Olmert Receives U.S. Thumbs-Up


Low-key, detail-oriented, a master of the backroom deal: The same qualities that make Prime Minister-elect Ehud Olmert uninspiring for some Israelis are the ones that Americans who deal with him find exciting.

Olmert’s attention to the fine print and his less-than-mythic status in Israel have become subjects of parody at home.

But it’s just those qualities that have made him a favorite among Jewish officials and politicians in Washington.

“He’s very familiar to many members of this administration, and across the board they would all have had a positive impression of him,” said Daniel Kurtzer, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel until last summer and who now lectures at Princeton University. “He’s very smart, focused on details. When you’re dealing with him, you’re not dealing with someone uninterested in substance.”

Olmert’s powers of persuasion are about to be put to the test: He has pledged to move ahead immediately with plans to withdraw unilaterally from more West Bank territory.

Olmert wants a Palestinian state in place by the end of his term, and says he will look for ways to deal with Palestinians not affiliated with Hamas, the terrorist group set to assume control of the Palestinian Authority after winning legislative elections in January.

The P.A. president, Mahmoud Abbas, has outlined a similar scenario: The Palestine Liberation Organization, which has no Hamas affiliation, would be the partner, Abbas said in interviews, and Abbas would bypass the Hamas Cabinet and Parliament by putting any deal to a popular referendum.

Abbas did not explain how he planned to control Hamas, which already was setting much of the agenda through terrorist attacks even before it took over the government.

U.S. officials say they’re eager to get started with the new Israeli government.

“We will of course engage with the Israeli government in discussions about how we move forward,” Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, said on CNN recently. “I would note that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza ended up turning over to the Palestinians territory for the first time in the 30-some years of this conflict, and that was a good thing.”

Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, said Olmert has a policy wonk’s understanding of the United States.

“He has a very strong command of how Washington works. Not just Washington — he knows how the United States works,” said Ayalon in an interview. “On the state level, even local politics, it’s quite impressive: He knows many of the governors by name.”

Kurtzer agreed: “He knows how to make the rounds of a room.”

Olmert’s best deals have been done in back rooms, said Marvin Lender, a Connecticut entrepreneur who is one of Olmert’s most ardent U.S. backers.

“Ehud has always worked behind the scenes,” Lender said. “He has built tremendous relationships in Washington.”

His charms are evident in one-on-one relationships, Kurtzer said. Olmert’s friendship with Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative until last year, was key to settling a prickly customs-free trade agreement among Israel, the United States and Egypt, Kurtzer said.

His admirers admit that Olmert, whose military career was undistinguished and whose reflexive sarcasm often gets in the way of his lofty thoughts, may not be equal in stature to mythmakers like Yitzhak Rabin or Ariel Sharon.

“He doesn’t come with negative baggage, but he also doesn’t come with a hero status,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Nonetheless, Olmert’s association with Sharon, the larger-than-life warrior-statesman whose debilitating stroke in January set the stage for Olmert’s ascension to the Prime Minister’s Office, will help sustain him.

“A critical door-opener for this administration is that he was Sharon’s choice as the alternative prime minister,” Kurtzer said.

Olmert’s loyalty to Sharon also is a plus, said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a member of the House’s International Relations Committee.

“His loyalty was legendary,” said Ackerman, who met with Olmert the day after Sharon’s stroke. “You didn’t have to guess where he was going to stand. He made it clear at that meeting that he was not the prime minister, that he was hoping and praying that the prime minister would take his rightful place.”

Since then, Olmert has left Sharon’s seat empty at Cabinet meetings.

Olmert’s distaste for soaring rhetoric and lack of a glorious military career may be a welcome change in a Washington used to Israeli leaders who often seem to aspire to prophecy, said David Makovsky, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“The United States will be very cognizant of the fact that he doesn’t have Sharon’s gravitas or his national security credentials,” Makovsky said of Olmert. “Frankly, the idea of a civilian prime minister will be refreshing here in Washington.”

Olmert already has staked out differences with Sharon, mapping out clear plans for the next four years: Unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank that for the most part would hew to the security barrier, evacuating 70,000 settlers and annexing other settlements that would bring at least another 100,000 settlers under Israeli sovereignty.

Olmert maintains Sharon’s legacy of setting borders for an Israel that is guaranteed a Jewish majority, but “in many ways he’s far more explicit in the scope of his political goals,” Makovsky said. “The White House is gratified he made those ideas of settlement evacuations clear before the election.”

Sharon typically played his cards much closer to his chest, and delayed discussing the dimensions of last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a portion of the West Bank until it was inevitable. Sharon also jealously guarded Israeli sovereignty, casting the withdrawal as solely an Israeli prerogative.

Olmert has said he would consult immediately with the “Quartet” — the diplomatic grouping of the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations, which is overseeing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — as soon as the elections are over.

However he proceeds, Olmert will have an attentive ear here, cultivated over years of trans-Atlantic dealings: first, as Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s U.S. point man during the Madrid negotiations in 1991 and then as Jerusalem mayor from 1993-2003, when he stressed Israel’s claim to the entire, unified city.

“He brought people closer emotionally to Jerusalem,” Lender said.

Ken Jacobson, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League, recalled traveling with Olmert to Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in 1999 to counter Arab pressure to de-Judaize an exhibit on Jerusalem.

Olmert traveled to the United States so often, first as mayor and then as Sharon’s deputy on peace matters, that his Israeli accent has faded.

“They used to joke that Ehud Olmert could be seen on two planes crossing the Atlantic in both directions, he comes here so often,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

 

AFTER SHARON


History will note the premiership of Ariel Sharon as the pivotal moment when Israel decided that ending control over the Palestinians was in its own, crucial interest. And it was the time that Israel took dramatic unilateral action to pursue that course. Disengagement, defeating terrorism and building the security fence have been essential in cutting the Gordian knot between Israel’s interests and Palestinian political will and capacity.

Negotiation, by contrast, is what unites Sharon’s critics. From the Left, Yossi Beilin contends that, since the contours of a final status agreement are known, all that remains is to seal the deal. From the Right, Binyamin Netanyahu advocates the logic of the quid pro quo — “if they give, they’ll receive” — implying that time is on Israel’s side and the ball is in the Palestinian court.

But what if the Palestinians are unwilling or unable to end the conflict? What if they don’t “give”? Does that mean that Israel will stay in the Palestinian areas indefinitely?

Though a regional economic and military superpower, Israel had been powerless in the world of negotiations to address the clearly identified threat to its survival. The Palestinians had the ability to hold Israel hostage by refusing to agree to any settlement that would end Israel’s occupation.

History teaches that a stand-off between “occupier” and “occupied” leads to one outcome: liberation and independence. The Palestinians had time, or at least they used to have it until disengagement.

Before the summer of 2005, the Israeli public had two choices before it, both of which depended on negotiations. The first was the pursuit of a final status accord that was going to face implacable obstacles. A failure to reach agreement on the status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem also would mean no agreements on economics, security or civic issues. The other option was the U.S.-backed “road map” — a sequenced approach to establish a Palestinian state in provisional borders before a Permanent Status Agreement.

Over the past few years, both tracks seemed doomed to deadlock. Profound disagreements on content and structure, the weakness of the Israeli political system and a dysfunctional Palestinian leadership all blocked a permanent accord. The roadmap also seemed stuck due to disagreements on the entry point, and on each of its phases. It is these perceived deadlocks that have legitimized Israeli unilateralism, transforming it into a compelling option.

The powerful logic of disengagement is that it has partially ended Israeli control over the Palestinians without their consent, but with U.S. endorsement and in coordination with other relevant third parties. This combination has galvanized international support and disarmed Palestinian opposition.

The secret of the successful execution of the Gaza disengagement — and an essential part of its logic — relates to Israel’s internal politics. Sharon succeeded in bridging the gap between the requisites of a deal with the Palestinians, on the one hand, and the positions and perceptions of the Israeli mainstream, on the other.

Sharon decided to focus on the latter, designing disengagement around the “stomach” of the Israeli public. He understood that support for disengagement would be solid because it is perceived as good for Israel even under fire and with no reciprocity. At the same time, Sharon understood that expanding disengagement too far might compromise public support, so he rejected all temptations and pressures to go further or to negotiate.

Sharon assumed that politicians would follow the public. He was right.

Disengagement was just the first step of Sharon’s strategy. His public statements reveal that he was seeking to create a new Israeli-Palestinian equilibrium based on five tenets: ending Israeli control over the Palestinians with international recognition; creating a Palestinian state in provisional borders that will assume control over its territory and population; securing Israeli control over issues critical to its national security, such as the airspace; designing a new framework for reaching permanent status; and beginning to permanently resolve the refugee issue within the Palestinian state.

In the apparent absence of a Palestinian “partner,” Sharon’s strategy would have required further unilateral withdrawals. The logic of disengagement may have not been exhausted. For example, under the new unilateralist paradigm, Israel can dismantle isolated settlements and illegal outposts or transfer the Palestinian neighborhoods in north Jerusalem — which are already outside the security fence — to the PA. More powers and responsibilities could be transferred to the PA in the spheres of economics, civic affairs or diplomacy. Eventually, Israel might consider recognizing the PA as a state.

Palestinian statehood has been incorporated into Sharon’s strategy for years. His statements suggest that he may have perceived Palestinian statehood to be as much an opportunity as it was a threat. For example, he assumed that the existence of a Palestinian state would mean that Palestinians could no longer claim to be refugees and that powers of UNRWA, the United Nation’s agency with jurisdiction over matters pertaining to Palestinian refugees, could be turned over to the Palestinian government.

A Palestinian state, furthermore, is a precondition for restructuring the approach toward final status. Once a Palestinian state exists, Israel would be able to negotiate multiple state-to-state agreements focused primarily on the West Bank and Gaza. These agreements might be made piecemeal, rather than holding all progress hostage to a potential comprehensive accord.

Sharon’s strategy to end control over Palestinians enhanced unity within Israel and the Jewish world, boosted Israel’s international standing and offered the only feasible path out of the deadlock. That is his enduring legacy. But he also exits the political stage as the exemplar of pragmatism and realism focused on the pillars of Israel’s national security: preserving a Jewish majority, fighting the nuclear threat, securing personal safety, and bolstering Israel’s alliance with America. This is the consensus agenda that Sharon galvanized into a political force that will transcend his tenure.

By taking the excruciating and courageous step of distancing himself from political and personal friends and allies, as well as, ultimately, from his own political party, Sharon plunged himself and the nation through two years of constant crisis-management toward disengagement and beyond. He demonstrated an outstanding leadership, political skills and executive management. This performance extended beyond security to socio-economics as well.

Many may challenge the logic of disengagement or the wisdom of Sharon’s socioeconomic policies. Few would contest that a large part of his legacy was the capacity to get things done.

Gidi Grinstein is founder and president of the Re’ut Institute (

Not All Wish Sharon Well


Words of concern and sympathy poured in from all over the world after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a major stroke. Especially striking were supportive comments from quarters that had once cast Sharon as an inflexible hawk — or even a war criminal — but who now gave him credit as a force for progress toward peace in the Middle East.

The condolences, however, were not unanimous — and some critics made for odd bedfellows.

Predictably, a barb arrived from new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He’s quickly become the most quotable anti-Semite in office today in the wake of his calls for Israel’s destruction and his questioning of whether the Holocaust occurred.

“Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final,” said Ahmadinejad, as reported by the semiofficial Iranian Student News Agency. Ahmadinejad was referring to the 1982 massacre of Palestinian civilians by a Lebanese Christian militia at two refugee camps.

An Israeli commission of inquiry held Sharon, who was Israel’s defense minister at the time, indirectly responsible for not anticipating the carnage. Sharon was forced to resign, which, at the time, seemed to end his political career.

Ahmadinejad, at least, was referring to events on earth. It was for the Rev. Pat Robertson, the warhorse of America’s religious right, to bring higher powers into his critique.

Speaking on the “700 Club” last week, Robertson suggested that Sharon and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (who was assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995) had been treated harshly by God for dividing Israel.

“He was dividing God’s land,” Robertson said. “And I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, ‘This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.'”

 

Polish Leader Has Extremist Allies


The new president of Poland was elected with the backing of anti-Semitic supporters. But not all Polish Jewish officials believe that Lech Kaczynski, who will take office in December, should be criticized for his extremist bedfellows.

Kaczynski, the former mayor of Warsaw, was elected last month, narrowly defeating outgoing President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is popular with Jews inside and outside Poland.

The Catholic-oriented Law and Justice Party of the incoming president governs Poland in coalition with two extremist parties, Self-Defense and the League of Polish Families (LPF), “whose members have frequently expressed anti-Semitic sentiments,” according to Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute, which monitors national attitudes toward Jews all over the world.

When he became mayor of Warsaw in 2002, Kaczynski accepted the demand of the LPF to build a monument to anti-Jewish figure Roman Dmowski in the city center, according to the Stephen Roth Institute. Dmowski was the chief ideologue of the nationalist anti-Semitic movement Endecja in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition, the LPF is closely connected to Radio Maryja, a station that openly espouses anti-Semitism and is popular among conservative Catholics who have rejected Pope John Paul II’s message of love and reconciliation toward the Jewish people.

Andrzej Lepper, the leader of Self-Defense, has repeatedly made enthusiastic references to Goebbels’ “propaganda skills” and Hitler’s “economic policy,” according to the Stephen Roth Institute.

But some Jewish officials in Poland say they have no reason to believe Kaczynski will be unfair toward the Jewish community, which numbers an estimated 8,000.

“President Kaczynski in all of his dealings has been forthcoming, fair and respective of the needs of local Jews and their role in Poland,” said Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, who has lived in the country for more than a decade. “Any rumors about him being anti-Semitic are unfair. I think he will actually be a very strong ally against anti-Semitism.”

The rabbi interacted with Kaczynski when the latter was the minister of justice, responsible for investigating what happened in Jedwabne, where hundreds of Jews were massacred in 1941 by fellow Polish townspeople.

The case was hushed up until a book published in 2000 put the blame squarely on the residents, not on the Nazis.

As the minister in charge of the case, Kaczynski had the unenviable job of organizing the exhumation of victims’ bodies, which is against Jewish law. He eventually reached an agreement with Jewish leaders by which the dead were not disturbed.

“I met with him several times and he was a man of his word, even though he had far more reason to placate the rightists than to stick to Jewish law,” Schudrich said.

Kaczynski has vowed to continue strong political and commercial cooperation with Israel.

Kataryna Ober, a member of the Polish Union of Jewish Students, is bothered more by what she believes to be the incoming president’s homophobia.

“He is against gays,” the 19-year-old Ober said. “Gays are different. So why not gypsies and Jews as well? I think we should all be afraid of him.”

Kaczynski, then the mayor of Warsaw, prevented a gay rights group from marching last year, but then allowed a “march of the normal” — made up of anti-gay and anti-lesbian groups — to proceed.

The Polish Union of Jewish Students formally protested the mayor’s action.

Stanislaw Krajewski, co-chairman for the Council of Christians and Jews, took a wait-and-see attitude.

“I hope this man, the president, will keep up the work of the last president,” he said.

Outgoing President Kwasniewski was held in high esteem by Jews because of his warmth toward Israel and because of his willingness to admit that Poles had their share of guilt when it came to wartime atrocities against Jews.

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Is America Ready for a Jewish President?


Is America ready for a Jewish president?

According to a Gallup Poll released this month, as well as other polling data, the answer is a resounding yes.

Despite this polling data, some Jews are fearful that "America is not ready" for a Jewish president. Or in a variation on that theme, they suggest inferentially, because Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) — the candidate in question — is Jewish, "he can’t win."

Funny, though, the facts suggest precisely the opposite. The Gallup Poll concluded that nine out of 10 Americans would vote for a qualified candidate, regardless of religion. Americans are embracing the candidacy of Lieberman with such enthusiasm that he continues to lead in the national polls.

Because of our history, American Jews have had reason to worry about anti-Semitism and scapegoating, but we have also worked to break down barrier after barrier in virtually every aspect of American life.

Today, we have the opportunity to break down perhaps the most important barrier: that a Jew cannot be elected president of the United States. And ironically, the skepticism on this issue comes not from non-Jews but from Jews.

Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, who, by all accounts significantly strengthened the Democratic ticket and assisted the ticket in winning not only the popular vote but competing (perhaps winning) in the southern stronghold of Florida, has garnered the support of a broad range of Americans who believe he is the best candidate for the presidency in 2004. He is leading in national polls among non-Jews and Jews alike, but the idea of a Jewish president seems to scare some Jews.

Leaders throughout America, including leading non-Jewish political leaders, actively embrace Lieberman’s candidacy. In California, several of these leaders are Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Rep. Calvin M. Dooley (D-Fresno), Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Walnut Creek) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Modesto).

And Lieberman is leading in the national polls. He is leading in states as diverse as California, New York, Michigan and South Carolina. He is rightly seen as the Democratic candidate most likely to beat President Bush, because he combines a strongly progressive social record with a record of leadership on national security and homeland defense.

Yet, we hear in our own community the question: Is it good for the Jews?

The answer is unequivocally yes. We have Jewish officeholders at all levels of our government — local, state and national — and their leadership has helped to insure not only Jewish inclusion but respected leadership throughout America. When a highly capable and respected leader who is Jewish seeks the office of the president, he should be judged on his merits.

Today’s polling numbers, contrasted with those as recently as 1960, suggest that America is, indeed, ready for a Jewish president. In 1960, when American voters were polled on whether they would vote for a Catholic presidential candidate, only 71 percent said yes, while 21 percent said no. John F. Kennedy won.

Today, the same question about a Catholic candidate garners a response rate of 92 percent yes and only 4 percent no. Interestingly enough, those are substantially the same numbers the pollsters get when asking if people would vote for a Jewish candidate for president.

Obviously, this polling is not exact. But in light of the 1960 benchmark, it is compelling. Other types of polling reinforce this conclusion.

And although no one should vote for Lieberman — or anyone else for that matter — simply because he is Jewish, it would be distressing if members of our community elected to vote against the senator out of fear because he is Jewish, despite their view that he is the strongest and best candidate.

Just as Jackie Robinson inspired not only African Americans but all Americans of my generation as a "revolutionary in a baseball uniform," Lieberman is right now doing the same thing: breaking down another important barrier that will open doors for Jews and for members of all other minority groups, who will have an easier time traveling down this path, because he was courageous enough to lead.

As Lieberman has said, "Have faith in America."

Americans today will support the candidate they prefer on the merits. That is how the choice should be made.


Mel Levine served as a Democratic Congressman from California between 1983 and 1993. He is now a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and is assisting Sen. Joseph Lieberman in his presidential campaign.

Sharon’s Dilemma: Which Peace Move?


It has become a familiar equation: Hope for progress toward peace leads not to a drop in Palestinian terror attacks but to their acceleration. Throughout the 1990s, Palestinian terrorists often tried to sabotage the peace process by stepping up their attacks whenever progress seemed likely.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finds himself in a quandary: Does he halt recent momentum toward peace talks until the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, proves that he is willing to confront the terror groups? Or, as the international community is demanding, does Israel make concessions to show Palestinians that Abbas’ stated opposition to terror can pay dividends?

With Abbas in office less than a month, members of Sharon’s inner circle already are expressing doubts about whether the Palestinian can deliver. They believe the concessions that they already have made toward Abbas — such as easing restrictions on Palestinians’ movement in the West Bank — directly contributed to the renewed wave of attacks.

Senior Palestinian officials argue that Sharon has yet to give the embattled Abbas the concessions he needs to persuade Palestinian terrorists to agree to a cease-fire that could breathe life into the "road map" to Israeli-Palestinian peace, which the United States presented to the two sides late last month. On both sides, there is uncertainty over how much time and energy the United States is prepared to invest to make the road map work.

Sharon had hoped that Abbas’ installation on April 29 would presage a drop in Palestinian terror and at least some initial political movement. But a new wave of suicide bombings, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s incessant machinations against Abbas and open defiance of Abbas by terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade have led Israeli officials privately to pronounce Abbas too weak to deal with Palestinian terrorism or take the peace process forward.

Arafat and the terrorists are using the bombings not only to hit at Israel but also to make Abbas’ position untenable, the officials say. Abbas "finds himself in an awkward position that the man who appears to be in charge there, Yasser Arafat, is in collusion with the terrorist organizations, because he has a common interest to make the peace talks fail," explained Avi Pazner an Israeli government spokesman.

In a three-hour meeting between the two prime ministers May 17, the first at such a high level since the Palestinian intifada erupted in September 2000, Sharon offered to withdraw Israeli troops from the northern Gaza Strip, allowing Abbas’ forces to take control and show that they could maintain peace and quiet.

Over the last several months, the area has been used to fire Kassam rockets and mortar shells at nearby Israeli towns and villages, especially the Negev town of Sderot. It also is the area in which Mohammed Dahlan, the new Palestinian Authority minister responsible for security, is strongest.

Sharon also offered to withdraw from Palestinian city centers as soon as Abbas and Dahlan felt ready to take over.

In both cases, Israeli officials said, the Palestinians "found excuses" to decline, insisting that Israel formally accept the road map first.

These exchanges reveal a fundamental difference in approach: Sharon wants to see Abbas taking over wherever possible and, if necessary, using force to impose his will on the terrorists. Abbas says he is not yet strong enough and wants to bring about an end to terror through an agreement, rather than confrontation, with the terrorist groups.

The renewed attacks don’t "mean that Sharon won’t meet with Abbas again, but you will certainly understand that you can have no meaningful progress as long as blood is running in the streets," Pazner said.

Abbas urged Sharon to give him time to negotiate a hudna, or cease-fire, with the terrorist groups, saying he could succeed if Israel stopped its counterterror raids and targeted killings of terrorist leaders. What he had in mind was a yearlong cease-fire that would allow Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate without the threat or use of force, Abbas explained.

Dahlan added that it would take about a year to rehabilitate the Palestinian Authority security forces, after which they would be in a position to force the militants to adhere to an extended cease-fire. Until the Abbas meeting, Sharon had opposed this approach on the grounds that the militants would simply use the cease-fire to regroup before launching a new round of terror.

However, Palestinian sources said Sharon intimated at the meeting that if a cease-fire is achieved, he would be ready to give the approach a chance. If true, this constitutes a major change in the Israeli position.

Sharon’s dilemma is how to continue fighting terror without undermining Abbas to such an extent that he will be too weak either to negotiate a cease-fire or use force against terrorists.

Getting the balance right will not be easy: If Israel continues targeted killings and major raids, Palestinians may see Abbas as a straw man who has not eased their suffering. If Sharon holds back, on the other hand, Hamas may be encouraged to launch even bigger attacks on the assumption that Israel will not retaliate.

Another major Israeli dilemma is what to do about Arafat. His alleged role in encouraging terror and deliberately undermining Abbas has led to renewed calls for his expulsion. Three government ministers from Sharon’s Likud Party — Dan Naveh, Yisrael Katz and Tzachi Hanegbi — maintain that there will be no effective cease-fire as long as Arafat is around.

Sharon for now is against expelling Arafat. In a Cabinet meeting March 18, Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, army chief of staff, argued that Arafat would be more dangerous jetting around Europe playing for international sympathy than confined to his headquarters in Ramallah.

More than Arafat, though, it is the ongoing terror that constitutes the biggest threat to the road map and Abbas’ chances of success. According to Israeli security officials, there have been almost 50 attempted attacks in the three weeks since Abbas took office. Five attacks in a space of two days early this week left 11 Israelis dead and scores wounded.

Hamas terror threatens not only Israel and the road map but Abbas himself, especially after some Hamas leaders charged that Abbas is considering trading the Palestinian refugees’ demand to return to homes they abandoned inside Israel 55 years ago for Israeli acceptance of the road map.

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas representative in Lebanon, issued an open threat last weekend: "Anyone who bargains over the refugees’ right of return is bargaining over his neck."

Given the new wave of terror, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts agree that only a major U.S. effort can save the road map, and they are not optimistic. Reuven Paz, an expert on fundamentalist terror at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, said that "without a strong American lead, there will simply be more of the same: terror, counterterror and indecisive meetings between Sharon and Abbas."

Other Israeli pundits argue that Sharon willingness to cancel a crucial meeting this week with President Bush because of the bombings does not augur well. They believe it shows that Sharon, worried about possible U.S. pressure on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is stalling — and that Bush, with an eye on the Jewish vote as he moves into an election year, may allow Sharon to go on playing for time.

Community Briefs


Center Board Wants Member to Resign

Pini Herman, an activist and outspoken critic of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), has been asked to resign from the advisory board of the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC) by the group’s president.

Herman, in a stinging missive to Westside JCC President Michael Kaminsky, said he refused to step down. “The whim, outrage, thrashings and arbitrariness that you and your JCCGLA support network are displaying is what has driven away many capable, talented, responsible and community-minded people from having anything to do [with] the WJCC and JCCGLA,” he wrote.

Kaminsky, in an earlier e-mail, characterized Herman as “belligerent” and “antagonistic,” saying the time had come for him to resign or be ousted.

The main cause sparking the latest brouhaha was Herman’s request to have a union member represent him and take notes at an upcoming WJCC board-JCCGLA meeting that he cannot attend.

Until recently, JCCGLA and unionized center workers were engaged in tough negotiations that called for salary and health benefit cuts. Kaminsky, in addition to his Westside duties, sits on JCCGLA’s board.

Herman, who attended a WJCC advisory board meeting May 5, said no one raised the issue of his dismissal. “I think Kaminsky was making up the process as he was going on and overreacted to my request,” Herman said.

In an interview, Kaminsky said he was frustrated and disappointed that Herman had leaked private e-mails to the press and that Herman had screamed at him recently on the phone. He added that no further action against Herman is planned. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Tenth Yahrzeit for ‘The Rav’ Planned

Young Israel of Century City will host a community forum Sunday, May 18, in commemoration of the 10th yahrzeit of “The Rav” — Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the preeminent Talmud scholar of the 20th century, whose philosophy shaped modern Orthodoxy.

“Hearing The Rav lecture was the most exciting intellectual and spiritual experience you could have,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, rabbi of Young Israel of Century City. “You thought you were hearing Torah straight from Sinai. He was so clear and profound, able to transform the most difficult concepts into simple language.”

The Rav’s great nephew, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik will speak about how his uncle emerged from a Lithuanian rabbinic dynasty to become a revolutionary leader in an Orthodox community confronting modernity. Soloveichik will also deliver a Shabbat lecture on The Rav’s influence on interfaith dialogue.

Rabbi Asher Brander of the Westwood Kehilla, Rabbi Nachum Sauer of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob will teach classes on different aspects of Soloveitchik’s thinking.

“A Man for All Seasons: Reflections on The Rav” will beheld Sunday, May 18, from 9 a.m.-12:15 p.m. at Young Israel of Century City,9317 W. Pico Blvd. There is no charge. For more information call (310) 273-6954or go to www.yicc.org . — Staff Report

First Training in Adult EducationOpens

Most rabbis, cantors, educators and communal professionals have had no professional training for meeting the needs of adults seeking Jewish education — until now. This spring, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles established the Institute for Teaching Jewish Adults (ITJA). The continuing education program, which is the first of its kind in the United States, will train Jewish professionals and advanced lay leaders on how to reach out to the growing number of adults seeking Jewish literacy.

“Concerns over Jewish literacy and the need to develop an informed leadership are becoming commonplace in our community, affecting every family and synagogue,” said Dr. Diane Tickton Schuster, director of ITJA.

“It is increasingly important that Jewish professionals who work with adults understand the learning needs of this highly diverse constituency and the best strategies for teaching them,” she said.

Currently, the new program has a pioneer class of six students, all rabbis.

“This is training they never had as part of their preparation for [their] positions,” Schuster explained. Participants will learn how to cater to “well-educated Jewish adults, who feel under-educated Jewishly” and help them study and embrace Jewish history, Jewish text, Hebrew and find meaning within their Jewishness. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

El Al Offers New Class of Service

El Al recently replaced its business class with a new Platinum Business Class, offering increased personal service and comfort to passengers on its 777 and 747-400 aircraft. Each jetliner has been reconfigured, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in the number of seats and increased leg room for Platinum Business Class passengers. In addition, each seat has a laptop power outlet, personal lighting and a personal TV monitor.

Additional improvements include an increased number of flight attendants, more meal choices and courses and an extensive wine menu. At specific El Al Platinum Business Class counters, check-in is expedited and travelers are allowed three pieces of luggage, compared to two in coach. Platinum Business Class passengers are also allowed the use of specific airport departure lounges, such as Los Angeles International Airport’s King David Lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

For those traveling to Israel on a full-fare Platinum Business Class ticket, El Al offers a $250 round-trip companion Platinum Business Class ticket.

For more information, visit www.elal.co.il . — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer