Washington Watch

Likely Orthodox Nominee Spurned by Some

The next U.S. ambassador to Israel could be an Orthodox Jew, the first to hold that post.

But the expected selection of career diplomat Daniel Kurtzer has generated intense opposition from an unlikely coalition of right-wing Jewish and Christian groups, some of which say that the best choice for the job isn’t an Orthodox Jew at all, but an evangelical Christian.

Herbert Zweibon, president of the ultra-hawkish Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI), said he recently wrote to Vice President Dick Cheney with this suggestion: “Find someone for the job who is a Bible-believing Christian, who understands that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews.”

Zweibon and others, including Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and several southern governors, have someone in mind: Ed McAteer, founder of the Religious Roundtable, a leading Christian supporter of Israel and an outspoken hawk on questions of Mideast diplomacy.

McAteer, who has told reporters he wants the job, was one of the founders of Jerry Farwell’s Moral Majority and he is a leader in an evangelical Zionist movement that sees Israel through the lens of the apocalyptic Christian prophecies.

That doesn’t concern the Jews who have written letters in support of McAteer as ambassador.

His prophetic vision “is his concern, not mine,” said Rabbi Rafael Grossman, spiritual leader of the Baron Hirsch Congregation, an Orthodox shul in Memphis. “I support him because of his lifetime devotion to Israel and the strong respect for him within the Christian community. I don’t think that when you talk about diplomatic positions, his views [on prophecy] are relevant.”

Grossman stressed that he was not particularly opposed to Kurtzer, a former dean of Yeshiva University and a career diplomat since the late 1970s. Kurtzer, a New Jersey native, has a PhD in Middle East history.

Other Jewish opponents of the Oslo peace process slammed Kurtzer.

AFSI’s Zweibon criticized Kurtzer as “an Orthodox Jew who supposedly believes in the Bible, who ignores the deep-seated beliefs [about Israel] of many people who are Bible-believing.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), said that “we are concerned that Bush seems ready to appoint someone who has praised Arafat and the PLO as moderates, who has publicly lectured Israel to make more concessions. He represents the failed policies of the past 10 years.”

Klein stressed that ZOA is not supporting any alternative candidate for the job.

But most mainstream pro-Israel leaders seem delighted with prospect of Kurtzer — who maintained an Orthodox household in Cairo, sometimes earning anti-Semitic from the Egyptian press — as ambassador.

A Jewish leader who said his group does not publicly weigh in on ambassadorial appointments said that “to call Dan some kind of raving peacenik is just crazy. He is, and has always been, a solid diplomatic professional who effectively carries out the policies of the government he represents. But he would combine that with a keen understanding of the needs and sensitivities of the Jewish state that could be particularly valuable during troubled times like these.”

Washington sources say that despite the opposition from the far right, Kurtzer’s selection could come as early as this week. On Monday, Israeli officials said no names of potential nominees had been forwarded to them — a customary step in making an ambassadorial appointment.

Revived Hate Crimes Bill Introduced

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

That could be the motto of Jewish and civil rights activists who will attempt once again to get Congress to enact a major expansion of current hate crimes laws.

Last year the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was a top priority for the Clinton administration, but it ran afoul of Congressional Republicans, who objected to provisions extending existing hate crimes statutes to cover crimes against gays and lesbians.

In June, the measure cleared the Senate by a 57 to 42 vote and the House instructed conferees to keep the hate crimes language in a Defense Department bill. But the GOP leadership ignored the instructions and stripped the hate crimes language from the bill.

This year’s measure — renamed the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act — faces even tougher going, since there is a widespread expectation that the Bush administration will oppose it.

The measure is being sponsored in the House by Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.), Minority Leader. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). A companion bill in the Senate is being sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)

The bill “will give law enforcement officials and prosecutors the enhanced tools they need to investigate and prosecute hate crimes,” Gephardt said on Tuesday. “It will send a strong signal to everyone in America that our country will not tolerate acts of violence committed against people because of their religion, race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.”

Leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, the lead Jewish group in the hate crimes fight, said that passage of the revived measure will be a top legislative priority this year.