The American Jewish establishment jumped off the fence on Tuesday and came out in full support of Congressional approval of President Barack Obama’s plans to launch a military strike against Syria’s chemical weapon capacity.
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And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren took the unusual step of expressing support for elements of President Obama's statements on Syria, including his assertion that the Assad regime must be held accountable and that there should be “international consequences” for his use of chemical weapons.
The sudden unified burst of support for Obama’s request for Congressional authorization for a strike against Syria follows almost two weeks in which Jewish organizations have maintained a low profile on the August 21 chemical attack near Damascus and the American response to it.
Jewish leaders told Haaretz that the public support expressed in the past two days by leading Republican figures such as Representatives John Boehner and Eric Cantor, as well as the qualified backing shown by Senator John McCain, allayed concerns that the Jewish groups would be accused of taking sides in a political feud between the two parties. “The dynamics changed overnight,” one source said.
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations said in a statement that “failing to take action would damage the credibility of the U.S. and negatively impact the effort to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capacity.”
The American Jewish Committee sent a letter to all members of Congress expressing support for Obama’s request for “limited military action” against Syria and warning that “acquiescence in the face of the crimes evidently committed by the Assad regime would doubtless have wide-ranging consequences for U.S. interests and influence in the Middle East and around the world.”
The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC urged Congress to “grant the president the authority to protect America’s security interests.” The lobby’s statement said that “barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass.” And sources said that AIPAC would henceforth lobby Congress to support the use of force against Bashar Assad.
The Anti-Defamation League went a step further, lauding Obama’s “demonstration of U.S. leadership” and calling on Congress to “swiftly add its voice to hold Assad accountable for the wanton slaughter of his own citizens.”
ADL National Director Abe Foxman told Haaretz that from a “moral perspective” there was “nothing to debate” because of “our own people’s experience with gas.” In addition, he said, the threat to America’s national security interests in the Middle East, in which Israel has such a high stake, “go above and beyond any political consideration.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice President of the Conference of Presidents, said yesterday that the statement reflects the “general consensus” of the American Jewish organizations. He said that some organizations expressed concerns about taking sides in a political battle, but that briefings by the Administration helped to forge the Conference’s statement, which reflects the “middle ground” of various Jewish opinions.
The sources said that their support also stemmed from conversations with Israeli leaders who expressed concern about the negative ramifications of a Congressional veto on Obama’s proposals both for Israel and for America’ standing in the Middle East.