The liberal American Jewish group J Street came down hard in a statement:
J Street condemns the Knesset’s passage yesterday of a law making the call for boycotts of Israel or the West Bank settlements illegal, as a clear and unabashed violation of the fundamental democratic precept of freedom of speech.
This bill is part of a disturbing anti-democratic trend that undermines its purported purpose by giving fodder to Israel’s critics and alienating many of its friends.
The statement served as the latest salvo of the ongoing tensions between the right-wing government in Israel and J Street, which has drawn the ire of the right-wing pro-Israel lobby for criticizing Israeli policies such as settlement expansion. The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. rejected an invitation from J Street to attend its first ever policy conference in 2009, and this summer Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who usually welcomes Diaspora pro-Israel groups, refused to meet with a J Street delegation.
But J Street’s condemnation of the anti-boycott law brought the war of words to a new level. Speaking to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Jonathan Peled, a spokesperson for Israel’s embassy in Washington, compared J Street to the Klu Klux Klan:
I think our approach to J Street was correct. We disagreed on many issues, but we didn’t boycott them. They are a unique example because they are a Jewish organization that calls itself ‘pro-Israeli.’ To bring some extreme example, if the Ku Klux Klan suddenly proclaim themselves pro-Israel, will it mean they are pro-Israel, or does it contradict our own understanding of what pro-Israel means? They are entitled to their views, but it doesn’t mean we want to invite them to our home.
Reached by ThinkProgress for comment, an official in the embassy’s press office passed along a non-apology “clarification” from Peled:
During my personal conversation with Ha’aretz, I was not intending to compare J Street to an extremist or offensive organization.
I regret any misunderstanding. Such a comparison would be clearly inappropriate and unacceptable.
The comments do not reflect the view of the government.
J Street seemed less than thrilled with the non-apology. Director of media relations Jessica Rosenblum gave a terse statement to ThinkProgress, saying, “We appreciate the clarification and take it at face value.”
The embassy spokesperson’s comparison of J Street to the KKK seems especially out of place because, in the same interview, Peled said that Israel welcomes all points of view. “We are interested in a big tent,” he said.
That was Peled’s dodge of a question about whether or not the government welcomed former Fox News personality Glenn Beck’s rally in Israel. Beck, who recently said Netanyahu had “evidence” to prove his conspiracy theories and addressed the Knesset, just moved his rally — which is to be attended by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) — away from the Temple Mount because it coincides with a holiday when 40,000 Muslims are expected to be worshiping in Jerusalem. Beck intimated that the Muslims might try to kill him and were looking for any excuse to start “World War III.” So it seems that there’s room for Beck in the Netanyahu government’s “big tent,” but according to Peled, J Street doesn’t appear to be welcome.