Full Text Israel Political Brief December 6, 2015 : PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Remarks to the Saban Forum

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PM Netanyahu’s Remarks to the Saban Forum

Source: PMO, 12-6-15

Greetings from Jerusalem.

I want to thank my friend Haim for giving me the opportunity to address you. This comes at a time when the United States has experienced a terrible and savage attack in San Bernardino, and I wish to offer the condolences of the people of Israel to the families, the aggrieved families, and of course send our wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded.

The terrorists are attacking in California or in Israel, or for that matter in Paris. They are attacking the very values that we hold dear – freedom, tolerance, diversity. All the things that define the value of life and society in our eyes, they find anathema and that’s why they attack us. I think too that this is what makes us strong. They think that we are hedonistic and weak; we’re actually very strong societies, very resilient, because of the very values that they despise so much.

And these values are what makes the bond between Israel and the United States, the American people and the people of Israel, so strong. It’s that identity of values, those very values that are under such fierce attack today. I think nobody should underestimate the resilience and power of our societies. Nobody should underestimate the United States. It was, it remains and will be the leader of the world precisely because it is so rooted in the values that make societies great.

And these are the same values by which we live, and that’s why nobody should underestimate Israel, and nobody should underestimate the strength of our alliance. It’s strong and it will be even stronger in years to come. And I appreciate the President’s willingness to forge a new agreement between Israel and the United States, a ten-year MoU to strengthen Israeli-American cooperation and strengthen Israel’s security with American support. I think everybody in Israel appreciates that, beginning with me.

We face today two challenges that I’d like to briefly discuss with you. One is a global challenge of the battle of militant Islamic terrorism that plagues not only the Middle East, but increasingly Europe and the United States and Asia, everywhere – Africa. And the second is the specific problem of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which I’d like to address.

On the global front, I have to say that many used to say that the core of the conflicts in the Middle East, and from there the rest of the world, were rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That was never true, but it’s now demonstrably false. And what we see is the old order established after the Ottoman Empire collapsing and militant Islam, either of the Shiites, Shiite hue led by Iran, or the Sunni hue, led by ISIS, rushing in to fill the void. Now those two forces are clashing with each other because each wants to be the king of the Islamist hill. They hope to first establish in the Middle East and after that in their mad designs throughout the rest of the world, but it nonetheless is a battle of militant Islam against other Muslims and against everyone else.

That is clearly demonstrated in the case of ISIS, that doesn’t mince its words, and is disguised by Iran, that has equal ambitions. The danger that we face is augmented when militant Islam gets a sovereign state, because a state gives them money, in oil revenues in particular for either one, and it gives them the power to develop weapons or acquire weapons – chemical weapons in the case of ISIS and other sophisticated weapons – and of course the quest for nuclear weapons or submarines or satellites and sundry other rockets and precision-guided missiles in the case of Iran.

These battles, these forces are battling each other now over the soil of Syria, and our position has been – my position has been not to intervene because an ISIS-dominated Syria is bad and a Iran-dominated Syria is bad. I think that our policy has been therefore not to try to strengthen one at the expense of the other, but weaken both. But in any case, my policy has been non-intervention with two exceptions. The first is humanitarian. We were among the first countries to offer humanitarian aid to Syria. We established a field hospital right next to the border of, our border in the Golan and have taken in thousands of Syrians who’ve come in, astounded. They were always taught that Israel and Israelis were devils and now they were healing angels. And the second thing that I’ve decided to do is to make it clear that Israel will not tolerate the use of Syrian territory for passing lethal weapons to Hezbollah, to open up a warfront against us in Lebanon, or to use Syrian territory for attacks against us or to enable Iran to build a second terror or military front against us from the Golan or anywhere else in Syria.

These are clear principles which we uphold. I’ve expressed also to President Putin of Russia that these are principles that we’ll continue to uphold and that it makes sense that Russia and Israel have deconfliction. We’ve done that, just as the United States has done that, but it’s very important for me to stress that Israeli policy will continue along the lines that I’ve just outlined.

If I look at the world overall, the core of the conflicts in the Middle East, that is the battle between early medievalism and modernity, is the battle that is being waged now around the world. And the advanced countries in the world, the civilized countries of the world, have to make common cause to contain and ultimately defeat militant Islam. Deep down, human beings want to have freedom and I think that desire and the technology of freedom, the spread of information, will ultimately defeat militant Islam, just as it defeated another murderous ideology bent on world domination: Nazism.

In the case of Nazism, it took down about 60 million people and a third of our own people before it went down, and this cannot allow to happen again. I think it won’t happen again: one, because we have the historical antecedents; and two, because we have the State of Israel, as far as the Jewish people are concerned. We will not allow any one of these violent medievalist forces to threaten our country and threaten our people.

Insofar as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned, I think there is another misunderstanding. People have long said that the core of this conflict is the acquisition of territories by Israel in the 1967 War. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed in any peace process, as is the question of settlements, but it’s not the core of the conflict. In Gaza, nothing changed. In fact, instead of getting peace, we gave territory and got 15,000 rockets on our heads. We took out all the settlements; we disinterred people from their graves; and did we get peace? No. We got the worst terror possible.

I think that happened earlier too, when we left Lebanon and people said, “Well, if you leave Lebanon, then Hezbollah will make peace with you.” And in fact, we got 15,000 rockets from there too. And so people are naturally saying, look, if we want a solution vis-à-vis the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, in the West Bank, how can we ensure that this doesn’t happen again? Well, in order for us to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, we have to address the root cause of the problem. Why has this conflict not been resolved for a hundred years? Why has it not been resolved after successive Israeli prime ministers, six in fact after the Oslo Agreement, have offered to make peace, have offered the Palestinians the possibility of building a state next to Israel – it’s because the Palestinians have not yet been willing to cross that conceptual bridge, that emotional bridge, of giving up the dream not of a state next to Israel, but a state instead of Israel.

And that’s why they persistently refuse – not only Hamas in Gaza, but the PA – they consistently refuse to accept that in a final peace settlement, they will recognize the Jewish state, they will recognize a nation-state for the Jewish people. They ask that we recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, but refuse to accord that same right to us. I have said and I continue to say it, that ultimately the only workable solution is not a unitary state, but a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. That’s the solution. But the Palestinians have to recognize the Jewish state and they persistently refuse to do so. They refuse to recognize a nation-state for the Jewish people in any boundary. That was and remains the core of the conflict. Not this or that gesture or the absence of this or that gesture, but the inability or unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to make the leap.

You got a hint of that the other day when Abu Mazen spoke about the “occupation of Palestinian lands for the last 67 years”. Did you hear that? Occupation of Palestinian lands? For the last 67 years? Sixty-seven years ago was 1948. That’s when the State of Israel was established. Does Abu Mazen mean that Tel Aviv is occupied Palestinian territory? Of Haifa? Or Beer Sheba? He refuses to fess up to his people and say it’s over, from their point of view what they say are the borders they wish, the final borders they wish. They refuse to recognize that they will have no more claim on the territory of the Jewish state, that they will not try in any way to flood it with the descendants of refugees. After all, we in Israel took in an equal and even larger number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

I mention this point about mutual national recognition because it is so fundamental, and like the mantra that was raised time and time and time again, that the core of the conflict, always in the singular, the conflict in the Middle East was the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, that has turned out to be even childish and irrelevant. The same thing I am saying will happen with the argument about the core of the conflict being the settlements or the territories. They’re an issue to be resolved, but they are not the core of the conflict.

And I think it’s important if we’re ever going to resolve this issue is to demand from the Palestinian leadership to recognize the Jewish state. We’ll still have many, many issues to resolve, but it begins with the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to have a state of their own. This is the fundament of peace and the absence of this recognition is the real obstacle.

I don’t lose hope. You can’t be a leader of the Jewish people and not have hope because we’ve overcome so many travails in the last thousands of years and in the last hundred years. We have clawed our way back to a sovereign existence. We built a remarkable state. It’s a world leader in technology, in agriculture, in irrigation, in cyber, in medicine – in so many areas. And we’ve made peace with two countries: Jordan and Egypt. And as the picture that I described about the threat of militant Islam to Arab and Muslim society emerges, we are making inroads and a lot of contacts with Arab countries – a lot of contacts that are not Arab countries as well: the leading countries of Asia, China, India, Japan; dozens of African countries; countries in Latin America. And it’s heartening. It’s heartening to see how Israel is being received and how people are changing their view of Israel as they change their view of the essential conflict between medievalism and modernity that is now spreading throughout the entire world.

But I know, with all the openness that we have with dozens and dozens of countries, including in our own region, I still know that we have no better friend than the United States. This is a partnership of solid values. It’s the deepest partnership there is. I value it across the partisan divide – Democrats, Republicans, Independents – we cherish your support. We value it and we believe that this partnership between Israel and the United States of America is the axis around which many other partnerships can be built in our region and beyond for the betterment of all humanity.

Thank you.

Full Text Israel Political Brief December 7, 2014: PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech at the 11th Annual Saban Forum — Transcript

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PM Netanyahu addresses 11th Annual Saban Forum

Source: MFA, 12-7-14

Excerpts

While stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program is by far the most vital national security challenge we face, the unprecedented instability afflicting the entire region poses an enormous challenge for our common security as well. Violence and fanaticism are spreading throughout the Middle East.

Following is an excerpt from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recorded remarks (Sunday, 7 December 2014) to the 11th Annual Saban Forum in Washington, DC:

The prestigious Saban Forum discusses so many of the important issues facing America and Israel today. And of these, none is more important to our common security than Iran’s ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The November 24th deadline for an agreement has come and gone. That’s fortunate because a deal was not signed last month that would have effectively left Iran as a threshold nuclear power. And even though Israel isn’t part of the P5+1, our voice and our concerns played a critical role in preventing a bad deal. Now we must use the time available to increase the pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons capability.

While stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program is by far the most vital national security challenge we face, the unprecedented instability afflicting the entire region poses an enormous challenge for our common security as well. Where once seemingly coherent nations and clearly defined borders stood, we now see chaos – in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, in Yemen and Lebanon.

The entire region is hemorrhaging. Violence and fanaticism are spreading throughout the Middle East, and ISIS’s savagery is merely one example of it. The collapse of the old order has made clear to pragmatic Arab governments that Israel is not their enemy. On the contrary, Israel and our moderate Arab neighbors have much to gain by cooperating. And this cooperation could, in turn, open the door to peace…

… Like the moderate Arabs, I want Israel to have peace with the Palestinians: a genuine peace, an enduring peace, a secure peace. I stress the word secure because for years I demanded that any peace agreement be founded upon robust security arrangements. That was always understood by Israelis, but I hope, I sincerely hope that it’s now better understood internationally for there can be no peace without real security and there can be no real security without a long-term IDF presence to provide it.

For nine months we negotiated with the Palestinians, but they consistently refused to engage us on our legitimate security concerns, just as they refused to discuss recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, while at the same time insisting that Israel recognize a nation-state of the Palestinian people.

The talks didn’t end because Israel announced that it would build apartments in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem – neighborhoods that will remain a part of Israel under any conceivable peace agreement.

The talks ended because the Palestinians wanted them to end. The talks ended because President Abbas unfortunately chose a pact with Hamas over peace with Israel.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership is simply not prepared, and I hope this changes, but it’s not yet prepared to truly confront violence and fanaticism within Palestinian society, within their own ranks. The jihadist murderers in the tragic attack on the Har Nof synagogue were not focused on how many apartments Jews were building in Jerusalem. They were focused on killing Jews. After Secretary Kerry spoke with him, President Abbas condemned the Har Nof murderers, but still blamed Israel for their heinous actions. And Abbas remains in a political pact with those who celebrated the murder of the rabbis, three of whom were also American citizens.

Regrettably, the Palestinian leadership not only refuses to confront that extremism, at times, it even fuels it. It engages in incitement day in and day out. Just look at their webpages. Look at their websites – it’ll make your hair stand on end. And I think it’s important to confront this. I don’t think sticking our head in the sand promotes real peace and I don’t believe that false hopes promote real peace. I think they just push peace further away.

Real peace will only come with leadership that demands from the Palestinians to accept the three pillars of peace: one, genuine mutual recognition; two, an end to all claims, including the right of return; and three, a long-term Israeli security presence. Now, I will never give up on this triangle of true peace.

Israel seeks peace. I seek peace, but for peace we need a Palestinian partner willing to stand up to Palestinian extremists – as other Arab governments are now doing throughout the region. I hope that we will find such a partner – a partner who will recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, who will take our security concerns seriously, who will end all claims…

…Last week, we celebrated the 67th anniversary of the United Nations’ call for the establishment of the Jewish state. Today, we are proud that the Jewish people have achieved our national self-determination in a genuinely democratic state, one that guarantees equal rights for all its citizens, regardless of race, religion or sex – as promised in our Declaration of Independence. And this will not change. In standing up for Israel’s identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I will never agree to legislation that undermines Israel’s democratic character. Not now, not ever…

…The great bond between Israel and America is anchored in our shared democratic values and our friendship was demonstrated again over the summer when President Obama and the Congress provided Israel with that additional funding for Iron Dome, which has saved so many lives. And that friendship was demonstrated yet again last week when an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House followed the Senate in approving the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. I thank our many friends from both parties in the House and the Senate who – like me -are committed to strengthening even further the US-Israel alliance.

Full Text Israel Political Brief December 8, 2013: PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Address to the Saban Forum

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PM Netanyahu’s Address to the Saban Forum

Source: PMO, 12-8-13

יום ראשון ה’ טבת תשע”ד

Photo by GPO

– Transcription

I am pleased to be joining you today, even if I’m doing it by remote Seatellite.
I remember the Willard Hotel when I came to Washington the first time in 1982, so this is – 30 years or more have passed and we know how the world has changed, but throughout that I think there’s been this strong U.S.–Israel relationship that taken on these complex issues that we face, and Haim, I want to express to you my personal appreciation for the fact that you are sponsoring the forum to address this complexity.

And it is legion, because the Middle East is undergoing great turmoil, great violence, great instability.
But in this turbulence, the special bond between Israel and the United States is the crucial anchor of stability. I didn’t say just a crucial anchor; I think it is the crucial anchor, and I want to thank President Obama for his commitment to our strong alliance. He has repeatedly said that Israel must have the right to defend itself, by itself against all threats. I think that’s a very important statement.
It will follow us 360 degrees.
And on President Obama’s watch, defense, security and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel – this cooperation has reached new heights.

I want you to know that we can have different perspectives. I understand that the United States is a global power with global responsibilities. And President Obama understands that the Jewish state is a beleaguered democracy in a hostile region, threatened like no other country on earth. And though we have the different perspectives of a superpower and a regional power, most of the time and on most things, if not the major things, we see eye-to-eye because we share common values, because we’re anchored in deeply democratic societies, because there is a special bond between the people of Israel and the people of the United States of America. Sometimes we differ because we have these different perspectives. But we always share our views honestly, sincerely and respectfully. That’s what good friends do, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

Since President Obama’s historic visit to Israel, we have often spoken at length about the pressing issues of our times. I don’t know if there are any other two leaders in the world today who speak more frequently and more openly on such crucial matters. This communication serves both our countries well.

I also want to take this opportunity to praise Secretary John Kerry for his tireless efforts for peace. Tireless. I mean, this man doesn’t sleep. I spend so much time speaking or meeting with John Kerry that some of my cabinet colleagues are starting to get jealous. They complain that I only have time for him. Well John, you have my thanks and the thanks of the people of Israel for your dedication and your commitment to peace.

A moment ago I mentioned that the Middle East is going through unprecedented volatility, violence and instability. Out of all this uncertainty, one thing has become absolutely clear: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the source of the region’s problems. Today, for all but a few diehards, that reality has finally debunked that myth. The tragedy in Syria, the terrorism in Iraq, the nuclear weapons program in Iran, the instability in North Africa, the Shi’ite-Sunni conflict, the scourge of violent Islamic radicalism – none of these is rooted in our dispute with the Palestinians.

This is not to say that peace with the Palestinians is not important. It’s vital – first and foremost for Israel and the Palestinians. Achieving a genuine and enduring peace between us is a strategic goal of the State of Israel and of my government. I’ve made hard decisions to further peace negotiations. I’m willing to make even harder decisions to achieve peace.

I hope President Abbas also is willing to do so because peace can only be and must be a two-way street. I am ready for a historic compromise that ends the conflict between us once and for all. My willingness to make peace flies in the face of a second persistent myth – that peace has eluded us because Israel is not willing to demonstrate the necessary flexibility. That is not true. Under successive governments, Israel has demonstrated the flexibility and the willingness to make painful concessions. These will require discussing the issues of territory and settlements.

But the core of this conflict has never been borders and settlements. It is about one thing: The persistent refusal to accept the Jewish State in any border. The real key to peace is Palestinian recognition of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in this part of the world. This conflict didn’t begin because we denied the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own. We agreed to that in 1937 in the Zionist Movement’s response to the Peel Commission’s partition proposal. The Palestinians refused. We agreed to that again when we accepted the UN partition proposal in 1947 for a Jewish state next to a Palestinian state. The Palestinians again refused.

And in the 20 years since the Oslo accords, every time we’ve offered a
historic peace with a Palestinian state next to a Jewish state, the Palestinians still refused. Six successive Israeli Prime Ministers, myself included, have been ready for a historic compromise with the Palestinians. But it was never enough. Because all the Israeli proposals, all the Israeli concessions, were based on one premise: That the conflict would be over, that it would end and that there would be no further Palestinian national claims on the Jewish state. No right of return. No irredentist claims. No residual claims of any kind. And that the Palestinians have so far been unwilling to give.

So the question shouldn’t be, why does Israel make this demand? The question should be: why do the Palestinians consistently refuse to accept it? After all, we recognize that in peace there will be a nation-state for the Palestinian people. And surely we are entitled to expect them to do the same: to recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people.

And my friends, we’ve only been around here for 4,000 years – well, a little less, 3,700 years. We have to have the Palestinians come to grips with the fact that there is going to be a Jewish state, a Jewish nation-state here next to their state. It’s not too much to ask. It’s the minimal requirement for peace.

But it’s not the only requirement, because I don’t delude myself. I think that any kind of peace we’ll have is likely, initially at least, to be a cold peace. And it must withstand the forces of terrorism and the ravaging forces of radicalism and all the forces backed by Iran and others that will try to unravel the peace. And therefore any agreement that we make must enable us to protect the peace or conversely to protect Israel in case the peace unravels. That often happens in our region. So there must be iron-clad security arrangements to protect the peace, arrangements that allow Israel to defend itself by itself against any possible threats. And those security arrangements must be based on Israel’s own forces. There is no substitute for that.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our best efforts to reach Palestinian-Israeli peace will come to nothing if Iran succeeds in building atomic bombs. A nuclear-armed Iran would give even greater backing to the radical and terrorist elements in the region. It would undermine the chances of arriving at a negotiated peace. I would say it would undermine those peace agreements that we have already reached with two of our neighbors.
Just three days ago Iran’s representative to the U.N. reiterated the regime’s refusal to even recognize Israel. This came a fortnight after the ruler of Iran referred to Israel as a “rabid dog” and to us as not worthy of being called human. He said we were doomed to “failure and annihilation”. And earlier in November, Khamenei called Israel “an illegitimate and bastard regime”. So the Iranian regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons makes these remarks more than a simple matter of “sticks and stones”. People tend to discount rhetoric from rogue regimes, from radical regimes.

They said, well, it’s just talk, but talk has consequences. We’ve learned that in history, especially when the regime that makes these statements is actually building the capability to carry it out.
This same regime supplies its terrorist proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with thousands of rockets, rockets that are aimed at Israeli civilians, rockets that are precision-guided munitions that are increasingly lethal and deadly. This is a regime committed to our destruction. And I believe there must be an unequivocal demand alongside the negotiations in Geneva for a change in Iranian policy. This must be part and parcel of the negotiations. In other words, I’m saying that what is required is not merely a shift and a diminution of Iran’s capability and elimination of its capability to produce nuclear weapons, but also a demand to change its genocidal policy.

That is the minimal thing that the international community must do when it’s negotiating with Iran.

And as you all know, it’s not just about Israel. Iran continues to
trample the rights of its own people, to participate in the mass slaughter in Syria, to engage in terrorism across five continents and to destabilize regimes throughout the Middle East.

I don’t think I can overstate, I don’t think any of us can overstate the Iranian danger. So for the peace and security of the world, Iran must not be allowed to maintain the capability to produce nuclear weapons – not today and not tomorrow. The world must not allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear weapons state with the option to cross that threshold at a time of its choosing. Therefore, unlike the recent interim deal, any final deal must bring about the termination of Iran’s military nuclear capability.

I have expressed my concern since before Geneva that the sanctions would begin to unravel. I heard today that Iran’s president said that in fact the situation in Iran economically is already markedly improved since the accords were announced. They haven’t even been put in place yet. So steps must be taken to prevent further erosion of the sanctions. Because ultimately, the sanctions remain an essential element of the international effort to compel Iran to dismantle its nuclear military infrastructure: to take apart the centrifuges; to tear down the heavy water reactor; to eliminate the current stockpiles of enriched uranium; to cease the development of ballistic missiles and the work on weaponization, which by the way the Geneva agreement does not address.

None of these things that Iran insists it must have – none of them is necessary for a peaceful nuclear program.

So while Israel is prepared to do what is necessary to defend itself, we share President Obama’s preference to see Iran’s nuclear weapons program end through diplomacy. But for diplomacy to succeed, it must be coupled with powerful sanctions and a credible military threat.

Now let me repeat that: A diplomatic solution is better than a military option. But a military option is necessary for diplomacy to succeed, as are powerful sanctions.

We all agree that after a couple of years of tough sanctions, Iran finally began to negotiate seriously. Because of the pressure, what seemed impossible yesterday became possible today. We should not assume that more and tougher sanctions won’t lead to a better deal. What seems impossible today could become possible tomorrow.

My friends,

Preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability is the
paramount challenge of our generation because a nuclear-armed Iran would literally change the course of history.

It would threaten the peace and security of us all by arming the world’s most dangerous regime with the world’s most dangerous weapons. I think we’ve learned from history that regimes with unlimited appetites act out their fantasies and their made ideologies when they think they have the weapons of mass death or at least incalculable power.

That’s what usually happens. Such power in the hands of such regimes unleashes the worst ambitions. It’s not that they don’t have diplomats – they do. They have diplomats, some of them even wear ties. They might speak English and they might make PowerPoint presentations where in the past they just spoke English and they spoke reasonably well. But when the powers behind the throne, the power on the throne is committed to a radical ideology and pursues it and talks about it again and again and again, then I say: Beware. We’ve learned in our experience, the experience of the Jewish people, to take seriously those who speak about our annihilation, and we will do and I will do what is necessary to protect the Jewish state and the future of the Jewish people.

Our best efforts, mine and those of President Obama, have yet to achieve the desired results. The jury is still out. Iran is perilously close to crossing the nuclear threshold. History will judge all of us on whether we succeed or not in rising to meet this greatest of all challenges.

President Obama and others have called the United States the “indispensable nation”. I agree. I believe though that in meeting this supreme challenge, Israel and the United States form the indispensable alliance. We will continue to work together to strengthen that indispensable alliance for the sake of peace, security and our common future.

Thank you all and good luck.

Israel Political Brief December 6, 2011: Remarks on Israel by three U.S. officials Clinton, Panetta & Gutman spark furor among Jewish community

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Remarks on Israel by three U.S. officials spark furor

Source: JTA, 12-6-11

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke at the 2011 Saban Forum in Washington on Dec. 2, 2011. (Brookings Institution)
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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke at the 2011 Saban Forum in Washington on Dec. 2, 2011. (Brookings Institution)

The Obama administration is reaping a whirlwind of criticism in the wake of pointed remarks about Israel by several U.S. officials over three days.

The U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, caused an uproar when he suggested on Dec. 1 that hostility among European Arabs and Muslims toward Jews was rooted in anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and should be distinguished from traditional forms of anti-Semitism. Jewish groups condemned his remarks, which drew calls for his dismissal from Republican presidential front-runners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

The following day, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stirred controversy when he told an audience at the Saban Forum, an annual Washington conclave for American and Israeli policymakers, that Israel needs to “get to the damn table” to negotiate with the Palestinians and “mend fences” with its neighbors. The Anti-Defamation League expressed “surprise and dismay” at a speech that it said “disproportionately put the onus on Israel to overcome its isolation.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made waves a day later at the Saban Forum when she reportedly expressed some concerns about the state of Israeli democracy.

The confluence of controversies has added up to a headache for the Obama administration’s Jewish supporters and given fodder to its critics.

“This is the worst weekend we’ve had in a while,” said a Jewish Democratic activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, referring to the outcry over the remarks.

Each set of remarks share a common theme, said the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman.

They’re “putting all of the onus on Israel, and that’s with Panetta, with Hillary and with the ambassador,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve had a problem with this administration.”…READ MORE

Israel Political Brief December 4, 2011: Israeli lawmakers oppose Hillary Clinton’s criticisms of Israeli democracy at Saban Forum

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Clinton’s criticisms of Israeli democracy raise hackles

Source: JTA, 12-4-11

Israeli lawmakers rejected U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s criticisms of Israeli democracy made during a closed forum in Washington.

Clinton reportedly rapped two bills making their way through the Knesset that would restrict funding to left-leaning human rights organizations, as well as the marginalization of women in Israel, citing the examples of religious Israeli soldiers leaving programs that feature women singing and women sitting in the back of the bus on some religious bus lines.

She reportedly made the comments, which were reported in the Israeli media, during a closed session Saturday of the Saban Forum attended by American and Israeli political figures.

“Israel is a living, breathing liberal democracy,” Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said at the start of Israel’s weekly Cabinet meeting. “The issue of the exclusion of women and separation is unacceptable and must be stopped, but to claim there is a threat on Israeli democracy is a big stretch.”

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan called on “elected officials around the world [to] examine their domestic problems first.” He added, “I hope that government steps will demonstrate our commitment to equality between men and women.”

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