Cheney: I wanted to bomb Syrian reactor in 2007


Dick Cheney urged former President George W. Bush to bomb Syria, according to the former Vice President’s new memoir.

According to the New York Times, which obtained an advance copy of the new book “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” Cheney advised Bush to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site in June 2008.

Cheney’s advice was dismissed in favor of a diplomatic approach favored by other advisers.

“I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor,” Mr. Cheney writes in the book, reported the Times. “But I was a lone voice. After I finished, the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.”

The Israeli Air Force eventually bombed the site in September of that same year after failed White House diplomatic attempts to get Syrian’s to abandon the secret project.

There’s something about winning


I’ll never forget sitting with a group of intellectuals several years ago, at the height of the messy war in Iraq, and discussing why President Bush and America had fallen so low in the esteem of the world. One great mind after another offered sophisticated analyses. My head was spinning.

Finally, someone piped up: “Everything would be different if Bush were winning the war.”

At which point a distinguished professor from Israel said: “This is brilliant! Bush’s real problem is that he’s not winning!” I sat there, slightly stunned, thinking: How can something so complicated lend itself to such an easy insight?

I reflected on that insight the other night when President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden after a nearly 10-year pursuit. Here was a president who had suffered relentless criticism for his handling of foreign affairs. And now, as Jeffrey Goldberg wrote on his blog: “Our President, in the blink of an eye, has gone from a hyper-criticized, seemingly-swamped possibly-one-term leader to an American hero, a commander-in-chief who calmly oversaw the killing of the greatest mass murderer in American history.”

And why did he become a hero? Not because he made one of his inspiring speeches or announced a brilliant new policy.

He became a hero because he got a win. It’s as simple — and as complicated — as that.

We love to teach our kids that life is not about winning and losing but “how you play the game.” That may be true when you’re dealing with people of good faith. But when you’re dealing with people who are out for blood, it’s a good idea to know how to win.

Naturally, Jews and Israel have always been juicy targets for people out for blood. So, how should one deal with such aggression?

I found a wonderful answer last week in a shoe store, of all places, on trendy St. Denis Street in downtown Montreal. The French Canadian owner of the store, who has been there for 25 years, decided last year to carry a woman’s shoe line from Israel called Beautifeel. Well, wouldn’t you know it, within a few months, a vicious boycott campaign was under way against the store, led by a popular local politician, Amir Khadir.

To give you an idea of the tone of their campaign, one of the boycotters’ leaflets had an oversize image of a woman’s shoe stomping on a pile of buried naked bodies — reminiscent of those horror shots of emaciated bodies you see in Holocaust documentaries. Written on the shoe was “Beautifeel. Made in Apartheid Israel.” On top was the headline, in French, “Boycottons la boutique Le Marcheur” (“Let’s boycott the boutique Le Marcheur”).

Week after week, the boycotters recruited large and noisy crowds to hand out the leaflets and implore people not to enter Le Marcheur. Their mission was to pressure the owner, Yves Archambault, to stop carrying the Israeli shoe line so that the neighborhood would be “apartheid free.” But Archambault refused, out of principle. It didn’t seem right to him that he should be told how to run his business. His business suffered, but he held firm.

The story hardly ends there. The Jewish community in Montreal got wind of the boycott and went nuts. A “buycott” campaign was launched, and Jews from all over the city came to buy shoes at Le Marcheur. A woman bought a hundred pairs. Archambault became a local hero.

Meanwhile, creative minds went to work producing counter leaflets mocking the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement as “Boycott Derangement Syndrome,” explaining the discrimination and hypocrisy inherent in the movement. These leaflets gave people the Israeli side of the story. Archambault did his own research and found out that the Israeli shoe company (besides making great shoes!) hired women, minorities and Palestinians and treated their employees very well. The Quebec General Assembly drafted a unanimous resolution condemning the boycott and supporting the store.

And what happened to the initiator of the boycott, Amir Khadir? He went low-key and stopped coming to the demonstrations. Apparently, he concluded that the backlash might not be good for his political future.

I tell you this story not to remind you of the insidious global movement to demonize the Jewish state. That’s old hat by now. I’m telling you this story because it’s a tribute to the noble virtues of fighting back and winning.

Too often, we recoil at the idea of fighting. It leaves a bad taste in our mouth. We dread the thought of “lowering ourselves to the level of mudslinging.” We prefer notions like “engagement” and “bridge building.”

But the nasty boycotters of St. Denis Street who used Nazi imagery to malign an Israeli shoe company were not looking for engagement or bridge building. They were looking for blood — and a victory.

Faced with such aggression, how else to respond but to fight back?

Yes, in such cases, life is a zero sum game. One side wins, and the other side loses. The Jewish community of Montreal, with the support of a brave French Canadian shoe merchant, fought back ferociously and smartly against what it perceived as a grave injustice to the State of Israel. And, guess what — they won.

It’s not as dramatic as taking down bin Laden, but we’ll take it.

Larry David: Thanks for the tax cut!


From NYTimes.com:

THERE is a God! It passed! The Bush tax cuts have been extended two years for the upper bracketeers, of which I am a proud member, thank you very much. I’m the last person in the world I’d want to be beside, but I am beside myself! This is a life changer, I tell you. A life changer!

To begin with, I was planning a trip to Cabo with my kids for Christmas vacation. We were going to fly coach, but now with the money I’m saving in taxes, I’m going to splurge and bump myself up to first class. First class! Somebody told me they serve warm nuts up there, and call you “mister.” I might not get off the plane!

Read more at NYTimes.com.

Clinton, Bush to Appear Together During 2010 AJU Lecture Series


Two former presidents will share the stage when American Jewish University’s (AJU) Public Lecture Series returns in early 2010. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are scheduled to appear together at Universal’s Gibson Amphitheatre on Feb. 22, the university announced Monday.

Clinton has made several appearances during the series’ history, and in 2004 he spoke with Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas), former Senate Majority Leader and GOP challenger to Clinton during the 1996 presidential election. The Feb. 22 event will mark President Bush’s first appearance with the high-profile lecture series, which is organized through the AJU’s Department of Continuing Education.

Past political speakers at the AJU series have included Vice President Al Gore; Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell; White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove; White House Press Secretaries Ari Fleisher and Dee Dee Meyers; Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres; and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Tickets for the Feb. 22 Clinton-Bush event go on sale Nov. 5, with prices ranging from $75 to $125.

For more information, call (310) 440-1246.

To read a background article about the AJU lecture series, from 2001, click

The Stem Cell Slippery Slope Fallacy


Of all the ” title=”man-on-dog” target=”_blank”>man-on-dog sex,” I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

The anti-stem-cell slippery slope argument goes like this: If you permit scientists to destroy human embryos for the purpose of research, it’s a slippery slope from there to killing human fetuses in order to harvest tissue, and from there to euthanizing disabled or terminally ill people to harvest their organs, and from there to human cloning and human-animal hybrids, and if making ” title=”tiny human being” target=”_blank”>tiny human being with a soul, and anything that stops it from becoming a fully-developed person is evil and must be outlawed.  This way of thinking leads not only to ruling out exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, a fatal genetic disorder or a threat to the mother’s health; it also means a ban on in vitro fertilization, because that technique also leads to the destruction of superfluous embryos, unless of course you’re the octo-mom, but let’s not go there just now.

The when-life-begins argument is about logical consistency.  Life is life, period, and no compromise, even for the most compassionate of reasons, is possible.  How then do its adherents justify, say, killing people in self-defense, or in war?  The answer is that those circumstances are sanctioned by the Bible, every word of which was divinely written.  If that’s fundamentally what you believe, then there’s no slippery slope to be concerned about, because you never need to make exceptions to the rules, because all the rules come straight from the Creator.

But the slippery slope argument is all about exceptions.  It doesn’t require believing that legal rules come from moral rules that in turn come from on high.  Instead, it’s about what you believe coming from down below, from our innards and our evolutionary forebears.  Call it hardwiring, or call it psychology; it doesn’t matter.  What counts is a fundamentalism about human nature.

This view of how people are, deep down, is implicit in the metaphor itself.  Picture a person on a steep mountaintop.  Then imagine him taking a step off the summit and onto an ice-covered slope.  (Please don’t be offended that I’m not saying “him or her”; this guy has got to be pretty stupid to take that step.)  And following that step comes a cartoonish blur of whirling legs and arms, and before you know it the guy is tumbling ass over teakettle down the slope, a human snowball banging into trees, helplessly accelerating toward the fatal crevasse below.

What this case against stem cell research is saying is that people are basically animals, slaves to their appetites, incapable of restraining themselves, biologically unequipped to make complex rules, or draw fine distinctions, or debate exceptions, or enforce differences.  If we make one exception, and permit a scientist to culture stem cells from discarded human blastocysts, then when that scientist wants to make cowumans and humabbits, society will be totally flummoxed, completely paralyzed, incapable of drawing a legal line and saying no.

If this were actually true, then the message society sends when police don’t stop everyone over the speed limit on the freeway is that it must also be OK to be a hit-and-run driver.  You know, there’s a slippery slope between not arresting someone for smoking a joint and letting drug cartels destroy our cities.  If you can restrict the sale of semi-automatic rifles, then you can ban the right to bear arms.  If a shoplifter gets off easy, what’s to stop a Bernie Madoff from being allowed to walk?  If you make hate speech a crime, then it won’t be long before free speech is a crime.

During George W. Bush’s long summer vacation in 2001 – the summer when he dismissed the CIA briefer who told him that Bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States with “All right, you’ve covered your ass now” – the big news out of Crawford was his Solomonic decision to permit federally-funded research only on the 78 stem-cell lines already created in privately-funded labs.  Those murders, he signaled to his base, had already been committed, so we might as well get some good out of the crimes.

It turns out that only about 20 of those lines were actually usable in laboratories.  As a result, over these last 7 1/2 years, when stem-cell researchers might have been racing toward therapies for diseases like juvenile diabetes, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, they have instead had federal anvils chained to their ankles. 

Today, some of those protesting President Obama’s reversal of President Bush’s limits are saying that we don’t need any new lines of embryonic stem cells, because recently discovered techniques, like reprogramming human skin cells into iPS – induced pluripotent stem cells – make it unnecessary to depend on embryos.  But the

Once in a lifetime


I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it up to here with once-in-a-lifetime events.

Katrina was once in a lifetime. The 2004 tsunami was once in a lifetime. This past year’s wildfires were the worst blazes in living memory. Every other month seems to bring an epic rain or snow that is said to be the storm of the century. And don’t get me started on the polar ice cap.

George W. Bush, the worst president in American history, will turn out to be, God willing, once in a lifetime, as will the officially sanctioned use of torture by American interrogators, the subjugation of the Justice Department by a bunch of right-wing 20-something hacks, and the grotesque intervention of Congress into the Terry Schiavo case. If Dick Cheney isn’t once in a lifetime, there is reason to doubt the existence of divine mercy.

The depth of the unfolding recession, for those who did not experience the Great Depression, is now forecast to be once in a lifetime. Bernie Madoff’s breathtaking Ponzi scheme is — one can only hope — once in a lifetime. The demise of Lehman Brothers, founded in 1850, is once in a lifetime, as will be the extinction of Levitz, the 97-year-old furniture chain, and (as is plausible) of Dodge (b. 1914) and Kmart (b. 1962).

Until this recession, India and China were poised to overtake the U.S. economy, which would surely constitute a once-in-a-lifetime development, like the fall of communism, tobacco, butter, girdles and Esperanto.

The impending deaths of the print newspaper, the network evening news and the television networks themselves — like the prior deaths of the buggy, vaudeville and silent movies — are bound to be experienced as once in a lifetime. The demises of slide rules, typewriters, Polaroid instant cameras and VHS tapes each marked the end of an era. TV Guide is going the route of Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, Look and Life; when either Time or Newsweek folds, its surviving competitor will doubtless send it off with a once-in-a-lifetime obit.

Sept. 11 was once in a lifetime, unless you lived through Pearl Harbor. It is wishful thinking to imagine that the malicious explosion of a nuclear device is not in the world’s foreseeable future, and if, keinahora, that happens, it will surely be labeled — optimistically — once in a lifetime.

On the upside, the election of a black American president is totally without precedent, and it is not inconceivable that a woman will eventually follow him to the White House, though if it’s Sarah Palin, she stands a decent chance of wresting worst-ever laurels from Bush.

My discomfort at being crowded by this surfeit of once-in-a-lifetime happenings is partly about hype, and mostly about mental hygiene.

The mainstream news media have no vested interest in proportionality. With so many things competing for our attention, the only way for media-owning corporations to capture our eyeballs is to inflate everything to Armageddon dimensions. Every lurid local crime becomes a national melodrama; every flare-up on the planet is depicted as a precursor to World War III; every scandal is Watergate, or something-else-gate. We are inundated with the Ten Worst This and Ten Best That, while long-simmering atrocities truly deserving of notice, like Darfur or the tuberculosis pandemic, barely make it onto the radar screen.

No wonder the world has the jitters. We are daily assaulted by so much hyperbole that it is nearly impossible to know what is important any more. It is undeniable that we live in a time of big change, but if we did not also live in a time of big media, I am not convinced that we would experience our lives as a relentless onslaught of cliffhangers, crises and catastrophes.

To every thing, Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a season, but you wouldn’t know it from the media, which know only one season, which is BREAKING NEWS. Real life has natural rhythms; it plays out on many stages, from the personal and private to the public and historical. But the culture of THIS JUST IN homogenizes those differences. Its imperative is to monetize our attention, and the easiest way to do that is to see as much as possible through once-in-a-lifetime lenses.

I don’t mean to diminish the pain of the economic meltdown, or the significance of climate change, or the symbolic breakthrough of the Obama inauguration or the dizzying transformations being wrought by technology. But it does no good for us as citizens if everything is as screamingly urgent as everything else, and it does no good for us as people if our nervous systems are constantly being bombarded by superlatives. How can our leaders set priorities, how will we ever agree on trade-offs, if public discourse only consists of capital letters? How can we linger in the intimacies and mysteries of existence, how will we truly know what’s worth caring about, if shock and rupture is the only language our culture knows how to speak?

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Analysis: Obama sounding similar to Bush on foreign policy


Not only is Barack Obama inheriting President Bush’s Middle East, it looks like he’s adopting his strategies.

Perhaps the most striking presence on the Chicago stage Monday, where President-elect Obama presented his national security team, were the policies of the outgoing president.

Speaking generally, Obama hewed to the “change” bromides of a campaign that said it wanted to bury Bush’s legacies.

“In this uncertain world, the time has come for a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century and to seize the opportunities embedded in those challenges,” Obama said. “We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends.

“We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships,” he continued. “We will show the world once more that America is relentless in the defense of our people, steady in advancing our interests and committed to the ideals that shine as a beacon to the world.”

Yet when he briefly detoured into specifics, introducing Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), his pick for secretary of state, Obama’s themes sounded familiar.

“There is much to do — from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea, to seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, to strengthening international institutions,” Obama said.

The first three components of that four-pronged strategy are carryovers from the Bush administration’s final years: Defuse Iran and North Korea and nudge forward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Obama’s priority list comes despite a growing chorus of voices that insists that the Israel-Palestinian track is intractable for now, needing management, not solutions. Those voices — including Dennis Ross, the Clinton administration’s top Middle East adviser who is now helping to shape Obama’s Middle East policy — say peace with Syria is the better bet for now.

But the Israelis and the Palestinians at the table believe that Obama has their back and predict a deal within months.

“We’re very close, and it’s time to make decisions,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last week after meeting with Bush.

Olmert made it clear that it was his impression that Obama would carry over the Bush administration’s emphasis on arriving at an agreement within the next few months.

“It’s like a relay race,” the outgoing Israeli leader said. “The baton will be passed in an orderly, correct way.”

Olmert believes a deal could be in place before he leaves office in March. He is stepping down to face corruption charges.

That prediction was echoed by a top Palestinian negotiator, Maen Rashid Areikat, who told the Washington Times that the negotiators had arrived at a formula to circumvent perhaps the most intransigent obstruction to statehood — control of the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists. Areikat told the paper that a state would first be declared in the West Bank.

Those are pipe dreams, said Sam Lewis, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who is now a senior policy adviser to the Israel Policy Forum and has monitored the Israel-Syria talks.

“There is much more of an opportunity to make a breakthrough with Syria than there is a Palestinian front,” he said. “With the vision of Palestine in two pieces and the problems between Hamas and Fatah,” the relatively moderate party controlling the West Bank, “it makes it difficult to move to a final agreement.”

Another of Obama’s picks, Gen. James Jones for national security adviser, also implies an interest in carrying over Bush administration efforts to build a Palestinian security infrastructure. Jones, a former NATO commander, most recently monitored Palestinian and Israeli compliance with peace deals, with special attention paid to the creation of a Palestinian police force.

Jones was tough with both sides during his tenure, but his appointment has raised eyebrows in Israel. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refuses to authorize the release of a report in which he reportedly slams Israel for hampering Palestinian Authority security training.

During his NATO stint, Jones was known as friendly to Israel’s regional interests. The Israeli concerns about his appointment are the result of Israel having been “treated gently” during the Bush administration, Lewis said, and eventually will pass.

“Anytime you ask the Israelis to do something they don’t want to do, they’re resentful; it’s nothing other than normal business,” Lewis said. “After eight years of the Israelis being treated very gently, the contrast was probably annoying to them. He’s a balanced guy, and that’s what you need.”

Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, said the Jones appointment was reassuring because it signaled another consistency with the presidency: Its second-term deference to experienced military opinion.

“Picking a Marine for almost anything is a good pick,” said Bryen, whose organization cultivates close relations with all branches of the U.S. military. “He has the background to talk about military priorities in Afghanistan, in Iraq.”

That’s true as well of Obama’s pick for defense secretary: the incumbent, Robert Gates. Obama ran a campaign that derided Bush’s choices in Iraq, but in recent months, the Bush administration has edged closer to Obama’s vision of a phased, careful — and not unconditional — withdrawal.

On Iran, there appears to be consistency, too. During the campaign, great focus was placed on Obama’s calls for stepped-up diplomatic outreach, but since defeating Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), he has stressed the need for Iran to stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program. On Monday, the president-elect hammered home the message again.

It’s a two-pronged approach that jibes with the Gates and Clinton choices. Clinton, Obama’s chief rival during the primaries, hewed to more hawkish Iran rhetoric, although it helped energize her left-wing critics during the Democratic primaries. At the same time, with Gates in the Pentagon, the Bush administration has edged away from cutting off the Islamic republic and has all but killed the idea of striking Iran or allowing Israel to strike.

Ross, meanwhile, joined top former Bush administration officials in signing off in September on an especially tough blueprint on how to deal with Iran published by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank.

The proposal, “Meeting the Challenge,” was barely noticed in the media. It calls for stiffer sanctions, an end to uranium enrichment and outlines a military option that would have “more decisive results than the Iranian leadership realizes,” although such an option would be a last resort.

Ross’ presence on Obama’s transitional Middle East policy team, as well as on the front page of a report that includes first-term Bush hawks, such as Michael Rubin, Michael Makovsky and Steve Rademaker, has sent shudders through those in Washington who had hoped an Obama administration would stress outreach to Iran at a time when its hard-liners are showing signs of being in retreat.

Bryen said it was clear that Obama would eventually seek to expand the Bush administration’s recent, limited diplomatic entreaties to Iran; it was not clear how.

“The incoming administration clearly believes there are approaches to Iran that haven’t been tried,” she said.

The one flag that may trouble some Jewish groups was the fourth leg of Obama’s foreign policy strategy: the planned elevation of U.S. involvement with the United Nations. Groups such as B’nai B’rith International and the American Jewish Committee have maintained their commitment to the body, while growing increasingly skeptical of its potential for ever treating Israel fairly. Other groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, have just about written off the United Nations as a useful forum.

Obama nominated Susan Rice, one of his top campaign advisers, to be U.N. ambassador and has said she will serve at Cabinet level.

“She shares my belief that the U.N. is an indispensable and imperfect forum,” he said.

It’s their turn


Before moving to Pico-Robertson, I spent three years in trendy West Hollywood, where I was the lone independent/conservative voice during an early morning

schmoozefest at the Urth Caffé on Melrose Avenue. The term “aggressively liberal” doesn’t begin to describe the political leanings of my cappuccino compadres.

But the conversations were sharp and alive, and they charged you up for the workday ahead. Even though our views often diverged, I enjoyed the company of my leftist mates and became friends with many of them.

The thing that stuck with me about my liberal buddies in those years was their extraordinary venom toward the Bush administration. Every cell in their bodies oozed contempt for the “reckless cowboy” who had become the sad emblem of their country. They craved a change in the White House more than a heroin junkie craves another fix.

Now sweep wipe two years later, and I’m sitting at a Shabbat table in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood with a group of politically savvy Orthodox Jews, and, not surprisingly, I’m getting a whole different take on who should occupy the White House.

Clearly, most of my Orthodox brethren are in the Republican camp. There are significant exceptions, of course, especially at the more liberal B’nai David-Judea Congregation, but it’s fair to say that the majority of Orthodox voters are an ideological world away from my liberal buddies at the Urth Caffé.

And since almost everybody is assuming an Obama victory, I’ve been mulling over this crazy question: If you’re a McCain voter, can you still feel OK about an Obama victory?

As someone who is friendly with both sides, and who has witnessed all the partisan hysterics, I think the answer is, possibly, yes.

First, after eight years of being on the hot seat, the Republicans can use a break. Let them be the ones who kvetch and throw the arrows for a change. Sometimes it feels good to say: “Here, big mouth, you think you can do better? Take the wheel.”

And if we conservatives believe in fairness, it’s only fair that Democrats should get their turn at the wheel. We’ve had our turn for eight long years — and we should fess up to the obvious: America has veered off course, and it’s a lot worse off today than it was eight years ago.

Let’s review. Most of the world has stopped fearing us, respecting us or admiring us (let alone listening to us), which can’t be too good for our national security. Israel is now surrounded by terrorist armies and a soon-to-be nuclear enemy, who has mocked and outsmarted the tough-talking hombres in the White House. The Republican president I voted for allowed hundreds of my fellow Americans to perish in New Orleans before waking up and doing something. His administration has been extraordinarily divisive and has alienated large and important segments of America. Surge or no surge, we’ve dropped $600 billion and counting to rebuild Iraq — while our airports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure have become an embarrassment. We are more dependent than ever on oil from terror-sponsoring nations. We’ve racked up record deficits, we owe a trillion to China, consumer confidence is at an all-time low, and to top it off, we’re going through the worst economic crisis in 80 years.

Seriously, if the Republican White House were a corporation, it’d be drowning right now in malpractice suits from angry shareholders.

Instead, in all likelihood, it will suffer the political equivalent: It’ll get voted out, and the opposition party will get voted in. That’s democracy in action.

John McCain’s candidacy — even had he run a better campaign or chosen a different running mate — was doomed from the start by its ideological connection to a failed and unpopular administration, a connection McCain could never credibly shake.

Which brings us to Obama. I’ve met Obama haters who are sure he’s a disaster, and Obama lovers who are sure he’s a savior. I think he’s neither. For me, he’s a decent, intelligent man who needs more experience, who’s had some dubious relationships, and who has some ideas I like and others I don’t. He also has an even-tempered and reflective nature that might have a salutary effect on a nerve-wracked nation. (And regarding Israel, let’s be honest: Having our biggest supporter ever in the White House hasn’t made Israel any safer, or stopped Condi Rice from pestering Israel into making dangerous concessions. So I’m keeping an open mind.)

My key point, though, is this: Regardless of how negatively one may feel about Obama or his policies, after eight years we conservatives deserve our failing grade, and our opponents deserve their turn at the plate. If you’re not happy with that result, at least remember that it comes from something you love: free elections.

These same free elections might also help this country regain some emotional balance. For too long now, half of the voting public has been stewing in the political wilderness — feeling angry and powerless, feeding only on the “red meat of outrage.” This is not healthy. It breeds bitterness and cynicism. A return to a position of leadership would breed enthusiasm and a sense of responsibility among this alienated group, and encourage their renewed emotional investment in the country.

It’d be like a treatment of mood-stabilizing medication for a bipolar nation.

Republicans, if they lose, would get their own therapy: A chance to reflect on how they betrayed many of their own principles and on how they will need to evolve to stay relevant. They would go through the humble and difficult self-examination that only comes with the sobriety of defeat. If, like my Orthodox neighbors, they are God-fearing, they will see all this as part of God’s plan, and they will work to renew themselves for the new century.

That would really be putting “country first.”

As for me, if things get too heavy or lonely in the neighborhood, I might just check out my old buddies at the Urth Caffé and tweak them about how President Obama is messing things up.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Briefs: Peace process proceeeds, says Livni; Bush waives Palestinian aid rules


Livni Says Peace Process Will Move Forward

Tzipi Livni said the peace process will move forward and that Israel will be able to face challenges better with a stable government.

The Israeli prime minister-designate, who is working to form a new government coalition, made her first national policy address Sunday at the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s conference on policy and strategy.

“Israel wishes to arrive at peace with all of her neighbors — the Palestinians, Syria, Lebanon and the Arab nations,” Livni said. “We have proven our willingness not only by embarking on diplomatic processes but by evacuating Gaza.”

She added: “The process should continue, and we should press ahead and conduct ourselves correctly. Don’t let incidental dates or political changes get in the way of a responsible process.”

Livni said the government must achieve both financial and political stability. She took a swipe at other political parties that are making budgetary demands in order to agree to join the coalition.

“We must maintain financial stability, and in order to safeguard [the economy], we must also preserve the political balance; we must achieve political stability quickly,” Livni stressed. “Therefore, we are in need of a government that will maintain the equilibrium, a government that can transcend partisan demands.”

Earlier at the same conference, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said that Israel had failed to live up to the commitments it made at the Annapolis peace summit in 2007.

“We believed in what was promised — that this year would be different,” he said. “But we are already in October, and we are losing hope that by the end of the year we will see the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and the end of the occupation.”

Al-Maliki warned that the failure to come to a peace agreement would lead to the domination of Hamas and a return to violence.

Bush Waives Palestinian Aid Restrictions

President Bush waived restrictions on direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

“I hereby certify that it is important to the national security interests of the United States to waive” restrictions on direct funding for the Palestinian Authority, Bush wrote in a message Monday to the State Department.

The waiver allows Bush to transfer as much as $75 million to the Palestinian Authority. Such direct funding is otherwise subject to conditions, including proof that the Palestinian Authority has disarmed terrorists and ended incitement.

Bush is making an end-of-presidency push for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Most funding for the Palestinians in recent years has been directed through nongovernmental organizations, partly to avoid the taint of corruption and terrorism that had attached itself to the Palestinian Authority.

The Bush administration has praised the new P.A. leadership for reforms and said it needs the money in part to meet challenges from Islamist extremists.

Obama Campaign Returns Gazans’ Cash

The Obama campaign returned $33,000 to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who purchased a large quantity of campaign T-shirts.

The revelation arises out of a Republican request to the Federal Election Commission to investigate thousands of small donations to the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Republicans claim that some of the donors are from overseas, which is illegal.

Reporting the request Monday, the Washington Post noted that Newsweek, its sister publication, reported that two Palestinian brothers had paid $33,000 for a bulk order of T-shirts. Such purchases from online stores are counted as donations.

The campaign returned the money and said its staff had mistaken the brothers’ address abbreviation for Gaza, “Ga.,” as the U.S. state of Georgia.

Papers Reveal Israel’s Confusion in ’73 War

Top Israeli army officials did not know what was happening in the field during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, according to newly declassified documents. Israel’s Defense Ministry declassified documents Tuesday relating to the investigation of failures of the war.

The deliberations of the Agranat Committee, which was established to investigate the conduct of the military and the government during the war, including testimony of senior officers such as Ariel Sharon and Moshe Dayan, were made public nearly 35 years to the day after the outbreak of the war.

Former Prime Minister Sharon, who commanded the 53rd Division during the war, told the committee at the time that the higher command “had no idea of what was happening on the ground,” according to a report in the newspaper, Ha’aretz. Sharon also discussed his plan to cross the Suez Canal, which led to Israel’s victory.

Dayan’s testimony was reminiscent of issues that arose following the 2006 Second Lebanon War, including not calling up reservists right away and not anticipating a full-scale war.

U.S. Could Waive Israeli Visa Requirement

The United States could soon waive the need for an entry visa by Israelis. In a meeting in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Israel Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit discussed waiving the need for a visa for Israelis to visit the United States, the newspaper, Yediot Achronot, reported Oct. 3.

The change in policy would begin to be formulated later this month. To qualify, Israel would have to switch from a paper to a biometric passport system.

Approximately 313,000 Israelis have traveled to the United States so far this year. The current process for obtaining an entry visa requires a fee, embassy interview and a long wait.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

James Baker says Bush’s Syria policy is ‘ridiculous’; Sobell finally gives it up


Baker Calls Bush ‘Ridiculous’ on Syria

The Bush administration’s refusal to deal with Syria is “ridiculous,” said James Baker, a former U.S. secretary of state.

Five former secretaries of state met Monday under the auspices of CNN to discuss what advice they would give the next president.

“I would advise the president to fully engage with Syria,” said Baker, who as secretary of state under Bush’s father helped convene the 1991 Madrid talks, which for the first time brought Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and other Arab nations into the same process. “I think it is ridiculous for us to say we’re not going to talk to Syria and yet Israel has been talking to them for six to eight months.”

The Bush administration has discouraged Israel’s talks with Syria, currently held under Turkish auspices. Israel wants to draw Syria away from the Iranian sphere; the Bush administration says it will not engage Syria until it fully disengages from Lebanon and stops its support for terrorist groups.

Also appearing at the session were Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, who served under President Bill Clinton; Colin Powell, who served under the current President Bush; and Henry Kissinger, who served under presidents Nixon and Ford.

Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits Spying

One of the co-defendants in the Rosenberg espionage case has admitted to spying for the Soviets.

Morton Sobell, who was tried and convicted in 1951 with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on espionage charges, admitted for the first time on Sept. 11 in an interview with The New York Times that he had turned over military secrets to the Soviets during World War II.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, call it that,” he told The Times when asked if he was a spy. “I never thought of it as that in those terms.”

Sobell drew a distinction between providing information on defensive radar and artillery, which he did, and the information that, he said, Julius Rosenberg provided to the Soviets on the atomic bomb. He said he believes the Soviets already had obtained from other sources most of the information Rosenberg provided.

Sobell also said he believed that Ethel Rosenberg was aware of her husband’s spying, but did not actively participate. Both Rosenbergs were executed for their crimes.

The 91-year-old Sobell, who long had professed his innocence, refused to testify at his trial and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was released in 1969 and currently lives in the Bronx, N.Y.

He spoke as the National Archives released the bulk of the grand jury testimony in the Rosenberg case.

Ed Koch backs Obama, says Sarah Palin is ‘scary’


NEW YORK (JTA)—Back in June,  Ed Koch was holding out on whether to endorse Barack Obama. Now the former Big Apple mayor—a Democrat who has endorsed Republicans, including President Bush in 2004—is on board (see full endorsement below).

What changed? Apparently, according to Politico.com, Koch is not a big fan of Sarah Palin:

“The designation of Palin to be vice president,” he said. “She’s scary.”

He said he was alarmed by the report that she’d triggered a conflict with the local librarian in Wasilla, Alaska by inquiring about the possibility of banning books.

“Any time someone goes to the library and says, ‘I want to ban books,’ and the librarian says ‘no,’ and she threatens to fire them — that’s scary,” he said.

(Palin at the time said she was just inquiring about the library’s policy on banning books, with no aim of actually banning any. “It was a rhetorical quesiton — nothing more,” the McCain-Palin campaign said in a memo yesterday. And no books were banned, the town says.)



Ed Koch

Presidential Endorsement

September 9, 2008

The time has come to declare whom I will be voting for.

When I made my decision four years ago and supported the reelection of George W. Bush, I said at the time the overwhelming issue for me was international Islamic terrorism, including al-Qaeda. The goal of Islamic terrorists was and still is to reestablish the Caliphate encompassing most of the Muslims living in a host of nations from Spain to Indonesia and placing them under a single religious leader with full authority over the civil affairs of the countries, in the style of Iran. That goal includes the deaths or forced conversions of Christians and Jews as infidels or the payment by them of tribute, and the elimination of the State of Israel.

In 2004, I concluded that the one person running for president who understood that danger best and was prepared to fight it and defend America and its allies was George W. Bush. Even though he is now at a low ebb in popularity, I have no regrets for having campaigned and voted for him. I said at the time I didn’t agree with him on a single domestic issue and so far as I can currently see that is still true with the exception of drilling for oil off our coasts and building nuclear energy plants.

I believe that Bush and Tony Blair, Bush’s main international ally with regard to the war in Iraq and against Islamic terrorism, will be redeemed by history. President Harry Truman was reviled when he left office, but is now honored for his courage and vision.

Now, once again, I have to make a decision to either endorse the Democratic ticket of Obama and Biden or support the Republican ticket of McCain and Palin. I am 83 years old. If I am lucky, I may yet vote not only in this election, but in the presidential election of 2012 and perhaps, if luckier, even in that of 2016. I believe I must vote my conscience, and that means for the presidential candidate who in my estimation will best protect the U.S. over the next four years.

I personally know two of those running: Joe Biden and John McCain. I like and admire them both. John McCain is a genuine war hero and patriot. Joe Biden is a friend well versed in foreign and domestic affairs, who had made judgment calls on domestic and foreign policy and legislation that I agree with. I do not personally really know the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, having spoken to him only once and briefly, or the Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

One foreign policy issue that particularly concerned me in 2004 was the security of Israel. I thought in 2004 that issue was better left to President George W. Bush, and I believe I was right. President Bush understood the need to support the security of Israel and did so. I did not feel that way about Senator John Kerry.

That is not an issue in this election. Both parties and their candidates have made clear, before and during this election campaign their understanding of the need to support Israel and oppose acts of terrorism waged against it by Hamas and other Muslim supporters of terrorism.

So the issue for me is who will best protect and defend America.

I have concluded that the country is safer in the hands of Barack Obama, leader of the Democratic Party and protector of the philosophy of that party. Protecting and defending the U.S. means more than defending us from foreign attacks. It includes defending the public with respect to their civil rights, civil liberties and other needs, e.g., national health insurance, the right of abortion, the continuation of Social Security, gay rights, other rights of privacy, fair progressive taxation and a host of other needs and rights.

If the vice president were ever called on to lead the country, there is no question in my mind that the experience and demonstrated judgment of Joe Biden is superior to that of Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is a plucky, exciting candidate, but when her record is examined, she fails miserably with respect to her views on the domestic issues that are so important to the people of the U.S., and to me. Frankly, it would scare me if she were to succeed John McCain in the presidency.

I reiterate the question each of us must answer in making our choice, who will best protect and defend America, domestically and with respect to the literal defense of the country? I hope I’ve made the right decision but only time will tell.

Whoever wins should and, I hope, will, following the election, receive the support of all Americans, no matter how they voted, especially in these perilous times. God Bless America and the next president and vice president of the U.S.

 

Fiscal conservative ISO tax and spend liberal


McCain surrogates likely to echo Bush on Iran and Israel


DENVER (JTA)—John McCain’s campaign has walked a fine line between upholding the values of the GOP base that still reveres George W. Bush, while repudiating the legacy of the most unpopular president in modern history.

In at least one area, however, there’s no ambivalence: When it comes to Israel and how to deal with Iran, Republicans are happy to tout the Arizona senator’s consistency with the Bush presidency and his differences with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), his Democratic rival.

At next week’s GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., expect McCain and his top surrogates, including lapsed Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to hammer home real policy differences between the two parties on the Middle East:

Such differences include Bush’s policy of continued democratization vs. Obama’s emphasis of reaching out to all governments; the Bush-Cheney preference for a tough military posture in the region vs. Obama’s pledge to intensify engagement in diplomacy and peacemaking.

“He recognizes Israel’s right as a sovereign to defend herself against those who seek to harm and destroy her,” says the “Jewish Advisory Coalition” page on McCain’s campaign Web site. The statement appears beneath a picture of McCain and Lieberman, wearing blue and white yarmulkes and praying at the Western Wall.

It’s a pitch that works with Republican Jews and the small portion of Jewish voters who vote strictly on Israel preferences. Coupled with McCain’s reputation as a relative moderate and anxieties about Obama, a relative unknown, the strategy appears to have eaten into the traditional 3-1 Jewish vote in favor of Democrats. Obama’s ratings have been stuck at 60 percent in Jewish polls.

McCain’s selection Friday of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, however, might reinforce charges by Democrats that McCain’s pretensions to moderation are unfounded. Palin, 44 and governor for two years, is a staunch opponent of abortion rights and gay unions.

The McCain campaign is already casting the ticket as one of reform: Palin has earned plaudits for pushing through ethics reforms in a state where Republicans have become identified with cronyism.

“In Alaska, Governor Palin challenged a corrupt system and passed a landmark ethics
reform bill,” a McCain campaign statement said. “She has actually used her veto and cut budgetary spending.”

Palin is close to the state’s small Jewish community, and as governor has visited its synagogues. She was planning an Israel trip prior to her selection.

Still, the selection of a staunch conservative only reinforces the “yes, but” ambivalence of much of McCain’s campaign: Yes, the Iraq war didn’t turn out well, but McCain’s been saying so for five years. Yes, the Bush White House exacerbated partisanship, but McCain has a history of working with Democrats.

Now expect to hear: Yes, she’s a staunch social conservative, but McCain has in the past embraced some moderate positions, for instance on stem cell research.

Among the few relative moderates appearing at the convention, Jews figure prominently: Lieberman, hometown favorite Sen. Norm Coleman (D-Minn.) and Hawaiian Gov. Linda Lingle.

The two other Jewish speakers underscore the campaign’s emphasis on reaching out to the community: Rabbi Ira Flax of Birmingham, Ala. will deliver the invocation Wednesday night, and David Flaum, the Republican Jewish Coalition chairman, will speak on Thursday night, when McCain delivers his acceptance speech.

Jewish events at the convention include an RJC luncheon with Lieberman’s wife, Hadassah, as well as events honoring pro-Israel lawmakers, Republican governors and a session analyzing the Jewish vote. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee will run the same range of private events it ran at the Democratic convention, honoring lawmakers and meeting with advisers. Even J-Street, the dovish pro-Israel group that was a prominent presence at Jewish events at the Democratic convention in Denver, will hold an event in St. Paul.

The toughest distinctions will be on Iran. Expect McCain to repeat the pledge he made most recently to a group of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis never to “allow another Holocaust.”

Obama’s campaign is pitching what it calls its “integrated” foreign policy that incorporates diplomatic and economic pressure with outreach; at a Center for U.S. Global Engagement session in Denver, Tony Lake, Obama’s top foreign policy adviser, said dealing with Iran’s suspected nuclear program “is a perfect illustration of an integrated approach because all our options would be on the table, economic, political and military.

Lake said the Iranian challenge could become the “worst crisis we will see in the next five years” and said Obama would deal with it as soon as he takes office. “We have to have a set of very serious negotiations with the Iranians. We have to work with other nations at increasing the leverage.”

The McCain campaign, by contrast, debuted a TV ad last week emphasizing Iran as a “serious threat” that threatens to “eliminate Israel.”

Democratic platform sticks close to Jewish positions


DENVER (JTA) — When it comes to the Middle East and Sen. Barack Obama’s Democratic Party platform, things are staying pretty much the same — which, in this case, is the kind of change pro-Israel activists can believe in.

The platform committee appears to have heeded recommendations by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) advising the party not to veer too far from previous platforms when it comes to the Mideast.

“The Middle East planks of previous platforms have been carefully crafted and have served us well as a party and a country,” Ira Forman, the NJDC’s executive director, advised the committee in July. “We urge the platform committee to stick closely to the 2004 platform language.”

It was advice that hews to the overall strategy of the campaign to elect the Illinois senator as president: Reassure Americans that this young, relatively unknown quantity will bring “change we can believe in” — but not too much of it.

The strategy is informing this week’s convention in Denver, with former military officers and party elders — chief among them former President Bill Clinton — lining up to vouch for Obama’s foreign policy credentials.

Notably, the preamble to the platform’s foreign policy section emphasizes security and defense. Five of its seven points focus on building up the military and combating terrorism.

When it comes to Israel, the platform hews closely to traditional language.

“Our starting point must always be our special relationship with Israel, grounded in shared interests and shared values, and a clear, strong, fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy,” the platform says in an unusually long passage titled, “Stand With Allies and Pursue Democracy in the Middle East.”

“That commitment, which requires us to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense, is all the more important as we contend with growing threats in the region — a strengthened Iran, a chaotic Iraq, the resurgence of al-Qaeda, the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah,” it says.

The rest of the passage repeats talking points that would not be out of place on an American Israel Public Affairs Committee prep sheet: a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, no return to the pre-1967 Six-Day War lines and no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

The intensification of concerns that Iran is nearing nuclear weapons capability post-dates the 2004 platform, but here, too, the Democratic Party platform sticks closely to the pro-Israel lobby’s line.

The platform emphasizes Obama’s preference for tough diplomacy: “We will present Iran with a clear choice: If you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime.”

Even as it plays up the possibilities of sanctions, the platform also includes the magic words: “keeping all options on the table” — continuing the Bush administration’s implicit threat of military action should Iran get to the nuclear brink.

The sharpest foreign policy departure from the Bush administration and from the position of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is in Obama’s pledge to end the war in Iraq — an area where polls have shown that the vast majority of American Jews agree with Democrats.

On domestic issues, the platform also stays close to positions favored by the Jewish community, a predominately moderate to liberal demographic. It advocates abortion rights, environmental protections, energy independence, expanded health care and poverty relief.

In one area, however, the platform diverges from traditional liberal orthodoxies on church-state separation: Obama advocates keeping Bush’s faith-based initiatives, albeit with First Amendment protections.

“We will empower grass-roots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy,” it says. “At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections — because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate.”

Ich bin ein Amerikaner


“The world is waiting to love America again” ran the title of a recent London Observer editorial anticipating Barack Obama’s visit to Europe.

Love may be too strong a word to describe the world’s feelings for America when George W. Bush was first sworn in as president, but not by much. It’s surprising, but irrefutable, to look back at the numbers he inherited. Polls taken in 1999 and 2000 show impressive majorities of people in nations all around the world holding favorable views of the U.S. In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, when headlines declared “We Are All Americans” in many languages, those numbers went even higher.

But today, love is not much in the air. As the Pew Global Attitudes Project put it, “Since 2002 … the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world. Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available.”

Some examples: In Germany, our favorability has fallen from 78 percent, when Bush was inaugurated, to 30 percent in 2007; in Britain, from 83 to 51; in Slovakia, from 74 to 41; in Argentina, from 50 to 16; in Turkey, from 52 to 9; in Indonesia, from 75 to 29.

The Bush/Cheney doctrine, of course, was never about being loved. Instead, they said they wanted America to be respected, which turned out to be code for being feared. No one disputes that national security depends on strength, which includes military and economic strength. But it also depends on ideals, and it’s in that department — the values implicit in our actions — where the White House has lost the world’s respect and actually undermined America’s power.

Everyone knows the list of horribles: Unilateralism. Name-calling. Cowboy diplomacy. Pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol. Declaring the Geneva Conventions irrelevant. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Branding negotiation as “appeasement.” Preaching a “freedom agenda” while undermining domestic civil liberties. Supporting authoritarian regimes in the name of spreading democracy.

It goes on. And it has had an effect diametrically opposite to its intention. “Ironically,” the Pew project says, “the belief that the United States does not take into account the interests of other countries in formulating its foreign policy is extensive among the publics of several close U.S. allies. No fewer than 89 percent of the French, 83 percent of Canadians and 74 percent of the British express this opinion.”

For years, the Bush State Department has pursued numerous misbegotten and unsuccessful efforts at “public diplomacy,” based on the premise that what America has is a communications problem, that we need a more effective marketing campaign for our national brand. In fact, what we have actually had is a problem problem — a policy problem, an actions problem, a contempt for differing points of view, an arrogance about human rights, a penchant for demonization.

Yes, there are evil people and bad states in the world, and they want to do grievous harm to us and our allies. But there is scant evidence that the approach of the past seven years has effectively contained or defanged them. In fact, the Bush State Department seems finally to have recognized this. In its dealings with Syria and Iran, there is a belated, twilight recognition that talk is not the same thing as capitulation. The agreement at the G-8 summit in Japan to halve greenhouse gases by 2050 — 2050! — may be pathetic, but at least it is less pathetic than denying their human causes and their lethal consequences.

There is a good reason that entertainment is America’s No. 1 export, even at this nadir of our international reputation. The stories that Hollywood’s products tell, the values they embody, are hopeful, idealistic, celebratory of human potential and achievement. Yes, some nihilistic stuff is American-made and globally consumed, too. But by and large, people around the world like our entertainment for the same reason that we do: It comes down on the side of dignity, freedom and good triumphing over evil. That’s what America can mean to the world, and in some quarters — despite the bullying and blundering of the Bush years — still does mean.

When John F. Kennedy in 1963 told the world from the Brandenburg Gate, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” he was explicitly identifying with all people whose freedom was threatened. But there was an implicit message in his words as well: Here is what it means to be an American. Here is what the values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution look like.

As The Observer observed, the world is waiting to love America again. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have a tremendous opportunity to change the face, and to change the meaning, of what “I am an American” has come to signify around the world. For the sake of our national security, and that of our allies, it can’t come a moment too soon.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

The chickens, having come home, roost


Standing in the polls


Olmert in D.C.: Iran talk, not goodbyes


WASHINGTON (JTA)—Expressions of love, walks down memory lane, even the rain lashing the capital’s monuments.

The latest meeting between Ehud Olmert and George Bush played out like the end of a movie romance. Only the Israeli prime minister says he’s not going anywhere because there is work to be done, especially when it comes to facing down Iran.

“I came in with a number of questions regarding this complex issue and I came out with a lot fewer,” Olmert said of Iran’s suspected nuclear program after meeting last Wednesday with President Bush at the White House.

Bush is increasingly perceived as a lame duck, and Olmert is dogged by corruption investigations and calls from his governing coalition to step down. So it follows that much of the prime minister’s visit this week had a melancholy tone.

In his speech last week to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference, Olmert even said he had thought twice about whether to attend.

“Given the recent political developments in Israel, of which I am sure you are all aware, I hesitated as to whether it was the right time and the right thing to leave everything behind and meet with you today,” he said.

Before Olmert’s meeting with Bush, the two leaders traded fond memories, particularly of the president’s 60th anniversary visit last month to Israel.

“From a personal point of view, I can only say that I admire your friendship and your commitment, and your emotions as they were expressed in such a powerful manner in your visit to the State of Israel,” Olmert told Bush in the Oval Office as their gazes locked. “You are loved, you and Laura, very much. And part of my mission is to make you feel this way.”

An hour or so later, Olmert made his way across Lafayette Square through a thunderstorm to Blair House, where state visitors stay. He was all business, especially the business of keeping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.

Olmert said he and Bush discussed “means, ways and a timetable” in getting Iran to end its suspected program.

“Each day that passes we take another step to deal with this effectively,” Olmert told reporters after the meeting. “The United States is not just a partner but the leading factor in these efforts.”

He would not provide specifics beyond his challenge in his AIPAC speech to the international community to end the sale of refined gasoline to Iran, which would sow unrest in an economy in which the product is heavily subsidized, as well as to ramp up banking sanctions. AIPAC is backing such efforts in Congress.

Asked particularly about reports that he is urging Americans to lead a blockade of Iranian ports, Olmert would say only that “it is important to tack action not just through the U.N. Security Council. Nations can also take steps.”

Bush and Olmert also discussed Israeli-Palestinian talks. Olmert would not offer an assessment of talks that have been famously leak-proof, saying it would be “impetuous” to declare a deal at this point. He sounded a cautious note about striking a deal before year’s end.

“I hope we can make the timetable we hoped for—hoped for, not committed to,” he said.

Olmert was hopeful as well that Egyptian-brokered efforts to arrive at a cease-fire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip would achieve results, but said Israel was ready to launch a major military operation if it did not.

Olmert and Bush also discussed recently renewed talks with Syria, which Bush administration officials have not heartily endorsed, believing Syria to be too entrenched in the Iranian sphere.

Those talks have yet to be fully embraced by the pro-Israel community. Olmert said he hoped that would change after his AIPAC speech and a closed meeting with the lobby’s leaders.

“I said things in that meeting that cannot be mistaken,” he said.

Olmert said he was impressed by all three presidential candidates, who spoke at the AIPAC forum, and their commitment to Israel and isolating Iran. He also said he focused in all his talks on campaigning for the release of three Israeli soldiers held captive by terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza.

Commenting on the prospects of his government while visiting Washington would be “inappropriate,” Olmert said, adding that he did not regret coming.

“The issues are so great,” he said, “it would have been a mistake to miss it.”

Plan ahead


Israeli invention could pave way for hydrogen cars


Everyone’s heard that old story about the scientist who invents a “magic pill” that turns water into gasoline — with the invention eventually getting into the hands of the oil companies that bury it, fearing they will be driven out of business when word gets out about their competition.

It sounds like science fiction, but believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened to Moshe Stern, head of C.En (Clean Energy), who said his company’s scientists have developed a revolutionary breakthrough that will enable automobile manufacturers to produce — and sell — cars that use hydrogen power. It’s a breakthrough that has been getting a lot of attention — and oil companies got wind of it, too, with one company allegedly offering him $50 million to shelve his project.

Stern didn’t take the money, though; he intends to see his hydrogen car project through. As a result, he said, for the first time the West has an opportunity to make a real dent in its dependence on OPEC oil.

Hydrogen has long been the great green hope for governments and environmentalists, as well as the ideal opportunity to lessen oil imports for Western countries — since hydrogen can be manufactured from water.

President Bush has set aside billions for development of the technology, and hydrogen is the preferred alternative fuel for public vehicles, like buses, in many cities. Among the cities with at least some public buses fueled by hydrogen are London; Reykjavik, Iceland; Perth, Australia, and Santa Monica — where nearly three-quarters of all municipal vehicles of all types are powered by the fuel.

Instead of producing carbon monoxide or other harmful pollutants, hydrogen fuel emits water vapor, which is certainly better for the environment than fossil fuel emissions — even though some scientists believe it should be considered a greenhouse gas.

Lower pollution and less money for OPEC — hydrogen sounds tailo rmade for the fuel problems that ail us. While Bill Gates of Microsoft fame may have been right when he said, “If GM kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon,” the fact is that the industry says that hydrogen is still not ready for prime time.

While producing the hydrogen is easy enough, getting the fuel into the car and storing it in a fuel tank are some of the biggest obstacles for the technology. This, industry experts say, has traditionally been the deal-breaker for increased hydrogen use.

Most hydrogen vehicles on the road use a liquid form of the material, which requires a super strong and super heavy storage tank. Liquid hydrogen is unstable and needs to be insulated from the excess shocks of bumps and potholes that are a part of everyday driving, so the tanks themselves are large and heavy, and hold about five gallons of fuel — enough for barely 160 miles of driving.

Then there’s the issue of integrating the fuel into internal combustion vehicles that, for better or worse, are unlikely to be phased out anytime soon — as well as the question of where drivers are supposed to fill up, because hydrogen stations are rare.

All these are legitimate concerns that have kept hydrogen development restricted more or less to the laboratory, Stern said, and all concerns that are addressed and solved with C.En’s hydrogen storage and supply solution.

The difference? C.En’s tank uses hydrogen gas collected from the environment (i.e., not produced from fossil fuels) and enclosed in a thin but leak-proof glass container. The best part: Drivers will be able to buy “gas” at automotive or discount stores, fueling up approximately every 370 miles.

Stern said they can build a 16-gallon tank that weighs no more than 100 pounds,unlike tanks currently used for liquid hydrogen that weigh several hundred pounds.

“Our company’s breakthrough is in accumulating hydrogen in a glass material that is very small, only a few microns,” said Stern, who is also president of Environmental Energy Resources (EER), a waste treatment company. “You don’t need to transport hydrogen to fuel stations, and you don’t need pipelines. The tanks will be like a battery that can be replaced, and you can carry a reserve in the car.”

When you run out of hydrogen in one tank, according to Stern, you just pull out the empty cell and put in the fresh one, which will be good for another 370 miles.

The cells, in fact, will act just like batteries in electric or hybrid cars and fit right in with the standard internal combustion engine — which means that Detroit or Japan don’t have to retool their factories or production lines to build cars with the capacity for hydrogen cells. The know-how and means of production are in use right now, in fact, as almost every car manufacturer is already producing hybrids or straight electric cars.

George Sverdrup, technology manager for the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s hydrogen, fuel cells and infrastructure technologies program, said that once the storage problem is solved, there is no reason hydrogen cannot be used as the premiere fuel to power cars.

“We can use hydrogen to decrease our dependence on imported petroleum, because it can be produced by a variety of domestic resources, including water and biomass,” he said, adding that his group has made a great deal of progress in recent years figuring out ways to store hydrogen more safely — a problem solved by C.En’s invention.

Stern is coordinator of the project and chief investor. Among the others are Israeli, as well as Korean, Japanese and Russian investors. The head researcher is professor Dan Eliezer of Ben-Gurion University, an expert in hydrogen who has done work for NASA and security organizations in Israel and the United States.

The team has conducted more than 100 tests over the past several years and is going to be conducting field tests in Germany, where the company will seek approval by BAM (the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing).

Bush’s Middle East legacy


Bush’s Arab world tour significant for Israel


With its focus on strengthening the moderate Arab coalition against Iran, President Bush’s tour of the Persian Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia and Egypt could prove extremely significant for Israel.

From an Israeli perspective, the three key elements were isolating Iran, coaxing moderate Arab countries into moving toward normalization with Israel and getting oil-rich Arab states to honor their financial pledges to the Palestinians.

Progress on all or some of these issues would significantly boost Israeli foreign policy goals.

On Iran, Bush’s rhetoric was uncompromising. In a major policy statement in Abu Dhabi, he described Tehran as a threat to world peace and called on America’s allies to join the United States in confronting the danger “before it was too late.”

Bush accused the Iranian regime of funding terrorists and extremists, undermining peace in Lebanon, sending arms to the Taliban, seeking to intimidate its neighbors with alarming rhetoric, defying the United Nations and destabilizing the entire region by refusing to be open about its nuclear program.

But after last month’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which concluded that Iran had suspended a clandestine nuclear weapons program in 2003, it is unclear what action the United States intends to take.

Bush’s post-NIE Mideast diplomacy can be read in two different ways: bolstering the moderate Arab coalition against Iran as part of an ongoing policy of containment through diplomatic and economic sanctions, or as laying the diplomatic groundwork for a possible military strike against Iranian nuclear installations before the president leaves office.

Israeli experts are divided over how far Bush is likely to go.

Eitan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center for Strategic Studies said he would be very surprised if Bush does anything dramatic during the remainder of his term, such as initiating a dialogue with the ayatollahs or launching a military strike.

Indeed, Gilboa said the president may have ordered the NIE findings to get himself off the hook on attacking Iran.

“The administration has no stomach for military action now,” Gilboa said. “The public doesn’t want it, and it could hurt the chances of the Republican candidate in the November presidential election.”

But Roni Bart, an expert on U.S. Middle East policy at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, argues that the NIE has been far less influential than is generally thought and that Bush still may attack Iran if he believes it is the right thing to do.

Bart points out that the NIE failed to convince the Europeans, the Arab states, the U.S. presidential candidates and, most important, Bush himself that the Iranians have abandoned their drive toward nuclear weapons.

“After seven years we know a bit about Bush. He doesn’t care about public opinion, and he says God talks to him,” Bart said. “If he thought he should attack before the NIE, and if that’s what he still thinks a few months from now, the NIE won’t change his mind.”

Bush is committed to beefing up moderate forces in the Persian Gulf region as part of the effort to contain Iran. Most significant, the United States intends to supply Saudi Arabia with $20 billion in state-of-the-art weaponry over the coming decade.

Nevertheless, the moderate Arab states are highly ambivalent about war with Iran. Both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates told Bush they would not allow U.S. forces to use their territory as a launching pad for a military strike.

As for normalization between Israel and the Arab world, Bush declared in Jerusalem last week that the Arab states should “reach out to Israel,” describing it as a step “that was long overdue” and that would give Israel the confidence to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Indeed, Israel argues that things would proceed much better if the Arabs make a reciprocal gesture of normalization toward Israel for each step Israel makes toward the Palestinians. The Arabs, however, see normalization as a prize that Israel will be entitled to only after a peace treaty with the Palestinians is complete.

So far, the Arabs have shown little sign of any change in this attitude.

The smattering of Israeli dealings in the Gulf countries is kept highly secret for fear of embarrassing Arab host countries. Last year, when a Kenyan athlete running for Bahrain won the marathon in Tiberias, the Gulf state summarily revoked his Bahraini citizenship for competing in Israel.

Last week, though, offered a significant exception to the rule: The Saudi-owned newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat ran an article calling on the Arabs to show greater understanding for Israeli concerns.

Written by Mamoun Fandy, an Egyptian-born scholar at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, the column urged the Arabs to do much more to convince the West they really want peace and stability — including peace with Israel.

“Perhaps the time has come for the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, to take a serious view of Israel’s strategic fears,” Fandy wrote. “The Israeli question about the nature of the Palestinian state is logical and legitimate. Will this state add to stability or instability in the region?”

The fact that such views were allowed to appear in a publication connected to the Saudi royal house constituted a small but possibly significant crack in the rejectionists’ wall.

Bush on his trip also sought to ensure that the Arab contribution to the $7.4 billion aid package raised for the Palestinians at last month’s donor conference in Paris comes through. The largest pledge was $500 million from the Saudis over the next three years.

Israel has a clear interest in the money getting to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Israeli policy is based on sustaining the growing contrast between an increasingly prosperous West Bank and an economically declining Gaza Strip. The hope is that this will help bring down Hamas in Gaza and create a large Palestinian majority for peace.

Annapolis, Paris and Bush’s current Middle East tour are all part of this grand peacemaking scheme. But will it be enough in a region teeming with so many powerful countervailing forces?


Leslie Susser is diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

The Importance of Accessibility


Although this was my third visit to the White House, the novelty does not easily wear off. My first invitation was to a prayer breakfast toward the end of the Clinton administration.

The
second time, I wasn’t actually invited. I just hitched a ride as the guest of my close friend, Rabbi David Wolpe. Then, the occasion was a dinner to mark the opening of the Anne Frank exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

My most recent presidential encounter began with a call from the official liaison to the Jewish community. He explained that the president wanted to convene a small meeting to discuss Jewish higher education. The gathering was to take place on the morning of Dec. 18 in order to coincide with a Chanukah party at the White House later that same evening.

I was still a bit uncertain about the purpose of the meeting, but at 10 a.m. on the appointed day, I presented myself in the lobby of the West Wing.

I was part of a small group that included six presidents of Jewish universities and seminaries, as well as a few students and representatives of B’nai B’rith Hillel.

Soon we were joined by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten (who is Jewish), Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and, finally, by the president himself.

President Bush made a point of going around the table and greeting each of us personally before the “formal” meeting began. But herein lies the curious part. There really was no formal meeting. For almost an hour, the president discoursed on a variety of themes, including Iraq, the nuclear threat emanating from Iran, global terrorism, Darfur and, of course, Israel. Little was actually said about higher education.

At one point, Bush reminded us of his trip to Graceland with his friend and fellow Elvis fan, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, as an example of how former enemies can, in time, become friends. Unable to restrain myself, I raised my hand and asked whether he had considered a trip to Graceland with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

My question evoked the anticipated laughter from those seated around the table, but I think the president may have taken me a bit too seriously. He stressed that it would be inappropriate for an American president to “reach out” to a leader who currently poses a potential nuclear threat to other nations of the world.

This very serious response to a very unserious question provides an insight into Bush’s view of his presidency. He is exceedingly concerned about his legacy, and he measures that legacy in terms of his own willingness and ability to protect us from the perceived threats leveled against the United States. Simply put, he does not want to be remembered as the president who ignored any encroaching danger.

Bush argued that the Islamic extremists could not possibly be religious people. After all, he reasoned, religious people do not murder others.

Had I not already squandered my one chance to speak on a joke, I would have begged to differ with him on this point. Perhaps a committed Christian in today’s America sees religion primarily in terms of love, but periods of “killing the infidel” have historically been a part of Islam, Christianity and even biblical Judaism.

Often, the theory is advanced that important White House policy decisions are made by someone other than the president himself. However, the Bush we encountered is a man who appears to know his own mind. He may not always be highly articulate, even in a small group, but the moral clarity of his message came through.

The meeting concluded with a photo op in the Oval Office. In the evening, my wife, Hana, and I returned to the White House, where we were greeted by a blazing menorah and a military band playing a medley of Chanukah songs. (Of course, since the Chanukah repertoire is a bit meager, they did add a few generic holiday classics, like “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells.”)

Earlier that day, the White House kitchen had been made kosher so that the dietary needs of all 500 Jewish dinner guests from around the country could be accommodated.
Hana is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and as our evening at the White House drew to a close, she could not help comparing what we had just witnessed with the experience of her parents in Eastern Europe before and during World War II. I agreed that the event was remarkable, but I asked her if this whole affair had any practical significance for the Jewish community. Hana thought it did.

“Just think about it,” she said. “If Jews had enjoyed this kind of access to the president during World War II, our history might have taken a very different turn.”

Dr. Robert Wexler is the president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles

U.S., Israeli officials see conflicting Iraq study ideas


American and Israeli government officials agree on two things: Iraq has nothing at all to do with Israeli-Arab issues.

Except when it does.

From President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on down, the leadership of the Israeli and U.S. governments are simultaneously embracing and rebuffing last week’s conclusions of the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, which makes Israeli-Arab peace progress a linchpin of a successful outcome in Iraq. The crux of their argument is that while it is wrong to blame the Israeli-Arab impasse for any part of the crisis in Iraq, actors in that crisis — chief among them Iran and its allies — are successfully using Israel as a justification for raising the stakes in Iraq.

“We do this not because we are persuaded by some linkage or another, but because it is in the U.S. national interest,” David Welch, the top U.S. State Department envoy to the Middle East, said Friday of U.S. involvement in Arab-Israeli peace when he addressed the Saban Forum, an annual colloquy of U.S. and Israeli leaders.

Another Bush administration official put it more bluntly: “Palestine is not a relevant issue to Iraq, but it is an issue exploited by Iran and extremists throughout the region,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Arab-Israeli peace talks would have a “positive, emboldening effect,” the official said. “If progress among Israel and the Palestinians is manifested, then moderates throughout the region win and extremists lose.”

Conversely, the official said, “We believe that a success in Iraq, a success for moderates against forces of extremism, whether secular or religious, will have a very significant impact in the region, in Syria, in Lebanon, as well as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Bush administration has welcomed Olmert’s recent overture to the Palestinians, in which he promised a release of prisoners and increased mobility, should a cease-fire hold and the Palestinians prove themselves able to present a negotiating team that renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s existence.

Mahmoud Abbas, the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority president, has all but given up on such concessions from the Cabinet, led by the terrorist Hamas group, and has proposed new elections.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, said at the Saban Forum that Israel and the West should encourage alternatives to the Hamas government, although she did not elaborate.

Bush launched a weeklong review of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations on Monday, starting with meetings with top State Department officials. Later in the week he was to have met with outside experts, top U.S. diplomats in the region and top military brass.

His primary concern about the report is its deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the first quarter of 2008. Bush has steadfastly resisted timetables until now. However, after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is scheduled to tour the region, Bush suggested that he embraces the report’s Iraq-Israeli-Palestinian linkage, counting it as one of three ways to move the Iraq process forward.

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is important to be solved,” the president said.

That’s music to the ears of Blair and other Europeans. They enthusiastically welcomed the recommendations of the commission headed by James Baker, secretary of state for Bush’s father, and Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana Democratic congressman.

“The German government shares many of the political observations in the report,” a statement from the German Embassy in Washington said last week on the eve of a U.S. visit by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The entire Middle East region must move into the international community’s scope. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of central importance.”

Such views were hardly welcome at the Saban Forum, where the Iraq Study Group’s report lent an anxious irritability to the weekend proceedings. The Saban Center, a Brookings Institution subsidiary funded by American-Israeli entertainment mogul Haim Saban, attracts top names to its annual colloquies. Last year’s was in Jerusalem.

“The Iraqi conflict has very little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis,” Yuli Tamir, Israel’s education minister, said during a break from the conference’s closed sessions. “I don’t think it’s relevant — it’s a good justification but not a reason.”

On Sunday, Olmert, who had earlier suggested that he disagrees with the report’s conclusions, ordered his Cabinet not to comment on it, saying it was an internal American affair.

Livni did not mention the Baker-Hamilton report by name, but its conclusions were clearly the focus of her keynote address at a gala State Department dinner last Friday.

“There is a commonly mistaken assumption that I sometimes hear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core of the trouble of the Middle East; that somehow if this conflict could be resolved, so the situation could be different, and we can face a totally different region,” Livni said. “So, this is wrong. This view confuses symptom and cause. The truth is that the conflicts in the Middle East are a consequence, not a cause, of radicalism and terrorism.”

Nevertheless, in the same speech Livni was preoccupied by how Iran would fare in the Iraq crisis — and what a success by its Shiite Muslim protégés in Iraq would bode for Israel and the region.

“The idea of spreading Shiism all over the region is a threat not only to Israel but the region itself,” she said, citing efforts by the Hezbollah terrorist group to topple Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Bush expressed wariness about the commission’s recommendations to engage Iran and Syria. He was adamant that those countries are out of bounds until they stop backing terrorists. If Syria and Iran are “not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up” to a regional conference on Iraq, he said after meeting with Blair.

Iran’s ambitions dominated much of the Saban Forum. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke darkly of the possibility of war in a Saturday panel with former President Bill Clinton.

“Iran’s strength derives from the weakness of the international community,” Peres said. “If there was an international coalition, there would be no need to go to war against Iran, and Iran would return to its natural dimensions.”

Israel backs U.S. and European efforts to sanction Iran until it gives up enriching uranium, a step toward manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Peres described a range of options to prevent Iran’s nuclearization: monitoring its missiles with nuclear warhead capability, economic sanctions, limiting its oil production and assisting regime change.

Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rape; U.S. funding Hamas opponents


Israeli police want to charge Katsav for rapeIsraeli police recommended indicting President Moshe Katsav on charges of rape and sexual harassment. Katsav rejected calls to resign, and his attorney said Monday morning that he will quit only if an indictment is submitted. Investigators presented their findings and recommendations to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and senior officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office. The most serious charge is for the alleged rape of two women, but police also accused Katsav of purchasing dozens of gifts with money taken from the President’s Residence budget, Ha’aretz reported. Katsav’s attorney noted that the police recommendations have no legal validity because only the state prosecutor can decide on an indictment.

U.S. funding Hamas opponents

The United States has launched a funding campaign aimed at bolstering groups in the Palestinian Authority opposed to the Hamas government. Reuters reported over the weekend that the Bush administration has earmarked up to $42 million for overhauling Hamas rival Fatah, providing schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that offer an alternative to Hamas’ Islamist teachings, and bankrolling Palestinian journalists and watchdog groups that would monitor the Hamas government. The report cited official documentation and was tacitly confirmed by a U.S. envoy in the region. The report suggested that Washington is pursuing a “hearts and minds” campaign in the Palestinian Authority aimed at undermining Hamas and boosting the Fatah leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks peace talks with Israel.

Bush signs Darfur Act

President Bush signed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. Jewish groups led lobbying for the act, signed by Bush last Friday. The act bans dealing with Sudan until it abides by a peace treaty with tribes in the Darfur region and allows an international peacekeeping force. Government-allied Arab militias have slaughtered tens of thousands of people in the Darfur region, atrocities the Bush administration and Jewish groups have labeled a genocide.

Israel welcomes North Korea sanctions

Israel welcomed the U.N. Security Council resolution punishing North Korea for its nuclear testing. Israeli officials said Sunday that the unanimous Security Council decision to impose sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its controlled nuclear blast last week could send a message to Iran about its own atomic ambitions.”Iran, like North Korea, is a poor country. Such sanctions have a deterrent power,” one official said.Under the sanctions resolution passed over the weekend, arms shipments going in and out of North Korea are subject to monitoring, a step that could help stem the flow of missile and nuclear technology if applied to Iran, Israeli officials said.

Missiles said to be reaching Gaza

Palestinians are smuggling advanced shoulder-fired missiles into the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli intelligence officer said. Brig. Gen. Yossi Beidetz told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have been bringing both anti-tank and light anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza in preparation for a major confrontation with Israel. The anti-aircraft missiles would complicate Israeli air force efforts to provide cover for ground troops operating in the coastal territory, Beidetz said. He added that Syria is still smuggling weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in violation of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended this summer’s Israel-Hezbollah war.

EU backs forum on Anti-Semitism

The European Union endorsed a high-level conference on anti-Semitism in Bucharest next year. The endorsement was made at an annual meeting last week in Warsaw of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s human rights unit.”These OSCE conferences have become not only opportunities for political leaders to speak to the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism, but they focus attention and government action on steps to address it,” said the American Jewish Committee’s Andrew Baker, who attended the Warsaw meeting and lobbied for the Bucharest conference.

A final decision on the conference is due in December. Jewish groups have worried that the conference will be canceled; several countries wanted the OSCE, which includes 55 member states, to focus on other priorities. The conference would follow similar OSCE events in recent years in Vienna; Cordoba, Spain; and Berlin.

Turkey defends book fair selections

Turkish officials defended themselves against charges of choosing anti-Semitic books for a recent book fair in Germany. The Simon Wiesenthal Center complained last week that three anti-Semitic books were displayed at a Turkish Culture Ministry stand at the October fair in Frankfurt, one of the world’s largest book shows. The ministry said the Publishers Association chose the books, but the association said it was not responsible for the books at the ministry’s stand. The association also denied that any of the books on display was anti-Semitic, but the Wiesenthal Center noted they included an account of alleged Jewish plots against Turkey titled, “The Greater Israel Strategy,” and “Password Israel,” which claims that codes in the Torah show how Jews are planning World War III and the destruction of Turkey. Last year, “Mein Kampf” reportedly became a best seller in Turkey, and several anti-Israel books enjoyed popularity as well.

Russian Jews protest Hitler restaurant

Jewish leaders in a Russian region are protesting against the use of Adolf Hitler’s name by a new pub. The pub, set to open soon in the city of Ekaterinburg, is named Hitler Kaput. In a letter to the local mayor, leaders of the Jewish community said that any use of Hitler’s name to attract public attention is unacceptable. Authorities haven’t yet responded to the Jewish community.

Survivor, Author Normal Salsitz dies

Author Normal Salsitz died of pneumonia Oct. 11 in Boston at age 86. Salsitz, a Polish-born Jew, wrote “Against All Odds,” which tells the story of how he and his wife survived the Holocaust by pretending to be Christian. Salsitz received a false baptism certificate from a Polish priest and fought with the Polish underground against the Nazis. At one point, he killed a group of Polish partisans intent on murdering Jews.

Ukrainian leader coming not coming to Israel

Ukraine’s president will not visit Israel next month, contrary to reports. A press officer for Viktor Yuschenko said last Friday that earlier reports of a state visit to Israel in early November were “a newspaper hoax.” Earlier this month, some media reported from Berlin that Yuschenko announced his upcoming visit to Israel when he and Israel’s vice premier, Shimon Peres, received a prestigious international award in the German capital. A member of Yuschenko’s administration said that the visit is likely to take place at a later date but could not specify when. This is at least the third time in two years that a potential visit by Yuschenko to Israel has been postponed.Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Illegal aliens; Dems and Reps; Shocked, just shocked!


Illegal Aliens
 
Roberto Loiederman’s article, “Living and Working [Il]legally in America” (Sept. 8), achieved its desired results. The Jewish guilt arose in me with each passing word like hot gases about to blow off the top of a volcano.How can I deny illegal Mexicans and others illegal entry into this country, when some of my own people have done the same thing? It was a very clever way of making me see my own racist tendencies that apparently Loiederman and the editorial staff at The Journal wanted me and other Jews who think like me to see.
 
It doesn’t matter how you try to explain it, some thickheads just will never get it. This is not about race; it is about sovereignty.
 
This issue is about the giving up of America and all its values and culture. It is about the transformation of that culture into something else, into something foreign.
 
We have millions of illegals who are draining our resources in this country. Public schools, emergency rooms, city services, to say nothing of the more hazardous conditions on public roads because nonlicensed and noninsured drivers are big problems, especially here in Southern California.
 
Loiederman must understand that America cannot support Mexico’s poor. It is estimated that 15 percent of Mexico’s workforce is now living in the United States.
 
For Loiederman to point to his own background to try and cloud the all-important issue of open borders is a travesty as an American and as a Jew. Once again, I shake my finger at The Jewish Journal and tell you that you ought to be ashamed of yourselves for supporting such positions.
 
Larry Hart
West Hills

 
Republicans and Democrats
 
Shame on the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for making the outrageous and ridiculous assertion that Democrats are “turning their backs on Israel.” (Republican Jewish Coalition ads in Jewish Journal, Sept. 8)It is bad enough for them to deliberately distort the facts. But it is even worse when it is done as part of a reckless strategy to politicize support for Israel — a strategy that will have negative, long-term consequences for the vital U.S.-Israel relationship.
 
I readily acknowledge that President George W. Bush, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and many other Republicans have been reliable friends of Israel. But they have been no better friends than the vast majority of Democratic leaders — including President Bill Clinton, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi — all of whom are unwavering supporters of the Jewish state.
 
The RJC chose to feature former President Jimmy Carter in their political ads, but notwithstanding his comments to the contrary, he is an outlier on this issue and does not represent the mainstream of Democrats. Even more ludicrous is the notion that Cindy Sheehan speaks for any meaningful number of Democrats on the subject of Israel.
 
If Democrats wanted to sink to the RJC’s level, we could just as easily trot out statements made by a number of prominent Republicans and claim that the GOP, therefore, is hostile to Israel.
 
In the increasingly polarized American political system, support for Israel is one of the few issues that remains truly bipartisan. This gives Israel confidence that no matter which party occupies the White House or controls the House and Senate, America will always be committed to Israel’s security and right to exist free from terror.
 
The RJC is making a conscious effort to destroy that bipartisan consensus in the pursuit of illusory, short-term political gains. But they are not acting on behalf of Israel when they set one party against the other. This cheap ploy will inject uncertainty into the U.S.-Israel relationship and ultimately make Israel less secure.
 
If Republican leaders really care about Israel’s well-being, then they should renounce the RJC’s dangerous campaign and devote their energies to strengthening the longstanding, bipartisan consensus on supporting Israel.
 
Rep. Howard L. Berman
D-Van Nuys

 
Does the outrageous ad from the Republican Jewish Coalition (“The Democratic Party Just Abandoned Joe Lieberman,” Sept. 15) imply that Larry Greenfield and his compatriots would’ve supported Lieberman had he won the Democratic primary?As a liberal who strongly supports Israel and equally strongly opposes the war in Iraq, I resent the portrayal of me and others like me as Democrats, who by voting against Lieberman, would abandon Israel. Can partisan politics in our country get much uglier?
 
Sally Weber
Via e-mail

 
When I was growing up, the term “Jewish Republicans” was an oxymoron. They did not exist.
 
Now I see in The Journal advertisements for the Republican Jewish Coalition, wherein they castigate Neville Chamberlain as the great appeaser, which he no doubt was. However, they fail to mention that he was the leader of the British Conservative Party, and together with his Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax, were extremely friendly with Hitler.
 
This party, the Conservatives, was of the same ilk as America’s Republican Party, which was adamant in keeping America out of “Europe’s War,” as they were wont to call it. Well, they can’t change history, no matter how they try.
 
Syd H. Hershfield
Los Angeles

 
It is time for thoughtful Jews who want to preserve Western civilization and Jewish culture and learning for their children and grandchildren to realize that appeasement emboldens our Islamofascist enemies. Appeasement was interpreted as weakness by the Nazis and millions died.
 
We are fighting a pernicious global enemy that wants to destroy America, Israel, democracy and freedom. We will win this battle only if we understand that our vicious enemy has declared war on us.
 
We need to understand that the Islamofascists will only respond to strength and commitment. The RJC’s Neville Chamberlain advertisement appropriately speaks to this issue. The choice is clear. Either support candidates of either party who condemn Islamofascism and reject appeasement or be prepared to answer to the words of Edmond Burke that evil triumphs only when good men do nothing.

Salman Rushdie Q & A: there’s a fascination with death among suicide bombers


Salman Rushdie, 59, has spent many years thinking and writing about terrorism. In this interview with political author Erich Follath, which appeared last month in Der Spiegel and is reprinted here with permission, Rushdie reflects on why apparently normal young men turn to terror, the dangers of religion and whether the United States has turned into an authoritarian state. Rushdie divides his time between New York, London and Mumbai; he appears in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, as keynote speaker at the American Jewish Congress’ event, “Profiles in Courage: Voices of Muslim Reformers in the Modern World.”

Erich Follath: Mr. Rushdie, as an expert on terrorism you….
Salman Rushdie: What gives me that honor? I don’t see myself as such at all.

EF: Your book, “Fury,” with its description of an America threatened by terrorism and published in spring 2001, was seen by many as prophetic — as more or less anticipating 9/11. Your most recent novel, “Shalimar the Clown,” describes how a circus performer from Kashmir is transformed into a terrorist. And for almost a decade, your life was threatened by Iranian fanatics, with a price of $4 million on your head.

SR: If you think that’s enough to qualify me as an expert on terrorism….

EF: While researching your books — and especially now after the recent near miss in London — you must be asking yourself: What makes apparently normal young men decide to blow themselves up?

SR: There are many reasons, and many different reasons, for the worldwide phenomenon of terrorism. In Kashmir, some people are joining the so-called resistance movements because they give them warm clothes and a meal. In London, last year’s attacks were still carried out by young Muslim men whose integration into society appeared to have failed. But now we are dealing with would-be terrorists from the middle of society. Young Muslims who have even enjoyed many aspects of the freedom that Western society offers them. It seems as though social discrimination no longer plays any role — it’s as though anyone could turn into a terrorist.

EF: Leading British Muslims have written a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair claiming that the growing willingness to engage in terrorism is due to [President] Bush’s and Blair’s policies in Iraq and in Lebanon. Are they completely wrong? Don’t the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and the cynicism of Guantanamo contribute to extremism?

SR: I’m no friend of Tony Blair’s, and I consider the Middle East policies of the United States and the U.K. fatal. There are always reasons for criticism, also for outrage. But there’s one thing we must all be clear about: Terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate goals by some sort of illegitimate means. Whatever the murderers may be trying to achieve, creating a better world certainly isn’t one of their goals. Instead they are out to murder innocent people. If the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, for example, were to be miraculously solved from one day to the next, I believe we wouldn’t see any fewer attacks.

EF: And yet there must be reasons, or at least triggers, for this terrible willingness to wipe out the lives of others — and of oneself.

SR: Lenin once described terrorism as bourgeois adventurism. I think there, for once, he got things right. That’s exactly it. One must not negate the basic tenet of all morality — that individuals are themselves responsible for their actions. And the triggers seem to be individual, too.

Upbringing certainly plays a major role there, imparting a misconceived sense of mission, which pushes people toward “actions.” Added to that there is a herd mentality once you have become integrated in a group, and everyone continues to drive everyone else on and on into a forced situation. There’s the type of person who believes his action will make mankind listen to him and turn him into a historic figure. Then there’s the type who simply feels attracted to violence. And yes, I think glamour plays a role, too.

EF: Do you seriously mean that terrorism is glamorous?

SR: Yes. Terror is glamour — not only, but also. I am firmly convinced that there’s something like a fascination with death among suicide bombers. Many are influenced by the misdirected image of a kind of magic that is inherent in these insane acts. The suicide bomber’s imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other peoples’ lives. There’s one thing you mustn’t forget here: The victims terrorized by radical Muslims are mostly other Muslims.

EF: Of course there can be no justification for terrorism. But nevertheless, there are various different starting points. There is the violence of groups who are pursuing nationalist, one might say comprehensible, goals using every means at their disposal….

SR: …. And there are others, like Al Qaeda, which have taken up the cause of destroying the West and our entire way of life. This form of terrorism wraps itself up in the wrongs of this world in order to conceal its true motives — an attack on everything that ought to be sacred to us. It is not possible to discuss things with Osama bin Laden and his successors. You cannot conclude a peace treaty with them. They have to be fought with every available means.

EF: And with the other ones, the “nationalist terrorists,” should we engage in dialogue with them?

SR: That depends on whether they are prepared to renounce their terrorist struggle under a certain set of conditions. That appears to be showing at least initial signs of working with the Basques of ETA. I think we have Bin Laden to thank for that to no small extent — the Basque leaders didn’t want to be like him. And with the IRA, it was the loss of credibility among their own people, who no longer saw any point in fighting violently in the underground.
Remolding former terrorist organizations into political parties in the long term is at least not hopeless. It might work with those groups that are not primarily characterized by religious fanaticism — the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, for example, a group which virtually invented suicide bombings, have no religious background at all. They have clear objectives: an independent state.

EF: Should such a state be granted to a minority just because they are particularly ruthless? What about Shalimar, the hero of your latest novel, who murders for Kashmir? Should he determine the region’s future?

Gay Marriage Ban Could Alienate Jews


It’s a familiar calculus in the relationship between the Jewish community and the Bush administration: a social issue that divides the country 50-50 has the Jewish community split 75-25 against where President Bush stands.

On Monday, Bush strongly endorsed the federal marriage amendment to the U.S. constitution, which would effectively ban gay marriage.

“Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization, and it should not be redefined by activist judges,” Bush said after meeting with supporters of the constitutional amendment. He was referring to the 2004 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages.

The bill, which was likely to be considered by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, has virtually no chance of passing. Constitutional amendments need 67 of the 100 Senate votes to pass, and no one anticipates the vote breaking 55.

That makes it a win-win for Bush in his effort to keep evangelical conservatives on board ahead of the November midterm congressional elections. The reasoning is that the amendment will still resonate with the GOP’s conservative base five months from now, but will likely have disappeared from the memories of Republican-leaning social moderates.

However, Jewish Republicans, who have been trying to lure Jews away from their solid 3-to-1 support for Democrats, might have been dealt a blow, at least according to the amendment’s opponents.

“It’s unclear to me how the Republican Party will gain ground in the Jewish community by bringing forth a centerpiece of the religious right’s agenda,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “For a large section of the Jewish community, this is an issue of fundamental rights and they will be watching closely to see how their senators vote.”

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements oppose the amendment. On Tuesday, the Conservative movement’s leadership joined in the opposition, in a statement that referred to a 2003 United Synagogue resolution opposing any such discrimination. Also in opposition are major Jewish civil liberties groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

The National Council of Jewish Women has taken a lead in opposing the legislation, organizing clerical lobbying against it and leading an alliance of liberal Jewish groups in urging senators to vote it down. Orthodox groups, led by the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, support the amendment.

The most recent polling on the issue, by Gallup, found 50 percent of Americans in favor of the amendment and 47 percent opposed. A 2004 American Jewish Committee survey of American Jews found 24 percent in favor and 74 percent opposed.

Jewish supporters of the amendment suggested they would sell the amendment to the Jewish community as one that would guarantee religious freedoms.

Proponents of gay marriage were “pursuing a deliberate plan of litigation and political pressure which will not only redefine marriage, but will follow from that to threaten the first freedom enshrined in the First Amendment — religious liberty,” said Nathan Diament, the director of the Washington office of the Orthodox Union.

Diament, the only Jewish participant at the meeting with Bush on Monday, said the Massachusetts ruling already had a negative impact on religious freedom. He cited as example the state’s Roman Catholic Church decision to drop out of the adoption business because it would be required to consider gay couples as parents.

“They’re trying to impose their position on society at large,” he said of proponents of gay marriage. “How a society defines marriage affects everybody.”

That view had some backing from at least one Jewish civil rights group, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

Marc Stern, the AJCongress’ general counsel, cited the example of an Orthodox kosher caterer who could face a lawsuit for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding.

A successful compromise would “recognize the marriages in the context of a secular economy, for instance by not discriminating on domestic partner benefits, but it would not force people to act in areas they find morally reprehensible,” Stern said.

Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University law professor and an activist for gay rights, said such arguments had no place in the public arena.

“There are lots of ways in which a religious organization can run its business as it wishes,” Feldblum said. “Rabbis don’t have to perform a marriage that they don’t agree with, a religious organization does not have to allow lesbians as rabbis. The problem is when religious organizations are operating in the public arena, with lunch banks, day camps, shelters. Then it’s very difficult to allow a religious organization to go against the public policy of the state.”

Republican Jewish spokesmen turned down requests for comment, but the amendment was not likely to help their efforts to appeal to Jews on domestic issues.

The emphasis before the 2004 election on Bush’s friendship with Israel and his tough reputation on security issues failed to make much of a dent on the Jewish Republican vote, which crept up to between 23 percent and 25 percent from about 19 percent in 2000.

Since then, Jewish Republicans have learned the lesson of emphasizing foreign policy too much and have carefully calibrated a social message designed to appeal to younger Jews. In Jewish newspaper advertisements and in stump speeches, Bush’s pro-business record is pitched to Jewish voters who may be more fiscally conservative than their parents.

And spokesmen like party chairman Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish, bluntly acknowledge to Jews that the Democrats were on the right side of history when they backed civil rights in the 1960s; but they say that Bush has inherited that mantle with his efforts to promote democracy abroad and force education reforms at home.

The most prominent Jewish Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would vote against the amendment. He cited classic Republican small government philosophy: government “ought to be kept off our backs, out of our pocketbooks and out of our bedrooms,” Specter said, according to The New York Times.

Democrats said the marriage amendment would help cripple such efforts.

“The Republicans are saddled with an agenda that’s horrific to the vast majority of American Jews,” said Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Supporters of the amendment said they believed momentum was on their side. A similar effort in 2004 garnered just 48 Senate votes; this effort will top 50, they believe.

Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, said he believed all Americans would eventually internalize the amendment’s moral arguments.

“This battle will be won in stages,” he said. “It takes time for the nation to fully absorb the implications of allowing same-sex marriage and the effect it will have on traditional families.”

The Reform movement’s Pelavin said his impression was that time was on the side of opponents of the amendment.

“This isn’t a fight that we picked, this is a fight that the president and the Republican leadership have picked,” he said. “This is an issue of fairness.”

 

Abbas’ Move Challenges Olmert


As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presses ahead with plans for another unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is determined not to be sidelined by Olmert’s go-it-alone approach.

In late May, as Olmert tried to convince President Bush of the need for unilateral action, Abbas urged the Hamas-led Palestinian government to accept a package that would enable the Palestinians to break out of diplomatic isolation and emerge as full-fledged negotiating partners with a say on Olmert’s pullback plans.

The vehicle Abbas hopes to use to regain international legitimacy is an agreement hammered out between Palestinian prisoners from Hamas, being held by Israel, and his own Fatah organization, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The so-called “prisoners’ covenant” is based on the Saudi-initiated peace plan of 2002, which received widespread international support at the time.

As of May 26, Abbas gave Hamas 10 days to accept the package.

If not, he says he will go to the Palestinian people and ask them to approve the prisoners’ covenant in a referendum within six weeks. Should the Palestinians accept the covenant, analysts believe there could be strong international pressure on Israel to engage in peace talks on the basis of the Saudi plan. In this way, they say, Abbas hopes to re-establish the Palestinians as players and undercut Olmert’s unilateralism.

But it won’t be easy.

Hamas leaders have already rejected the plan and question Abbas’ constitutional right to call a referendum. Moreover, without Hamas’ compliance, Abbas may not have the power to stage and secure a nationwide ballot, even though most Palestinians seem to want one. Latest polls show that between 70 percent and 80 percent of Palestinians favor a referendum.

The Saudi plan is based on a “land for peace” formula. It stipulates that if Israel withdraws from all territory gained in the 1967 Six-Day War, all the Arab states will normalize their relations with Israel. Hamas, however, continues to reject anything that implies recognition of the Jewish state.

The radical movement’s leaders also reject other key elements of the “prisoners’ covenant.”

For example, they refuse to be bound by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and insist on the right of Palestinians to use force against Israel, not only in the disputed territories, but in Israel proper as well.

Abbas has evolved several strategies to overcome Hamas intransigence. One is the planned referendum. Another is the establishment of a national-unity Hamas-Fatah government in which he, as the senior Fatah representative, would be empowered to conduct negotiations with Israel, not only as the president, but in the name of the government as a whole.

Then there is the ultimate weapon: Abbas could dissolve the Hamas-dominated Parliament and call new elections.

If he manages to get the Palestinian people and polity to commit to the Saudi plan, Abbas will create a major dilemma for the international community.

On the one hand, senior American and European officials are highly skeptical about the Palestinian president’s ability to deliver. They note that in the three years since the formulation of the internationally approved “road map” peace plan, Abbas has done virtually nothing to implement it, and doubt whether things would be different with the Saudi plan.

On the other hand, both the Americans and Europeans would much prefer a negotiated settlement to unilateral moves by Israel, which they fear might spark more fighting rather than less.

Olmert is not only skeptical about Abbas. He also has deep reservations about the Saudi plan, which calls for withdrawal to the 1967 lines, without Israel retaining any of the large settlement blocs he wants to keep.

Moreover, the Saudi formula insists on eastern Jerusalem as the capital of the projected Palestinian state and it suggests that Israel would have to accept the Palestinian refugees’ right of return — positions Olmert rejects out of hand.

The prime minister, therefore, hopes to keep the Saudi plan off the international agenda. He plans visits to Egypt and Europe in the coming weeks to persuade key players that Abbas cannot be relied on to deliver, and that Israel’s unilateralism is the only game in town.

Olmert, however, may not have things all his own way. If Abbas is able to get the Palestinians to accept the Saudi initiative, Olmert could find himself under strong domestic and international pressure to make a serious negotiating effort, despite the skepticism about its efficacy.

After a recent meeting with Abbas, Ami Ayalon, a leading Labor Party legislator, declared that even though he rejected many of its stipulations, the Saudi plan “could be a basis for negotiation,” because it “supports the idea of a two-state solution.”

The key to whether the Saudi plan becomes a serious option — even if adopted by the Palestinians — lies in Washington. The American goal remains a negotiated two-state solution based on Bush’s “vision” that he outlined in June 2002.

U.S. leaders hope to further this aim by strengthening Abbas and using economic and political leverage to bring Hamas down or force it to moderate its positions. Backing the Saudi plan as a basis for negotiations could promote these ends.

But there is another possibility: that the Saudi plan be put on the table only after Israel completes its planned pullback or what Olmert is now calling “realignment.”

In his Washington meeting with Olmert last week, Bush made it clear that the United States was in no hurry to see unilateral Israeli moves, and wanted to give negotiations another chance. But Bush also assured Olmert that as soon as it became apparent that negotiations are going nowhere, Washington would back Olmert’s unilateral alternative, as long as it does not contradict Bush’s vision of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

Most importantly, Bush emphasized that the United States will not recognize the borders Israel pulls back to unilaterally as permanent. And he reiterated the American view that final borders must be agreed upon in negotiations between the parties.

It is here where some analysts believe the Saudi plan could come in: not as a means of pre-empting Israel’s “realignment,” but as a way of taking things further once it is achieved.

 

Israel: Between Iraq and a Hard Place


The intensifying crisis of Iran’s nuclear program is bringing into sharp relief the problems created for Israel by the radical foreign policy of the Bush administration. In a world filled with nations and movements hostile to Israel, the United States has long been Israel’s big brother. What happens when big brother shows bad judgment? That is the roller coaster on which supporters of Israel find themselves in the last two years of this most unusual administration.

All along, Israel has seen Iran as a major adversary, perhaps the most serious one in its region. Iraq was also a problem, but a lesser one. America also watched Iran with great concern. To many practically minded Americans, the Saddam Hussein regime provided a convenient if ugly method to keep Iran in check. With a hostile and secular Iraq on its border, Iran lacked the freedom of opportunity to spread its wings in the region.

This pragmatism helped explain why previous Republican administrations leaned toward Iraq during the bloody Iran-Iraq War in the early 1980s. Who do we think armed Saddam Hussein and forgave his many trespasses against human rights in the interest of a regional balance of power?

When the Bush administration came to power in 2001, Israel seemed to be in good hands. Intense rhetorical devotion to Israel and a decision not to challenge Israeli policy were certainly welcome in Jerusalem. Few understood, however, the extent to which many of the Bush people were driven by an intense urge to overthrow Saddam Hussein, dating back to the overruling of their drive to take Baghdad in the first Gulf War. Maybe this new approach would work, thought many supporters of Israel. Maybe the Americans were right that this would create a movement toward pro-Western, pro-Israel regimes in the region. The removal of an evil dictator could strike a blow for democracy and freedom.

The bravado of the Bush foreign policy group, however, was not backed by the ability, experience or adaptability of previous presidencies in foreign policy. Imbued with a sense of their own historical destiny and the rightness of their cause, the Bush crowd made a hash of Iraq, and through their stunning incompetence opened the door to expanding Iran’s influence in the region. Unilateral arrogance and belligerence weakened America’s standing in the world, and temporarily robbed Israel of the benefit of pro-American admiration abroad. The United States of course, has never been universally loved outside its borders, but it was held in high regard in many places. And this high regard has been a bulwark of Israel’s strength.

The Bush group now confronts the challenge of an emboldened Iran. But Israel’s friends are watching America’s leadership with a more jaundiced eye than before the Iraq War. Some are torn. One of the most notable nouveau skeptics is Thomas Friedman, The New York Times columnist who helped bolster the case for war against Iraq, in part because he hoped it would lead to a more moderate Middle East friendlier to Israel. At the time, he hoped optimistically that the Bush people knew what they were doing. Now he has swallowed a most bitter pill, as he noted in a recent column:

“If these are our only choices,” Friedman wrote, “which would you rather have: a nuclear-armed Iran or an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites that is carried out and sold to the world by the Bush national security team…. I’d rather live with a nuclear Iran. As someone who believed — and still believes — in the importance of getting Iraq right, the level of incompetence that the Bush team has displayed in Iraq, and its refusal to acknowledge any mistakes or remove those who made them, makes it impossible to support this administration in any offensive military action against Iran.”

But not all erstwhile supporters of Bush’s foreign policy have learned such a lesson, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who has blindly embraced the Bush foreign policy team. Returning from a trip to Baghdad in late 2005, he extolled the wisdom and flexibility of the Iraq policies of the administration, went on Fox News to attack fellow Democrats for not getting behind the commander-in-chief and found himself quoted by the president as one Democrat who really gets it. (This lovefest is not helping Lieberman’s among fellow Democrats in his reelection campaign.) Lieberman, apparently, would be delighted to follow Bush’s lead on Iran policy. If Friedman has spit out the Kool-Aid, Lieberman can’t seem to drink enough of it.

One must hope that the choices are not as stark as those offered up by Friedman: a catastrophic war even more destructive than Iraq or a stand down by the world’s leading power in the face of Iran. Nor does Lieberman’s suspension of disbelief inspire much confidence. The crowing Iranians seem to have concluded that the administration is so weakened that it can be challenged easily, but that does not take into account the peculiar inward-turned and self-regarding nature of the Bush group. They are capable of taking action with or without public support; they might even believe that confrontation would increase their public support. Wars often start because of such mutual misperceptions.

America is still Israel’s most reliable friend. Simply put, America must succeed. It cannot be weakened. Somehow, we must reconnect to the American tradition of muscular diplomacy, of using strength to avoid, not seek war. That is all that Israel’s friends have ever asked for. Negotiation backed by strength, will and determination are likely to provide a way out of the crisis. With luck, the Bush administration will figure this out and earn the support such a policy could generate at home and abroad.

At the end of the day, it will be up to Republicans to bring some sense to the foreign policy of the United States during the worrisome remaining years of this administration. The Bush administration does not regard Democrats as worth listening to (although they are happy to use people like Lieberman to their purposes as long as he extols their policies). They also don’t listen to many Republicans, especially if they are associated with the more restrained foreign policy of the president’s father. But the Republican leadership’s reluctance to set any professional standards for this administration’s foreign policy must come to an end.

How, for example, should the president deal with the rambling 18-page letter he received from Iran’s president? How can such reluctant powers as Russia and China be brought on board a coalition to confront Iran and resolve the issue?

Navigating the narrow channel of dealing with Iran is going to take skill, wisdom, and strength. Those who have those qualities should not fear to raise their voices. And they should not settle for being heard in private.

If not them, who?

If not now, when?

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at California State University Fullerton.

 

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