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.

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.

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.”


Jewish Groups Lose on Three Judges

The Senate didn’t go nuclear this week, which was good news for those worried that a proposed rule changing barring filibusters on judicial nominations could produce congressional chaos. But the news wasn’t as good for the handful of Jewish groups that have been fighting against some of President George W. Bush’s conservative judicial nominees.

On May 23, 14 moderate Democrats and Republicans signed an agreement to invoke cloture, thereby ending filibusters, on three controversial Bush nominees: Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen.

In return, the 14 swing voters — seven from each party — agreed that “nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.”

And in light of that commitment, the group pledged to “oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress” threatened by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

What that means is that a handful of controversial nominees are likely to be approved quickly, but also that the so-called “nuclear option” of changing the Senate rules on the filibuster is being abandoned, at least for now, because there won’t be enough Republicans to support it.

Democrats and liberal Jewish groups hope this also means President Bush will start making more moderate appointments; groups on the religious right were incensed, charging Frist with a cave-in.

“Compromises are by their nature ugly creatures,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), which has opposed several nominees because of their records on civil rights, women’s rights and abortion rights. “But there’s one very big positive: It means the nuclear option is off the table. That is very important.”

But he conceded this means several nominees the RAC has opposed are likely to be confirmed.

“I don’t know how I could look at anything that paves the way for Owen, Brown and Pryor to get lifetime appointments as a victory,” he said.

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), which led the fight against anti-abortion rights judges, expressed similarly mixed feelings.

“Clearly we are extremely disappointed that this compromise could pave the way for the confirmation of three particularly egregious nominees,” NCJW President Phyllis Snyder said in a statement. “However, we are gratified by the successful effort made by our grass roots who, united with like-minded Americans across the country, spoke out to preserve our system of checks and balances.”

NCJW Washington Director Sammie Moshenberg said that while the Democrats have abandoned the filibuster option regarding some specific judges, the agreement may have changed the politics of the debate over future judicial nominations.

“Before, there were maybe two Republicans moderate enough to go after on judicial nominations,” she said. “Now we have seven Republicans who have agreed to work in a bipartisan fashion. So we have at least the potential for approaching these lawmakers and working with them.”


New Study Breaks Down 2004 Election


Newly compiled information suggests that a few more Jews voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry last November than originally reported, and highlights several areas where Republicans are gaining momentum within the Jewish community.

The analysis by the Solomon Project, a think tank associated with the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), shows that the Massachusetts senator received 77 percent of the Jewish vote, to President Bush’s 22 percent. That’s a slight change from the 75 percent Kerry was said to have received in polls released soon after the vote.

The new information, released Tuesday, is based on a broader sample of exit polls that incorporates both the national poll released in November and a state-by-state poll that was not widely released.

The wider survey finds that Bush fared particularly well with Jewish men, garnering 28 percent of their votes, compared to 16 percent of Jewish women. In particular, he captured 35 percent of Jewish men younger than 30.

The new report could put to rest lingering questions about the extent of gains Bush made within the Jewish community. Many Republicans expected Bush would do well among Jews — especially in such targeted key states as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — because of support for his Middle East policy.

In the end, Bush won more than the 19 percent of the vote he received in the 2000 election against then-Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), the first Jew on a major party national ticket.

“There’s been some small movement in the Jewish community toward the Republicans, but nothing really dramatic,” said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst.

Rothenberg said he found the report’s methodology “kosher,” but Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he is wary of exit poll analysis because the results on Election Day seemed to inflate Democratic strength.

“I think any credible person would look at this as somewhat revisionist history,” Brooks said. “I don’t think this passes the credibility threshold in terms of statistical accuracy.”

The report does confirm the potential for greater movement of Jewish votes to the GOP in the future.

Republicans have been targeting young Jewish voters and the Orthodox, who have become more politically active in recent years, and are considered more likely to vote for the GOP because of their more conservative positions on social issues.

The analysis uses a wide set of polling data on Jews taken in the weeks and months before the election to understand voting trends within subgroups of Jews.

While no analysis of Jewish votes has had enough Orthodox participants to garner a reliable result, Tuesday’s report suggests that Bush may have received half or more of their votes.

Three independent polls had Bush winning at least half of the Orthodox vote, but each had a sample size of only between 49 and 70 people.

A report by the American Jewish Committee last summer, taken of Russian Jews, suggested Bush may have received more than half of their support as well.

A poll by the Mellman Group, which did surveys for the Kerry campaign, found that 47 percent of Jews who attend synagogue every week supported Bush, compared to 48 percent for Kerry. The Democrat did substantially better among Jews who attended synagogue once a month or less.

“We know a lot more about different types of Jewish voters than we did a few days ago,” said Ira Forman, research director of the Solomon Project and the NJDC’s executive director.

Forman said the information highlighted for him that Democratic efforts to court Orthodox and Russian voters were inadequate.

The core of Democratic support within the Jewish community remains women, the analysis found. Kerry received 82 percent of the vote among Jewish women. That Democratic trend ran across the generations, as 90 percent of women older than 60 voted for Kerry and 88 percent of Jewish women younger than 30 backed him.

Despite the support Bush got for his Israel policies, Rothenberg said it’s hard to move ethnic groups from one party to another.

“It’s hard to change people’s inclinations and pre-existing voter preference,” he said. “If they’ve chosen one way for 20 or 30 years, they tend to do it again.”

But, he said, the Jewish vote will remain important if the election hinges on certain states where disproportionately large numbers of Jews live.

“It’s all about what states people are in and how many people you need to move,” Rothenberg said.


Stakes Loom Big in Future of High Court

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) gets it and so does the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism. Both groups have made careful scrutiny of the Bush administration’s judicial nominations a top priority in the past year.

Groups on the religious right get it, as well: Almost nothing President Bush does during his about-to-begin second term will affect the American future as profoundly as his appointments to the courts.

Already, the president has appointed more than 200 conservative federal judges. Now, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist ailing and several other Supreme Court justices talking about retirement, most observers expect two to four high-court openings in the next four years.

It’s an issue with enormous importance to the Jewish community, but traditional communal caution may keep Jewish organizations — with those two exceptions — on the sidelines. And that could ultimately compound the damage done to key concerns of the Jewish community.

Last week’s presidential election represented a political coming of age for the Christian right, which turned out in force to ensure the re-election of Bush and help elect a more conservative Congress. Now, those groups expect payback. And increasingly, what they want most is more conservative judges who share their perspective on the nation’s culture wars.

They understand this fundamental truth: While legislation can change day-to-day political realities, the courts — and the Supreme Court in particular — change the very fabric of American democracy.

Legislation to implement priorities like public funding for religious education and social services, curbs on abortion and restrictions on homosexual rights is difficult to pass and always involves compromises infuriating to the purists. Legislation, too, can be undone by future Congresses when the political pendulum swings back.

But a transformed federal judiciary can affect policy in a much more powerful and enduring fashion. Rehnquist, appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1971, has influenced American life for 32 years under seven chief executives.

Congress often lurches off in new directions when elections alter the partisan balance. The court sometimes reverses course, but ponderously — as the Founding Fathers intended.

Conservatives know this, which is why they plan to press their advantage with a president they played a pivotal role in re-electing. And the results could be dramatic.

When lawmakers balked at Bush’s sweeping faith-based initiatives, the president simply implemented sweeping programs to funnel government money to private charities through executive action.

Many of those programs are being contested in federal court, where some cases will be heard by the president’s conservative appeals court judges. A Supreme Court with a few new Bush appointees could turn those programs into permanent reality for America.

Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, hangs by a judicial thread. One or two new Bush appointees to the Supreme Court will almost certainly snap it.

The current court, narrowly divided, has moved cautiously in allowing government money to go to parochial schools — something favored by Orthodox groups, opposed by most other Jewish organizations. Bush appointees could help the court throw that caution to the wind.

Christian groups have limited their activism on behalf of school prayer in recent years because of restrictive high court rulings, but already, there is talk in evangelical circles about new school prayer proposals to take advantage of the expected changes in the court.

Christian conservatives say that the biggest threat to the nation now is gay marriage, and they fully expect a new court — possibly headed by Justice Clarence Thomas — to slam the door firmly shut on such partnerships. If they succeed, it will be the nation’s first major retreat after decades of progress on civil rights, a troubling development for other minorities.

Hate crime statutes favored by a range of Jewish groups have been under assault from the religious right and could also be in jeopardy.

The conservatives accuse the courts of “judicial activism” — doing from the bench what Congress and legislatures have been reluctant to do. But that’s exactly what they want to do, but from a conservative Christian starting point.

Judicial tyranny, apparently, is in the eyes of the beholder.

Jewish groups have a huge stake in the debate, but their collective voices may be muted as the battle over the judiciary takes a quantum leap in intensity.

Only NCJW and the RAC, with their strong focus on abortion, civil and religious rights, have made the judicial battle a major focus, although several others have weighed in on one or two nominees they considered particularly egregious.

Most other Jewish groups are too worried about their nonprofit status, their politically diverse lay leadership and contributors — and, most of all, their precious access to the centers of power in Washington.

That reticence will be harder to maintain in the next four years. If Jewish leaders want to play a role in the most sweeping change in American society in generations, they will have to wade into the messy, high-stakes fight over the judiciary.


Mel Gibson Donates

$5 Million to Cedars-Sinai

Actor Mel Gibson has made a $5 million donation to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to help children from overseas receive expensive medical care, part of a Gibson family commitment dating back several years to a charity that helps sick children in poor countries.

“It’s going directly to the hospital, but we get to submit the kids,” said Cris Embleton, the Valencia-based founder of Healing the Children, which assists parents to obtain U.S. medical care for their children, especially for heart problems like those handled by Cedars-Sinai cardiologists.

Despite Gibson’s controversial high profile this year due to his blockbuster film, “The Passion of the Christ,” Embleton said the actor-filmmaker and his wife have been, “quietly giving money” since about 1999.

Gibson also is donating another $5 million to UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital, which also works with Healing the Children. The organization was started 25 years ago as a Spokane, Wash.-based Christian-oriented charity but now is a nondenominational and nonprofit.

Embleton said Cedars-Sinai was chosen to receive the money partly because “a private hospital is much more apt to say yes to us,” and that Gibson has sponsored Cedars-Sinai cardiology teams working in Latin America.

“He’s been quietly supporting [Cedars-Sinai cardiology team] activities for years,” she said. “If he had wanted publicity at the height of the [‘Passion’] criticisms, he could have gotten it.” – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Mugging Alert in Pico-Robertson

At 5:20 p.m. on Oct. 14, while walking outside her apartment in the Pico-Robertson district, writer and Jewish Journal contributor Lori Gottlieb was grabbed from behind, forced to the ground, cut with a knife and had her purse with $200 in cash stolen. She ended up with a fractured arm, swelling in her cranial cavity and she is waiting for blood test results to determine if the knife used to cut her carried any diseases.

The incident is one of several street muggings that have taken place recently in the Pico-Robertson area. Detective Randy Frederickson, robbery coordinator for the LAPD, West L.A. Detective Division, said that students outside Hamilton High School, which is on Canfield Street in the same area, have also been accosted by a man with a gun. Frederickson said that incidents were not related, although people matching the description of Gottlieb’s attackers (two African-American males, aged 20-25, driving a 2000 black Nissan Maxima with a license plate that starts with 4W) might have done a similar robbery in the Venice area

Frederickson said that the West Los Angeles area remains the safest in the city.

“We don’t want to minimize what happened, but we also don’t want people to think there is a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said, noting that robberies in the area are down 20 percent from last year.

“People that are most vulnerable are those that park in the streets or park in carports,” he said. “You need to be aware of your surroundings, and comply with the demands that a robber may make. Use good common sense when you are arriving home, and don’t ever go inside your house if you think there has been an intruder there. Stay outside and let us check it out.”

If you have questions about the robberies or safety, call Frederickson at the West Los Angeles LAPD office at (310) 575-8441 – Gaby Wenig, Staff Writer

Program Provides Tools to Combat Propaganda

A new program designed to prepare high school students to respond intelligently to the barrage of anti-Israel propaganda many of them will face in college made its official debut Oct. 17 at a major Jewish National Fund (JNF) conference in Los Angeles.

An estimated 120 Southland-area high school juniors and seniors from Tarbut V’Torah, Milken Community High School and other religious and secular campuses participated in the all-day affair. The event featured a speech by Ra’anan Gissin, senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a panel of college students discussing campus anti-Semitism and sessions on Israeli history and advocating for the Jewish state.

Mara Suskauer, director of the JNF college activist department, said she hoped the gathering would give the future university students the tools with which to defend themselves from anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attacks.

“This will make them more comfortable before they get to school,” she said.

JNF and other sponsoring Jewish groups plan to hold future meetings for Los Angeles high school students and then take the program on the road to other cities with large Jewish populations. – Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Democrats, Republican Clash in Election Debates

The pluses and minuses of the two main presidential candidates and their positions were argued back and forth in lively debates this month at two Los Angeles synagogues.

Howard Welinsky, Democrats for Israel chairman, debated Larry Greenfield, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Southern California chapter, on both domestic issues and foreign affairs at Temple Ner Maarav in Encino on Oct. 9, in an event sponsored by the Council of Israeli Community.

The debate, which drew a crowd of about 200 mostly Israeli Americans, began with a discussion on the economy, jobs and gay marriage. However, it was the issue of the U.S.-Israeli relationship that sparked the most audience interest.

Welinsky emphasized Sen. John Kerry’s record on Israel with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, while Greenfield noted that many Israeli government officials consider President Bush the most pro-Israel president in U.S. history.

Greenfield portrayed Kerry as a far-left politician who could not be trusted on matters such as Israel. He pointed to Kerry’s comments to the Arab American Institute on the security barrier. Welinsky made the point that the Israeli Supreme Court had changed the barrier’s route.

On domestic matters, Welinsky labeled Bush a “captive of the far-right” on social issues, such as gay rights. Greenfield called Kerry a “captive” of the left-wing teachers unions on education reform.

The two speakers later fielded audience questions. Many of the questions were directed at Welinsky, often asking him about a perceived reluctance by Kerry to use military force. Welinsky pointed to the senator’s repeated assurances that he would not cede the U.S. prerogative to use force to any outside power.

At Westwood’s Sinai Temple, a vociferous audience of 600 made their feelings known with booing and hissing as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and the Republican Greenfield crossed swords verbally on Oct. 18 on issues surrounding the presidential election.

During the verbal sparring, the two clashed on the handling of the Iraq War, the Iran threat, tax cuts and other issues punctuating the presidential campaign, in addition to Israel’s security and the global rise of anti-Semitism.

Waxman suggested in the back and forth that the Iranian nuclear threat should be solved by the United Nations. Greenfield said that the Iran issue will have to be addressed in the next six months and asked who could be trusted to do it, replying, “I trust the president to do so.”

Among the groups sponsoring the event were the Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. – Idan Ivri and David Finnigan, Contributing Writers

Bush Says Magic Word: Israel

What’s in a word?

President Bush one-upped John Kerry by uttering the word "Israel" in his speech Sept. 2 accepting the Republican presidential nomination, but it’s unclear whether the simple mention of the Jewish state will have any effect on Jewish voters.

"Palestinians will hear the message that democracy and reform are within their reach, and so is peace with our good friend Israel," Bush said to loud applause from delegates at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Speculation was rampant for weeks that Bush would speak of Israel, largely because Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) did not when he accepted the Democratic nomination in July.

There also was talk that Bush would speak about international anti-Semitism to catch the attention of undecided Jewish voters.

But in the end Bush said nothing more than Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), did in his Boston convention speech, when Edwards suggested that a change of president would bring the world to America’s side and ensure "a safe and secure Israel."

As the campaigns move toward the final stretch, each believes it has the stronger message to the Jewish community and anticipates making a thorough effort to reach what is considered an important voting bloc.

Republicans have been touting inroads into the Jewish community this election season, and the buzz at the Republican convention focused on how larger numbers of Jews are likely to back Bush for four more years. By making only a perfunctory reference to the Jewish state in his speech, some say, Bush may have missed an opportunity to woo Jewish voters.

Nonetheless, Republican Jews were gratified by Bush’s comment, suggesting that the mere mention of Israel — in an address where every word is carefully considered — was important.

"The silence of John Kerry in his acceptance speech says a lot to the Jewish community," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). Brooks said presidential candidates’ speeches are closely analyzed, while speeches by vice presidential candidates such as Edwards are of secondary importance.

Jewish Republicans said Bush’s comments had to be seen in the larger framework of the convention, which included formal Jewish outreach events by the campaign, an appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney at an RJC event and significant comments about Israel and Jews in former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s convention speech.

Giuliani was the key conduit to the Jewish community, using his Aug. 30 speech to attack Kerry’s record in the Middle East.

"In October of 2003 he told an Arab-American Institute in Detroit that a security barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian Territories was a ‘barrier to peace,’ " Giuliani said. "OK. Then a few months later, he took exactly the opposite position. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post he said, ‘Israel’s security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense.’"

Giuliani also referred to the 1972 terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, in which a paralyzed Jewish American passenger was thrown into the sea.

Democrats downplayed Bush’s Israel reference.

"It’s window dressing," said Jay Footlik, the Kerry campaign’s senior adviser on Middle East and Jewish affairs. "If I were the Republicans, I would be talking up Israel as well in an attempt to draw support from our community."

Footlik said he felt voters weren’t counting who had said the word "Israel" more, but were taking a more sophisticated look at the candidates’ policies.

The battle for the Jewish vote likely will resemble a football game for the next two months, as Republicans work on offense to raise Jewish support and the Democrats play defense to maintain levels of Jewish support they traditionally have enjoyed.

Based on recent polls, Democratic operatives appear confident that the shift of Jewish voters to Bush is not as profound as Republicans have suggested. After Labor Day, they believe, the conversation will shift back to domestic policy, where Kerry has an advantage in the Jewish community.

They also note that they have had only several months to showcase Kerry to a national Jewish audience, while Bush has had almost four years.

But some advisers in the Democratic camp are urging Kerry and Edwards to say more about Israel and the Middle East, believing Kerry’s speech to the Anti-Defamation League in May did not do enough to prove his understanding of Israel. The Kerry campaign reportedly is receptive to calls from the community for Kerry or Edwards to do more outreach out to Jews.

Republicans acknowledge that they have had an easier argument to make to the Jewish community this election cycle, preaching "conversion" rather than working to prevent "converts." They also seem to have the support of the upper echelons of the campaign, including campaign manager Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish, as they tout issues of concern to the community at high-profile events.

Both sides say grass-roots efforts in key battleground states with significant Jewish populations — such as Florida, Ohio and Michigan — will be the focus for the rest of the campaign. Advertisements geared toward the Jewish community, and spending efforts from advocates for both candidates, are expected to start soon.

Jewish Groups Meet Bush at Conclave

President Bush hugged a cantor, listened to an Orthodox high school choir, walked with an addict-turned-rabbi and heard success stories of the Jewish-based Beit T’Shuvah addiction treatment center during his March 3 Southern California visit.

"We’re all realizing that we need to have faith," said Conservative Rabbi Mark Borovitz, an ex-convict and ex-addict who is the spiritual leader of the 120-bed Beit T’Shuvah on Venice Boulevard in West Los Angeles. "It’s not about a religion, and it’s not about trying to change somebody’s religion."

Bush met with Borovitz for 40 minutes before his speech at a regional conference of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the Staples Center. Borovitz escorted Bush to the podium, where the president spoke about faith-based addiction treatment programs. During his speech, the president praised Borovitz and his wife, Beit T’Shuvah CEO Harriet Rossetto, and Harold Rothstein, a recovering addict who is now Beit T’Shuvah’s facilities manager.

"And they helped save Harold’s life," Bush told the crowd. "The guy was lost, and now he is found, thanks to these two good souls."

Bush met seven addiction counselors and former addicts during the 40-minute meeting. Along with Christian-based Union Rescue Mission and Welcome Home Ministries representatives at the meeting, "we were the Jewish program," said Rossetto, who met her husband before he was a rabbi and while he was a drug addict imprisoned at the California Institution for Men in Chino.

The Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Office is opposed by civil libertarians who believe federal funding for faith-based programs violates church-state separation mandates. However, Beit T’Shuvah residents have said their recovery is helped in a setting that is both medical and spiritual.

According to Rossetto, Bush said at the meeting, "The government can’t open people’s hearts — it can only give money to the people that can open people’s hearts."

"He talked to each of us in turn," she said. "I saw it not as a political event but as being known by the office of the president. I agree with the president on this use of faith as the key ingredient to help people heal from addictions. So it was an experience of unity, of people being united around a common belief, people with whom I might otherwise not be sitting around a table."

During his Staples Center conference speech, Bush said, "Harriet is married to Mark. Mark is now a rabbi. He was in prison. He was addicted. He told me the story about how the rabbi in the prison got a hold of Mark, and said, ‘I’m never going to forget you. I love you. I want to help you.’ And so Mark runs into Harriet, his wife, who has started a — she, too, is a social entrepreneur, by the way, at Beit T’Shuvah. It’s a program for addicts."

"She sees him at the prison," Bush said, according to a White House speech transcript. "He’s kind of a — probably feeling his oats pretty good about that time. She says, fine, why don’t you — if you want to do something constructive, why don’t you just show up at our program? So he did, three years later."

Jim Towey, Bush’s faith-based initiatives director, tapped Borovitz and Rossetto for the preconference meeting after learning of the facility through Beit T’Shuvah board member and philanthropist Annette Shapiro.

"The president is following through on his commitment to faith-based initiatives," said Bruce Bialosky, Southern California chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition. "Jews recognize that they face some challenges, and they are dealing with those challenges. We have such low incidents of alcoholism comparatively, but in a secularized society, we face more and more of that."

Bush sent Borovitz and Rossetto a holiday card last December. "I have it framed," revealed Rossetto, who said of the president, "He’s personable."

The 16-member choir of Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills performed at the event. "We were the only entertainment at this White House interfaith convention," said Cantor Avshalom Katz, the choir’s director and cantor at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. "We got the request two days before from the White House to perform for this convention."

The choir sang "America the Beautiful," and the prayer for the State of Israel, "Avinu Shebashamayim," as well as, "The Inventor’s Song," to which Katz gave a Jewish inventors twist, as the choir sang lyrics including, "Salk made the polio vaccine. And it took Rickover and his special talent to float a nuclear submarine."

"After his speech," Katz said, "he came to shake hands. As he approached me I said to him, ‘Mr. President, you are the best.’ And he gave me a hug and a kiss. It was a kiddush HaShem [honor to God’s name]."

Of Kerry and King

If I were John Kerry, I would spend every spare moment standing in front of a mirror, practicing the speech I’m going to give in October when U.S. soldiers capture Osama bin Laden.

The 2000 presidential election was a referendum on the future — who did Americans believe could lead them forward. 2004 is a referendum on the past –who do Americans believe can prevent Sept. 11, 2001 from happening again.

Democrats perceive Kerry, a Vietnam vet, as electable because he knows Americans are looking for someone to step into the role of Protector-in-Chief. He has military credentials, foreign policy experience and a diplomat’s diction. But Bush’s Osama in the hole could beat Kerry’s three of a kind in an instant. Capturing the Saudi terrorist mastermind is important, not least for the visceral sense of relief and revenge it will offer a grateful nation. Everybody knows this, so it wasn’t surprising this week when the Pentagon announced an increase in military personnel along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where bin Laden is thought to be hiding. There’s no guarantee of an October surprise, but such things have been known to happen.

The people gathered at Richard Ziman’s expansive Beverly Hills home the evening of Feb. 12 preferred to banish such thoughts. Ziman and his wife, Daphne, had been early supporters of Kerry (see story, p. 12), and this was their second fundraiser for the Massachusetts senator. Tickets were $1,000 or $2,000. The list of co-hosts included numerous entertainment industry notables whose politics ranged from the far-left all the way to the center-left. This was not Swing Voters Night. Kerry had just scored solid wins in New Hampshire and Iowa, and the poll numbers were looking strong in Wisconsin. About 300 upscale Democrats ate crudités and sipped wine in the foyer and living room, finding praise for a candidate whom many had just woken up to after wiping Howard Dean out of their eyes. The mood was closer to a victory party.

"A few months ago I didn’t think there was any hope," said a fundraiser with close Hollywood ties. "Now I do."

Kerry was not there — something many people were astonished to hear. If they had wanted to see Kerry, their $1,000 would have been better spent on a round-trip ticket to Madison, where you could see him — endlessly that week — for free. The candidate did call in, and Ziman, whose home is a way station for political hopefuls, seamlessly patched him into the Surround Sound.

"I wish I were there," Kerry said. "Everywhere I’m campaigning is so cold."

"We’re going to have a prolonged and tough fight," he went on, headlong into an attack on the president. "He’s calling himself a war president. They can’t talk about jobs, healthcare, the economy, so they’re going to try to use the politics of fear."

Kerry spoke for a bit longer — eloquent, hard-edged — and the crowd erupted in fierce applause. Comedian Richard Lewis, who has performed for Kerry at such events across the country, took the mike. "I forget that a president does not have to speak ESL," he said.

A few obligatory speeches — former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and state treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides — might have brought the energy down, but Dukakis, bright and self-deprecating as he is, only served to remind the faithful that this time, in Kerry, they have a real he-man. America loves a he-man.

Carole King then sat at Ziman’s piano and sang. She has also been campaigning for Kerry from the start.

"I was with him in Iowa when we saw the momentum turn," she said. She sang every song you know by heart from her "Tapestry" album, and standing an arm’s length from her, I and the dozens of others crowded around the piano probably would have voted a dead beagle into the Oval Office if that’s what she wanted. By the time she got to, "I Feel the Earth Move," the faces were ecstatic, as if people forgot that just three and half years ago this was the party of Al Gore.

The pods of conversation that formed and split and morphed afterward seemed to dare themselves to spurn cautious optimism for a full-fledged embrace. People offered their suggestion for vice president — Democratic candidate John Edwards and former U.N. Representative Bill Richardson were the popular choices — and allowed themselves to wonder aloud what kind of first lady Teresa Heinz Kerry would be.

But these liberals were almost all rich liberals, their idealism alloyed with enough weighty pragmatism to have gotten them rich in the first place. So Ziman and a couple of dozen others separated from the mix and entered a large den sealed by a wall of French doors, which they shut.

"That’s where the heavy hitting is going on," one Democratic activist said.

The president has a campaign war chest of more than $100 million. Because he wisely passed on public matching funds, Kerry can keep raising money. Jews, few in number but well-represented in terms of political contribution, will find the candidate turning the Westside and similar neighborhoods into an ATM if he hopes to go ad for ad with Bush.

I walked out onto the lawn, knowing full well that somewhere in a leafy Houston suburb someone was hosting the same kind of party with the same number of people to raise money and spirit for the president. There would be a view across the lawn to a landscaped pool and tennis court. There would be a popular entertainer inside, though certainly not Carole King — or the Dixie Chicks.

Kerry will get the money, and the enthusiasm, building slowly, will come. But his fate depends on whether, come October, he can convince voters that capturing Osama bin Laden is not the only thing that will make America a stronger nation.

Don’t forget to vote Tuesday.

World Briefs

Bush: Happy Rosh Hashanah

President Bush asked Jews to “pray for peace” in his annual Rosh Hashanah message. “May we build a future of promise and compassion for all, and may the coming year be filled with hope and happiness,” Bush said in the presidential message, released Tuesday. He also called on Jews to find inspiration from Abraham and Isaac’s “willingness to sacrifice everything to do right.”

Israelis Bodies Found

Two bodies found in California may be the remains of a pair of Israelis who disappeared last December. FBI agents on Sunday were led by suspects arrested last week to a shallow grave near Barstow, where Ben Wertzberger and Adar Neeman were believed to be buried, The Associated Press reported. Authorities say the two probably were killed after a drug-related dispute with the suspects.

Iraq Off-Limits to Israel

Israel will not be allowed to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq, Iraqi officials said. Speaking at the International Monetary Fund conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Iraq’s interim planning minister said Israeli entrance into the Iraqi market is “out of the question,” Agence France-Presse reported. A member of the U.S.-appointed transitional Governing Council, Adel Abdul Mahdi, added, “There is no intention to recognize Israel.”

Israeli officials are in Dubai this week for the IMF conference.

Al-Qaeda Planned Attack on El Al

Thai police reportedly foiled an Al-Qaeda plot to down an El Al airplane and attack Israeli passengers at Bangkok International Airport. A man arrested three months ago by police in Thailand was found to have detailed plans of a plot to attack passengers in the terminal and shoot down an El Al plane with a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. Al-Qaeda operatives are the prime suspects in an attack last November on an Israeli aircraft in the skies over Kenya. The plane managed to evade those missiles and land safely in Tel Aviv.

Bernard Manischewitz Dies at 89

Kosher food giant Bernard Manischewitz died Saturday in New Jersey at age 89.

Manischewitz was the last in his family’s line to run the kosher food giant B. Manischewitz Company, the Newark “Star-Ledger” reported. The food company was sold to private investors in 1991 after it had been in the Manischewitz family for three generations. Renowned for its sweet wine and matzah, the business was founded in Cincinnati in 1888 by Bernard’s grandfather, Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz. The company opened a second factory in Jersey City in 1932, eventually moving operations there. Born in Cincinnati, Bernard joined the company in the 1940s after graduating from New York University. The company expanded under his tenure but also weathered a scandal in the mid-1980s over price-fixing for matzah. Bernard Manischewitz was a Jewish philanthropist, serving as president of New York’s United Jewish Appeal and of New York’s Shearith Israel synagogue. Manischewitz is survived by his wife, son, daughters, six grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Former Israeli Ambassador Dinitz

Simcha Dinitz, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and chairman of the Jewish Agency, has died. Dinitz, 74, died Tuesday of a heart attack in Jerusalem. Born in Tel Aviv, Dinitz joined the Haganah in pre-state Palestine and served in the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence. He spent 37 years in a variety of public posts, including the Knesset, the Foreign Ministry, Golda Meir’s Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency, which he headed from 1987 to 1994. Dinitz served as vice president of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was a diplomat in Rome and Washington for prime ministers Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin. Dinitz’s public career ended in 1996 when he was found guilty of fraud and breach of trust connected to misuse of Jewish Agency credit cards, though Israel’s highest court overturned the conviction a year later. Dinitz, whom Israeli President Moshe Katsav called “one of the leaders of the nation,” leaves behind his wife, three children and eight grandchildren.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Washington Watch

Clark Looks for Jewish Money

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who jumped into the crowded Democratic ring last week, isn’t Jewish, but his Jewish roots could figure prominently in his strategy for winning the 2004 presidential nomination.

The reason: Clark, a latecomer to the race, needs lots of money — and fast.

“He has to raise a ton of money,” said a top Jewish Democrat this week. “And he has to avoid gaffes for the next few weeks so he can put together position papers. You look at the top 100 givers in the party, and a very high percentage of them are Jews. A lot of them have been sitting on the sidelines so far. So they’re ripe for the picking.”

But to do that picking, this source said, Clark has to demonstrate that he is a credible candidate with a good chance of beating President George W. Bush next November. And he has to demonstrate a sensitivity to the hot-button issues that have a big impact on pro-Israel campaign contributors — a lesson another surprise frontrunner, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, learned the hard way recently.

“He’s intelligent, he’s articulate but he’s fallen on his face in the first days of the campaign,” said Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn. “He needs to be handled better; his learning curve has to be extremely steep. He doesn’t have the luxury of making mistakes.”

Clark will be pressed hard to explain his Mideast views in detail in the coming weeks; how he responds will have a significant impact on the flow of badly needed Jewish dollars, Kahn said.

Those views include a call for greater international involvement in solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and cautious endorsement of NATO peacekeepers for the region, both ideas that are regarded warily by most pro-Israel groups and vehemently opposed by some.

This week, the former NATO Supreme Commander and Democratic newcomer was burning up the phone-lines, touching base with potential contributors across the country. He was also aggressively working Capitol Hill, seeking endorsements — including endorsements from Jewish lawmakers.

He is also building a campaign machine that includes a number of former Clinton administration officials. On the Clark team so far: former National Service director Eli Segal, former Commerce secretary Mickey Kantor and Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.), a top White House aide during the Clinton years.

Clark is also basking in the glow of a successful fundraising forays to Hollywood, Silicon Valley and New York.

Clark reportedly hopes to raise up to $5 million before the end of the current reporting period next week, a total that would reinforce his standing as a serious candidate — and possibly convince some of his less-successful rivals to drop out.

“He needs money, he needs important backers and he needs something only he can provide: giving people an affirmative reason to support him,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist.

And that means courting Jewish campaign contributors who traditionally provide “the bulk of the money for Democratic candidates,” he said. “Because of that, I think he will rediscover his Jewish roots very quickly.”

In 1999 Clark revealed that while he grew up a Baptist and later converted to Catholicism, his father was Jewish.

“Our community doesn’t have a lot of generals,” Ginsberg said. If a general comes along and wants to be Jewish, who’s going to turn him away?”

Mixed News for Lieberman

The impending end of the quarter for campaign donations is touching off last-minute money blitzes in other Democratic presidential campaigns as well; the upcoming Federal Election Commission report card on contributions could prove critical for several.

This week supporters of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who continues to rank near the top in national polls, sent an urgent “Third Quarter Countdown” e-mail to potential contributors. The goal: to make sure the campaign “finishes the quarter with lots of momentum.”

The critical thing for Lieberman now: keeping up the appearance of momentum until after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, where he, Gen. Wesley Clark, Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.), Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) among others will slug it out.

“We have said from the beginning that Feb. 3 would be an important day for our campaign,” said campaign director Craig Smith in the e-mail to potential contributors. “This is the day we will start to win the nomination.”

That date marks the Arizona, Delaware and South Carolina primaries, among others, in which Lieberman is expected to run strong.

“He’s running an effective, steady, unspectacular race,” said a top Jewish politico here. “His strategy is clearly to hold until after New Hampshire and Iowa, when there could be utter confusion among the other frontrunners, and Joe will have his chance.”

Lieberman and several other Democratic contenders were buoyed by a new CNN poll showing them all gaining on or beating President Bush, whose job-approval ratings continue to sink in the face of job losses, the government budget crisis and mounting anarchy and terrorism in Iraq.

Less pleasing to the other Democratic candidates, including Lieberman: the fact that after only five days as an official candidate, Clark did better against Bush than any of them.

In the sample of 877 registered voters, 49 percent said they would vote for Clark, 46 for Bush, while the President beat Dean, Gephardt and Lieberman by slim margins.

Administration Accelerates Faith-Based

The Bush administration’s faith-based initiative may be bogged down in Congress, but it is on the fast-track inside the executive branch, where the president is intensifying his effort to use already-existing authority to expand government help for religious institutions.

But that hasn’t produced a bonanza for Jewish social service providers; in a series of grants announced this week, no Jewish groups were among the lucky recipients, although at least one applied.

On Monday the Bush cabinet convened to report back to the boss about progress in opening up government health and human service contracts to religious groups.

The administration also announced a series of new regulations lowering barriers for religious group participation in grant programs — changes that critics say will lead to the improper use of government money for things like proselytizing.

And the Department of Health and Human Services announced $30.5 million in grants to support 81 community groups and faith-based charities, and another $24 million for programs that received funding last year under the administration’s “Compassion Capital Fund.”

According to an analysis by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, regulatory changes announced by the administration will provide up to $20 billion to religious groups that operate substance and mental health service programs.

Under the Compassion Capital Fund, the list of grantees includes interfaith, community and Christian groups but no Jewish social service providers, despite the fact that at least one — the Orthodox Union — applied.

Nathan Diament, the OU’s Washington representative, said that shows the faith-based initiative “will not be a political patronage program. Given how supportive we’ve been of the faith-based program, we would have been a candidate if there had been any interest in using this for political payoffs.”

Richard Foltin, legislative director for the American Jewish Committee, which opposes much of the administration’s faith-based thrust, said there were no surprises at the White House this week.

“What we’re seeing is the administration following through on what has always been a priority,” he said.

But Foltin conceded that by shifting the focus from legislation to executive action, the administration has made things much harder for opponents.

Options for opponents include court action against individual faith based programs and public education, he said; legislative efforts to roll back some of the President’s actions, as proposed by several liberal lawmakers, are unlikely to advance in the GOP-controlled Congress.

The administration has not given up on Capitol Hill, but shifted the emphasis from sweeping faith-based legislation to “piecemeal” changes in legislation reauthorizing existing programs, Foltin said.

That includes efforts to remove provisions prohibiting employment discrimination by religious groups that use government money in programs such as Head Start.

But Orthodox groups applauded the acceleration of the administration’s faith-based effort.

“We welcome these developments that will lower the barriers that prevent religious groups from participating on an equal footing in administering social service programs,” said Abba Cohen, Washington representative for Agudath Israel of America. “We’re very pleased that the administration is steadfast in moving forward.”

The DeLay Factor and the Jews

The recent clamor over Howard Dean’s demand for U.S. "evenhandedness" in the Middle East was sweet music to the ears of Jewish Republicans, who hope 2004 will be a watershed in their long but frustrating effort to rally Jewish voters to their cause.

But the Republicans could overplay their hand, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who sometimes makes Ariel Sharon sound like a peacenik, is just the man to do it.

The Texas congressman, who has emerged as a powerful friend of Israeli nationalists and right-wingers, was on the attack last week, lashing out at Dean, the surprise frontrunner in the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

But DeLay’s pro-Israel ardor, while galvanizing to a small Jewish minority and useful to mainstream leaders, could neutralize the positive political impact of President George W. Bush — whose support for both Israel and an active peace process may play well among Jewish swing voters.

During his 18 years in Congress, DeLay, a former Houston exterminator, has been known mostly for his intense partisanship, his hard-right views on domestic subjects and his close relationship with groups like the Christian Coalition.

For much of that time he was considered cool to Israel — hostile to foreign aid, and not particularly sympathetic to the pro-Israel cause on Capitol Hill.

That began to change in the mid-1990s as pro-Israel conservatives courted the increasingly powerful DeLay, and as a key segment of his core constituency — conservative Evangelical Christians — began to put their version of "Christian Zionism" at the top of their list of priorities.

Some analysts say that agenda is based heavily on Christian biblical prophecies, which require constant warfare in the Middle East and a terrible fate for those Jews who do not jump aboard the millennial bandwagon.

Whatever their motives, their support has been welcomed by pro-Israel groups, which face mounting hostility from liberal "mainline" Protestant denominations. It was especially welcomed by the Jewish right, which for the first time had a politically powerful champion in Washington.

DeLay was reborn into the pro-Israel faith with a vengeance.

In 2000, he was one of only three lawmakers voting against a congressional resolution praising Israel for its withdrawal from Lebanon, claiming that Israel was making a big mistake giving back any land.

In 2002, DeLay headed a congressional effort to deflect pressure on Israel from the leader of his party, President Bush.

This year, he delighted hard-liners when he told the pro-Israel lobby that Israel has a perfect right to keep Gaza and the West Bank.

"I’ve toured Judea and Samaria," he said, "and stood on the Golan Heights," he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I didn’t see occupied territory. I saw Israel."

He repeated that claim last week to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Jewish right-wingers here applaud such talk; mainstream Jewish leaders, while not entirely comfortable with it, are grateful for his support, and some swallow their discomfort over his hard-line views.

But if DeLay is the spearhead of a new GOP effort to woo Jewish voters, the party may be in trouble. Poll after poll shows that American Jews remain committed to the fundamentals of land-for-peace negotiations.

Despite the way Jews from across the spectrum have rallied behind a terror-beset Israel, there is very little support here for the settlers who are determined to hold onto their West Bank and Gaza outposts, or the neo-Kahanists who dream of "transferring" Palestinians somewhere else.

American Jewish leaders have expressed great skepticism about the Bush administration’s "road map" for Palestinian statehood, but polls indicate most American Jews support its principles.

DeLay may score points with some top Jewish leaders, who are interested mostly in his ability to serve as a counterweight to administration pressure on Israel, and with single-issue pro-Israel groups, which easily overlook a domestic record that makes him the prince of the Christian right.

But the majority of Jews are centrists whose votes are shaped by a wide array of issues, not just Israel. On both the foreign and domestic fronts, Jewish voters, while not as liberal as they once were, are poles apart from DeLay and his ultra-conservative colleagues.

On the Middle East, President Bush has struck a balance that may appeal to that Jewish mainstream: strong, unequivocal support for Israel, but also for a genuine peace process that everybody knows can only end with the creation of a real Palestinian state.

That combination could be especially attractive next November if the Democrats nominate a challenger beholden to the party’s left flank, where Israel isn’t exactly the most popular cause in town.

DeLay represents a support for Israel’s most extreme factions and a harsh vision for the future of the region that is repellent to many of the Jews the Republicans hope to attract.

Bush Expands Mideast Agenda

With the death toll mounting in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian "road map" plan in tatters, the Bush administration and Congress want to put out other Middle East fires before they get out of control.

Administration officials and lawmakers recently launched initiatives to sanction Syria and Iran for links to terrorist organizations and plans to develop and obtain weapons of mass destruction. Lawmakers also have focused on Saudi Arabia, accusing it of supporting Hamas and other terrorist groups. Officially, the Bush administration regards the kingdom as an ally in the war on terrorism.

The United States has been keeping an eye on these three countries for years, but attention on them has increased in the wake of U.S. military action against Iraq.

"I think it’s all wrapped up with the Iraq war and concern about the riffraff of the world assembling in Iraq to attack American forces," said Edward Walker, a former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Walker said some Bush administration officials want to take severe actions against Iran and Syria, including new sanctions made possible by the Patriot Act, passed over Sept. 11, 2001. The new actions could include cutting sources of funding for the three countries and their interests in the United States.

Lawmakers are already highlighting their concerns in Congress. A number of congressional hearings last week produced dire predictions about Iranian and Syrian capabilities and what could be the result if the United States fails to act.

Israeli and U.S. legislators said Wednesday during a committee hearing that Iran could be "weeks away" from achieving nuclear-weapon capabilities.

"If not efficiently tackled, in one year from now we may face a new world, a very dangerous Middle East and a very dangerous world," said Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee.

Pressure on Syria has been mounting as well. John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a House subcommittee Tuesday that Syria is a dual threat because of its support of terrorist groups and the possibility that Syria could arm the groups.

"While there is currently no information indicating that the Syrian Government has transferred [Weapons of Mass Destruction] to terrorist organizations or would permit such groups to acquire them, Syria’s ties to numerous terrorist groups underlie the reasons for our continued anxiety," Bolton said.

Bolton also appeared to soften Bush administration opposition to the Syria Accountability Act — legislation backed by pro-Israel groups that would sanction Syria for harboring terrorists, seeking nuclear weapons and occupying Lebanon.

Bolton said Tuesday that the administration has no position on the legislation. The White House had previously claimed the legislation would tie up the administration’s hands in foreign policy. Sources say the State Department is using support for the sanctions act as leverage in discussions with Syrian officials.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Bush on Tuesday calling for the United States to downgrade relations with Syria.

"Unless Syria changes its policies, no United States ambassador should be sent to Damascus, and the president should refuse to accept the credentials of any proposed Syrian ambassador to the United States," Ackerman wrote.

Walker said unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran and Syria would have little effect.

"We already have unilateral sanctions against both countries, and it hasn’t really stopped them," said Walker, now president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank. "Sanctions will only hurt American companies."

In Saudi Arabia’s case, the Bush administration and lawmakers remain miles apart. Lawmakers emphasize the link between the Saudis and terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda; the Bush administration says Saudis are aiding the fight against terrorism.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that American law enforcement officials estimate that 50 percent of Hamas’ budget comes from people in Saudi Arabia.

The Bush administration dismissed the report.

"The Saudi government has committed to ensuring that no Saudi government funds go to Hamas," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We know that private donations from people in Saudi Arabia to Hamas are very difficult to track and stop, and we continue to work closely with Saudi officials to offer expertise and information that can assist them in that regard."

Sept. 11 From the D.C. Perspective

When Lionel Chetwynd called the White House Press Office to request an interview with the president, he got lucky.

Very lucky.

The Los Angeles-based writer-producer had hit a brick wall on his script about how President Bush and his Cabinet acted hours following the catastrophic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

To commemorate the second anniversary of the national tragedy, Showtime had commissioned the British-born, Canadian-reared veteran writer for their fact-based dramatization of the days immediately following the disaster, titled, “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis,” which airs Sept. 7.

While Chetwynd is considered a master of the art of turning real-life drama into movies for TV (“Nixon and Kissinger,” “The Man Who Captured Eichman,” “The Hanoi Hilton” and “Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy”), the Sept. 11 script had him struggling.

“I’d hit a brick wall,” he told The Journal, “because I hadn’t really thought in advance about the complexities of writing about a sitting administration and about what might or might not be going on.”

But then he decided to call the White House to make sure he was on the right track. Right away, he made contact with Bush’s influential key strategist Karl Rove, who proved to be the main conduit to the Oval Office and members of Bush’s Cabinet.

While the Bush administration and the liberal-leaning Hollywood establishment make strange bedfellows, Chetwynd has always danced to his own political drummer. Chetwynd, 63, who has made more than 20 documentaries, is a staunch Republican who has accumulated some IOU’s from the GOP by way of campaigning for and donating to the Bush cause. (“Not a big donor — just the legal limit of $1,000,” he said. )

“I tried to persuade others in Hollywood to support his campaign because there was a lot of hostility there toward his candidacy,” he said. “There was nothing dark to be read into it, although there was a preexisting relationship. They knew I’d always been enthusiastic about Bush’s presidential ambitions since the days he was governor of Texas.”

When Chetwynd finally got the call to fly to Washington, D.C., he was told, “Stand by — we’ll try to squeeze you in for five or 10 minutes.”

He ended up spending almost an hour alone with the 43rd president of the United States — much to the chagrin, he recalls, of all the president’s men. He says that crucial meeting helped him break the back of his troubled script.

“I told the president I was close to abandoning the script because I couldn’t sort out three guys: the president, the commander in chief and the man — George W. Bush — who has a wife, kids, feelings and emotions,” he recalled. “For the film to be effective, I told him I needed to be able to distinguish between those three people and how they work together.”

Chetwynd had previously screened his film, “Varian’s War,” for Bush, and said the president commented first on the weight Chetwynd had recently lost and quickly put him at ease.

“He told me, ‘Let me see if I can help you,'” he recalled. “And he took me through those crucial nine days. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life to sit in the Oval Office and listen to him explain what it was like to have ‘the wall come down around him,’ as he put it.”

Chetwynd said that during their chat, Bush also conceded that his wife had admonished him over his public statement that he wanted Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.”

“He was able to recall with great specificity moments when his three roles came into conflict, when he had to switch from president to commander in chief to husband and father. At the National Cathedral service [which is seen in the movie with film footage intercut with the real news reports] he told me he was deeply moved when he heard a woman weeping.”

What Chetwynd has wrought — an exhaustive study of exactly what happened in the corridors of power immediately following Sept. 11 — can be seen in the movie.

Chetwynd said he was sensitive about not making his movie a “valentine to Bush.” And the film does show Bush stumbling at first, inarticulate in the extreme as his aides look on pained. But gradually he paints a portrait of a “take-charge” executive who, as the hours progress, gains confidence in himself and his job as he takes in complex briefings from the CIA, FBI and State Department chiefs at Cabinet-level meetings in the White House and at Camp David.

There is one scene with Bush on the phone in the Oval Office urging Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to agree to show restraint –“We will hold our hand,” Sharon promises — as the United States plans its strategy.

Chetwynd said what impressed him while he was conducting interviews in Washington, D.C., was that at no time did anyone in the White House even ask, “Which channel are you doing this for?”

“For all they know I could have been doing it for Comedy Central,” he said.

“DC 9/11: Time of Crisis” airs on Showtime, Sun, Sept. 7
at 5 p.m. For additional airings, visit www.sho.com .

Ivor Davis writes for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times syndicates.

Sharon, Abbas Court White House

As the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process inches forward, leaders of both sides are looking to upcoming audiences with President Bush to exert pressure on the other and give the "road map" peace plan some momentum.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, each will seek to persuade the American leader to lean on the other side to move faster — and Bush will be ready to lean on both, Israeli analysts believe.

With domestic criticism growing regarding America’s imbroglio in Iraq, Israeli analysts believe Bush wants progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front to help justify the strike against Saddam Hussein. If toppling the Iraqi dictator is seen to have paved the way for an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation — and, with it, a better chance of pacifying the Middle East as a whole — the administration can argue that the war was worthwhile, the argument goes.

Bush, therefore, will want to resolve as many of the disputed issues on the table as he can. For the Palestinians, most important are releasing prisoners, dismantling settlement outposts, freezing construction of Israeli settlements and Israel’s West Bank security fence and easing restrictions on Palestinian civilians.

Israel will ask Bush to demand that the Palestinians dismantle terrorist groups and decommission their weapons and not make do with the groups’ tenuous cease-fire.

Most analysts agree that little progress will be made without concerted American intervention.

More importantly, in their strategic thinking, both Abbas and Sharon put a premium on ties with America. Even before he took over as prime minister, Abbas advocated the use of American and international pressure on Israel, rather than terrorism, to achieve Palestinian goals.

Sharon, who is to meet with Bush on July 29, sees American support as the key to Israel’s position in the world. He believes that ties with the Bush administration must be carefully nurtured and that Israel should seek prior coordination with Washington whenever appropriate, especially in dealing with the Palestinians. In Sharon’s view, it is absolutely vital that the Palestinian issue not be allowed to erode Israel’s ties with Washington.

Of course, there will be tactical maneuvering by both prime ministers, but their meetings with President Bush should be understood in a wider strategic context.

Abbas reportedly will highlight two key issues in his White House meeting on Friday: getting more Palestinian prisoners released and stopping construction of the security fence. He will argue that if Israel is really serious about turning over a new leaf, it should release all Palestinian prisoners, even those with "blood on their hands," i.e., those involved in terror attacks.

On the security fence, the Palestinians have noted the recent sharp differences between Israel and the United States. Israeli officials believe Abbas hopes to use the issue to drive a wedge between Israel and the United States and get the Bush administration to pressure Israel to stop building it, on the grounds that it takes in large swaths of the West Bank and thus prejudges a final territorial accommodation.

Abbas also reportedly will urge Bush to pressure Sharon to put more West Bank cities under Palestinian security control. He argues that unless he has real achievements to show the Palestinian people, his shaky position as prime minister in P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s shadow will be further weakened. Indeed, Abbas hopes his high-profile meeting with Bush will itself give him more standing and credibility on the Palestinian street.

Abbas also apparently intends to use his American sojourn to win support in Congress, the media and the American Jewish community, and has scheduled meetings with key figures in all three groups.

According to aides, Sharon’s main goal will be to convince Bush that the Palestinians must be held to their commitments in the fight against terror. Sharon, they say, will suggest linking further prisoner releases to Palestinian dismantling of militia groups and the collection of illegal weapons.

Sharon will point out that two months have elapsed since the road map was launched at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan, in early June. During that time the Palestinians have not taken serious action against Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and Israeli intelligence sources say the terrorist groups continue to arm themselves under cover of the cease-fire. It is time for the Palestinians to act, Sharon will insist.

Sharon hopes to deflect American pressure on Israel by releasing a large group of prisoners and dismantling more illegal West Bank settlement outposts before his meeting with Bush.

As for the fence, Sharon will repeat what he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week: "I am a simple farmer, and I tell you plainly the fence is only a security obstacle to stop suicide bombers, and not in any way a political border."

Sharon has agreed to Palestinian demands to set up a joint Israeli-Palestinian team to agree on a list of prisoners to be released. Though the terrorist groups have made the prisoner release a condition of their cease-fire, it is not one of Israel’s obligations under the road map. However, Israeli officials believe that releasing prisoners may help Abbas’ public stature.

Out of sensitivity to the pressures on Abbas, Sharon has agreed to release some detainees who are members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In deference to Israeli public sentiment, however, he is refusing to release prisoners with blood on their hands.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

After the Cease-Fire What Comes Next?

As Israel and the Palestinians begin a long-awaited truce, both sides are holding their breath — and wondering what the United States will do next to advance the “road map” peace plan.

The late June cease-fire by the three main Palestinian terror groups, declared as the intifada approached the 1,000-day mark, underlined the vital importance of the U.S. role. Without U.S. pressure on the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terror groups and on European and Arab nations to cut off their funding, the cease-fire never would have been achieved, Israeli analysts say.

More importantly, the analysts agree that unless Washington keeps up the pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians, the new deal could quickly unravel. Then, instead of moving ahead on the internationally accepted peace plan toward a longer-term settlement, the sides could find themselves locked in an even-worse cycle of violence.

Much will depend on how the Bush administration handles a number of key issues:

  • Will it force Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to go beyond a cease-fire and dismantle terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as he has agreed to do under the road map?

  • Will it restrict Israel’s freedom of action if the Palestinians violate the cease-fire?

  • Will it pressure Israel to release Palestinian terrorist prisoners as a goodwill gesture?

  • Will it lean on Israel to dismantle illegal settlement outposts and established settlements?

  • Will it insist that Israel stop building a security fence that it says is essential to keep terrorists from infiltrating from the West Bank, but which the Palestinians say is taking their land?

The cease-fire declaration coincided with a visit by Condoleezza Rice, the White House’s national security adviser. Her main purpose was to make clear to both sides what the United States expects of them and to signal the U.S. determination to push the road map.

In her talks with Abbas in Ramallah, Rice was firm on dismantling terrorist groups. She used Abbas’ own slogan –“one authority, one command and one armed force” — and echoed Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush in insisting that the United States would accept nothing less than the disarming of the groups and the collection of their weapons.

Beyond the rhetoric, the United States reportedly is considering granting the Palestinian Authority as much as $1 billion, partly to help it disarm the militants. Some of the funds would be used to help build an alternative welfare system to Hamas’.

Through this money and other investment, the United States hopes to dramatically improve socioeconomic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, showing that peace pays and encouraging further steps in that direction. Much of the money would be held back, pending convincing evidence that the Palestinians really are decommissioning illegal weapons.

The Americans also are exerting heavy — and apparently successful — pressure on European and Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to clamp down on funding for Hamas as part of the struggle to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and weaken the fundamentalists.

But what if the Palestinian Authority is unable to impose its authority on all factions and the shooting continues? On Monday, the day after the cease-fire was declared, gunmen from Abbas’ own Fatah movement fatally shot a Bulgarian worker in the West Bank, whom they mistook for an Israeli.

To Israel, Rice made very clear that the United States expects it to act with restraint and give the Palestinian Authority time to organize its forces. In talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Cabinet, Rice acknowledged Israel’s right to defend its citizens and act against “ticking time bombs,” such as suicide bombers on their way to attack — if the Palestinians, after being given the relevant information, fail to stop them.

However, she said, Israel should “think twice” before retaliating against terrorist acts or plans, taking into account the effects its actions could have on the wider peace process. Israel, Rice said, should be careful not to do anything that weakens Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.

Major Israeli strikes in Palestinian areas will undermine the P.A.’s credibility on the Palestinian street, the United States believes.

Rice also urged Sharon to release as many Palestinian prisoners as possible to boost Abbas’ standing and show the Palestinian populace what can be gained by sticking to the road map. Israel is holding approximately 3,000 Palestinian detainees, and Sharon is ready to free several hundred — but not those who have killed Israelis or directly ordered others to do so.

Sharon has asked the Shin Bet security service to prepare a list of prisoners whose release “would not harm Israel’s security.”

If the Palestinians adhere to the cease-fire, the United States also can be expected to pressure Israel to continue dismantling illegal outposts, but not bona fide Jewish settlements. The first phase of the road map refers only to outposts set up since March 2001. Calls for the evacuation of settlements proper will come only in the second phase, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in temporary borders, with “maximum territorial continuity.”

One area of emerging disagreement between Israel and the United States is the security fence. Abbas told Rice that the Palestinians would have no problems with a fence along the pre-1967 border, but that the route Israel currently plans allegedly would leave only 45 percent of the West Bank in Palestinians hands, divided into three “cantons” — hardly the viable state envisaged by Bush.

Rice asked Sharon to reconsider the route. Sharon, however, argued that the fence would constitute a security line rather than a political border and could be moved later.

Rice was skeptical. To many people, she said, the route looks like an attempt to create a political border unilaterally, and this is seen as problematic.

Israel’s nightmare scenario is that the cease-fire will break down after the Palestinian Authority fails to disarm Hamas and the other terror groups. The question then will be whether the United States, after playing the honest broker, tolerates Israel moving back into the West Bank and Gaza Strip in self-defense.

Much will depend on whom the United States blames for the breakdown of a process in which, by then, it will have invested so much.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Beyond Summit: Chance for Peace?

A double dose of optimism and skepticism led up to this week’s summit at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, but what really matters is what comes next.

Hardened by past failures, Israelis and Palestinians alike recognize that there is still a long way to go, and a lot that could still go wrong after President Bush’s Wednesday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

There are, for example, still dozens of warnings of planned terrorist attacks, and a new round of suicide bombings could quickly derail a reactivated peace process.

And even if the parties are able to make the first moves Bush is asking of them, they will encounter major problems down the road: Will they be able to agree on the final size of the Palestinian state, on the extent of its sovereignty, on Jerusalem and the refugee question? And what about the rejectionists on both sides? Will the Palestinians have the power to collect illegal weapons held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Will Israel be able to dismantle settlements? In other words, can Abbas face down the fundamentalists and can Sharon deal with the settlers?

One far-right Israeli Cabinet minister, Avigdor Lieberman of National Union, warns that “any attempt to dismantle settlements will lead to civil war.”

Despite all the questions, there was a fresh breath of optimism in the air this week. Israeli generals are talking about the end of the nearly three-year-long Palestinian uprising. Palestinians are delighted by Sharon’s unprecedented use of the term “occupation” and are looking forward to the occupation’s end. And most importantly, both sides have been sobered by what they see as the American administration’s newfound determination to put an end to the long conflict between them.

Indicative of the new mood, the Israeli stock market, sluggish during the intifada years, has been skyrocketing.

The Aqaba summit, designed to jump-start a new peace process, was first and foremost a statement about the degree of American commitment. Bush, who had carefully kept his distance from the treacherous Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is now making clear that he intends to play an active role and to exert heavy pressure wherever necessary.

On Monday, Bush vowed to “put in as much time as necessary” to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. Bush made his comments in France before leaving for the Middle East, where he attended a summit in Egypt with Arab leaders on Tuesday and met with Sharon and Abbas in Jordan on Wednesday.

At the meeting Tuesday with leaders from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Palestinian Authority at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Bush said Israel “must deal with the settlements.” Israel must “make sure there is continuous territory that the Palestinians can call home.”

At Tuesday’s summit, Arab states agreed to Bush’s request to back the road map.

The president is also asking Egypt and Jordan to send ambassadors back to Israel as soon as there are tangible signs of progress.

“I hope that as we move forward in this process down the road map, both Egypt and Jordan will see the merit at an appropriate moment to return their ambassadors,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday in Egypt.

At the Aqaba summit on Wednesday, both Sharon and Abbas made far-reaching commitments: Abbas announced an end to the armed intifada against Israel.

“We will spare no effort, using all our resources, to end the militarization of the intifada, and we will succeed,” he declared. “The armed intifada must end and we must resort to peaceful means in our quest to end the occupation.”

Sharon came out strongly in favor of Palestinian statehood, and promised to start removing what he called “unauthorized” settler outposts.

“It is in Israel’s interest not to govern the Palestinians, but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state,” he averred. And he added that Israel was fully aware of the Palestinians’ need for contiguous territory on the West Bank for that state to be viable.

Bush carefully listed the major commitments made by both parties, and made it clear that he would hold them accountable.

“These leaders of conscience have made their declarations today in the cause of peace,” he said. “We expect both parties to keep their promises.”

To underline just how serious he is, Bush is sending in a team of about a dozen monitors, mostly CIA officials, to determine where the parties are carrying out their road map obligations and where they are not. And the word is that any side that creates obstacles will be publicly rebuked.

The president also named John Wolf to be special U.S. Middle East envoy to help implement the road map. A team headed by Wolf, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, was slated to arrive in the Middle East following the summit. Wolf is relatively unknown, and has little experience in the Middle East conflict.

As far as he went in condemning terror and violence against “Israelis everywhere,” Abbas failed to commit to the notion of Israel as a Jewish state.

This led to renewed right-wing criticism of the entire road map approach.

Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, says unless such a commitment is forthcoming, Israel should refuse to move into the second phase of the road map, which leads to the creation of a Palestinian mini-state.

Abbas, meanwhile, has said it will take weeks before Palestinian security forces are in a position to keep the peace.

Still, the Palestinians have at least three very good reasons to achieve and maintain a cease-fire: The weakness of the post-Iraq Arab world; Sharon’s planned security fence, which would leave them only small truncated areas of the West Bank if they don’t cut a deal soon; and the fact that a triumphal George Bush is ready to lean on Israel. If the Palestinians keep the cease-fire, and Bush pressures Israel to make major reciprocal moves, Sharon could be the one leader strong enough to make concessions and carry the country with him.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Partners in Dysfunction

Israel and the United States have a lot more in common these days, and it’s not just because the Bush administration has apparently adopted an Israeli military tactic they previously criticized: targeted assassinations.

That became apparent last week when a CIA-operated drone plane blasted a group of alleged Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen.

No, there’s more: both nations have utterly demoralized, dysfunctional opposition parties. For Americans, that became clearer on Nov. 5, when President George W. Bush defied the conventional wisdom that parties in the White House always lose seats in Congress in midterm elections.

And it is even more apparent in Israel, where new elections in January will really just be a contest between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Likud leadership.

The Labor Party and others that oppose the current government’s hard-line policies are officially in the race, but it is universally expected they will lose ground.

Like the Democrats in this country, Labor doesn’t have a message for voters. So not surprisingly, the once-proud party will be just so much background noise in the upcoming elections.

The Democrats, reeling from last week’s midterm election loss, should take a good, hard look at the sorry state of Israel’s once-dominant Labor Party.

For two years, Labor leaders stuck like glue to a "unity" government whose leader, Sharon, played them for chumps. They rationalized that they were keeping the government from swinging too far to the right, but in the end all they did was convey the impression that their only real goal was to hold on to whatever scraps of power were thrown their way.

Their leaders are weak and vacillating, right out of the Tom Daschle playbook; they spend more time fighting each other than fighting Likud. The impression they create is of petty politicians worried mostly about their own jobs, not principled leaders worried about the country.

Many Laborites fear Sharon is leading the country to economic and strategic disaster, but their fears of being labeled soft on security — and perhaps their own lack of creative ideas — have turned off a worried electorate.

They seem to feel that if they’re vague enough, voters may mistake them for Likudniks, but the public isn’t buying their political camouflage act.

After last week’s congressional elections in this country, the Democrats may be heading in the same direction. They took a pasting not because voters didn’t like their ideas, but because voters couldn’t figure out what the heck those ideas were.

A timid, confused congressional leadership tried to act as an opposition party without really opposing a president they feared.

Democratic candidates across the country tried to blend in with the mostly Republican landscape, and then acted surprised when voters didn’t see them. When they did take on the Republicans, it was just to carp and criticize, not offer creative new ideas for dealing with the nation’s problems.

Many Democrats distrust the president’s rush to war with Iraq — like a big chunk of the electorate — but were too fearful to speak out when they had the chance. And they were loathe to offer any new ideas of their own on how to deal with the undeniable menace of rogue and terror states that are rushing to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Many Democrats believe that Republican economic policy — tax cuts, tax cuts and then more tax cuts — will make a bad economic situation much worse and create enormous pressure to cut vital health and social service programs.

But those criticisms were muted to the point of inaudibility during the long campaign, mostly because Democrats were petrified of being tarred with the "tax and spend" label. Indeed, many had earlier swallowed their misgivings and voted for a big tax cut they regarded as destructive. Not exactly profiles in courage.

Ditto the issue of corporate malfeasance. There is a widespread feeling in Democratic circles that the Republican administration and Congress have no intention of bringing about serious reforms that will prevent new Enrons and Worldcoms, but the fear of going out on any limbs has rendered the party elders speechless.

Instead, Democrats have worked hard to blur their message. Not surprisingly voters see less and less reason to vote for them. In two years, the Democrats will try to unseat Bush, but without stronger leadership and a clearly defined message, their hopes will be just as futile as Labor’s in the upcoming Israeli reelection.

The reality in both countries is that the conservatives know what they want and aren’t afraid to go after it aggressively, while the liberals are so worried about getting left behind that they serve up indigestible, unpalatable milquetoast.

Labor long ago abrogated its responsibility to offer an assertive, intelligent opposition, and the result is that the party is rapidly becoming marginal in Israeli politics. Here, the Democrats are in danger of following the same self-destructive path.

A Beautiful Mind

Acuity, passion, the ability to hold several conflicting ideas at the same time, a wide-ranging and detailed understanding of the world we live in, and an ability to articulate a broad intellectual and moral vision — watching Bill Clinton last Monday night at the Universal Ampitheatre made me realize how much I miss these attributes in a president.

This is not a criticism of George W. Bush. I imagine he would be the first to acknowledge, with some pride, that he’s no Bill Clinton. Among the crowd that pressed to touch flesh with Clinton in a post-speech reception, several people admitted that Clinton would probably have done no better, and maybe worse, than Bush in executing the war against Al Qaeda. Different men, different strengths and weaknesses.

But last Monday night, it was Clinton’s gifts that were on display.

There he was, leading 6,000 listeners through the nest of paradoxes that comprise our new century. "What happens after the war on terror?" he asked. The remarkable success the developed world enjoys in the areas of prosperity, health and technology brings with it a set of darker doppelgangers — rampant poverty, the spread of AIDS and breakdown of public health services, and the abuse of technology by what he called "the organized forces of destruction."

This audience, gathered as part of the University of Judaism’s (UJ) lecture series, was as close to a hometown crowd as Clinton could find outside of Hope, Ark. He could have pandered, but he didn’t. He avoided applause lines, was subdued, thoughtful, reflective.

But his talents were not the only ones on display last Monday night.

Rabbi Robert Wexler, UJ president; Gady Levy, dean of the Department of Continuing Education; and Peter Lowy, president of the UJ Board of Trustees, their staff and lay leaders deserve praise not just for envisioning and executing such a program, but for doing so despite certain partisan criticism. Current events do not reflect well on the architects of the Oslo accords. But to give them a forum to explain, justify, analyze and reflect on what went wrong is a worthy communal service.

In one of the evening’s more revealing moments, Clinton acknowledged the failure of Oslo, but maintained that all roads lead back to a negotiated settlement. "There is not a military or terrorist solution to the problem," he said.

It is de riguer these days not to mention Clinton without pining over his wasted potential. Yes, the time and energy he spent fighting a battle he brought upon himself could have been used shoring up a legacy he now must work to ensure. The man who now dissects progress’s dark side was almost undone by his own.

But for the audience who welcomed his insights with several ovations, Clinton’s intelligence trumped his recklessness. Was it any wonder as he took the stage that night, a voice in the crowd rang out, "Run again!"

Election Blues

There’s a dull witticism abroad: If in fact the election was stolen, the thief should be indicted for a misdemeanor rather than a felony. That follows from the value of that which was stolen — i.e., the government.

Alas, that’s not true. Yes, the Congress is divided nearly down the middle, with Republicans holding a nine-seat majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate (presuming a Bush victory) divided 50-50. Yes, there’s a cloud over the presidency that is likely to linger for quite some time, absent some galvanizing national crisis.

But now come the hard parts:

  1. Assume legislative gridlock. But do not assume that in consequence of the gridlock, nothing major will happen. As the late political scientist Herman Finer once wrote, “politics has slain its thousands — administration its tens of thousands.”

    Very much of what government does it does not by way of law-making but by way of rule- and regulation-making, and still more, perhaps, by way of personnel appointments.

    The visible managers of the federal government may be reasonable middle-of-the-roaders, but all those “faceless bureaucrats” we so love to excoriate do, indeed, make policy.

    The “little” things that are their daily agendas, those things to which so few of us can or do pay attention — Medicaid regulations, for example — add up to major differences in the lives of many Americans, and especially those Americans most dependent on government for their basic needs.

    And then, of course, there are the “big” things, such as the environment and foreign policy, where the president’s people have substantial scope for policy-making largely untethered by the legislative process.

  2. But doesn’t the composition of Congress create the possibility of a genuine bipartisanship, a move towards the center?

    Be wary of such talk. It may happen, but it will not necessarily be a good thing, not at all.

    Ralph Nader notwithstanding, the reason we have two political parties is that there are significant and sometimes even profound differences between the two. Congress cannot simply decide, at last, to do “what’s good for America,” since neither the American people nor the members of Congress are of one mind regarding what’s good for America.

    The sad truth is that there are more conservative Democrats than there are liberal Republicans, and it is therefore easier to put together a congressional majority behind conservative policies than it is to pass progressive legislation.

    But because such policies will be backed by people from both parties, they will have the appearance of consensual compromise. Not so.

    Take, for example, the food stamp and child health care programs, both of which must be reauthorized by Congress in 2002. It is entirely possible that, in concert with conservative Democrats, the Republican majority will successfully argue that these programs should be transformed from entitlements into block grants to the states, thereby dramatically reducing the aid that reaches the people for whom the programs are ostensibly intended.

    Formally, such a “reform” will be done in the name of bipartisan compromise. In fact, it will be a victory for the newly emboldened Republican party, now in control of all three branches of government for the first time in 50 years.

    Better, then, to highlight the differences and engage in vigorous debate than to hide behind the soporific slogan of bipartisanship.

  3. The good news of this election — yes, there really is good news — is that suddenly there are 13 women in the Senate of the United States: 10 Democrats, three Republicans.

    It’s not possible to know just where the “tipping point” is, that magic number following which the dam really bursts, but we seem to be getting there — getting, that is, to the time when women will finally share routinely in the leadership of the nation.

  4. The bad news of this election, the brutally sobering news, is that the man who surely received the most votes — not only in the nation but also in Florida — ran such a wretched campaign that in the end, the best thing one could say of him is that he was not George W. Bush.

    And, given George W. Bush, that is not much of a compliment.

  5. A Bush presidency, if that is how (as now seems likely) this mess is finally resolved, poses a variety of threats. Perhaps the most sinister is that Bush is seriously lazy, and that while he is busy taking it easy, Tom DeLay and Dick Armey and Trent Lott will have considerable running room.

    The folks most threatened by that prospect are the working poor, the most significant left-behind sector in America today. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, for example, makes an enormous difference to such people, yet it is precisely the kind of program that is likely to suffer at the hands of a (Republican) single-party government.

    Only a handful of states are likely on their own, without continuing and expanded funding from the federal government, to persist in searching out the families eligible for participation.

    And the translation of the sterile budget figures into the lives and welfare of millions of children in our nation is quite direct. Indeed, the budget figures should never be read as mere numbers. They are the practical expression of the values we cherish.

    And the great irony of American politics today is precisely that the party that broadcasts its commitment to family values at every turn quite regularly turns its back against the families it professes to value.

Leonard Fein is a Boston based writer.

Looking Ahead to Bush II

The results of the strangest-ever presidential election are still not official, but Texas Gov. George W. Bush is accelerating his transition efforts.

And despite the morass of legal challenges to the bungled vote in Florida, a growing number of Democrats believe the GOP nominee will be moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 20.

According to most estimates, the second Bush administration will look a lot like the first, with some key associates of the father also serving the son. The list is topped by Dick Cheney, the defense secretary during the last Bush administration, who is poised to wield unprecedented power during a second Bush administration as vice president.

Less obvious but no less powerful will be former Secretary of State James Baker III, whose “F— the Jews” comment in the heat of the 1991 battle over loan guarantees for Israel continues to rankle many. Baker, largely invisible during the campaign, has reemerged to manage Bush’s legal efforts in the Florida vote fracas.

“There is a community of Bush family retainers who will be probably be called on from time to time,” said Marshall Wittman, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. “That includes Baker and (former national security advisor Brent) Scowcroft. It’s unclear what the payoff will be for Baker for pulling the fat out of the fire in Florida.”

But Wittman predicted that Baker will be a senior member of Bush’s kitchen cabinet, not an appointed official.

There will be fewer Jews in a Bush administration than in the outgoing one, although Republican activists say minorities will be well represented. “He will surprise people with how diverse his administration will actually be,” said A. Mark Neuman, a longtime Jewish Republican activist and White House official during the Reagan administration.

Two critical appointments with major implications for Israel are all but set.

Gen. Colin L. Powell, the African-American, Yiddish-speaking retired Joint Chiefs chairman, met with Bush at his Texas ranch last week. No formal announcements have been made, but the Bush transition team has made it clear he will be offered the job of secretary of state.

As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell worked closely with Israeli military leaders, including Ehud Barak, then his Israeli counterpart. But Powell’s focus is expected to center on Europe. And in the Middle East, he will take a broader view of the region, said Shoshana Bryen, special projects director for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

“He will have a great interest in Mideast policy, but with a wider focus,” she said. “There will be more of an emphasis on Iran and Iraq, and changes in the Gulf states’ relations to the United States.”

Jewish leaders, Bryen said, may be disconcerted by the way Powell approaches international conflicts.
“He starts with the idea that all the sides have some validity in their positions,” she said. “He spends a great deal of time looking at everybody’s positions, looking for the points of validity.”

Powell’s likely de-emphasis on the Arab-Israeli conflict will be mirrored by the other star in Bush’s foreign policy cosmos–Condoleezza Rice, the Stanford professor, Russia expert and close Bush confidante who is considered a sure bet as national security adviser.

“There’s a tremendous amount of confidence and personal chemistry between Rice and Bush,” said a leading Republican activist. “She’s running the show; she will almost certainly eclipse the secretary of state, whoever it turns out to be.”

Rice shares Bush’s vision of “doing fewer things and doing them better,” this source said. Her emphasis will be more on Europe and the former Soviet Union; she’ll be “less likely to turn the Arab-Israeli situation into the number one priority.”

Rice is regarded as a protégé of Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor to Bush’s father and a controversial figure to many Jewish leaders because of his cool attitude toward Israel.

But pro-Israel leaders who have met with her during the campaign say she is knowledgeable and open to their views on the importance of strong U.S.-Israeli ties.

Beyond Powell and Rice, the speculation gets dicier, largely because Bush himself has not made any firm decisions. Several well-known Jews could be in line for important posts in the new administration.

Republican insiders say Paul Wolfowitz, who served in senior positions in both the State and Defense departments during the first Bush administration, has a good shot at the secretary of defense post.
Wolfowitz could also be tapped as director of the Central Intelligence Agency instead, although some GOP sources say he has signaled he does not want the job.

A longer shot: Jewish neo-conservative guru Richard Perle, an assistant defense secretary during the Reagan administration whom Bush regards as an authority on strengthening the military for a new era.

Former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a top advisor during the campaign, is expected to get either a cabinet post — Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services have been mentioned — or a position as senior domestic policy advisor at the White House. Goldsmith, considered a moderate and innovative Republican, is a leading advocate of privatizing government functions.

Republican sources say Rudy Boschwitz, a former GOP senator from Minnesota, was an early and energetic Bush supporter and could be rewarded with an important post. Boschwitz has been mentioned for U.S. trade representative or agriculture secretary, although he is not a first-tier candidate for either position.

Another former senator, New Hampshire’s Warren Rudman, has an outside chance of breaking into the Bush cabinet. Rudman, remembered mostly for the 1985 Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction law. is Jewish, although he never identified with the Senate’s Jewish delegation during his two terms on Capitol Hill.
But Rudman was an early supporter of Bush’s main rival in the primaries, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which could leave him out in the New England cold.

Another Jew, international trade lawyer Josh Bolten, is a candidate for White House domestic policy advisor or possibly U.S. trade representative. Bolten, an official during the first Bush administration, served as policy director during the campaign.

And the new White House spokesman is likely to be Ari Fleisher, who served in that role throughout the campaign and this week was named transition spokesman.

Fleisher will be number two on the White House communications team; Karen Hughes is likely to reprise her role as communications director. As a top congressional staffer, Fleisher was a major figure in Capitol Hill Jewish activities and served as president of the Capitol Jewish Forum.

Dov Zackheim, another Reagan Administration defense official and a Bush foreign policy advisor during the campaign, could get the nod for an important sub-cabinet role, possibly as policy planning chief at the State Department.

Jewish leaders wonder who, if anyone, will replace two Jewish officials who have served critical and unique functions in the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Stuart Eizenstat, the deputy treasury secretary who has continued to serve as the administration’s point man on Holocaust restitution questions even as he has shifted jobs, is unlikely to be retained by a Republican administration.

“Stuart’s role is unique, and it will be a major blow when he leaves,” said a Jewish activist involved in the restitution battle. “It will be impossible to find anybody with his stature and passion for the subject; it will be a special problem if Bush fails to give the portfolio to someone else after Stuart’s departure.”

And Dennis Ross, the administration’s special negotiator and a veteran of the first Bush administration, has already announced that he will leave at the end of Bill Clinton’s term. In recent years, Ross has taken on a much more visible role as Washington became an active participant in the Israeli-Palestinian talks, not just an involved bystander.

Political insiders say Bush may not move to fill the Ross slot, signaling a diminished U.S. role in the day-to-day negotiations. If he does, the job could go to Edward Djerejian, a former ambassador to Syria and Israel and a Baker protégé.

Some non-Jewish potential nominees are also attracting the attention of Jewish leaders here.

Some Republican leaders are pushing former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) for attorney general. Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest, is a strong conservative, but during 18 years on Capitol Hill he developed a reputation for integrity that won admiration from both sides of the aisle. Danforth was also a strong supporter of Israel and worked closely with Orthodox groups on some domestic issues.

Another Missourian is also on the Bush short list for the top legal job: outgoing Sen. John Ashcroft, who lost his reelection bid to the state’s late governor. Ashcroft is a ferocious domestic conservative who has locked horns with liberal Jewish groups on issues such as charitable choice.