NEW YORK — A conservative American Jewish group that campaigned against the reelection of Barack Obama in 2012 sent an open letter Thursday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to ignore the advice of American Jewish leaders who called this week for Israel to take “confidence-building steps” to restart peace talks.
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.
The committee was founded by neoconservative Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, who signed the Thursday letter together with other individuals affiliated with ECI and the Weekly Standard.
The ECI letter came in response to a Wednesday letter signed by 100 American Jewish activists and leaders — many, though not all, identified with left-leaning organizations — that called on Netanyahu to take “confidence-building steps” that might encourage a renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians.
The letter urged Israel’s government “to respond to President [Barack] Obama’s call for peace by taking concrete confidence-building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”
Netanyahu’s leadership, the letter insisted, “would challenge Palestinian leaders to take similarly constructive steps, including, most importantly, a prompt return to the negotiating table.”
Though the 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.”
In its response, the ECI called the earlier letter to task. “We, too, have strong opinions on the peace process,” the ECI letter read, “but one thing we never presume to do is instruct our friends in Israel on the level of danger to which they should expose themselves.”
It also questioned the wisdom of urging Israel to carry out “painful territorial sacrifices.”
“Those issuing the demand will not experience the pain, or be compelled to sacrifice anything, should their advice prove foolish — as it has so many times in the past,” the ECI insisted. “From the safety of America, in the past they have recommended trusting Yasser Arafat, dividing Jerusalem, surrendering the Golan Heights to Syria, and withdrawing from territory that today is controlled by Iranian-backed terrorist groups.”
It also accused the signatories to the IPF letter of failing to demand similar sacrifices of Palestinian leaders