US Ambassador to Israel James B. Cunningham has rejected an invitation to take part in a Knesset debate on comments made by former President Bill Clinton regarding Israel's Russian immigrants, Ynet reported Wednesday.
"The former president is a private citizen," the embassy said, but the Yisrael Beiteinu party claimed he serves as a "US envoy all over the world" and receives a pension from the administration.
Clinton expressed his fear that the large numbers of Russian immigrants and settlers serving in the IDF will make it hard for the army to confront the West Bank's Jews if this should be required. An increasing number of IDF soldiers are children of Russians and settlers, who are those most strongly opposed to dividing the land, the former president said. He noted this was a serious problem, and that Israel had changed – some 16% of Israelis now speak Russian.
Ynet has learned that in discussions with Knesset members, US Embassy officials also expressed their reservations about Clinton's comments.
MK Lia Shemtov (Yisrael Beitenu), chairperson of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, said the Russian immigrants are "Zionists who love their country and, like all citizens, wany to live their lives in peace and security.
"Some of them were killed by rifles Clinton gave to terrorists," she said.
The US Embassy said in response: The administration is not responsible for comments made by a private citizen who has a right to speak his mind, as is customary in Israel as well.
During the committee's meeting, Shemtov called on Clinton to apologize "to the Russian immigrants and the State of Israel."
Dr. Ze'ev Khanin, chief scientist of the Absorption Ministry, said most immigrants define themselves as supporters of the center-right parties, with only 5-7% of them claiming to vote for left-wing factions.
Professor Yaacov Roi of Tel Aviv University explained that immigrants lean to the right "due to the historic baggage of the persecution their ancestors suffered in Russia, the lack of political influence and the fact that the disputed lands were conquered by Israel in the Six Day War, which is a major factor in (the immigrants') emotional connection to Israel."
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