An array of Jewish organizations is set to endorse US President Barack Obama’s call for military strikes against Syria, although the degree of support is not yet clear.
Several organizations — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Zionist Organization of America, Americans for Peace Now and the Anti-Defamation League — will participate in a conference call on Syria with administration officials on Tuesday afternoon. The call is being organized by the Presidents Conference.
“AIPAC urges Congress to grant the President the authority he has requested to protect America’s national security interests and dissuade the Syrian regime’s further use of unconventional weapons,” the pro-Israel lobby said in a statement before the call. “The civilized world cannot tolerate the use of these barbaric weapons, particularly against an innocent civilian population including hundreds of children.”
“Simply put, barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass,” it said, referring to a suspected chemical weapons attack last month by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. The attack near Damascus killed an estimated 1,400 people, including 400 children.
According to the statement, “This is a critical moment when America must also send a forceful message of resolve to Iran and Hezbollah — both of whom have provided direct and extensive military support to Assad. The Syrian regime and its Iranian ally have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not respect civilized norms. That is why America must act, and why we must prevent further proliferation of unconventional weapons in this region.”
Following the call, the Presidents Conference will convene its own conference call to shape a statement, Malcolm Hoenlein, the foreign policy umbrella body’s executive vice president, said. Hoenlein also confirmed that the statement would support Obama’s call to action, but he could not say to what extent.
Others predicted wholehearted endorsement.
“I would predict that the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community will support the president’s decision on moral grounds and national security grounds,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, told JTA.
“It’s hard to imagine there’s a rabbi alive who has a High Holiday service who is not going to talk about Syria,” said one Jewish official who often brokers relations between the White House and the Jewish community.
Until Obama declared over the weekend that he was ready to strike, however, Jewish groups had been reluctant to weigh in on American intervention, in part because of the hangover from unwarranted attacks in the last decade blaming Jewish lobbying for the Iraq War. Foxman said such hesitations were obviated by Obama’s explicit call for a strike.
“The president has made his decision and we’re not ahead of it,” Foxman said. “He’s not doing this for Israel. This may have serious ramifications for Israel which are negative.”
Obama on Tuesday met with top congressional officials and called on them to support limited strikes on Syria to degrade its chemical weapons capability.
“This is a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message not only to the Assad regime, but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms, that there are consequences,” Obama said before the meeting.
As he has done repeatedly since first indicating his intention to strike Syria, Obama cited the potential threat to Israel, among other American allies, as one of his concerns.
“This norm against using chemical weapons that 98 percent of the world agrees to is there for a reason,” he said. “Because we recognize that there are certain weapons that when used cannot only end up resulting in grotesque deaths, but also can end up being transmitted to non-state actors; can pose a risk to allies and friends of ours like Israel, like Jordan, like Turkey; and unless we hold them into account, also sends a message that international norms around issues like nuclear proliferation don’t mean much.”