J Street Astonished by Foxman Statement

February 11, 2015

J Street is astonished and taken aback by today’s intemperate statement by the Anti-Defamation League’s National Director, Abraham H. Foxman, which attacks our organization for challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent assertion that he speaks for all Jews in his hardline position on Iran.

“I went to Paris not just as the Prime Minister of Israel, but as a representative of the entire Jewish people,” Netanyahu said during a conference for French-speaking Likud activists February 8. “Just as I went to Paris, so I will go anyplace I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us. Those who want to kill us are, first and foremost, any Iranian regime that says outright it plans to destroy us.”

Netanyahu’s statement raised eyebrows because it appears to contradict a long-standing agreement which has guided relations between Israel and Jewish communities around the world for decades and was formulated in 1950 by Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, who made it clear that "the State of Israel speaks only on behalf of its own citizens and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of Jews who are citizens of any other  country; and that the Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have no political attachment to Israel.” 

We agree with the founder of the State of Israel: the Prime Minister for Israel cannot speak for the entirety of our community.

J Street has not mobilized American Jews “to reject the Prime Minister of Israel’s sense of duty and responsibility to world Jewry,” as Foxman states. We have called for a postponement of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress until after the Israeli election on March 17 – just as Foxman has. And we have provided a mechanism for the many American Jews who do not feel that Netanyahu speaks for them to express that sentiment.

There is nothing inflammatory or repugnant in either the form or content of our actions.

If there has been “inflammatory and repugnant” speech on this issue, it has come from right-wing groups such as the Zionist Organization of America, which has compared opponents of the speech to appeasers of Hitler during the 1930s. This wins no mention in Foxman’s statement.

Foxman’s 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.  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 a poll of 800 American-Jewish voters sponsored by J Street and carried out by GBA Strategies last Election Day (Nov. 4, 2014), 84 percent of American respondents said they would support a final agreement with Iran that allows uranium enrichment for civilian energy purposes, places international inspectors at Iranian nuclear facilities, and reduces sanctions on Iran as it meets compliance benchmarks. 

As the Jewish Daily Forward recently wrote in an editorial rejecting Netanyahu’s assertion, “We have survived into modern times because we haven’t relied on one leader — a king or prelate or pope — and instead embraced the fact that we are diverse in more ways than we can count.”