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September 1, 2014

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MIDDLE EAST:

On Israel, a break with Obama

Berkley says she has a responsibility to advocate for Israel’s right to grow

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Israel hadari

Rep. Shelley Berkley, left, greets Israel President Shimon Peres, right, during the Democratic Nevada congresswoman’s weeklong trip to Israel, an important ally of the United States. Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, center, and Nevada Rep. Dina Titus were among the group of about 30 elected officials who made the trip.

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Former Ireland President Mary Robinson receives a Medal of Freedom this month from President Barack Obama. Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley challenged the choice, noting Robinson's "criticism of Israel."

Beyond the Sun

On her latest trip to the Middle East, Rep. Shelley Berkley burnished her credentials as one of the leading Democrats in Congress willing to speak out against the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Berkley, D-Las Vegas, reiterated her stance that natural population growth should be allowed in West Bank settlements, in direct opposition to President Barack Obama’s stated position.

In a brief interview Tuesday from Las Vegas, Berkley said she feels compelled to speak her mind on Israel, even if it means being critical of the leader of her party.

“We just have a disagreement,” Berkley said as she motored to a meeting with constituents. “I support Barack Obama, there’s no question about that. But I also have a responsibility and knowledge of the area. He’s entitled to hear that opinion, too.”

The Jerusalem Post story made her a momentary darling of the blogosphere after it was excerpted and linked to by pro-Israel Web sites. (It may have also helped that the writer compared Berkley to everyone’s “Aunt Sadie.”)

“Shelley Berkley is right,” wrote one blogger in Jerusalem who picked up the story.

This isn’t the first time Berkley has asserted pro-Israel views counter to those of the administration.

Before she departed on her trip, Berkley suggested Obama should reassess a decision to award the Medal of Freedom — the country’s highest civilian honor — to Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who has been criticized for her positions on Israel while head of a United Nations commission.

The president’s decision to award the medal to Robinson this month opened a schism in the Jewish community. A coalition of nongovernmental organizations supported the award, but powerful pro-Israel groups including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti-Defamation League protested the honor.

“Mary Robinson’s one-sided criticism of Israel and her actions while serving as a U.N. commissioner deserve to be condemned,” Berkley said in a statement released before the ceremony. She urged Obama to “reassess the awarding of this prestigious medal to a woman with such a blatant record of inappropriate and inexplicable bias against America’s most reliable ally — and the region’s only democracy — the State of Israel.”

Berkley’s views hew closely to those held by the AIPAC, and as the Jerusalem Post noted, have prompted criticism that elected officials in the United States are unduly influenced by the powerful lobby.

An arm of AIPAC arranged and funded Berkley’s weeklong trip to Israel, along with a group of 29 elected officials, including Democratic Rep. Dina Titus. The group met with top government officials including the prime minister, defense minister and opposition leader.

Berkley shrugged off such concerns in her interview with the Jerusalem Post, noting her mother was a Zionist, and she has for most of her adult life fought for the Jewish state. She has been working on such issues since high school.

Berkley’s disagreement with the Obama administration centers on the future of Israeli settlements. Obama believes growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank must be halted as a gesture of good will in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Berkley asserts the settlements are not standing in the way of talks, and population growth through natural births in families living there should be allowed to continue. She called the settlements a suburb, comparing them to Henderson.

“The administration was too strident, unnecessarily so,” she said. “They need to soften.”

In the Jerusalem Post interview, Berkley also was critical of a State Department suggestion that the United States impose sanctions on the Israeli government to halt the growth, calling such talk “beyond the pale.”

Berkley said she and Obama both want the same outcome for the Middle East: peace.

She said in time the new administration will come around to her position. “If this doesn’t work — and I don’t think it will,” she said of the administration’s current approach, “they will change policy, they will change direction.”

The comparison of Berkley to Aunt Sadie in the Jerusalem Post story? It drew chuckles here and presumably abroad:

“She dresses like Aunt Sadie, talks like her, has a passion for Israel like her and exudes warmth like her. Except for one major difference: Aunt Sadie was the head of her local Hadassah chapter, while Shelley Berkley, 58, is a six-term Democratic congresswoman from Las Vegas, five of those terms as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

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