations.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, last week called on Netanyahu to cancel the address.
Foxman, a prominent Jewish-American leader, said that while Netanyahu’s warnings about Iran were serious, the political furor over the speech “turned the whole thing into a circus.”
Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.