The World Jewish Congress has become the first mainstream Jewish organization to speak out against the Obama administration's recent treatment of Israel, scheduling full-page ads to appear in tomorrow's editions of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post that criticize Washington for placing the Mideast impasse on Jerusalem.
The "open letter" from WJC president Ronald Lauder to President Obama says that "our concern grows to alarm" in noting that while the Palestinians "refuse to negotiate," "the thrust of this administration's Middle East rhetoric seems to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks."
Lauder, a philanthropist and former diplomat, told me he believes the current public rift between the U.S. and Israel is the worst in memory, and he hopes the ads will "galvanize" the Jewish community into action.
He noted that before going forward with the ads, he consulted the 22 members of the WJC executive board, and received overwhelming support to go forward.
"We've never done something like this before," Lauder said in terms of the WJC publicly criticizing a U.S. president's Mideast policies. But he added that he feels his letter speaks to the concerns of large numbers of American Jews, many of whom have supported Obama but are now deeply concerned about his Mideast stance and reports that he may seek to impose a peace agreement on Israel and the Palestinians.
The WJC, which sees its role as defending Jewish rights on an international level, is a relatively small organization in terms of membership, and received a great deal of negative attention in recent years over its financial dealings and improprieties before Lauder took office in 2007. But it has a long history, and is perceived by many countries as having great influence.
One WJC official noted that once the administration went public with its criticism of the Netanyahu government over plans to build housing in east Jerusalem, "it made little sense to communicate privately" with the White House.
Lauder said he saw that no other mainstream Jewish organization "was speaking out, and this is wrong." He said U.S. policy in the Mideast has a direct impact on the "life or death" of the state of Israel.
One insider said it would be difficult for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to reach a strong consensus, as required for action, on this issue, noting that the current chair, Alan Solow of Chicago, has close ties with President Obama.
Lauder stressed in his letter, and in the interview, that he believes the president is sincere in his effort to bring peace to the troubled region. He added that American Jews are fortunate to live in a democracy where "we have the chance to stand up and speak out," something few Jewish communities could ever do.
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