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Major Jewish Groups Facing Backlash Over Pledge to Keep Israel Out of Campaign Debate

“You must be kidding.”

A pledge by two prominent Jewish organizations to keep the subject of Israel out of the election debate is facing intense criticism from conservative pro-Israel Jewish groups.

On Monday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee issued a joint statement declaring that support for Israel is bipartisan and that Israel shouldn’t be used as a “wedge issue” in election campaigns. It called on other Jewish groups to sign their “National Pledge for Unity on Israel:"

The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have joined together in an effort to encourage other national organizations, elected officials, religious leaders, community groups and individuals to rally around bipartisan support for Israel while preventing the Jewish State from becoming a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign season.

Conservative Jewish groups and columnists say this as an effort to stifle debate during the 2012 election cycle over what they see as President Barack Obama’s less-than-stellar record on Israel. They believe the “unity pledge” will restrain Republicans who have a chance to make inroads with Jewish voters -- who have historically voted Democrat -- and are particularly angry at this quote from ADL national director Abraham Foxman:

“We want the discourse on U.S. support for Israel to avoid the sometimes polarizing debates and political attacks that have emerged in recent weeks, as candidates have challenged their opponents’ pro-Israel bone fides or questioned the current administration’s foreign policy approach vis-a-vis Israel. The last thing America and Israel need right now is the distractions of having Israel bandied about as a tool for waging political attacks.”

The Emergency Committee for Israel is outraged at what it believes is an effort to silence criticism of President Obama and says the “pledge” will prompt it to redouble its efforts. On its home page, it posted this response from its chairman William Kristol:

You must be kidding.

Indeed, this attempt to silence those of us who have “questioned the current administration’s foreign policy approach vis-a-vis Israel” will re-energize us. Nor, incidentally, should those who support the administration’s approach to Israel be bashful about making their case.

The Republican Jewish Coalition says it too rejects the pledge:

Allowing the American people to see where candidates stand, pro and con on critical issues, is the hallmark of our free and democratic political system.

Pres. Obama’s perceived lukewarm stance on Israel became a major issue among Jewish voters in last month’s election of Republican Bob Turner in the heavily Democratic district of Queens, NY that had been represented by Rep. Anthony Weiner before his resignation. The election was viewed as a referendum on the administration’s economic and Israel policies.

Commentary Magazine’s Jonathan S. Tobin says the ADL’s pledge “doesn’t pass the political smell test:"

… to impose, as this pledge seems to hint, a gag rule on all discussion of Israel in a political context simply allows those politicians, be they Republican or Democrat, impunity for any destructive stands or behavior.

Like other Americans, Jews cast their ballots based on a wide variety of issues. On Israel, some of the points Republicans would raise with Jewish voters will likely include: that the President’s first telephone call after being inaugurated reportedly went to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (only later did he call Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert); his first Middle East trip was to Saudi Arabia and Egypt the year he took office; and he has yet to visit Israel as president.

Pres. Obama has stated Israel should withdraw to 1967 borders, which would leave the country nine miles wide at its narrowest point and vulnerable to rocket attack on its strategic assets, including Ben-Gurion International Airport. It would also mean Israel giving up East Jerusalem, which includes the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

One last thing…
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