Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) dismissed on Sunday calls by US Jewish leaders urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take confidence-building steps to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.
“The Israeli government’s first and foremost responsibility is the security of its citizens and ensuring the country’s future safety,” Elkin said. “Pressure from overseas should not guide the prime minster in his careful management of the diplomatic process.”
A letter sent to Netanyahu two weeks ago, signed by 100 American Jewish activists and leaders (many, though not all, identified with left-leaning organizations), urged the prime minister to take steps to encourage a renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians. The letter coincided with US Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival to the region in an effort to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The US leaders’ letter also upset Jewish leaders in Russia, who sent their own letter to Netanyahu saying: “Decisions on matters of national security should not be made under external pressure, not by world opinion, not by the American leadership and not even by the influential American Jewish community.” The letter, signed by Russian Jewish community leaders, rabbis and businessmen, went on to say that the original letter was particularly worrisome because it reminded them of their own Soviet past “when the Communist leadership used prominent Soviet Jews to pressure Israel.”
“I am pleased that the Russian Jewish leadership understand what some of America’s Jews sometimes forget,” Elkin said.
Elkin, himself an immigrant from the Former Soviet Union, is working under Netanyahu, who is acting as foreign minister pending the conclusion of presumptive FM Avigdor Liberman’s corruption trial. Elkin is a political hawk and a staunch proponent of a one-state solution.
Last week, a conservative American Jewish group that campaigned against the reelection of Barack Obama in 2012 sent an open letter to Netanyahu likewise urging him to ignore the other Jewish leaders’ advice.
Striking out at what it said was a call for Netanyahu to make “painful territorial sacrifices,” the Emergency Committee for Israel accused the signatories of the original letter of playing armchair politics at Israel’s expense.
“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,” the letter read.
Though the original letter was sponsored by the left-leaning Israel Policy Forum, the list of signatories included names from a relatively wide spectrum of American Jewish opinion, including former senior Defense Department official Dov Zakheim; former AIPAC executive director Tom Dine; philanthropists S. Daniel Abraham, Charles Bronfman, Lester Crown and Stanley Gold; Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs; leaders from the Jewish organizational world; and others.
It urged Netanyahu “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.”
Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report form New York.