Obama’s Speech: Groups Split Along Predictable Lines


President Barack Obama’s call for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders with “mutually agreed swaps” in order to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza has split the American Jewish community along predictable lines: one right-wing group denounced Obama as the “most hostile president to Israel ever,” while centrist and left-wing groups commended him.

“We welcome President Obama’s compelling speech on the priorities for American policy in the Middle East,” said a statement from the Anti-Defamation League, a centrist group. “The administration has come a long way in two years in terms of understanding the nuances involved in bringing about Israeli-Palestinian peace and a better understanding of the realities and challenges confronting Israel.”

Another centrist organization, the American Jewish Committee, praised Obama for his call to the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and end its plans to ask the United Nations General Assembly in September to declare a Palestinian state unilaterally.

J Street, which calls itself the pro-peace, pro-Israel lobby, said it “wholeheartedly endorses the approach to resolving the conflict outlined by the president, namely to address borders and security first. This is an approach which J Street first advocated when negotiations stalled last year. He also clearly established that those borders must be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps — an essential component of the ad J Street ran this morning [Thursday] in The New York Times.”

A coalition of right-wing Jewish groups staged a demonstration in front of the Israeli Consulate here Friday to protest Obama’s call for Israel to “retreat to 1967 borders.” One of them, the Russian American Jewish Experience, noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the 1967 borders “militarily indefensible” and that the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban described them as “Auschwitz lines.”

The Zionist Organization of America, which also demonstrated, said Obama’s proposal “severely harmed Israel’s interests and America’s interests. … President Obama is the most hostile president to Israel ever.”

The National Council of Young Israel issued a statement saying Obama’s claim of a deep-rooted U.S.-Israel relationship “rings hollow in light of his absurd suggestion that Israel should negotiate with the Palestinians based on the pre-1967 borders.”

“At a time of great uncertainty in the Middle East, the president turned his back on Israel and disregarded its great security needs by proposing that Israel negotiate from its pre-1967 borders. … The president’s comments, coming on the heels of an accord between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terrorists will only embolden the Palestinians, making peace less likely.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center labeled Obama’s call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders as a basis for talks — even with land swaps — “a non-starter when at least half of the Palestinian rulers are committed to Israel’s destruction. … The road to peace has been clear for a long time — direct negotiations between parties who recognize each other’s legitimacy.”

The World Jewish Congress said Obama was sharply reversing “four decades of U.S. policy based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 … [that] unanimously called for Israel to have secure and recognized boundaries that were to be different from the indefensible pre-war 1967 lines.” It added that the borders Obama calls for “fail to provide Israel’s major cities with minimal territorial protection against possible Palestinian terrorist attack.”