Obama meets with ‘small coterie’ of Jewish leaders, after Kerry appears to criticize Netanyahu for ‘fear tactics’

Israel/Palestine
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Obama talks to Netanyahu on the phone Oct. 28, photo by Pete Souza

Obama talks to Netanyahu on the phone Oct. 28, photo by Pete Souza

 

Yesterday the White House sought to diffuse tensions over its Iran opening with a meeting between the president and a “small coterie of Jewish organizational leaders.” One of those leaders was Abe Foxman, who had lashed out at John Kerry for making “inappropriate” criticisms of Netanyahu. Though Kerry never mentioned Netanyahu by name.

Of course you would think Iran policy involves all of us, and that our Secretary of State should be free to criticize foreign leaders who slam our policymaking. But who counts the most: the official Jewish community, the Israel lobby (whose existence has been repeatedly pooh-poohed in the mainstream press).

It doesn’t matter that the men who came to the White House are rightwing hawks, Obama must conciliate them. He is feeling the heat from Foxman, and apparently too from rightwing funder Sheldon Adelson, who is urging Obama to nuke Iran– which NPR says is part of a campaign by conservative critics to scuttle the Iran opening.

From the Jerusalem Post:

Amid an escalation of signals that the Obama and Netanyahu governments are parting ways on Iran strategy, the White House called in American Jewish leaders for a briefing on short notice.

A small coterie of Jewish organizational leaders will meet Tuesday afternoon with top staff at the National Security Council to discuss Iran, according to the White House and officials of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

…The invitation follows a tense, albeit coded, public exchange between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry in the last two days over Iran, as well as persistent backing by pro-Israel groups for a congressional bid to enhance Iran sanctions despite White House pleas to put new sanctions on hold.

Among those meeting Obama were Foxman, Malcolm Hoenlein and Rober Sugarman of the Conference of Presidents, leaders of AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee, and Alan Solow, a leading fundraiser for Obama and Clintonites, per Chemi Shalev in Haaretz. Shalev:

ADL National Chairman Abe Foxman has slammed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s “inappropriate” remarks rejecting “fear tactics” supposedly being employed in order to dissuade the Obama Administration from pursuing a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear impasse.

Reflecting assumptions that Kerry’s pointed remarks were aimed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foxman told Haaretz: “Those remarks were inappropriate. They were not conducive to the relationship between the two countries. If Kerry had any criticism of Israeli positions, he should have made them privately,” he said.

Foxman’s rebuke of Kerry came following an extraordinary White House meeting on Tuesday between senior Administration officials, led by National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and a select group of Jewish leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, AIPAC, the Anti Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

Here are some of Kerry’s allegedly-offensive remarks to the Ploughshares Fund Gala on October 28, in Washington, seeming to mean Netanyahu in reference to fear tactics:

Obviously, we are now facing a test of that – two tests – in North Korea and in Iran. And we are engaged, as the President has charged me to be and has welcomed, an opportunity to try to put to test whether or not Iran really desires to pursue only a peaceful program, and will submit to the standards of the international community in the effort to prove that to the world. Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting that to the test. I suggest that the idea that the United States of America is a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise. (Applause.)…

So we will do what is necessary here, but it is important for everybody to remember that in a world with fewer nuclear weapons, every nation can actually be stronger, not weaker. Everybody can actually be safer and more secure because of the regimen that you set up in order to guarantee that.

So the Ploughshares folks cheered Kerry for the opening to Iran. But Foxman didn’t like it.

Here is Netanyahu statement on Sunday, per the JPost:

On Sunday, addressing his Cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derided in unusually sharp terms the attempts to talk Iran down from 20 percent to 3.5 percent uranium enrichment.

“The Iranians are intentionally focusing the discussion on this issue. It is without importance,” said Netanyahu, who has insisted that Iran must dismantle all enrichment capabilities as part of a deal to end sanctions aimed at ending its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Writes a friend, who notes that Foxman is head of the Anti-Defamation League:

1. Is it now anti-Semitic for Kerry to criticize Israel in public, even obliquely, according to ADL?

2. Oh, Foxman is wearing his other ADL hat, that of rabid apologist and protector of Israel. How is the public to know which hat he is wearing at any particular moment? Is there any other “Civil Rights” NGO with such a schizophrenic personality?

3. No J-Street at the White House? That’s a curious omission to the Guest List. Is J-Street not considered among the Jewish leaders or not interested in Iran policy?

4. How do the rest of us get an inside briefing on Iran negotiations? Or are we not interested parties worthy of attention?

5. Is such a meeting the only way Obama Administration can slow down passing of further Iran sanctions in Congress? And how is US ME policy determined again?

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