DENVER (JTA)—A year ago, the push for a congressional amendment that urged the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group was signature legislation for much of the pro-Israel lobby. Only two dozen U.S. senators out of 100 opposed it.
Two of those opposed—Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.)—make up the Democratic Party ticket for president.
Republicans are hoping to score points on the issue, building on their criticisms of Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with the head of Iran without preconditions.
In a bit of political jujitsu, however, the Democrats are trying to turn the candidates’ opposition to the amendment into an asset.
Jewish Democrats rolled out the strategy this week on the first day of the Democratic convention here, saying the amendment sponsored by U.S. Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) wasn’t serious. Obama and Biden, the Democrats say, have a better plan to secure Israel from attack.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told a roomful of Colorado Jews on Sunday that Obama’s sponsorship of legislation that would facilitate sanctions against Iran until it proves it is not developing nuclear weapons was the substantive way to go.
“This is not some fluffy sense of Congress resolution,” Wasserman Schultz said in an apparent allusion to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which was nonbinding. “This is a resolution with real teeth.”
Wasserman Schultz—whose preference in the Democratic primaries, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was criticized by Obama supporters for backing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment—elaborated later in an interview with JTA.
“Barack Obama backs up his words with action,” she said, adding that nonbinding resolutions “are great, but they don’t empower.”
Democrats are vying to maintain the traditional 3-to-1 Jewish split in favor of Democrats, particularly in swing states such as Colorado and Florida.
The theme, repeated throughout the day at Jewish events: Obama’s coupling of tough sanctions with diplomacy and building alliances is likelier to face down the Iranians.
“We need allies in that war,” U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Sunday evening at a National Jewish Democratic Council gathering outside the modest brick Denver home that housed former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir when she was a teenager. “This administration has pushed off the people we need. We’re going to reach out to those people and pull in allies.”
Republicans made an issue of the vote within hours of Obama’s announcement of Biden as his running mate on Saturday.
“Biden has failed to recognize the serious threat that Iran poses to Israel and the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement. “In 1998, Sen. Biden was one of only four senators to vote against the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, a bill that punished foreign companies or other entities that sent Iran sensitive missile technology or expertise. Biden was one of the few senators to oppose the bipartisan 2007 Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.”
Lieberman, the one-time Democrat turned Independent who is backing U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, already has made an issue of the votes in pitches to pro-Israel arguments.
The attacks already were discomfiting Democrats.
“It will be an issue only to an extent that the Republicans try to misrepresent and distort the nature of that vote,” said Alan Solomont, the Boston philanthropist who was one of Obama’s earliest backers and is one of his leading fund-raisers.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee strongly backed the Iran measures opposed by Biden. But any disagreement over the issue appeared to be history for AIPAC when it came to weighing in on the selection of the veteran senator for vice president.
“Sen. Biden is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and he has longstanding ties to AIPAC and the pro-Israel community,” spokesman Josh Block said in a statement, echoing similar praise it has lavished on Obama and McCain. “Throughout his career in the Senate, Joe Biden has been to Israel numerous times and has gotten to know many of Israel’s most important leaders.”
Biden cast one of the four “no” votes in 1998 against the sanctions bill, which was vetoed by President Clinton, arguing that it could undermine U.S. progress in convincing Russia to curb arms sales to Iran.
“The administration had made significant progress over the six months with the threat of this bill in place,” said Biden, according to a report from the time in The New York Times. “I’m trying to approach this from a practical point of view: How do we insure this doesn’t continue?”
As for opposing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Obama, Biden and U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)—all candidates competing in the Democratic primaries at the time – have said they did not oppose the step of labeling the Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group. They had backed similar language in separate legislation, and an executive order by President Bush designating the corps as terrorist within weeks of the amendment’s passage caused barely a murmur.
Instead, according to the candidates, they objected to language tying efforts to contain Iran to American actions in Iraq. That, they said, would be handing Bush an excuse to intensify American involvement in an unpopular war.
Dodd, Biden and Obama used Clinton’s vote for the amendment as a cudgel to batter their rival among the party base—a turn of events leading some critics to accuse them of putting politics ahead of the effort to pressure Iran.
Water under the bridge, said Steve Grossman, a former AIPAC president and a leading Clinton backer.
“If there’s one area where Barack Obama has taken a leadership role, it’s on legislation on Iran,” Grossman said, citing the sanctions-enabling act the Democratic candidate is pushing.
The act is stuck in the Senate; an anonymous Republican senator has placed a hold on it.
Grossman didn’t think the Kyl-Lieberman votes would have an effect.
“Will it ultimately determine Jewish votes? I don’t think so,” he said.
In its criticisms of Obama’s choice of running mate, the Republican Jewish Coalition noted that during a debate last December, Biden said “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America” and told MSNBC that he “never believed” Iran had a weapon system under production.
Biden, who has said that a nuclear Iran is an “unacceptable” danger, made the comments following the release of a U.S. intelligence report concluding that Iran has likely halted its nuclear weapons program. The senator used the news to paint the Bush administration as having further damaged America’s credibility and hurt its efforts to isolate Iran.
“It was like watching a rerun of his statements on Iraq five years earlier,” Biden said during the 2007 debate, sponsored in Des Moines by National Public Radio. “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly, with the rest of the world at our side. But we’ve made it more difficult now because who is going to trust us?”
Most of us would give almost anything to ensure that Israel’s future is secure. But what can one person do to help Israel thrive and grow?
Plenty, as it turns out. There is a financial strategy that allows you to help Israel — and yourself. It can provide you or your loved ones with increased income for life, reduce your current tax burden and help you meet a variety of estate planning and personal goals — all while leaving a lasting legacy.
Planned giving is a way to enhance your family’s personal finances that will also benefit the charity of your choice. There are many types of planned gifts, and the type you choose will depend on your situation.
When you establish a charitable gift annuity (CGA), you transfer cash or marketable securities to a charitable organization. The charity pays you a guaranteed amount each year for your life, while using the remaining funds in the CGA toward a designation of your choosing, only upon your passing. The rates on a CGA — which depend on your age — are better than anything available in the marketplace. (The older you are, the higher the rates.) A $10,000 CGA, for example, will pay you 8 percent if you are 80 years old, and the payments are partially tax-free. You also receive an immediate tax deduction — and if you fund the CGA with appreciated securities, you’ll avoid the capital-gains tax you’d have to pay if you sold the securities outright. This is currently one of the most popular deferred giving vehicles.
A charitable remainder trust (CRT) is similar to a charitable gift annuity, but can be tailored to meet specific requirements. If, for example, you need special income payout rates, variable income, an inflation hedge payment schedule or income deferral, a CRT can meet these and other needs.
CRTs also offer great flexibility when it comes to the type of asset that funds the trust — which includes residential or commercial real estate, life insurance, or art and collectibles. Of course, you can also make outright gifts of these assets and potentially reduce your income tax liability for this year and several tax seasons to come. Save for retirement, fund a child or grandchild’s education or save for unforeseen events and long-term care. All can be accomplished with a CRT.
When the real estate is one of your primary residences or your vacation home, you may opt for retained life estate. This allows you to make a significant gift to charity while continuing to live in the house for the rest of your life without affecting your lifestyle. When you pursue this gift option, you will enjoy a charitable income tax deduction, avoiding capital gains and estate taxes later.
But the easiest way to support your organization of choice is by including it in your will. If you already have a will, your lawyer can simply add a codicil. The bequest can be in the form of a memorial or tribute to you or another individual you designate. In the codicil, you may also specify how you would like the funds to be used by the institution. In addition to the satisfaction you obtain from leaving a lasting legacy, a bequest may also significantly reduce your estate tax liability.
Organizations have different ways of recognizing those who have made bequests. At the American Technion Society, for example, we recognize bequests through induction into our Genesis Circle. Members of this prestigious group receive special recognition in their local chapter, are invited to meet with leading Technion researchers and receive regular updates of cutting-edge Technion developments in health, science and technology. Depending on the size of their gift, they’re also invited to join us on our annual missions to the Technion and Israel.
Planned gifts help meet your most important financial and estate planning needs, as well as your philanthropic goals. Often, they allow you to make an impactful, positive change in your life and the charity’s in a tax efficient manner, and they are the ultimate expression of commitment and caring concern for Israel’s future.
Mark L. Hefter is director of planned giving at the American Technion Society, a national organization headquartered in New York City that supports the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
An Israeli who has educated the world on conflict resolution was named last week as the co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in economics.
Hebrew University professor Robert Aumann, 75, and American scientist Thomas Schelling “enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.
The two will share the $1.3 million prize.
Game theory is the science of strategy, the study of how various rival groups — whether business colleagues or warring parties — can interact to secure an ideal outcome. Aumann specialized in “repeated games,” analyzing conflict over time.
“I am very moved by this honor,” he told reporters outside his office at the Hebrew University’s Center for Rationality. “I think credit should also go to members of the school of thought who have helped to make Israel perhaps the world’s No. 1 superpower when it comes to game theory.”
Aumann, who is religiously observant, was born in Frankfurt but moved to the United States with his family in 1938. He took degrees from the City College of New York and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, immigrating to Israel in 1956.
Aumann is the second Israeli to win the Nobel for economics. Two Israeli biochemists shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry last year, and former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Menachem Begin have won the Nobel Peace Prize.
“His work is important and a major contribution to the world of economics and to theory,” Hebrew University President Menachem Megidor told Israel Radio about Aumann.
Schelling, 84, is a University of Maryland lecturer recognized for his application of game theory to issues of global security.
In a telephone conversation with the academy, Aumann suggested that his specialty could give insight into Israel’s struggle for survival in the Middle East.
“I do hope that perhaps some game theory can be used and be part of this solution,” he said.
But Aumann, who lost a son during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, said an end to the conflict with the Palestinians is far off.
“It’s been going on for at least 80 years and as far as I can see it is going to go on for at least another 80 years. I don’t see any end to this one, I’m sorry to say,” he told reporters.
At the downtown YMCA on Saturday mornings, parents
congregate at poolside tables to gossip, kibitz and trade jokes, while their
children take swimming lessons. For the adults, these hour-long sessions
represent nothing less than a much-needed respite from the grind of the work
Janie Schulman, Jenny Isaacson and Barry Jacobson are not
like the other mothers and fathers. While their children learn the
breaststroke, the trio — an attorney, public relations specialist and
businessman, respectively — huddle together at the Y, plotting ways to save the
beleaguered Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (JCC). They discuss
strategy, talk marketing and try to buoy each other’s spirits as the JCC they
have worked so hard to rebuild could be sold to an outside party by the property’s
owner, the financially troubled Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles
(JCCGLA). The threesome fret that Silverlake could one day soon end up as a
strip mall or some other soulless venture denuded of any Jewishness if it
To prevent that from happening, the Silverlake three have
just submitted a $2.1 million offer to purchase the center. JCCGLA, which
rejected an earlier $1.8 million offer, will give careful consideration to the
new bid, Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi said. JCCGLA officials
said they have received several offers in the $2.4 million range, but might
accept a discounted offer from Silverlake supporters, provided they offer
For Silverlake President Schulman and activist board members
Isaacson and Jacobson, nothing less is at stake than preserving an important
piece of Judaica that has helped create a sense of community among Jews in
Silverlake, Echo Park and Los Feliz. That’s why from the moment JCCGLA first
threatened to shutter Silverlake two and a half years ago amid a budget crisis,
they led the movement to stave off the JCC’s death sentence.
Not only did they succeed, but Silverlake has seen its
preschool enrollment boom. The center is the area’s only profitable JCC,
despite receiving not a penny from its former biggest benefactor, The Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
“I am not a religious person, but the Silverlake JCC has
helped my family and me stay in touch with our Jewish history, tradition and
culture,” said Isaacson, whose son just graduated and whose daughter attends
the center’s preschool. “Silverlake embodies the concept of tikkun olam, or
repairing the world, an important principle I hope to instill in my children.”
Silverlake’s success notwithstanding, JCCGLA, an
organization entrusted with aiding and abetting local JCCs, put the center up
for sale in January partly to help pay off the $2.2 million it owes The
Federation. The Jewish philanthropic organization has a $550,000 loan on the
For its part, Federation officials praise Silverlake for
bringing Jewish programs to an underserved community. Still, the organization
has so far refused to help save the center by buying it outright and
transferring ownership to Silverlake supporters or by forgiving enough JCCGLA
debt to make a sale unnecessary. The Federation has also turned down or ignored
specific ideas floated by Silverlake supporters, including requests to cosign a
loan, Schulman said.
“The Federation and JCCGLA have offered little beyond
platitudes and have utterly failed to respond to written and oral requests to
commit to our survival,” Schulman said.
John Fishel, Federation president, said his organization has
helped Silverlake on several occasions, including making $50,000 available two
years ago for emergencies. He said he would gladly sit down with JCCGLA and
Silverlake executives to find an acceptable resolution to the crisis, adding
that The Federation is willing “to be flexible in all sorts of ways.”
With time running out, Schulman, Isaacson and Jacobson said
they have had to ratchet up the pressure lately to save the center.
On March 23, they organized a demonstration with 150
preschoolers, parents and concerned community members in front of The
Federation building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Clad in orange shirts with “Shalom”
emblazoned on the front, the group carried signs, sang Jewish songs and chanted
slogans such as, “Let my people stay!” Jacobson, who oversees the center’s
security and keeps the grounds spotless, exhorted protesters to shout louder to
make their voices heard by Federation executives upstairs.
Public relations maven Isaacson succeeded in getting the
event covered by such mainstream media outlets as NBC, Fox News, KCBS and the
Los Angeles Times. Against that backdrop, Schulman succeeded in convincing
JCCGLA to hold off selling Silverlake until center supporters could cobble
together their own offer by the end of last week (March 26).
“I take my hat off to them for pushing so hard to bring this
to a positive solution both for their kids and the other kids at Silverlake,”
If nothing else, Schulman, Isaacson and Jacobson have shown
pit bull-like tenacity in their efforts. They each devote at least 20 hours a
week to the cause, spending much of their time on three-way phone calls and
answering one another’s e-mails. “I’ve divorced my family to do this,” quipped
Schulman, a partner specializing in labor law at Morrison & Foerster LLP.
She has done a lot, JCC supporters said. Schulman helped
incorporate Silverlake and has served as the point person in negotiations with
The Federation and JCCGLA.
When she heard in October 2001 that Silverlake was going to
close in six weeks, she landed a 5 p.m. meeting that same day at Fishel’s
office. Cradling her 4-month-old son, Max, in her arms, she spoke to him about
the center’s importance to the community.
The next day, Fishel and JCCGLA executives went to
Silverlake to confer with supporters. The Federation and JCCGLA later committed
to keeping it open until at least the end of that school year.
“It would have been very difficult to hold things together
without Janie’s knowledge and leadership,” Silverlake board member Shelly
For Schulman, the child of Holocaust survivors, the JCC has
made it easy for her to keep her Jewish heritage alive, despite having married
out of the faith, she said. Schulman remembers her parents “kvelling” as they
listened to their granddaughter, Emma, recite the Chanukah blessing over the
candles two years ago, a prayer she had learned at the JCC.
Like Schulman, Jacobson has made a mark at Silverlake.
During hot summer days, he has spearheaded cleanup efforts. In winter, he has
braved the pouring rain to patch holes in the aging center’s roof. Drawing on
his knowledge of business, he renegotiated contracts with security firms,
janitorial services and phone providers after Silverlake became independent,
saving the center thousands, Schulman said.
The 48-year-old entrepreneur said the center has served as
more than a place where his son and daughter received a strong Jewish
education. It has strengthened his family’s connection to Judaism. Jacobson
said he attributed his two children’s strong Jewish identity and his son’s
desire to have a bar mitzvah to their positive experiences at Silverlake.
“Without JCCs, there will be a generation lost to their own
Jewish culture and heritage,” he said. “This is what shortsighted [leaders] at
JCCGLA and The Federation miss. You can’t make business-only decisions when it
comes to culture and community.” Â
The following are remarks and an amendment introduced by
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on March 19 to the House Energy Subcommittee that
propose an alternative energy strategy for the United States.
Mr. Chairman, I’d like to offer the “Keeping Faith With Our
American Soldiers” Amendment, which is at the desk.
In the next few days, more than 200,000 young American men
and women are stepping forward to defend freedom. They stand ready, if they
have to, to put their lives on the line and make the ultimate sacrifice for our
None of us in this room or in Washington are standing in
their shoes. We don’t face a fraction of the risks they do. So it is our
responsibility — in fact, our obligation — to make sure we are standing behind
them in every way possible.
Of course, our most basic duty is making sure we do all we
can to keep them out of harm’s way. They are ready to sacrifice everything; our
job is to do everything we can to make that sacrifice unnecessary.
That’s why I’m offering this amendment today. A few weeks
ago [Louisiana Republican] Rep. Tauzin noted that it was “insane” that we were
sending $20 million a day to Iraq even as the United States prepares to attack.
Well, it is obscene that we’ve been sending over $5 billion
per year to Iraq, and it’s dangerous that so many people in our country believe
this war is about oil.
My amendment helps make sure that war in the Middle East
will not be about oil. It says to our young men and women that they will not
have to risk their lives for oil. And it makes sure that American dollars
aren’t financing repressive, anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East.
Our nation produces 3 percent of the world’s oil, but we
consume 25 percent of the world’s oil. That dependence on foreign oil is bad
for us and also stifling to political and economic progress in the
oil-exporting nations. The oil nations in the Mideast are the richest countries
in the world, with the poorest, most disenfranchised people.
Today, more than 70 percent of all exports and investment in
the Arab world are tied to the oil industry. Those governments have had no
incentive to invest in other industrial sectors, in education, or to diversify
their workforce with women. Their unwillingness to modernize is a driving force
behind the unemployment, unrest and resentment feeding Islamic extremism.
My amendment is a small but important step in changing that
reality. It requires the federal government to propose, finalize and implement
a plan to reduce U.S. demand for oil by 600,000 barrels a day. This is the
average amount of oil we have imported every day from Iraq over the past five
The amendment focuses on oil consumption by all sectors of
the economy. This allows the administration to seek the oil reductions in the
smartest ways possible. Improving CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy]
standards is one option, but vehicles subject to CAFE only represent 40 percent
of our oil consumption. This amendment will allow the agencies to focus on all
sources and come up with the best plan possible to increase efficiencies and
And if the agencies’ existing authorities are inadequate, it
expressly allows the agencies to request new authorities from Congress.
A couple of years ago, Vice President Cheney told California
that we couldn’t conserve our way out of the energy crisis. But here’s what
happened in California: Energy companies manipulated supply and prices went
through the roof. Gov. Davis challenged Californians to reduce demand by 10
percent. And with no lead time to make and execute plans, Californians reduced
demand by more than 10 percent. Despite widespread criminal conduct by energy
executives, we were able to conserve our way out of that crisis.
It was a remarkable effort that for reasons I don’t
understand, almost no one in Washington wants to acknowledge.
My amendment requires far less of all Americans. It
translates to a 2.5 percent reduction in oil demand, and we allow for a year to
finalize a plan and six years to implement it.
In absolute terms, this is a modest amendment. It asks
almost nothing from those of us who remain safe at home while our troops risk
their lives. But in symbolic terms for the young men and women preparing to
fight in Iraq, the significance of this amendment is incalculable.
If this subcommittee isn’t ready for this small step, I
don’t know how we can look our brave men and women in the eye when they come
I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.
Democrat Henry Waxman represents the 30th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Over Labor Day weekend, I stared across the Israeli-Lebanese border at yellow Hezbollah flags and a large billboard with the horrifying image of a beheaded Israeli. A Hezbollah militant stood on the other side of the ugly electrified fence, snapping photos of me, senior officers of Israel’s Northern Command and others joining my visit to discuss advances in homeland security. Having a terrorist 20 yards away brings into vivid focus how close the threat really is.
During my trip, I had lengthy private meetings with top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau and Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh. Israel’s counterterrorism program of over half a century provides lessons for the United States as we work to secure our own homeland.
First is organization. Israel has one integrated national strategy for security, and those responsible for protecting the Israeli people have the authority they need to get the job done. The high level of organization makes Israel able to act swiftly in the event of an attack, and, in many cases, allows her to successfully preempt and disrupt terrorists before they attack.
America needs this level of organization to implement a homeland security strategy. Currently, responsibility for securing our homeland is scattered across more than 100 federal government agencies. This patchwork makes it difficult to connect the disparate clues that together identify terrorist threats, let alone to organize an effective and coordinated response.
In July, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation to create a Homeland Security Department, consolidating 22 agencies with jurisdiction over border and transportation security, intelligence and infrastructure protection, emergency preparedness and response and the use of science and technology.
The bill, which is now being debated in the Senate, provided those charged with the responsibility of protecting Americans from terrorism with the authority they need. The sooner legislation is passed, the sooner we will be organized to fight terrorism.
The second Israeli lesson is the value of intelligence. Knowing about terrorists and their plans is the best way to prevent an attack. The Israelis are able to infiltrate and recruit from their terrorist enemies, and as a result, they can act quickly and with precision to prevent attacks.
While the United States is working to improve counterterrorism intelligence, we have a long way to go. A report released in July by the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, of which I am ranking member, detailed gaps in our nation’s intelligence capabilities.
To infiltrate sophisticated terrorist cells capable of evading intelligence and listening devices, we need a massive investment in human spies. These human spies need language capabilities and the capability to successfully penetrate terrorist cells. At the same time, we must improve the flow of information so that intelligence is shared across the federal government and vertically with first responders.
The third Israeli lesson is about people. Technology alone cannot eliminate terrorism. Citizen awareness is essential. Californians know what to do in an earthquake; Israelis have that level of preparedness for terrorist attacks. Gas masks, bomb shelters and emergency supplies are found in nearly every home and business. While U.S. citizens may not need this level of preparedness, we all need to know what to do in the event of an attack.
The fourth Israeli lesson is that we must also address the root causes of terrorism. No matter how much Israel does to prevent, respond to and retaliate for acts of terrorism, new suicide bombers are recruited each week.
Nothing underscored this point more than a story told to me by Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who recently bought a challah at a store in the Jerusalem Market, the site of major terrorist attacks. While he was in the store, his security detail scanned the market for potential threats. He left the store only to see it explode behind him seconds later. One of the most highly skilled security details in the world had failed to detect the bomb or bomber.
Terrorism in the Middle East will only end when Palestinian youth see opportunity in the future. However difficult it is to shape that future, we must not be deterred in our efforts.
A year after the worst terrorist attack in history, Americans are learning to live with the threat of terrorism. Our nation is safer than it was on Sept. 11, 2001, but we still have a long way to go. While there are clear differences between the situation we face at home and the situation Israel endures, we have much to learn from our only democratic ally in the Middle East. From the tragedies both our nations have faced, we can build a stronger, more secure future for our families and neighbors.
Talk about confusing.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may have a strategy, but in a week that has seen dizzying numbers of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, many are left scratching their heads trying to figure out what Sharon is up to.
His government is an uneasy coalition of left and right voicing their competing demands, and his seemingly contradictory words and actions reflect some of those competing forces. Moreover, Sharon has to be alert to international reaction — particularly what emanates from Washington, where officials are concerned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could hamper efforts to build a strong coalition for the global war on terror.
Put all these pressures together and you may get a glimpse into why Sharon bobs and weaves like a consummate politician-prizefighter. Last week, for example, Sharon announced that pummeling the Palestinians militarily is the only way to bring them back to the negotiating table. He accompanied the words with a massive anti-terror operation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
These developments elicited a statement of concern from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who wondered before a congressional committee last week whether Sharon’s policy would "lead us anywhere." The next day, President Bush announced that he was sending his Middle East envoy, Anthony Zinni, back to the region this week.
A day after that, Sharon made the first of two stunning about-faces: He announced over the weekend that he would no longer demand seven days of calm before launching cease-fire talks with the Palestinians.
Dismissing an outcry from his right flank that he was reversing his long-standing policy of not negotiating under fire, Sharon said he was acting out of national responsibility — and from the realization that seven days of quiet are currently unachievable. On Sunday, the second shoe dropped when Sharon said he was willing to release Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who has been under virtual house arrest since December.
Political observers viewed the two concessions as an attempt by Sharon to smooth the way for a resumption of diplomacy. But just as suddenly, Sharon authorized the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to step up its operations this week in Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. Military officials said the IDF captured dozens of "hardcore terrorists" in the operations, which also netted untold amounts of weapons and explosives.
The international community, however, noticed something else: the steadily mounting number of Palestinian casualties.
Last Friday alone, more than 30 Palestinians were killed during Israeli raids on villages and refugee camps. On Monday, at least 12 Palestinians were killed during an IDF operation in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza. On Tuesday, that toll increased after the IDF launched a major operation in Ramallah, where 32 Palestinians were reported killed and scores wounded. On Wednesday, an Israeli soldier, 21-year-old Lt. Gil Badihi, died of injuries sustained in a gun battle near Ramallah.
So which is it? Sharon the peacemaker who wants a cease-fire, or Sharon the general who wants another military victory? In a move that reflects the pressures Sharon has faced from within his coalition, two Israeli Cabinet ministers submitted their resignations on Tuesday because of Sharon’s decision o free Arafat. As far as they were concerned — based on the two concessions Sharon had made over the weekend — Sharon had gone soft on the Palestinians.
The resignations, which were to go into effect later in the week, mean Sharon will now have to rely on the support of the Labor Party and the fervently Orthodox Shas Party to stay in power until the next round of elections are held late next year.
For its part, the Labor Party has been debating whether Sharon had gone too far in his military reprisals against the Palestinians.
But last week, the party’s leader, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, got party members to agree not to leave the government during this period of national emergency.
While many can only guess what Sharon’s strategy truly is, all would agree that the country is in a state of emergency.
The killings came so fast that Israel’s online newspapers couldn’t keep up. This week’s surge of Mideast violence and hints of a new level of sophistication by Palestinian terrorists have once again forced Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to reconsider his government’s strategy in what looks more and more like a war of attrition.
The explosion of violence included Tuesday’s attack on an Israeli Defense Force checkpoint outside Ramallah that left six Israeli soldiers dead and new rocket attacks inside the Green Line.
Facing mounting political pressure from both right and left, Sharon on Wednesday ordered intensified retaliatory strikes against Palestinian Authority targets, including heavy bomb and rocket attacks against Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Gaza and Ramallah, but once again stopped short of directly targeting the Palestinian leader.
In Washington, there were rumbles of concern about the dramatic rise in violence, but no indication that the Bush administration is getting ready to step up its own involvement — or pressure Sharon to ease up on the Palestinians despite a spiraling pattern of tit-for-tat attacks.
Some analysts predict the administration will not object too strenuously if Israel tightens the restrictions on Arafat still further, possibly preventing any contact with outsiders or even forcing him into exile.
"The level of frustration with Arafat is enormous," said a longtime pro-Israel analyst in Washington. "The administration doesn’t advocate direct action against him, but there are some in the administration who wouldn’t weep if Sharon went ahead and put him on the target list."
But other important officials argue that any direct attack on the Palestinian leader would quickly end Sharon’s extended honeymoon with Washington — especially since the White House explicitly told him not to harm Arafat.
Any Israeli attack on Arafat, they say, would make it all but impossible for Washington to block calls for international peacekeepers in the region and an expanded role for the Europeans.
This week’s violence was among the bloodiest since the start of the new Palestinian intifada 17 months ago. It included a series of suicide bombings that left several Israelis dead, intense new Israeli retaliatory strikes that have resulted in a rising Palestinian death toll and Tuesday’s well-executed raid by Palestinian gunmen at an army checkpoint near Ramallah.
There were also shootings in Gilo and Hebron, and Palestinians fired at least four Kassam missiles across the Green Line.
The State Department has labeled the Palestinian deployment of the new rockets "a provocative escalation," and the Israeli government has warned that continued use of the weapons would provoke harsher retaliation against Palestinian targets.
Israeli right wingers responded to the new violence by intensifying their demands for harsh new military action; former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expected to challenge Sharon for the premiership, this week called for Arafat’s removal as a precondition for new peace negotiations.
Sharon also faced growing pressure from the other side of the political spectrum as a group of senior reserve officers called for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and most of the West Bank.
Despite the mounting crisis, U.S. officials do not plan any new peace initiatives, and there are no efforts underway to change recent policy that has given Sharon a relatively free hand in dealing with Palestinian violence.
Asked about the crisis on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher repeated what has become a mantra for U.S. officials — that "the crucial first step remains for Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to make every effort to arrest terrorists and to dismantle the terrorist organizations that continue to carry out attacks against Israel."
Edward S. Walker, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and now president of the Middle East Institute, said that at least for now, the administration green light to Sharon is unlikely to turn red.
"The administration’s policy remains the same: you can’t ask Israel to make concessions under the threat of terror," Walker said. "The administration will remain solidly behind that position."
U.S. officials believe that other political factors — including his desire to keep Labor in his unity government — will keep Sharon from overreacting.
"The problem is that if he goes too far on the military side and tries to reoccupy parts of the West Bank and Gaza — which would be the next step — he may lose his coalition," Walker said. "The minute [Foreign Minister Shimon] Peres walks, Netanyahu is in with a narrow Likud government. I don’t believe Sharon will go that far. He has to play this very carefully; the last thing he wants is to open the door to Netanyahu."
The administration, sources in Washington say, believe that those political realities will keep Sharon from trying to remove Arafat from the scene or reoccupy land.
But even if Sharon dramatically escalates the military pressure, the administration may not rescind the green light it has flashed for the Israeli leader.
"Sharon’s instinct after this week will be to crack down hard," said Robert O. Freedman, a leading Mideast analyst and longtime peace process supporter. "We may see them begin to attack in Ramallah; he may decide to take Arafat out."
Sharon came to office promising security in a year, Freedman said, "but didn’t produce it. Now he may be coming close to the decision that the current policy isn’t working. He won’t accept unilateral withdrawal, so he will move inexorably toward a direct assault on the [Palestinian Authority] — even if that takes out Arafat."
Freedman said that Sharon may be ready to accept a period of chaos as Palestinian leaders vie to replace Arafat.
Bush administration officials will never openly approve of that kind of assault, he said — but given their frustration with Arafat, they may not work hard to restrain Sharon. In fact, Freedman said, there may be advantages to quick action by Sharon.
"Most people believe a [U.S.] move against Iraq is three or four months away," he said. "While the administration would prefer quiet on the Israeli-Palestinian front, they may assume [a direct assault on Arafat] is inevitable. So they may prefer Sharon do it sooner rather than later."
But other analysts say that despite the despair over Arafat’s unwillingness to curb the terrorists and the mounting pressure from the right, Sharon still may not be ready to remove him from the scene.
"Frankly, Arafat is still more valuable to Sharon alive and kicking than dead," said former Ambassador Edward Walker. "Arafat has managed to totally alienate this administration in ways that have made it very easy for Sharon."
This week the administration reacted cautiously to hints of a new peace play by Saudi Arabia.
In an interview with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, Crown Prince Abdullah said that he had considered making a speech calling for normalizing Arab ties with the Jewish state if Israel would return to its 1967 borders. But the prince said he decided not to give the speech because of what he called Sharon’s "oppression" of the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the Saudi proposal, but Israeli officials dismissed it as vague.
On Monday, Boucher called the proposal a "significant and positive step." But he added that the administration has few details about the plan — and that any new plan is "subject to negotiation by the parties."
A leading Arab think tank is backing an old strategy — to defeat the Jewish State from within by encouraging the growth of its Arab population.
The prime proponent of the conquest-by-demography theory is Wahid Abdel Maguid, chief editor of the Arab Strategic Report, the publication of Egypt’s premier think tank, the Al-Ahram Institute. The institute is part of the group that runs Egypt’s semiofficial newspaper of record, Al-Ahram.
"We are capable of increasing the demographic threat against Israel, if we demonstrate the necessary determination," Maguid declared in a recent interview with the London-based Al-Hayat Arabic newspaper.
Israel’s Arab population is estimated at some 1.2 million, compared with approximately 5 million Israeli Jews.
However, the Arabs’ birthrate is far higher than the Jews’, and Maguid estimates that Israel’s Arab population will equal its Jewish population in 34 years’ time through natural population increase.
Israel, of course, is not unaware of the demographic threat. Israeli surveys also warn of the dangers the Arab birthrate poses to Israel’s nature as a Jewish State, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stresses the need to bring as many Jewish immigrants to Israel as possible.
Maguid outlines a five-pronged strategy for making sure this "population bomb" can be accelerated, thus defeating Israel without another major Arab-Israeli war. Several of these processes already are under way, though not as part of a concerted Arab strategy:
Limit or reverse emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. In fact, levels of immigration have fallen sharply from their highs in the early- to mid-1990s;
Bring Arabs living inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders into close alignment with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, encourage them to spurn their identity as Israeli citizens and give them decision-making roles in the anti-Israel campaign. This development, which began with the Oslo peace process and which has been encouraged by the Palestinian Authority, saw its fullest expression in the Israeli Arab riots that accompanied the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in the fall of 2000;
Maintain a continual intifada to discourage Jewish immigration to Israel and encourage Israelis to emigrate;
Build worldwide condemnation of Israel as a "racist" state to prevent Israeli pressure on Arabs to leave Israel or to reduce their birthrate. (This fall’s U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, was the apex of this effort to date.)
promote an influx of Arabs into pre-1967 Israel through infiltration and marriage. According to Israeli media reports, this is occurring now.
Maguid proposes that future anti-Israeli actions be spearheaded by Arab citizens of Israel, and be coordinated with the Palestinians and other Arab states.
He believes that Arab infiltrators into Israel should focus on marrying Israeli Arabs, making it virtually impossible for Israel to expel the illegal immigrants — at least without opening itself to charges of racism.
The population battle already has been joined, though not yet in the organized way Maguid advocates. According to Israeli estimates, more than 50,000 Arabs have moved into Israel since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.
They are mainly Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians who enter Israel to find work, and take up residence in Israeli Arab communities. Security sources claim that some have carried out or supported acts of terror, and some are believed to be agents of the Palestinian Authority.
A key battleground of the future may be in the field of aliyah. One plank of the new Arab strategy should be undermining Israeli aliyah efforts, Maguid argues.
He urges Arabs to meet with candidates for immigration to Israel — especially in the ex-Soviet states — and tell them that living in Israel will present more daily hardships and security threats than they currently experience.
This is hardly new, however, as the Arabs and Palestinians mounted a fierce — though unsuccessful — propaganda effort to persuade ex-Soviet leaders not to allow Jewish emigration in the early 1990s.
Key to discouraging aliyah will be continuing the intifada, Maguid says. He also recommends stressing the feelings of "marginalization and disappointment" that some Russian immigrants reportedly feel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon constantly stresses his commitment to Jewish immigration from the Diaspora, often talking of bringing 1 million more Jews to Israel in coming decades, especially from the former Soviet Union, South America and South Africa.
The Palestinian Authority also recognizes the importance to Israel of immigration. Its spokesman condemned Sharon’s proposal for increased immigration as a "powder-keg" likely to set off a new explosion in the tense region — even as the Palestinian Authority insists that some 4 to 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants be granted a "right of return" to homes they left in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
The Palestinian Authority statement expressed fears that new Jewish immigrants could be placed in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but Maguid’s fear is that — even if settled within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, as are the vast majority of immigrants — these immigrants would help Israel maintain a Jewish majority.
Both Sharon and Maguid would agree on one thing: To the winner of the population battle will go control of the state. Should the Arabs become the majority within Israel, Maguid has no doubt about the type of state that would be imposed.
"Palestine can be made Arab again — Arab, and not binational — Arab Palestine," he writes. In a new, Arab-dominated state, those Jews who wished to remain, could live "strong and respected under the umbrella of our Arab culture," he proposes.
Some birthdays are better than others, and number 53 is especially tough for Israel.
Whether or not we in America see it this way, Israel is at war. A recent fax from the office of the mayor of Efrat in Gush Etzion reported, "the current PLO war has taken a tragic toll."
That’s only one front. As Gil Sedan reports in this issue, Arab terror groups recently concluded a two-day meeting in Tehran to coordinate strategy against Israel.
Economically, Israel has been struck by the tech burst and the tourism bust. "We’ve been through tourism crises before," Israel Tour Guide Association head Rafi Glass told the Jerusalem Post. "But this? This is a catastrophe."
The presence of such bad news is amplified by the absence of something else: optimism. The supporters of the peace process once argued that if it all fell apart, then the country would be no worse off than it was before the process began. That may be true, but now the country is facing a dream of peace deferred. The result, on the Israeli street, is a drying up of hope and, on the Palestinian street, an explosion.
What about us on the outside? This has been a month when many in the L.A. Jewish community are consumed with the factualness of events millennia old. Meanwhile, recent surveys have found not only that fewer than one-third of American Jews see Israel as a "very meaningful" aspect of their Jewish identity, but that many are unaware of important facts about it.
North America’s Jewish federations are mobilizing for two national solidarity rallies to be held simultaneously on Sun., June 3, in New York and Los Angeles. Let’s not only mark our calendars but use the time leading up to these rallies to educate ourselves and others about Israel’s history, its current crisis and the complex challenges it faces.
Experts from Turkey, Uzbekistan and Los Angeles converged in Tel Aviv last month to trade disaster response strategies with Israelis. United by a shared history of disasters — natural and man-made — specialists in the forefront of emergency care attended the week-long International Seminar on Emergency Situations — organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The event was held at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.
Indeed, many emergency care workers believe that Los Angeles — perhaps the most accident prone city since Pompeii with fires, floods, riots, shootings and earthquakes — could always use some pointers on disaster preparedness and response.
“The Israelis really know how to get people back on their feet and into society,” said Ellis Stanley, Director of Los Angeles’ Emergency Preparedness Division and conference participant. He added that Angelenos should note the manner in which Israeli civilians become “part of a response” to an emergency, i.e., the way they are trained from childhood to deal with the potential for disaster and identify potential bombs in unattended bags and packages.
City officials from Tel Aviv shared the methods they employed during the 1991 Gulf War when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles into Tel Aviv.
Israelis expressed interest in adopting a post-disaster trauma program developed by Yanki Yazgan, head of the Psychiatry Department at Turkey’s University of Marmara, to help children cope with catastrophe through artistic expression. At the conference, Yazgan told his fellow specialists that in the wake of the August quake that claimed 17,000 lives in the Izmit region, more than half of the surviving children suffered from some type of trauma.
The conference also included a tour of Ichilov Hospital’s facilities, equipped for gas attacks — an emergency situation in which Israeli expertise is unparalleled.
Said Prof. Natti Laor, director of Tel Aviv Mental Health Center, “In Israel, we are very good at being altruistic and creative. But goodwill is not enough. We must internalize our experiences into the legal system and have standards like we do for chlorine or cholesterol.”
Among the delegates who traveled to Tel Aviv for the conference:
*From Los Angeles — Bil Butler and Constance Perett, Office of Emergency Management, County of Los Angeles; Commander Mark Leap, L.A.P.D.; Deputy Chief John Callahan, L.A.F.D.; and Fredi Rembaum, Overseas Director, Jewish Federation of Los Angeles.
*From Washington, D.C. — Dr. George Buck, consultant to the Federal Government and the City of Los Angeles; and Cindy Larson, Department of Justice, Office of Victim Assistance.
When Diane Arieff turned in her cover story on the best-selling “Kosher Sex,” I smiled with unquestioned approval. After all, opening doors and windows for Jews of all persuasions — observant as well as secular — seemed healthy and desirable. Especially for those who found it difficult to discuss or confront their own sexual preferences or inhibitions; or just plain curiosity.
Now suddenly we had an open and perhaps even daring rabbinic guide, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who was simply trying his best to help individuals and couples in need of spiritual and sexual counselling. What was wrong with that? Any help for those with sexual dilemmas should be encouraged. But as I perused his book, “Kosher Sex,” doubts began to surface. Maybe it was just not right for me, I thought. Anyway, who was I to register a complaint?
This last question held more than a tinge of irony. In addition to being a journalist/writer, I had (for a 15-year period) maintained a clinical practice in Boston and had interned as a psychologist at several hospitals in that city. At one point, in one of the hospitals, a psychiatrist, who had observed some of my work, asked me if I wanted to work with her in a new program geared for couples with what was termed sexual dysfunction — in shorthand, sex therapy.
A whole new world seemed to beckon. How could I say no.
The first couple we saw were in their mid-20s. The woman was Jewish, shy, embarrassed, but eager to find some help; her husband was very macho and in complete denial. The problem was that while their courtship had been passionate and sexually overflowing, he had become impotent within two months of the marriage. Twelve months had now gone by. If he continued to deny and avoid help, she was going to leave.
I won’t bore (or titillate) you with the details. Suffice to say that at the end of six weeks, their sexual problem (but only the impotence, we explained carefully) had, for the time being, been resolved. When the couple, full of smiles, told us that they were “cured” and left the small office in which we met each week, my colleague and I jumped up and, without thinking, embraced. Our coming together like that was not sexual, but, oh, it was charged with excitement, spontaneity and wonder.
There was something exhilarating about that particular experience, for I was able to witness a change in behavior within a short space of time, and a change that clearly affected a couple’s way of life. Of course, the husband was not made whole, nor the marriage. We knew that and told the couple so. We made clear that there were very real and very deep-seated issues in the husband’s life that required attention, and urged him to enter therapy. Names of psychiatrists he might consider were suggested. But he believed his ordeal — which had appeared out of nowhere — had ended. If humility was needed, it was administered to the four of us four months later when the couple separated, and then divorced.
In the meantime, there were other couples, other remedies and other strategies. In one instance, we forbade a couple to engage in any sexual congress. Touching was all they were allowed. And we waited to see how long it would take before they challenged our authority and broke the rules. It took three weeks. In another, we sent a married couple back to the early days of courtship, had them start all over, and heard how they would steal out with pillows to their car parked in the driveway, and “make out” late at night.
The lesson I learned was that the path to sexual play and sexual pleasure could be different for each couple and that universal prescriptions were generally not very helpful, and not very true. I wish I could tell you that, at the very least, the insights opened all sorts of magical sexual doors for me, but that would be untrue, too.
Of course, Boteach does not hold himself out as a psychotherapist, or even as a sex therapist. Though he hedges a bit here. In “Kosher Sex,” he wants to prescribe for all of us: how to find a soul mate; how to have both a spiritual and a lusty sex life with our married partner; and how somehow to make it all “kosher,” by which he means, somehow to have it fall under the Jewish umbrella.
What could be wrong with that? Well, I think, as well-meant as Boteach is, everything. He is prescribing for everyone, and, therefore, for no single person or couple with very real life issues. He lists 23 questions and says if you answer 18 of them affirmatively, what are you waiting for — there is your soul mate. But, to take him seriously, the 23 questions might not necessarily be germane for you or me; or just one of the no’s will actually carry more weight than all 22 of the other answers combined.
To be sure, we are all alike in the broad-brush strokes we call our “humanity.” But we are also all different and separate in the specifics of identity, personality and biography. In times of stress, some of us seek help in the universal, some in the particular, and some of us grab whatever is at hand.
The pull of desire is very strong for some people, and the need for sexual play, sexual freedom and sexual congress are freighted with both intensity and prohibition for many of us. Those of us who seek help, sometimes even just plain instruction, are often willing to suspend disbelief. We follow the arrow, the voice of authority, wherever it may lead — to hushed whispers and fumbling under the covers of a blanket, to a parked car in our driveway late at night.
But before you buy the book, I would advise that you reach out to your partner, best friend and lover and, in the most vulnerable way you have at hand, make yourself heard. — Gene Lichtenstein