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Berkley, ADL push back on U.S. criticism of Israel

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A Republican leader, a Democratic Jewish congresswoman and the Anti-Defamation League pushed back against the Obama administration’s continuing rebukes of Israel for its building announcement last week.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and the ADL described the State Department’s tough criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an "overreaction" — Berkley said it was an "irresponsible overreaction" and the ADL said it was a "gross overreaction."

A spokesman for Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the U.S. House of Representatives minority leader, told Commentary magazine that "the tone and substance we are seeing emerge as a pattern for this Administration are both disappointing and of great concern."

The controversy, which shows no sign of abating, started last week when a planning committee announced plans for 1,600 new housing units in disputed eastern Jerusalem during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden aimed at reassuring Israelis of the Obama administration’s unflagging support. Biden delivered his speech lauding the U.S.-Israel relationship as planned, but tempered it with condemnation of the housing starts.

Netanyahu apologized for the announcement’s timing, saying he was not aware of it before it occurred.

Israeli officials thought that put the matter to rest, but last Friday, P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, opened the daily press briefing with an unprompted and unusually blunt rebuke of Israel. He said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had spoken to Netanyahu for 45 minutes to say that "the United States considers the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the Vice President’s trip; and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process, and in America’s interests."

In separate interviews on CNN and NBC, Clinton said the announcement was "insulting" and that although she accepted Netanyahu’s explanation that he was blindsided, he bore responsibility as the head of government.

Clinton’s remarks came just a day after it was announced that she would be speaking later this month in Washington at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The remarks led ADL National Director Abraham Foxman to rush out a statement that he was "shocked and stunned" at the tone of the remarks.

"It is especially troubling that this harsh statement came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly and privately explained to Vice President Biden the bureaucratic nature in making the announcement of proposed new building in Jerusalem, and Biden accepted the prime minister’s apology for it," Foxman said. "Therefore, to raise the issue again in this way is a gross overreaction to a point of policy difference among friends."

Foxman had delivered his own rare rebuke of Israel earlier in the week, saying the housing announcement was a "disaster" but urging the United States to "step back" now that Israel had apologized and to press forward with renewing peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu on Saturday announced the launch of a probe into how the announcement was made without his knowledge.

Berkley, perhaps the most unyielding pro-Israel stalwart among Democrats in the House of Representatives, said the rebukes suggested a pro-Palestinian bias by the administration.

"Where, I ask, was the administration’s outrage over the arrest and monthlong incarceration by Hamas of a British journalist who was investigating arms smuggling into Gaza?" she asked. "Where was the outrage when the Palestinian Authority this week named a town square after a woman who helped carry out a massive terror attack against Israel? It has been the PA who has refused to participate in talks for over a year, not the government of Israel. Yet once again, no concern was lodged by the administration."

The Obama administration routinely condemns Hamas terrorism and has chided the Palestinian Authority for dragging its feet on talks. It has not pronounced on the naming of the square after a Dalal Mughrabi, a woman who died leading a 1978 terrorist attack that killed 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children. The Palestinian Authority postponed the dedication until after Biden left to avoid embarrassing him.

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