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Jewish Leaders Attack Prime Minister Barak, Others Defend Mideast Peace Process

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 2000

In a widely publicized open letter, thirty prominent American Jewish leaders sharply criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for the manner in which he has conducted negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.  

The Forward (June 23, 2000) reports: "...the 30 leaders—who include the chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee`s executive committee and two past chairmen of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations—express concern over what they see as one-sided concessions from Israel. In a similar development, two leading Orthodox Jewish organizations the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregation of America and the Rabbinical Council of america, issued a statement...urging the Israeli government to refrain from offering new concessions to the Palestinian Arabs without reciprocal gestures. The public declarations...are unusual...the American Jewish establishment, at least publicly, generally avoids questioning the Jewish state's leader and his policies. That is particularly true for Aipac, which has in its constitution a requirement that the organization support whatever government is in power in Israel. Yet the chairman of Aipac`s executive committee, Gerald Charnoff; a former Aipac executive director, Neal Sher, and two members of Aipac`s 40-member board signed the letter to Mr. Barak."  

The letter was circulated initially by the Zionist Organization of America, which has been sharply critical of the peace process for some time, Those who signed the letter include the two former chairman of the Conference of Presidents, Julius Berman and Leon Levy; the national chairman of Israel Bonds, Irwin Hochberg, and the immediate past president of the Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Seymour Essrog.  

There has been widespread criticism of this statement opposing the peace process. Seymour D. Reich and Theodore R. Mann, past chairmen of the Conference of Presidents, declared that, "The small minority of American Jews who oppose the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have every right to express their views, but it is ludicrous for them to suggest that they know more about Israel's security needs than...Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Nor should they imply that they speak for the majority of American Jews....Polls have shown that the vast majority of American Jews support the peace process and the U.S. facilitating role in it. Neither American nor Israeli readers should misconstrue anti-peace propaganda as presenting the actual sentiments of American Jewry-at-large." (Washington Jewish Week, July 13, 2000).  

Another open letter to Prime Minister Barak was issued in support of the peace initiative. Appearing in The New York Times (July 12, 2000) and other papers, it declared: "We are confident that the overwhelming majority of American Jews, and indeed of all Americans...stand with you...as you seek to reach an historic agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people." Among those signing this statement were Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, Hyman Bookbinder, Shoshana Cardin, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and many others prominent in the American Jewish community.  

While the Camp David talks were taking place, members of Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center demonstrated in Thurmont, Maryland in support of the peace talks. Jeff Mandell, a spokesman for the group, said that, "The goal is to demonstrate that the vast majority of the American Jewish community strongly supports the peace process and the efforts of Barak and Arafat...Too often, the critics of the peace process are the ones who have their voices heard the most. Those who support the efforts of peace haven't been as. vocal. This is an effort to change that." (Washington Times, July 12, 2000).  

Rabbi Donald Berlin, the local director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said that, "Most American Jews support peace....The things that were impossible yesterday are possible tomorrow. That's what happened in 1978 at Camp David and no one thought then that peace would come about."  

Jewish opponents of the peace process also demonstrated, carrying placards and chanting "Jerusalem is Jewish" and "Barak is a traitor."

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