WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration appears to be rebuffing calls from some Jewish groups for the United States to be more assertive and public in defending Israel regarding the flotilla incident.
The bluntest appeal for a more pronounced pro-Israel posture came from Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, who is in Israel meeting with the Israeli leadership.
"The U.S. should reiterate its support and understanding for Israel, that as a sovereign and democratic nation it has the right to act on behalf of its national security and express its confidence that Israel can conduct its own investigation into the matter without the intrusion of international bodies," Foxman told JTA.
Israeli commandos seizing control of the main boat in a Gaza aid flotilla clashed Monday before dawn with some of its passengers, and killed nine, among them at least four Turkish nationals. Six Israeli soldiers were wounded in the melee. Commandos seized control of five smaller boats without incident.
The United States has beaten back the sharpest condemnations. It watered down a U.N. Security Council statement so that it condemned the "acts" that led to the deaths, making ambiguous whether the Israelis or the passengers escalated the conflict into violence, and joined the Netherlands on Wednesday in voting against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israel.
In its statements supporting an inquiry into the matter, the U.S. has said that Israel should conduct the probe, implicitly rebuffing demands elsewhere for an international inquiry.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee acknowledged the Obama administration’s bulwark against the tougher demands for Israel’s isolation, but made clear it wanted more.
"It would have been preferable if the U.N. and Obama administration had blocked any action implying criticism of Israel for defending itself," AIPAC said in a memo. "Nonetheless, intervention by the United States prevented passage of a Security Council resolution condemning Israel. The administration continues to express its confidence in Israel’s ability to conduct its own investigation of the incident despite calls for an international inquiry."
AIPAC also insisted that “the United States must now maintain its longstanding position not to allow the Security Council and other U.N. organs such as the U.N. Human Rights Council to exploit unfortunate incidents by passing biased, anti-Israel resolutions that obscure the truth and accomplish nothing."
Had AIPAC been certain that the United States was committed to blocking such resolutions down the line, the pro-Israel lobby likely would not have made the recommendation.
No such certainty appears in the offing: Statements from Obama administration officials suggest that they are withholding judgment until the facts become clearer, and that meanwhile, the White House wants to see an easing of the blockade that triggered the aid flotilla.
A White House statement describing Obama’s call with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan said the U.S. president "affirmed the United States position in support of a credible, impartial and transparent investigation of the facts surrounding this tragedy. The president affirmed the importance of finding better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel’s security."
Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip partly to keep the Hamas terrorist organization, which controls the strip, from receiving arms — an effort Hamas has junked by running weapons through tunnels into Egypt. But another aim was to weaken Hamas politically among Palestinians.
Top White House officials met for hours Tuesday with Uzi Arad, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top security adviser, and Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, and made clear to them that the United States sees the blockade as unsustainable.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration was in wait-and-see mode.
"The Security Council, the statement that I read, calls for an investigation that is prompt, impartial, credible and transparent, conforming to international standards of exactly what happened," he said after several prompts at Tuesday’s briefing. "And we’re obviously supportive of that."
Foxman told JTA that considerations of an investigation and of the wisdom of using commandos to carry out a police action — keeping the flotilla from docking in Gaza — were beside the point.
"Was there a better way to do this? That’s all interesting, but that’s not what this is about," he said. "There is bloodshed all over the world, there are people killing people all over the world in deliberate hatred, and nobody is calling for investigations. At the very least the USA should stand with Israel."
Such statements of solidarity have been pouring out of Congress, from Republicans and Democrats. GOP figures already are firing at Obama for not pronouncing himself more firmly on Israel’s side.
"Would the U.S. in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase ‘join the jackals?’ " at the United Nations, Elliott Abrams wrote on the Weekly Standard’s website, referring to the steadfastly pro-Israel Reagan-era ambassador to the United Nations.
"This week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone," continued Abrams, who as deputy national security adviser helped lead the second Bush administration’s failed efforts to arrive at a peace agreement. "It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a ‘President’s Statement’ on behalf of the Council, for such a statement requires unanimity. The United States can just say ‘No,’ and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed."
Hadar Susskind, the policy and strategy director for J Street, which has called for an independent Israeli inquiry into the incident, said such a posture would be counterproductive.
"It’s the same question, ‘How can you make the Israelis the bad guys or say that the people on the ship were good guys?’ " he said. "It’s not a comic book. They were not good guys, they attacked Israeli soldiers with a pipe and tried to killed them. But that doesn’t mean the Israeli government made good decisions. It’s not our role to decide each time the good guys and bad guys."
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