U.S. Jews offer cautious support for Netanyahu government
Senior Jewish Federation official: appointment of Lieberman is not good in terms of public relations.
WASHINGTON - The American Jewish community, whose leaders had kept silent about the results of the Israeli elections, has begun to speak out, cautiously.
The picture that emerged from talks with community leaders in Washington this week is that not everyone is thrilled with the new Israeli government, but most believe that support for Israel is more critical now than ever in the face of the current threats, chief among them Iran.
The head of one of the most influential local Jewish Federation branches in the United States, who declined to be named, admitted that the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman is "not good" in terms of public relations. He quickly added, however, that the American Jewish community must nevertheless express support for Israel's government.
"I know Lieberman, he's not an outsider. His views have support in Israel, even if the American Jewish community doesn't support him," he said.
"It's a problem that in the press he's been labeled a fascist, but we must tell the new [U.S.] administration in no uncertain terms: 'He's a minister, talk to him.'
Jewish Democratic congresspeople also expressed support in the new government.
"I think it's a good thing that Labor is in the government. That creates more of a centrist government," Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said. "I think that Lieberman needs to design his rhetoric not only for the domestic Israeli market but for the world as well. It is one thing to say that everyone in public office must pledge allegiance to the flag, and it is another thing to say: 'This particular group, Israeli Arabs, needs to take an oath of loyalty.'"
Are you personally willing to give him a chance?
"I'm open-minded. Regarding the future relations between the governments - in the long term, it's not a matter of personalities, but the image perceived by Americans. All too often I see terror incidents in Israel, and we get what I call the 'screaming general syndrome.' CNN picks a general who thinks he speaks English well, and he is angry, as you would expect someone to be over a terror incident. And the image that is projected is the angry screaming general who may or may not have a command of the English language. This is not the best television," Sherman said.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY): "The people of Israel have the right to elect any government they like, and no other country, including the U.S., has the right to criticize them or to make negative remarks when Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.
"I believe that this government, now with the inclusion of Labor, will work toward peace. People forget that when Netanyahu was prime minister in the past, he showed a great deal of flexibility.
"I think Avigdor Lieberman's image is much harsher than some of his positions are. He said that he favored the two-state solution. And I think that if Palestinians truly want to make peace with Israel, any Israeli government will accept this peace. But it has to be a strong, durable peace. The United States, in my opinion, needs to stand with Israel, because the world doesn't."
But it seems that with its massive outreach to the Arab World, the new administration is trying to be more balanced.
"I think the Obama Administration will be a strong ally and supporter of Israel," Engel said. "I'm not worried. Will there be tensions from time to time? Sure. But the bottom line is that I believe the U.S. will always stand with Israel."
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) is very generous in his evaluation of Netanyahu.
"I think Israel is one of the great democracies in the world and it just had elections, and we all should celebrate it. Bibi Netanyahu is a very smart guy. And I have a lot of confidence that the prime minister of Israel will do the right thing for the people of Israel."
So how do you think it will work with the new U.S. administration?
"Everybody has difficulties working with everybody, so you work it out. Israel has one of the smartest prime ministers they could have, and we have one of the smartest presidents we could have. And it's a good dynamic. I'm very optimistic - I deal with the Middle East, I have to be optimistic."
What about the disagreement between Israel and the U.S. regarding the "Iranian nuclear bomb deadline"? Some say the Israeli clock ticks faster.
"It's three seconds faster, this a very fast-flying world we're talking about. So there's not such a big difference between Israel and the United States. We are very, very concerned. For me and many others here it's a number-one concern. There are differences in intelligence estimates - it's like a doctor estimating a due date, and estimates can be slightly different. But I don't think this administration is soft on Iran. Being willing to talk shouldn't be confused with being soft."
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