In a bitter rift between two of the most prominent U.S. pro-Israel advocacy groups, the right-wing Zionist Organization of America this week slammed the campus-oriented StandWithUs group for repeating what they described as the "extremely harmful" and "serious falsehood" that Israel officially supports the two-state solution and is open to the concept of an independent Palestinian state.
Although StandWithUs is often characterized as right-of-center, and has been criticized for accepting funding from donors whose views are militantly right-wing, the Los Angeles-based group maintains that it has never advocated specific policies for Israel.
But on Sunday, the ZOA - which has sparked controversy in recent years for its enthusiastic support of Donald Trump and Trump associate Steven Bannon – attacked StandWithUs for writing that “Israel does not oppose the notion of an independent Palestinian state, and officially supports the two-state solution.”
The passage came in the context of a sample letter which, the ZOA said, StandWithUs had composed for its supporters to send to the Columbian Embassy and Consulate, in order to oppose Columbia's recent recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state.
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In a further, strongly worded statement released by ZOA President Morton Klein and chairman Mark Levinson on Monday, the organization said that it was "dismayed" to see that:
"Instead of correcting this serious error after being notified, StandWithUs is now ignoring the truth and is doubling down and is repeating this erroneous claim in a new StandWithUs website post that Israeli policy supports a Palestinian state."
For most of the last quarter century, official Israeli policy has embraced a formal commitment to an eventual two-state solution, and some form of an independent Palestine.
However, since the rise of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strongly right-wing, pro-settlement government in 2015 and the election of Trump the next year, Israeli cabinet ministers and lawmakers have increasingly disavowed any future agreement encompassing a two-state solution.
The ZOA leaders said StandWithUs had failed to take notice of a series of recent statements by Netanyahu, Israeli government officials, and Netanyahu's Likud party, indicating, in the ZOA's words and emphasis, that "CURRENT Israeli policy OPPOSES a Palestinian state, yet StandWithUs cites old abandoned Israeli statements."
"By contrast and disingenuously, StandWithUs merely linked to old, no-longer-relevant, abandoned statements, made by Netanyahu under fear of, and extraordinary pressure and threats by, the hostile-to-Israel Obama administration," the ZOA statement said.
The ZOA's Klein and Levinson added that the "false statement" in the text of the StandWithUs letter "is also especially harmful at a time when Iran is spreading its terror tentacles throughout the Middle East, including to Israel’s doorstep, and it is apparent that a Palestinian Arab state would be an Iranian proxy terror state."
StandWithUs responded to the ZOA criticism with a statement issued on Tuesday, which read in part that "While prospects for an agreement have dimmed in recent years, Israel has not announced a change to its official policy of supporting two states for two peoples under agreed upon conditions. Furthermore, a majority of the Israeli public has historically supported two states. While that support dipped to 43% in a poll released this week, Israelis still prefer this solution over others by a wide margin."
"We recognize that this is an issue of controversy and debate in Israeli society, and as a non-partisan education organization StandWithUs does not take a position on it," the organization said, adding that "Our role is to simply state the facts. We will continue to fulfill that educational mission, without regard to pressure from any side of the political spectrum."