Bush, DeLay Views on Israel at Odds

Are the two most powerful Republicans in Washington playing a version of the old good-cop, bad-cop game with Israel and its friends in this country?

President Bush and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) appear to be on different sides of the Middle East policy game. Both profess to be great friends of Israel, interested in the security and survival of the Jewish state, but that’s about all they agree on.

The differences were on display in recent days as Bush hosted the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers at the White House in back-to-back summits, while DeLay was traveling in the Mideast, declaring himself "an Israeli at heart."

While fulsome in his praise for Bush as a great friend of Israel, DeLay was essentially lobbying against Bush’s Mideast policy while overseas, a long-standing political taboo here.

Bush is the first Republican president to endorse Palestinian statehood, and he frequently repeats his commitment to making that happen by 2005. DeLay said the Palestinian state would be "a sovereign state of terrorists," and "I can’t imagine this president supporting a state of terrorists."

Bush has embraced the international "road map" for peace, called for dismantling Jewish settlements and wants Israel to stop work on the security fence it is building in the West Bank. DeLay has called the road map a blueprint for Israel’s "destruction." He warned that a "consortium" of "inadvertent servants of tyranny … neoappeasers … [and] fancy thinkers is attempting to coerce the president into accepting what they innocuously call a ‘road map.’"

Bush wants Israel to withdraw for the most part to its 1967 borders and remove the settlements, but this year, DeLay told the pro-Israel lobby, "I’ve toured Judea and Samaria and stood on the Golan Heights. I didn’t see occupied territory. I saw Israel."

Are these two devout Christian evangelicals from Texas singing from different hymnals?

DeLay, a Baptist from Sugar Land, is a leader of the Christian Zionist movement, which has become the most hawkish element of the pro-Israel coalition, often going far beyond right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. DeLay’s speech to the Knesset last week in Jerusalem led one Israeli lawmaker to comment, "Until I heard him speak, I thought I was to the farthest right in the Knesset."

A delegation of 29 House Democrats is in Israel this week to show their support for Israel as well. Their views are closer to Bush’s than are those of the House GOP leader. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), like Bush and unlike DeLay, supports the road map, territorial compromise and is optimistic about the chances for peace.

This dichotomy raises some interesting questions:

Is DeLay undermining Sharon’s — and Bush’s — policy of negotiations by encouraging the Israeli far right to resist all compromise, because it has a powerful friend on Capitol Hill? Is he leading on the far right, convincing them that he wouldn’t be saying those things if he didn’t have the backing of his president?

DeLay insists that his positions are not political but a natural extension of "my faith." Many evangelicals believe that the Jews must return to all of Israel and that the Jewish State must be engulfed in unending conflict until the "second coming," when all the Jews will either perish or convert to Christianity.

How will DeLay and his evangelical brethren react when — not if — an Israeli government agrees to withdraw from most of the territories in return for peace, fulfilling their prophecy of a satanic "false peace?"

What happens if there is a clash between Sharon and Bush over territorial compromise and removing settlements? Does anyone believe DeLay would not stand with his fellow Texan, his party leader and his president?

Would DeLay be as enthusiastic about supporting Israel with a left-leaning government led by someone like Ehud Barak or Shimon Peres, who were willing to trade territory for peace?

DeLay, whose views can make Sharon look like a naïve dove, insists his positions have nothing to do with politics. That may be hard to swallow, but it is realistic.

While some of the big pro-Israel groups are enthusiastically backing the right-wing government, polls show that most Jews are much more inclined to the dovish position. For them, DeLay’s fire-breathing speeches hold little appeal.

In addition, there’s the matter of Bush’s and DeLay’s domestic record, which is in conflict with the views of most Jewish voters on a broad range of topics like civil liberties, gender, education, environment, abortion and, most of all, church-state relations.

Most Israelis on the right love the raw meat rhetoric of the Texan known as the "Hammer"; they love that he shares their views on Yasser Arafat, Palestinian statehood, terrorism, compromise and strong beliefs.

They laugh off the evangelicals’ scriptural beliefs in Armageddon and can’t understand why U.S. Jews do not. The American cousins see the evangelicals as stalwarts in a campaign to breech the wall of separation between church and state.

So the DeLay strategy may generate headlines here and in Israel and win enthusiastic support from the Jewish right, but it may backfire on GOP efforts to win over the Jewish mainstream.

Mobilizing Local Efforts

Barely three hours after the massive acts of terrorism began unspooling inthe East on Sept. 11, officials at the Jewish Federation of Greater LosAngeles representing an array of affiliated departments, agencies andpartners assembled to discuss emergency strategies to help those affectedby the rapidly unfolding events.

An impromptu meeting of high level executives of the Jewish Federation andits network of beneficiary agencies and departments was convened earlyTuesday morning at the 11th floor executive offices of the Federation’sWilshire Boulevard headquarters "to go over with all the agencies how todisseminate the information to the community," said Michele Kleinert,speaking for The Federation. "The primary focus and concern is our staffand community."

John Fishel, the Jewish Federation’s president, met with a group thatincluded William Bernstein, Financial Resource Development executive vicepresident; Mark Diamond, Board of Rabbis of Southern California executivevice president; Nina Lieberman Giladi, Jewish Community Centers of GreaterLos Angeles’ (JCCGLA) executive vice president; Bureau of Jewish Education(BJE)’s Gil Graff, director, and David Ackerman, director of educationalservices; Paul Castro, Jewish Family Service executive director; and theJewish Community Relations Committee’s Michael Hirschfeld, executivedirector, and Elaine Albert, assistant director.

The members regrouped at 3 that afternoon to touch base on efforts tocoordinate various services, such as blood drives and psychological andspiritual counseling, and organize resources at agencies, day schools andcommunity centers. Many synagogues also scheduled community vigils by day’send.

"Everybody was here; people were concerned," Fishel said. "They were helpfulon thinking through the issues. Everyone feels how fortunate it didn’t occurin L.A., but our service system is ready to go."

Except for key internal staff, the 6505 Wilshire Blvd. building, on theadvice of law enforcement and fire department officials, was closed for theday. Federation officials said this constituted a general suggestion formajor buildings in the city and was not because of its Jewish link. Themajority of the Federation’s 400 hundred employees were sent home Sept. 11,and returned to work Sept. 12.

"Right now, the community is trying to bring its available resourcestogether," Graff said. "The BJE is in the process of contacting its schoolsto advise them of the availability of the Jewish Family Service and otheragencies that can provide support."

Ackerman cited the need for "curricular support; how do you curricularize atragedy such as this?"

On Wed., Sept. 12, the Federation convened a meeting of top local lawenforcement officials, rabbis and other Jewish institutional leaders todiscuss security surrounding the upcoming High Holy Days (see story, page12). In the afternoon, the interfaith Council of Religious Leaders met at6505 Wilshire. The Council includes Board of Rabbi executive directorDiamond, Rabbi Alan Henkin of Union of American Hebrew Congregations, theRev. Samuel Chetti of American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles, Bishop MaryAnn Swenson of United Methodist Church, and American Orthodox Church DioceseVatche Housepian, among others.

"We are meeting to express our sorrow, our sadness, our shock and ouroutrage as the religious leaders of the major faith communities," Diamondtold The Journal. "We condemn the perpetrators of these horrific crimes andlend our support to President Bush and elected officials to bring thoseresponsible for these terrorist attacks to justice. As religious leaders,our thoughts and prayers go out to victims, families, and all those whoselives were shattered, as of yesterday."

The Board of Rabbis leader called on "all the citizens of Los Angeles tojoin together in prayer, reflection and solidarity. We want our community tojoin us in turning away from dangerous rhetoric and hateful stereotypes andturn toward the tasks that face our nation in this dark hour."In the meantime, the Federation’s parent organization, United JewishCommunities (UJC), announced it was cancelling the Sept. 23 New Yorksolidarity rally for Israel.

At press time, with very few victims identified and little informationavailable, it was too early for The Federation to help Angelenos withspecific connections to victims at the sites of destruction or aboard theL.A.-bound planes involved. But Federation officials said they will be readyto assist when this inevitable grim task arrives in the coming days.

"There’s no information at this point," Fishel said. "So it will probably bewithin 24 to 48 hours before we have clarity."

For now, Federation officials were as stunned and saddened as the rest ofus, and reacting as parents and community members, speaking from the heart."I have a teenager she’s very scared this morning," Fishel said."This is a terrible tragedy for the United States of America," Bernsteinsaid.