Obama’s Passover shadowed by criticism from Israel group
The Israel Project, an organization that backs Israel
through direct engagement with the media, said the administration has not done
enough to engage in rapprochement with Israel to ease tensions between the two
The group has urged its supporters to write members of
Congress in a fundraising e-mail and launched a television ad campaign in the
Washington, D.C. area.
“There are still some substantive issues that need to be
addressed and we still have some concerns,” Jennifer Mizrahi, president of The
Israel Project, said in a phone interview.
President Barack Obama was widely seen as snubbing Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyhau during the latter’s visit to Washington last week.
Netanyahu’s visit to the White House included neither a
press conference nor a photo opportunity, which usually occur when a foreign
head of state visits America.
Obama also reportedly left his meeting with Netanyahu to eat dinner in private,
something viewed as a major snub in Israel.
“The prime minister leaves America disgraced, isolated and altogether weaker
than when he came,” the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, which leans to the
left, wrote last week.
Obama was upset over Israel’s announcement earlier this
month that it was constructing new settlements in East Jerusalem, which Israel
claims as part of its capital but the Palestinians want as a capital city for a
future state. The announcement was made during a visit to Israel by Vice
President Joe Biden.
The timing reportedly angered Obama, who saw it as a slap against his
administration. In order to restart stalled peace negotiations between the
Israelis and Palestinians, the U.S. has requested that Israel put a blanket
freeze on settlement construction in Palestinian territories.
The historic diplomatic tiff has spilled over into the Passover holiday, which
begins Monday night. President Barack Obama and some members of his staff will
also participate in a traditional Passover meal, called a “Seder,” at
the White House Monday night.
On Passover, Jews commemorate the ancient Israelites’ exodus
from slavery in Egypt to freedom in what is now Israel.
The Israel Project’s fundraising is a norm for Passover, when many Jewish and
pro-Israel groups schedule public campaigns. But the timing was also notable
because of the tiff between Obama and Netanyahu, who is scheduled to return to
the United States on April 12.
Mizrahi said that the U.S. had placed almost the entire onus
on the Israelis for announcing the new settlements but said that the government
failed to put enough pressure on the Palestinians for dedicating a public square to Dalal
Mughrabi, a Palestinian who killed 37 people in a 1978 terrorist attack.
“We believe there should be a fairer [sic] pressure of the parties,” she said,
especially when it comes to condemning the “Palestinian culture of hate.”
Obama and Biden have both said that the U.S. stands behind the Israel’s
At the same time, Mizrahi called the settlement announcement “very
regrettable” but that “nobody was looking to embarrass the vice
To underscore the heightened nature of the dispute, Mizrahi said she will meet
with “high-ranking” administration officials to discuss her concerns before
Mizrahi said the group’s television ads will run on cable networks such as CNN,
Fox News and MSNBC in the Washington area at least 500 times and will likely be
expanded once donations flow in. She said that cost of the ad buy is
“significant” but would not discuss specifics.
Netanyahu on Monday sought to downplay suggestions of new
tensions with the U.S.
“The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is one between allies and
friends, and it’s a relationship based on years of tradition,” he said,
according to The Associated Press. “Even if there are disagreements, these are
disagreements between friends, and that’s how they will stay.”
Administration officials have publicly echoed Netanyhau’s words.
Netanyahu previously has insisted a local municipal government made the
announcement, and that it was without his knowledge. He later apologized for
The issue is a tough one for the Israeli prime minister, whose fragile
governing coalition is partially held together by right-wing political parties
that favor settlement expansion.
When she meets with the White House, Mizrahi said bluntly she would relay the
position of Netanyahu’s coalition.
“We want to be sure that the administration understands that the
unprecedented freeze in the West Bank [is tough for the Israelis],” she
said adding that her group does “not consider the East Jerusalem, the
capital, to be a settlement.”
Palestinians say that Israel is continuing to build settlements on land in land
they consider theirs and want to use to build a future state.