NEW YORK – While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has every right to warn US Jews of the perceived dangers in the newly signed nuclear agreement with Iran, his bombastic approach to the American political process is making some of his co-religionists uncomfortable, a senior community leader said Thursday.
“I think that Israeli officials should make the case, on the content, on the substance, and we will do the good job of translating it into activity,” Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations, said in a briefing for members of the Israeli Diplomatic Correspondents Association.
Netanyahu can indeed address American Jews on the deal, which the prime minister perceives as existential danger to the Jewish state, said Hoenlein, one of the Jewish world’s most influential leaders. But, he said, there exists some unease in the American Jewish community about the Israeli prime minister’s aggressive campaign to encourage them to actively lobby Congress to reject the deal.
“I want to be clear: I think Netanyahu has the right to say to American Jews, you have to understand the seriousness of this issue,” Hoenlein said. “He has the right, and by his assessment and everything we know, maybe the obligation to reach out.”
US lawmakers are going to vote on a deal that be believes poses a danger to Israel, and Netanyahu must therefore address the American people, Hoenlein said.
However, Hoenlein acknowledged “discomfort” among American Jews regarding Netanyahu’s aggressive outreach, which some perceive as him pitting them against their government. As a rule, Jerusalem should not get involved in American politics, he said, but the Iran deal is an exception, he acknowledged.
“Israeli governments should not be telling American Jews what to do vis-à-vis their governments. And we shouldn’t be telling Israelis what they should do vis-à-vis their government,” Hoenlein said. “But this is unique. We haven’t had an issue like this in decades of such significance.”
On Tuesday, Netanyahu had urged American Jews to “stand up and be counted.” In a videoconference co-sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and Hoenlein’s Conference of Presidents, the prime minister asked his audience to “rise above partisan politics” and speak out. “Oppose this dangerous deal,” he demanded.
US President Barack Obama, in a speech Hoenlein characterized as “very troubling,” said Wednesday that Israel was the only country in the world to publicly oppose the deal, pointing out that that the United Nations Security Council unanimously endorsed it.
On Thursday, the US State Department issued a statement saying that the 10 member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations and Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand “welcomed” the Iran deal on the occasion of an international summit in Malaysia.