Editor's Note: Below is a press release from the office of Congressman Howard Berman regarding billboards that were placed around Los Angeles sponsored by an organization based in New Mexico called “The Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel.” Attached to this story is a photo of one of the billboards provided by Berman's office that was taken at the corner of Burbank Boulevard and Whitsett Avenue in Valley Village.
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Congressman Berman today struck back at anti-Israel billboards posted throughout the Los Angeles area. The billboards, sponsored by an organization based in New Mexico called “The Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel,” advocate eliminating U.S. assistance to Israel – a policy that Rep. Berman strongly condemns.
In a letter to the group responsible for the advertisements, Rep. Berman highlights the mutual benefits of the U.S.-Israel relationship and forcefully defends continued assistance to Israel as a critical component of our national security efforts: “We are the leading voice in the international community, and have the world’s most powerful military, yet your organization would have us abandon our closest ally in the Middle East and allow its deterrent capability to wither on the vine. That is not the way to demonstrate international leadership.”
Rep. Berman went on to challenge the group to commit their energy and resources towards renewing peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. “I would welcome the opportunity to jointly send a letter with your organization to President Abbas imploring him to take up Prime Minister Netanyahu's offer and return to the negotiating table,” writes Rep. Berman.
The billboards in the San Fernando Valley that appeared earlier in the month, drew strong criticism among many of Rep. Berman’s constituents and pro-Israel organizations in Los Angeles, who feel the billboards are nothing more than a provocation aimed at the pro-Israel community in the Valley and throughout LA.
After the letter was released, Rep Berman said the following about the billboard campaign in LA: “My constituents sent me to Washington in large part to fight for a stronger U.S.-Israel relationship. This has been, and will continue to be one my top legislative priorities in Congress. I am not going to stand by and remain silent as some outside group comes into our community with these outrageous billboards calling for an end to our security partnership with Israel. I believe in a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and so do my constituents.”
Commenting on Rep. Berman’s letter to this anti-Israel group, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean with the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement from Jerusalem: "The Simon Wiesenthal Center thanks Congressman Berman for his timely, focus and informed rebuke of the group whose anti-Israel campaign is based on a lie. At a time when thousands of innocent men, women and children are butchered by the regime in Syria, when Christian Copts are targeted for terrorism violence and threats in Egypt, it is telling that this group continues to pursue its extreme anti-Israel propaganda campaign, something that won't help a single Palestinian.”
The Anti-Defamation League has also weighed in on the issue, and last week posted a blog post on the anti-Israel billboards. The blog post can be found here.
The letter from Rep. Berman to “The Coalition to Stop $30 Billion to Israel” can be found below:
June 21, 2012
Coalition to Stop 30 Billion to Israel
PO Box 10856
Albuquerque, NM 87184
To Whom It May Concern:
As a member of the Los Angeles Congressional delegation, and the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, I have heard from many of my constituents in the San Fernando Valley concerned about the numerous billboard advertisements your organization has placed throughout the LA area. As a strong supporter of the Constitution, I do not question your right to publicly air your views -- even if I must drive past them every morning. However, as a Member of Congress who represents a community that overwhelmingly values the strong bond between Washington and Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent and allow your anti-Israel message to go unanswered.
Having worked to put into permanent law portions of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the United States and Israel, which lays out the terms of the security assistance between our two countries, it is clear to me that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship. As a small nation surrounded by countries and terrorist groups that are committed to its destruction, Israel faces unparalleled security challenges. Not only is our security assistance program a signal to the Israeli people that America stands side by side with the Jewish state, it also serves as a strong military deterrent to others in the region who might otherwise follow through on their threats to wipe Israel off the map.
In addition to the strategic importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, it is critical to understand that we as a country have made this commitment to Israel’s security. If we were to unilaterally eliminate our security assistance to Israel, what would that say about America’s role in the world, and our reliability as a friend and ally? We are the leading voice in the international community, and have the world’s most powerful military, yet your organization would have us abandon our closest ally in the Middle East and allow its deterrent capability to wither on the vine. That is not the way to demonstrate international leadership.
Your billboard would also have one believe that the Congress simply appropriates funds to transfer to the government of Israel – in supposed contravention of our own economic and national security interests. Rather, the vast majority of funding earmarked for Israel security assistance is used to procure U.S. manufactured defense articles produced in America. All told, the Israel security assistance program is responsible for an estimated 6,700 jobs across the U.S. -- including nearly 500 right here in California.
Finally, our security cooperation has proven to be a technological boon to both the Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. military. As the author of the Iron Dome Support Act, legislation which authorizes increased assistance to deploy additional Iron Dome anti-missile defense batteries in Israel, I have seen firsthand how security cooperation between our two countries has produced innovative new tools that will undoubtedly save countless civilian lives.
I share the hope that one day Palestinians and Israelis can live together in peace. Perhaps that is why I was so perplexed to see your billboard in my community. I would suggest that it would be more productive to direct your considerable energy and resources in the direction of Ramallah rather than Los Angeles, and convince Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to direct peace negotiations with Israel. After all, the government of Israel has made clear that it is ready to sit down and negotiate without preconditions at any time. I would welcome the opportunity to jointly send a letter with your organization to President Abbas imploring him to take up Prime Minister Netanyahu's offer and return to the negotiating table.
HOWARD L. BERMAN
Member of Congress