JCPA official Raffel assesses U.S.-Israel concerns

Martin Raffel JCPA

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

An expert on Israel and the Middle East says he is hopeful that face-to-face talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be announced soon and that the campaign to de-legitimize Israel through boycotts, divestments and sanctions requires a strong, coordinated response from the Jewish community and its allies in the United States.

Martin Raffel, who serves as associate executive vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), was in St. Louis last week to share his views on a wide variety of subjects, including U.S.-Israel relations, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Raffel addressed about 60 people who attended a meeting of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) at Shaare Zedek Synagogue in University City.

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Raffel began his remarks by discussing the relationship between the administration of President Barack Obama and Israel.

“Assessments of Obama and Israel can be grouped into three and possibly four camps,” he said. “The first camp is made up of people who say that Obama is anti-Israel or not a friend of Israel. Most – if not all – of this group did not vote for him.

“The second group includes those who believe that the policies of his administration are a threat to Israel’s security, and others who are nervous or skeptical about his policies. A third group believes Obama’s policies are exactly what they should be towards Israel. Perhaps there is a fourth group of people who voted for Obama, but who now believe his policies are negative. I have not met anybody who say they did not vote for Obama but now believe his policies are just great.”

Stressing that he was not going to sort out the various views on Obama’s policies, Raffel took note of the fact that recent polls show Israel’s popularity in America is at the highest it has been since 1991, when Iraq was firing SCUD missiles into Israel during the first Persian Gulf War.

“U.S.-Israel cooperation continues to be positive and growing,” he said, noting support for an anti-missile defense system in Israel, joint military exercises and frequent visits to Israel by the chairman and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He added that the fourth and most recent visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Obama in the White House “was by far Netanyahu’s best one. While previous visits had been low-key, this one was warm and cordial and there were joint appearances, statements and photo-ops. The atmosphere, including the meetings between the first ladies was very positive.”

Raffel said that Obama made “a very strong and important statement assuring Israel that it would not pressure the Jewish State into having to change its long-standing ambiguous public policy on nuclear weapons as part of a document the administration signed calling for a goal of a nuclear-free Middle East.

“The President’s statement assures Israel that the U.S. understands its unique status in the Middle East, and that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security needs would remain ‘unwavering,’ and that the U.S. would never ask Israel to take risks with its security,” he said.

Regarding the threat of Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, Raffel noted that while both the U.S. and Israel have great concerns about this, there is a difference. “Israel regards a nuclear Iran as an existential threat,” he said.

Raffel said the sanctions bill passed by Congress and signed by the Obama, and the recent U.N. Security Council Resolution, along with sanctions adopted by the European Union against doing business with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards “are having a very strong effect on Iran’s economy at a time when the hold of the regime is still threatened by protests of last June’s presidential elections.”

On other subjects, Raffel said he had reason to believe that direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) headed by Mahmoud Abbas “could be announced as early as next week.” He said that this would be welcomed by Israel as a return to the format of previous talks between the Jewish State and the P.A. He said he expected the talks to be complex and difficult, but they could result in agreement on key issues if both parties show good will.

On all of the issues he discussed, Raffel stressed the importance of the work done by local JCRCs like the one in St. Louis, which he called “a flagship JCRC.” The diverse coalitions the JCRC forms with people from different ethnic groups and religions as well as academics, business and professional leaders are especially important in responding to issues like the threat of a nuclear Iran or the efforts to delegitimize Israel through boycotts, divestments and sanctions, he said.

Several attendees gave Raffel high marks for his talk. “Martin Raffel has a remarkable ability to synthesize a number of complex issues affecting the Middle East, including concerns over a possible nuclear Iran, the Israeli- Palestinian peace process and related topics,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, Emeritus of Congregation Shaare Emeth. “He did a wonderful job of sorting out the complicated and conflicting pressures affecting these issues and the U.S.-Israel relationship.”