WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israel’s announcement of new housing starts during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit was a "disaster," Abraham Foxman said in a rare rebuke.
"Whatever the motivation and whoever the responsible party, it is the government of Israel that justifiably is held accountable for converting an optimal moment in U.S.-Israel relations into a moment of crisis," Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, wrote in a post on the liberal Huffington Post Web site. "The crucial point is that the government had an obligation to anticipate what might go wrong during the vice president’s visit and to give firm instruction to all cabinet members about avoiding such pitfalls, particularly on the subjects of settlements and East Jerusalem."
Mainstream U.S. Jewish groups usually refrain from criticism of Israel on peace process issues. The ADL has condemned examples of hate rhetoric by Israeli officials, but tends to refrain from critiquing defense and diplomacy decisions.
Biden strongly rebuked Israel for announcing plans to build 1,600 units in disputed eastern Jerusalem during his visit, which was aimed in part at reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the timing, and said he was not aware of the plans by the relevant planning committee to make the announcement.
The Biden trip also was aimed at assuaging Israeli concerns about the Obama administration’s outreach to the Muslim world. Foxman said administration anger was "understandable," but advised the sides to step back and salvage the moment.
He praised Biden for going ahead with a speech that lauded Israel and recognized its Jewish significance, but chided the vice president for reportedly rebuking Netanyahu in private by saying that the announcement endangered U.S. troops in the region.
"This is the kind of rhetoric that does exactly what Mr. Biden has studiously avoided doing, linking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to America’s larger Middle East challenges, and it unnecessarily calls into question Israel’s role as an ally and the impact on American interests," Foxman wrote.