AIPAC-backed letter garners 71 signatures

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Seventy-one U.S. senators signed an AIPAC-backed letter to President Obama supporting his effort to encourage Arab states to normalize relations with Israel.

The letter, circulated by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and James Risch (R-Idaho), says that "over the past few months Israel has taken concrete measures to reaffirm its commitment to advancing the peace process," such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backing a two-state solution and removing roadblocks and other measures to "improve the daily lives of Palestinians."

"We encourage Arab leaders to take similar tangible steps to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process," the senators write. "Such steps could include ending the Arab League boycott of Israel, meeting openly with Israeli officials, establishing open trade relations with Israel, issuing visas to Israeli citizens, and inviting Israelis to participate in academic and professional conferences and sporting events. We also believe that Arab states must immediately and permanently end official propaganda campaigns which demonize Israel and Jews."

Americans for Peace Now and other left-wing Jewish groups, including J Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, had urged senators not to sign the letter unless the language was amended to include mention of steps that all parties in the Middle East need to take toward peace — especially Israel’s need to stop settlement construction.

APN said that "the subtext of the letter directly contradicts and undermines the efforts" of the Obama administration "to promote Middle East peace" and "sends a message that the signers consider settlements more important than peace."

Only six of the 13 Jewish senators signed the missive — Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

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