WASHINGTON, May 31 (JTA) One of the more outspoken activists in the Jewish community is calling for the ouster of the U.S. national security adviser because of his comments about Palestinian violence being a “blessing” as well as a “curse.”
In a May 21 speech at Tel Aviv University, Samuel Berger was quoted as saying that clashes between Israelis and Palestinians are “both the curse and the blessing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the tragedy that awaits in the event of inaction also constitutes the greatest incentive for immediate action.”
Berger spoke as Palestinians were rioting in the West Bank.
Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said in a letter to Berger that his statement “could encourage Arab terrorists to believe that the United States condones their violence.”
Klein sent a letter to Berger demanding that he retract his statement and “unequivocally condemn” the violence.
The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs is also calling on Berger to be fired for his remarks. B’nai B’rith International has sent a letter to Berger expressing concern over the statement.
In response, Berger wrote to Klein that both the intent and the words of his speech were misinterpreted.
“My argument was that the proximity and interconnectedness between Israelis dictate that a solution to their conflict must be found,” Berger wrote.
“The two sides must move forward because standing still ultimately means sliding back into a far more serious confrontation.”
Berger also said he had made clear in the speech that “violence in unacceptable” and “fundamentally at odds with the peace process.”
Klein said he found Berger’s explanation “illogical” and said by not denying he made the remark about violence being a blessing, Berger in effect confirmed it.
If Berger does not retract his statement and apologize, Klein wants him fired.
“The Jewish people have suffered too much violence in this century and throughout our history to stand idly by while a government official suggests that violence against Jews can in any way be interpreted as a ‘blessing,'” Klein said.
Klein is well-known in the Jewish world for having launched campaigns some successful and some not against people in a variety of posts because of their views or statements on Israel.
Those who dislike Klein’s tactics have referred to Klein’s past campaigns as akin to McCarthyism and to Klein as the “thought police.”
Klein unsuccessfully sought to oust Joseph Zogby from the State Department, because he wrote at least two articles critical of Israel before he was hired by Martin Indyk, then U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.
Another campaign was aimed at John Roth, who was to run a center at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, but was criticized by Klein and others for having written an article that compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews.
Roth eventually resigned from his post at the Holocaust museum before he took office.
Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he had no problem with Berger’s statement and that if Klein is unhappy then he should challenge or criticize the statement.
But to call for Berger’s resignation is “crossing the line,” Foxman said.
“Mr. Klein has made this his trademark,” Foxman said. “It’s not enough to disagree.”
Foxman and Klein have had many public disputes in the past.