Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Monday night that he refused to join with 329 lawmakers in signing a letter to President Barack Obama calling for Middle East peace because the letter endorsed handling U.S.-Israel disagreements in private.
The letter, drafted by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), calls on Obama to make “every effort— to achieve peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors during his trip this week to the Middle East.
The letter, which was sent Friday, encourages Obama to accept “that the parties themselves must negotiate the details of agreement— and stresses the need to be a “trusted mediator and a devoted friend— to Israel.
But the part of the letter that drew an objection from Frank, one of 31 Jewish House Members, states that “the proven best way— forward with Israel is “to work closely and privately together … especially on areas of disagreement.—
The fact that there are U.S-Israel disagreements on two major fronts — on Iran and on the issue of West Bank settlements — should be discussed publicly, said Frank, much like the United States openly airs its policy disagreements with countries like France or Germany.
“Frankly, what you have is people who mistakenly think the American-Israeli relationship is too fragile,— said Frank. “But the closer you are, the freer you are to express disagreement. On the first date, you don’t, but after 23 years you’d better be able to express disagreements.—
Frank said he wrote his own letter and plans to send it to Obama on Tuesday, clarifying why he disagrees with that portion of the Hoyer-Cantor letter. He emphasized that he supports the rest of their letter except for this issue, which he said is “a fairly important point.—
“I don’t accept the notion that two democratic nations should never publicly express disagreements,— Frank said. “I think the electorates in both countries are entitled to know them.—
Frank said he expected some people to criticize him for singling out the issue of U.S.-Israel strains, but added that he didn’t think Hoyer or Cantor meant to focus on this when they wrote the letter.
“Frankly, you get these letters and the easiest thing to do is sign them,— added Frank.
Frank was one of two Jewish House Members who did not sign onto the letter. The other Member, Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), could not be reached for comment.