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Dovish U.S. Jewish Groups Call for Appointment of a Middle East Envoy

September 8, 2004
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Left-leaning American Jews and Jewish groups are asking the next president, whoever he may be, to make resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority. “As American Jews who strongly support Israel, we call on you to commit our nation to vigorous and persistent engagement in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” states the letter, whose lead signatories include Americans for Peace Now, Meretz USA, actor Theodore Bikel and feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

“We ask that within the first hundred days of your administration you appoint an internationally respected envoy at the highest level to signal your intentions to pursue full implementation of the disengagement plan and a renewal of negotiations leading to a final status accord.”

Timed for the homestretch of the presidential campaign, the “Open Letter Campaign” runs through Nov. 2 — election day — and is based on the notion that U.S. engagement is cr! itical for bringing peace to Israelis and Palestinians.

The argument has broad appeal for American Jews, says Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“I think most mainstream American Jews want to see movement toward peace, and it’s not going to happen without an increased sustained engagement by the U.S.” she said.

The initiative comes as many American Jews have become more hawkish since the Palestinian intifada began four years ago. Many laud President Bush for supporting Israel during tough times and for marginalizing Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

But the petition offers another voice from the community — a plea for the United States to bring the parties back to the negotiating table to end the conflict.

“There is a different center of gravity in the American Jewish mind and heart than is often perceived by political and diplomatic leaders,” said Stephen P. Cohen, a signatory to the petition and nati! onal scholar for the Israel Policy Forum, a group that seeks heightene d U.S. involvement in the peace process.

Cohen said the petition was driven by a perception among politicians that the American Jewish community is “an obstacle” to U.S. peace initiatives in the Middle East.

“We want the new president to know that there is a strong view among a wide variety of Jews that the best thing for Israel and for the United States is to make a serious attempt at trying to solve this problem and not letting it languish,” he said.

Some Jewish officials noted that the Bush administration already has sent various envoys to the Middle East, but they weren’t able to get a peace process on track.

At least one American Jewish official was angered by the petition.

“I think it’s wrong for these left-wing groups who were all wrong about Oslo and Arafat to demand American pressure” for steps the Israeli government hasn’t approved, said Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, which believes that peace commitments mu! st be kept.

“What planet is Stephen Cohen living on? We’ve had a four-year Arab terror war murdering over 1,000 Jews, and Cohen is still talking about negotiating with these people?”

Furthermore, Klein noted, the United States already “is intimately involved in pressuring Israel to make more concessions” and “has forced Israel to accept the ‘road map,’ ” a peace plan devised by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.

But Cohen says the past four years have shown that the issue is “far from the top” of America’s foreign policy priorities.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, past president of Americans for Peace Now and founder of Ms. magazine, agreed.

“I feel that the American interest in the region is such that it justifies that sort of intervention — not pressure, but support, encouragement and urgency,” she said. “It’s been proven time and time again that the two parties can’t really make any progress without some sort of a sounding board! .”

Other Jewish organizations signing the petition include Brit Tze dek V’Shalom, Habonim Dror and the Labor Zionist Alliance.

Individuals include Ted Mann, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, former vice president of the World Jewish Congress; Rabbi Amy Small, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly; and Yossi Abramowitz, publisher of Sh’ma Magazine.

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