U.S. Jewish Group Criticizes Choice of Election Day in Israel

At least one American Jewish organization is not pleased with the date set for Israeli elections.

“A delay of five months seems sadly unresponsive to the urgent needs of this moment,” Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said Tuesday after the Israel’s two major parties agreed that May 17 would be Election Day.

“It is especially troubling that we are told that the peace process must come to a halt during this period — bringing with it a host of negative consequences, including the effect on world opinion in the United States, Arab countries and elsewhere,” Baum said in a statement.

American Jewish leaders are usually tight-lipped when it comes to publicly questioning Israeli political maneuvers, and in a telephone interview Baum said the statement was not intended as “severe criticism of anybody,” but rather “musing of what we think is an unconsidered decision.”

He said the decision to set a lengthy campaign period, which might last through June should runoff elections be necessary, was “not cognizant” of some of the “ramifications of that longer period.”

“The danger is that the world, however unjustifiably, may perceive Israel as maneuvering to put the peace process on hold during a period which encompasses and passes the May 4 date,” the statement explained, referring to the date set in the Oslo accords as the end of the interim period for final-status negotiations, and the date the Palestinians have said they intend to declare statehood.

Baum told JTA, however, that if the momentum of the peace process is in fact not lost, “it will alleviate some of our concern.”

Recognizing the AJCongress’ statement as “an expression of concern,” Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, “I think we’re all concerned about the effects of the interim period on Israel’s domestic and international concerns.”

Hoenlein said he was confident that the Israeli political scene would “sort itself out” in time and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would stand by his commitment to go ahead with the Wye River peace agreement.

Ambassador Shmuel Sisso, Israel’s consul general in New York, said the peace process would not be frozen so long as the Palestinians comply with Israeli demands, including the confiscation of illegal weapons, the downsizing of the Palestinian Authority’s police force and the renunciation of plans to declare statehood outside of negotiations with Israel.

Responding directly to the AJCongress’ statement, Sisso said only that “May 17 was a date determined by the Israeli democratic process by the parties themselves.”

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