A congressional letter by Reps. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and Steve Austria (R-Ohio) went out to President Obama last week urging him to press the Palestinian Authority to end “all … incitement” against Israelis and to return to the negotiating table for peace talks. A similar letter, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was signed by 27 senators, including Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).Rothman also met last week with the directors of missile defense programs for both the United States and Israel.
Forty-six members of Congress signed on to the Rothman/Austria letter, a draft of which was circulated (and reported on in this newspaper) two weeks ago. The letter cited a report recently released by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, called “Culture of Peace and Incitement Index,” that describes anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian schools and on Palestinian Authority television.
The letter was distributed to two panels that play a key role in Israeli-Palestinian affairs: the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee. Large majorities of both groups signed on to the letter.
“I was delighted the majority of the two committees we sought signatures from and who have the primary jurisdiction over U.S. foreign aid and foreign policy in the house signed on to our letter,” Rothman told The Jewish Standard in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Getting the majority of those two committees to sign on to a letter of this type is highly unusual and certainly should get the attention of the Palestinians.”
Regarding the letter, Rep. Austria issued the following statement: “The United States plays a vital role of encouraging direct peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Our letter insists that President Obama urge President Abbas to reenter peace talks, without preconditions, in an effort to accomplish our shared goal: a peaceful and secure Jewish State of Israel.”
Signatories to Rothman and Austria’s letter included an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee (five of each) as well as 18 Republicans and 12 Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Some members of Congress considered to be on the liberal side of the Democratic spectrum, such as Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), signed on.
“It’s not a liberal or conservative issue – everyone is against Palestinian incitement,” said an aide familiar with efforts to enlist signatories, adding that Rothman and Austria’s effort pinpointed the two committees “that oversee the policy and money the PA cares about.”
“The majority was composed of both Democrats and Republicans and I was very pleased and proud of that fact but not surprised,” said Rothman. “Level-headed pro-Israel support comes from members of both parties.”
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who also signed on to the letter, shared his assessment with the Standard. “Too often it seems the thrust of everything is blaming Israel for settlements, and I think that’s absurd….If you want peace you don’t perpetuate lies and incitement and that’s what they keep doing…. We need to be firm with the Palestinians about it.”
The senators’ letter, which chronicled anti-Israel incitement on the part of the Palestinian Authority, said, “The Itamar massacre was a sobering reminder that words matter, and that Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel can lead to violence and terror. We urge you to redouble your efforts to impress upon the Palestinian leadership that continuing to condone incitement is not tolerable. We also urge you to consider focusing adequate training and educational programs in the west bank and Gaza that promote peaceful coexistence with Israel.”
Specific examples of incitement mentioned in the senators’ letter include a March 9 speech by an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas that called for Palestinian weapons to be turned toward Israel and a Feb. 9 broadcast on the official Palestinian television station extolling Dalal Mughrabi, a woman who along with several other Palestinians perpetrated a coastal highway massacre of Israeli civilians, including children. The letter also mentioned that “in the summer of 2010, several summer camps were named after her.”
Also on the Israel front, Rothman met separately last week with U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly and with Arieh Herzog, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, to discuss joint U.S.-Israel defense projects.
“I have worked with these distinguished gentlemen for several years now both individually and jointly,” he told the Standard, “in order to increase levels of funding for Israel-U.S. missile defense projects which should greatly benefit the national security of both the U.S. and the State of Israel.” He added that subjects discussed included “the status of various missile defense projects of each country.”
|U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly and Arieh Herzog, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, met with Congressman Steve Rothman to discuss anti-missile system development programs. courtesy of Rep. Rothman’s office|