NEW YORK (Jul. 5)
A vice president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been forced to resign after calling Israel’s deputy foreign minister a “slimeball.”
Harvey Friedman, a Florida businessman, was forced to step down from the post last Thursday after his slur against Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin was published in The Washington Jewish Week.
The incident is the latest of a series of embarrassments for the influential pro-Israel lobby.
It comes on the heels of the June 28 resignation of Thomas Dine, AIPAC’s widely respected executive director, who agreed to step down after making remarks about Orthodox Jews that were seen as derogatory.
It also highlights what some have seen as a distinct reluctance by some American Jewish communal leaders to accept the present Israeli government’s policies on the peace process, specifically its willingness to exchange land for peace.
The controversy surrounding Friedman’s remarks began last month, when he accompanied three members of the U.S. Congress on a visit to Israel. During the trip, Friedman accused Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of “chutzpah.”
The story, as reported widely in the Israeli press, based on sources close to Beilin, was that Friedman had spoken out against any potential territorial concessions planned by Rabin in the course of the peace talks.
“Where does Rabin get the chutzpah to give up territory?” Friedman was quoted as saying.
The Israeli government lodged a formal protest with AIPAC, which as a rule does not take positions on Israeli government policies. AIPAC responded with a public apology, disassociating itself from Friedman’s comment.
But in an interview last week with Washington Jewish Week reporter Larry Cohler, Friedman insisted he had charged Rabin with “chutzpah” not because of his general willingness to make territorial concessions, but because Rabin had broken what he said was an election promise made to settlers on the Golan Heights, that he would not give up one inch of the strategic plateau.
HARMFUL TO U.S.-ISRAEL RELATIONSHIP
In the same interview, Friedman gave his account of what Beilin had told the congressional delegation at the beginning of the disputed meeting.
He said Beilin had declared that Israel “is prepared to retreat to the pre-1967 borders — with the exception of Jerusalem — for a lasting peace.”
This was dismissed as a “gross misquote” by an aide to Beilin who was present at the meeting. The aide told The Washington Jewish Week that Israel had offered to negotiate “on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”
When asked by the paper to comment on this account of the meeting, Friedman responded: “This little slimeball can say he didn’t say it, but three congressmen will affirm that it’s just what he said.”
One of the congressmen, reached by the Washington Jewish Week, could not recall Beilin’s exact words; the other two were unavailable for comment.
In any case, upon hearing of Friedman’s broadside against Beilin, AIPAC President Steven Grossman demanded, and received, Friedman’s resignation.
“There are standards of leadership that must be maintained at the highest level of any institution, both volunteer and professional,” Grossman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
He said that Friedman’s earlier statements had aroused the “consternation” of the AIPAC officers, and that he had raised the issue with Friedman just last week.
Friedman’s departure could cost AIPAC dearly. Sources say he had been responsible for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the lobby.
But in Jerusalem, Beilin praised Grossman’s move, saying that men such as Friedman should not be representing AIPAC.
Remarks such as Friedman’s original outburst against Rabin “harm the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the deputy foreign minister said in a radio interview Sunday morning.
“Anyone who is interested in strengthening the relationship, and who believes this is an American interest, must understand that it is important that people like Friedman not stand among the leadership of AIPAC,” he added.
Beilin, who comes from the dovish side of Israel’s ruling Labor Party, also complained that Israeli leaders “from the prime minister to the most junior deputy minister” are finding themselves “having to justify their desire to make peace with the Arabs” in the face of views such as those expressed by Friedman.
AIPAC officials point out that the lobby has been actively supporting the peace process and that it has organized an effort to educate politicians, the American Jewish leadership and the American public generally about the negotiations.