December 27, 2012 – New York – AJC is dismayed by today's New York Times op-ed article, available online, “Don’t Let Pro-Israel Extremists Sink Chuck Hagel." The author is James Besser, a former Washington correspondent for the New York Jewish Week.
AJC Executive Director David Harris issued the following statement in response:
This op-ed is so replete with glaring errors of omission and commission that it's hard to know where to begin. Indeed, the very conceptual, or actually ideological, premise on which it is constructed is without foundation.
Essentially, the author argues that a group of wealthy right-wing zealots now call the shots in American Jewry. They have either taken over or, at the very least, intimidated mainstream groups like AJC into supporting, openly or quietly, their extremist agenda. This includes settlement expansion and seeking to silence anyone who doesn't yield to their political orthodoxies.
To be blunt, this is absolute and total rubbish.
First, AJC does not have such donors. Our donor list is made public in each annual report. I invite anyone to review the list.
Second, those who know us understand that we would not begin to yield to the will or whim of any such donors, be they of the doctrinal right or, for that matter, the left.
In fact, I can cite the cases of donors on both sides who dropped out of AJC in recent years precisely because we were not right-wing or left-wing enough for their taste.
Decision-making and direction are determined by AJC's Board of Governors through discussion and debate, involving close cooperation between lay leadership and staff. We welcome different points of view among our leaders and outside speakers who inform our thinking, a long-standing hallmark of AJC.
Third, our stance on Israel-related issues is staunchly centrist and non-ideological. An incredibly long paper and voice trail underscores that point, as do the daily examples of our diplomatic and political advocacy.
We fully support Israel's right to exist free of boycotts, divestment and sanctions, and the moral and political hypocrisy of double standards.
We steadfastly defend Israel's right to protect itself and its citizens.
We speak up for the special U.S.-Israel link, as serving the highest interests of both nations.
And we belabor under no illusions about the immense dangers Israel faces in a hostile, arms-laden region -- from Syrian chemical weapons to Iran's nuclear ambitions; from the deadly arsenals of Hamas and Hezbollah to the growing strength of political Islam.
At the same time, we have consistently, and over a long time, advocated for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
We supported the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties, as well as Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and Israel's unilateral withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza.
We have expressed concern about settlement expansion (and settler-initiated violence) on multiple occasions dating back years, indeed decades.
Project Interchange, AJC’s educational initiative bringing leaders from different sectors in the U.S. and other countries to Israel, visits Ramallah regularly to meet with the Palestinian Authority. AJC’s Board of Governors, during its upcoming visit to Israel, also will meet with PA leaders, as it has consistently done on previous trips.
And no Jewish organization in the world has come close to our time spent, and relationships built, in the Arab or, for that matter, Muslim worlds.
Fourth, to begin the op-ed by using the possible nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense as a case study is wrong-headed, to say the least. The author's attempt to sanitize Hagel's world view is mischievous at best, malicious at worst.
There are good reasons to be concerned about Hagel in the Pentagon, and one need not be a "zealot" or "extremist" to hold such views.
The Washington Post editorial board opposes his nomination. LGBT spokespersons, women's groups, and those worried about climate change also have voiced concern.
Hagel's voting record and statements on Iran-related issues alone should give pause to anyone who wonders what message his appointment could send to Tehran.
Fifth, to seek to draw a parallel with the NRA is particularly offensive, especially to those who have opposed the group's agenda.
We wish the NRA were remotely open -- say even one percent -- to the pluralistic views of Americans on gun rights and gun limits that organizations like AJC are to the direction of American Jewry and Israel.
Why the New York Times chose to publish such an off-base, politically motivated piece chock full of errors and distortions is beyond us.