I am personally outraged and offended by Phillip Friedman's irresponsible diatribe against the National Jewish Democratic Council. The basic thrust of his calumnious charges is that the NJDC has placed narrow partisan considerations ahead of vital Jewish community interests.
As a founder of NJDC and active participant in every policy decision throughout its existence, I deeply resent Friedman's allegations. I will rest on the record of my decades of service to the community to support this admittedly self-serving comment:
I would never be, and will never be, willing to subordinate Jewish interests to Democratic Party interests. And I submit that this is true of NJDC as such.
On the issue of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel, the NJDC had a tough call to make. On the substance of the issue, it really wasn't that difficult. Anyone at all familiar with the current Israeli scene (as Friedman and I discussed at some length after he sent me a copy of his NJDC resignation letter) has known that the Israeli government never sought nor endorsed the initiative to move the embassy by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.).
It has been the NJDC's judgment — despite the obvious desirability of the earliest possible move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — that the Dole legislation could become a serious obstacle to advancing the peace process. Israel — and in my judgment, most American Jewish officials — felt that no action was needed beyond the Moynihan-D'Amato letter signed by 93 senators that called for the embassy move by 1999, after the final status negotiations would be over. This is a letter Dole himself signed.
The call about how to react to the Dole move was more difficult. But after discussions with our board and with key individuals, NJDC decided it had an obligation to do its part to expose the cynical and dangerous game that Dole was playing — a cheap, political game that could hurt the peace process.
What greater priority is there today for American Jews than to support the peace process? No simplistic, emotional evocations by Friedman about the meaning of Jerusalem can justify support for disruptive legislative initiatives — unless he is indeed one of those who seek to disrupt the peace process.
I helped draft the NJDC criticism of Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). We stressed our firm support for the move of the embassy by no later than 1999. We felt it was not only our right, but our responsibility, to do two things:
First, to warn about the threat to the peace process, and second, to block an obvious Republican effort to distort the magnificent pro-Israel record of the Clinton administration.
We saw absolutely no conflict between our Jewish responsibilities and our political interests.
Our record on this latter point is a proud one. On a number of occasions — some publicly, some privately — NJDC has expressed disagreement or serious concerns with Clinton administration actions or statements when we sensed conflict with Jewish interests.
There was major media coverage, for example, of our public expressions of concern over an early Clinton statement that could be interpreted as a weakening of church-state separation. We thus contributed to subsequent clarifications by the president.
Statements pertaining to Haiti, Bosnia and foreign aid, among other issues, helped shape administration policies. I know from first-hand involvement how direct and tough our chairman, Monte Friedkin, and our outgoing executive director, Steve Gutow, have been in their dealings with administration officials, including the president and vice president, and with congressional leaders.
So I hope it can be understood how angry I was to read Friedman's allegation that NJDC would abandon Jewish interests "to reserve its next dinner reservations to the White House." Shame!
Four out of five American Jews continue to prefer the Democratic Party over the Republican Party. NJDC serves two purposes in such a situation: to inform and encourage Jewish voters to participate in the political process and to use its influence at every level to assure that the Democratic Party continues to deserve this level of Jewish support.
To help us take the right actions to achieve these ends, we poll our membership frequently. We have the wisdom and experience of a national board that consists of scores of major American Jewish leaders who have held top positions in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, United Jewish Appeal and other major Jewish agencies, and a national advisory council of eminent Jewish figures that I am privileged to chair.
Friedman has every right to disagree with us on a particular issue. But he cannot go unchallenged when his disappointment on such an issue takes the form of reckless slander.