Bush flirts with peace talks but won’t commit to Palestinians


The rug that Syrian President Bashar pulled out from under his widely reported but vaguely defined peace offensive last week was a Persian weave.

He had been talking for months about unconditionally resuming negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights, and it seemed like Israel, under American pressure, was the disinterested party. Then roles were quickly reversed in a week filled with feints and false starts, but so far there’s been more motion than movement.

President George W. Bush kicked off the week by reaffirming his vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it was widely seen as an attempt to divert attention from his debacle in Iraq rather than a commitment to sustained diplomacy.

That view was reinforced by a White House mailing to Jewish leaders recommending an article by historian Michael Oren quoting Israeli officials as satisfied “there were no changes in Bush’s policies.”

White House aides also quickly shot down any notion that the “international meeting” Bush announced would be a peace conference. Just a meeting, they said, chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Bush may not even show up. And don’t look for many Arab leaders to be there, either. The price of admission will be recognition of Israel, Bush said. That leaves out all those who should be there, like Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Iraq.

That’s right, Iraq. Bush’s icon of Arab democracy where leaders have repeatedly denounced the Zionist enemy and have no more interest in peace than that other benefactor of Bush’s democracy crusade — Hamas.

Assad’s shift hardly seemed coincidental, coming on the eve of a visit by his Iranian benefactor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to a London-based Arabic newspaper, Ahmadinejad signed a strategic agreement with Syria promising increased military, political and economic assistance conditioned on a refusal to make peace with Israel.

To press his point, Ahmadinejad also met in Damascus with leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups, encouraging them to unite in armed struggle against Israel, and he pledged Iran’s support.

Reversing his recent rhetoric, Assad announced he would resume talks with Israel only through a third party and only with advance written Israeli “guarantees” to meet all his demands, including a full return of the Golan Heights.

That came on the heels of a tactical shift by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who after months of dodging Assad’s probes, told Al-Arabiya television last week that he is ready for direct talks without preconditions.

Olmert had been under pressure from Washington to rebuff Assad’s peace feelers on the assumption the Syrian leader was just trying to deflect American pressure to stop aiding the Iraqi insurgents. As a condition for talks, Olmert had demanded Assad withdraw his backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and other anti-Israel Islamic extremist groups prior to any talks.

American sanctions have had little impact on Assad’s behavior, and the Syrian dictator apparently concluded threats of military action were a bluff in light of American problems in Iraq and Israel’s poor performance against Hezbollah in Lebanon last year.

Iran, according to Israeli analysts, has been trying to raise regional tensions by telling Assad that Israel is planning a war against Syria to block Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon and to erase last year’s failures. Ahmadinejad’s real goal may be to discourage American or Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, they say.

The other prominent visitor to the region this week, with a totally opposite agenda, is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the new Middle East envoy for the Quartet (United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia). His assignment is to help the Palestinians rebuild their institutions and economy, but he’d like to expand that and be an active peace negotiator as well.

That’s not what President Bush had in mind when he outsourced Middle East diplomacy to his old friend and loyal Iraq war partner. Blair has been a longtime advocate of accelerating the peace process and has the backing of three quarters of the Quartet.

His greatest obstacle might be Rice, who doesn’t want him treading on her turf. She’s made it clear that he should stick to his official mandate. That’s the way Ehud Olmert wants it, too; he’s no more ready than the Americans for the final status negotiations that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants.

But it’s more than just territorial for Rice; her boss likes to talk about peace but has been unwilling to do the heavy lifting needed to get negotiations off the ground.

Initially he didn’t want to be seen following the failed footsteps of his predecessors –Poppy and Bill Clinton — but Iraq overtook that. Bush paid lip service to Middle East peace because the Arabs, his allies and the Baker-Hamilton Commission said showing movement on that front was essential to convincing others to help rescue him from his Iraq morass.

Bush will hear that again this week when Jordanian King Abdullah II comes to the White House to tell him he’s not moving aggressively enough on the Palestinian front. The president will assure his royal visitor of his sincere desire for peace, but the reality is Bush’s desire to be the father of Palestinian statehood hasn’t gone beyond the flirtation stage. Wishes don’t beget results.

From Damascus to Jerusalem to Ramallah to Washington, these days of summer sizzle are looking like a time of peace fizzle.

Douglas M. Bloomfield, a former staff member of AIPAC, writes about the Mideast and politics of Jewish life in America.

Palestinian remarks generate cheer and gloom


Cheerful news reached us last week from Damascus. Hamas’ political chief, Khaled Meshal, told Reuters in an interview on Jan. 10 that Israel is a “matter of fact,” and that Hamas
might consider recognizing Israel once a Palestinian state is established.

Don’t misjudge me. I am not particularly thrilled with the content of Meshal’s statement, especially after learning that one hour later a Hamas spokesman denied any change in Hamas’ refusal to ever recognize Israel. What I do find refreshing, though, is that Reuters asked the question, dozens of linguists and analysts were busy interpreting the answer and news channels from China to Africa were eager to report the results.

What made me cheerful was seeing that the fundamental question of whether the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel, the key to any peace settlement in the region, is back on the table and can be discussed in good company without fear of dismissal or ridicule.

Let me explain. Five years ago, if you were to ask this question among Middle East analysts, you were sure to be scolded by an army of well-meaning conflict-resolution experts for being a spoiler of peace or ignorant of the latest polls from the West Bank.

“It does not matter what the Palestinians think about recognition or legitimacy,” was the standard answer, “what matters are conditions on the ground.”

“The road to peace is incremental,” repeated all the headlines.

Remember Peter Jennings, the legendary ABC News anchor? When he interviewed Hanan Ashrawi on his show and asked her about Israel’s right to exist, she hushed him with: “Chairman Arafat has recognized Israel in 1988,” and this kept poor Peter meek and timid for the rest of the interview.

When the Syrian Ambassador spoke at UCLA in 2005, and I asked him whether he personally recognizes Israel’s right to exist, my learned colleagues were quick to rebuke my question as impertinent — “What further proof would Israelis want to convince themselves of Arabs’ intentions?” they asked.

In other words, the question of Arab intentions, the mother of all questions and the key to all solutions, has been locked in the closet for 10 good years, and it is only Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian election, together with financial sanctions by Israel and Western governments, that have brought it back to the spotlight it deserves. Moreover, now that Hamas is recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Hamas’ official stance toward Israel has given Western observers a crisp and reliable thermometer to gauge the Palestinian vision of peace, many times more reliable than the ambiguous polls and speeches we have been reading about in the past.

The emergence of such a reliable thermometer now provides valuable new insights into Middle East affairs, especially for those who believe that honesty and clarity are prerequisites to peace. True, we owe this progress to Hamas, but we have never denied credit where credit is due.

However, before we gloat, I should note that my friends in Israel have been consistently skeptical of all polls and speeches since the outbreak of the second intifada, and they have paid no attention at all to those who debate whether Hamas truly represents the heart and mind of Palestinian society.

Most Israelis today have become resigned to some version of the “salami theory,” according to which the vast majority of Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas alike, will never accept Israel as a legitimate neighbor and no matter what agreement is signed, will continue their struggle to “liberate Palestine” in incremental stages (“shlavim” in Hebrew.)

The current fighting between Fatah and Hamas is viewed by most Israelis as a confrontation between two tactics aiming for the same goal, one calling for dismantling Israel in stages, using diplomacy, international isolation, demography, deceit and occasional terror and attacks, the other calling for open warfare.

This gloomy view, depressing as it is, rests on some hard evidence, which even moderate Palestinians have not been able to dispel. Aside from Arab’s century-long rejection of Jewish sovereignty on any part of Palestine, well funded Palestinian organizations have recently intensified their anti-Israel campaign in Europe and on U.S campuses, aiming not at ending the occupation but at undermining the legitimacy of Israel as the historical homeland of the Jewish people.

Another indicator viewed with alarm by Israelis is that the subject of “comprehensive peace,” including hopes, images and responsibilities of state ownership, is not being discussed in the Palestinian street. While Palestinians do lay conditions for peace, they refrain from discussing its parameters, even behind closed doors.

Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, is the only leader who dared remind his countrymen that compromises on the refugees “right of return” must be made if peace is to be given any chance at all. But all discussions of such compromises are considered taboo by the rest of Palestinian society, for whom “peace” has always meant a return to Jaffa, Haifa and Ramlah.

Finally, Palestinian intellectuals have been a great disappointment to Israeli peace activists. In an unprecedented candid exchange between two of the Middle East’s most respected journalists, Salameh Nematt, an Arab, and Akiva Eldar, an Israeli, Eldar writes (Ha’aretz, December 2006): “The Jewish minority, which calls for the expulsion of Palestinians from their land and steals their olives, is my enemy. I will do everything legally possible in order to protect my Arab neighbors from the obnoxious attacks of this racist minority.

“But Israelis need to know that Arabs who call for the expulsion of Jews from their [Jewish] land and deliberately murder their children are enemies of yours, and that there are many among you willing to defend my family against those who deny my right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Those familiar with Eldar’s record as a peace activist and a champion of Palestinians’ rights and statehood would appreciate his readers’ disappointment — after 30 years of intense outreach efforts, Eldar is still begging his Palestinian friends to acknowledge his “right to a secure existence in my own country.”

Enforce cease-fire terms for peaceful New Year


The Jewish people have a tradition of reflecting on the past as a tool to move forward. Never is this custom more significant than at the start of each New Year.

This Yom Kippur, we have a lot to bear in mind. At the end of summer a year ago, just before the beginning of 5766, Israel had faced what at the time seemed to be its most difficult summer with the disengagement from Gaza. A rift was created within Israeli society, one that the people of Israel were still dealing with until just before this summer began.

The thriving economy and booming tourist industry seemed a promising end to a trying year and hopeful beginning of the coming year. Unprecedented numbers of Hollywood celebrities were calling Tel Aviv their summer hotspot, and Israeli teens were trampling all over each other to buy tickets for some of the biggest acts in the world — performing in Israel.

School was out and summer camp was in. The pools had been properly chlorinated, and everyone was ready to show off their brand new bathing suits. For the kids all over Israel, this was the moment they’d been waiting for since September.

Following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in two terrorist attacks, which resulted in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit on June 25 as well as Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on July 12, Israel set aside its summer plans and prepared to face once again what we have faced so many times in the past — war.

By mid-July the residents of northern Israel were being bombarded on a daily basis by deadly Katyusha missiles fired by Hezbollah. Innocent civilians were being targeted and killed. Hezbollah was exhibiting a new ruthlessness, placing ball bearings in the missile heads with the sole purpose of inflicting maximum injury and suffering on anyone within its reach of one mile.

Northern Israel took a harsh beating, bustling Israeli landmark cities like Haifa, Tzfat, Nahariya, Kiriyat Shmona and Tiberias were nearly deserted. Buildings were destroyed, the lush green landscape was in flames, and many lives were lost. With more than a third of Israel’s population in the line of fire, residents either fled south or huddled together in bomb shelters, transforming the animated north into a ghost town.

By the time a cease-fire was reached, 160 Israelis had been killed by Hezbollah terrorists. More than 4,000 missiles landed in Israel during the war, hitting 6,000 homes, leaving 300,000 Israeli’s displaced and forcing more than a million to live in bomb shelters.
Had the United Nations implemented Security Council Resolution 1559, the war would probably have been averted. Now, with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701, the international community has been given a second chance to make things right.

Resolution 1701 brought an end to the military struggle, but while the bombs have stopped falling and the focus is to regroup and rebuild northern Israel, we must remain cautious and guarded.

The clear agenda of the president of Iran, a fundamentalist regime that gives financial support and operational directives to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, has not changed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to sponsor terrorism and strives to achieve nuclear capabilities, while at the same time reiterating his call for the destruction of the Israel and denying the Holocaust.

Iran and Syria remain the driving force behind Hezbollah, a fact that strengthens the argument that the arms embargo addressed in Resolution 1701 must be enforced.
The culture of hatred that has grown strong in the unstable region surrounding Israel affects the Jewish people worldwide. Today, however, the Jewish people are stronger than they have ever been. That strength stems, among other things, from Eretz Israel, the one country in the world every Jew is free to call their home.

This summer, as Israel was under fire, the Jews of the world spoke together and stood together. It is well known that as Jews we band together in times of hardship. Never was that more true than during this past summer. Jews in Israel and around the world understood the stakes and made standing with Israel their first priority.

In accepting Resolution 1701, Israel has once again shown its commitment to peace by giving diplomacy a chance to succeed. It is now essential that this commitment to peace be echoed by the international community, starting first and foremost with the implementation of this important resolution.

As we continue the battle to free our abducted soldiers and secure our borders, Israel remains strong. Looking forward to a new year, we are strengthened by the lessons of our past. The Jewish people have overcome countless obstacles since the beginning of our history 5767 years ago, and we will continue to prevail against all odds and all enemies for a long time to come.

With this year ending and a new one beginning, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Jewish community for its undying support of Israel.

I pray that God continues to give us all the strength to face the many challenges that lie ahead.

I wish all of you a healthy, happy, peaceful New Year and may all of your hearts’ desires be fulfilled.

Am Yisrael Chai!

The people of Israel will live for eternity.

Chag Samech, Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova.

Ehud Danoch is Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles.

New U.S. Stamps Honor Friends of Jews, Israel


On May 30, the United States Postal Service issued a series of new stamps honoring six career State Department diplomats who earned the gratitude of this nation for taking “risks to advance humanitarianism…[and] peace,” even if their actions put themselves “in harm’s way.”

Words of high praise — nonetheless inadequate in the case of honoree Hiram Bingham IV, who served as U.S. vice consul in Marseilles, France, during World War II. In 1940 and 1941 — against the official policies of the United States, which was steadfastly refusing to open Lady Liberty’s doors to persecuted European Jews — Bingham issued visas and false passports to Jews and other refugees, assisting in their escape. He even occasionally sheltered them in his home — risking not only his career but his life, as the Gestapo and SS operated freely in collaborationist Vichy France.

Bingham is credited with saving more than 2,500 people from deportation to death camps. Moreover, working together with fellow American hero journalist Varian Fry, he rescued such famous figures as artists Max Ernst and Marc Chagall, Nobel Prize in Medicine winner Otto Meyerhoff, historian Hannah Arendt and authors Franz Werfel and Hans Habe.

As punishment for his continued defiance of Washington — and helping people the Roosevelt administration and the anti-immigrant WASP establishment that dominated the State Department was abandoning — Bingham was unceremoniously yanked out of France in 1941 and posted to Portugal and then Argentina. In 1945, he was forced to retire from the U.S. Foreign Service.

Although neither Fry nor Bingham received the credit due them in their lifetimes, Fry was eventually the first of the two to receive some measure of posthumous recognition, when in 1995, he became the first and only United States citizen to join Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler among the non-Jews designated as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. Fry — also known as “the American Schindler” or “the artists’ Schindler” — was also accorded “Commemorative Citizenship of the State of Israel” in 1998. Finally, he achieved celebrity of sorts when Barbra Streisand co-produced the 2001 made-for-television movie, “Varian’s War,” starring William Hurt. (In that movie, Bingham is relegated to a mere footnote and even suffered the ignominy of having his named changed to “Harry.”)

Bingham rarely spoke of his wartime activities, concealing them even from his own family. Only after his death in 1988 (Fry died a young man in 1967) did his son discover letters, documents and photographs hidden behind a chimney in their home. The cache revealed Bingham’s struggle to save German and Jewish refugees from death — facts long suppressed by the United States government.

Belatedly, Bingham’s bravery was recognized by the United Nations in 2000 and, ultimately, by the American Foreign Service Association, which paid tribute to him with a special “courageous diplomat” award for “constructive dissent,” presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell. The eight-year campaign to issue a postage stamp in his honor met with success after gaining wide bipartisan support in Congress

Another stamp in this series honors Ambassador Philip C. Habib, a Lebanese Christian from Brooklyn who rose through the ranks of the foreign service to attain the posts of assistant secretary of state and undersecretary of state. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan called Habib out of retirement to serve as his special envoy to the Middle East at a time of growing tension between Israel and the PLO in southern Lebanon. When hostilities erupted into war engulfing Israel, Syria and Palestinian terrorists, Habib engaged in shuttle diplomacy and won the respect of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin as he helped negotiate a truce. In 1982, Habib was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

Habib deserves mention here because of his outspoken conviction that “the United States should support Israel. It’s a long-standing commitment, a commitment that goes through every administration since Truman, that we support the existence and security of Israel. Now, how, to what extent, on what terms at any given moment, those are subjects for discussion, debate, and reformulation. But the basic commitment is maintained.”

For more information, visit www.usps.com/communications/news/stamps/2006/sr06_036.htm

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethcial and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at the University of Judaism. Bezalel Gordon is the former news director of the Israel Government Press Office and spokesperson for the Kahan Commission.

 

Will U.S. Jews Keep Pace With Israel?


Publicly, most Jewish organizations support the "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace that President Bush is promoting in his Middle East travels this week and at his summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

But privately, there is much skepticism about what will transpire in the coming weeks and months, with fears that Israel will be forced to make too many concessions or that Palestinians will get a state without first cracking down on terrorism. The goal, many say, is to make these concerns heard quietly, while not standing in the way of progress.

Mainstream Jewish leaders who have reservations say they are not worried that they will be viewed as impediments for peace. Instead, they say they are on the same wavelength as Israel’s government, supporting the process — hesitantly.

"The center, I am convinced, has already shifted in support for Sharon and Bush," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "If it’s good enough for Sharon and good enough for Israelis, then the American Jewish community will embrace it."

But to some, supporting the Israeli government means more than backing what is said publicly.

Some Jewish leaders feel it is up to them to say what many in Israel, including Sharon, are thinking but are not saying. They say political pressure may have forced Sharon to back something he truly does not believe in, and it is the Jewish community’s job to balance the support Israel is expressing with voices of caution.

This is not the first time the organized American Jewish community faces the prospect of suddenly embracing a peace process after years of echoing hard-line Israeli positions with respect to the Palestinians. When the Oslo process evolved in the mid-1990s, some prominent Jewish organizations, including the umbrella Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were accused of not fully backing the process the Israeli government had adopted.

Supporters of Oslo called it the "Diaspora lag" — the fact the American Jews were not supporting something that was being viewed positively in Israel.

American Jews can become more pessimistic than some in Israel because they do not see the violence up close each day, said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and therefore are not as pragmatic about the need to embrace any movement in the peace process.

"Maybe the fact that we don’t live it as acutely as Israelis do, sometimes we have a tendency to be less pragmatic or more idealistic," he said.

This time around, some Jewish leaders say they are once again skeptical. But the difference is, some say, that skepticism is shared by Israel.

"Everybody is hesitant," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. "A lot of people have reservations because they see this as a very risky approach."

Hoenlein and others say the 14 reservations about the road map that Israel submitted to the United States last month mirror the concerns they have been expressing for months, and there is still strong concern that Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president, retains much of the control of the security system in the West Bank and Gaza.

Indeed, an Israeli Cabinet minister, Limor Livnat of Likud, meanwhile, told American Jewish leaders Tuesday that "your role now is to stand very firm" and to make sure that the Israeli government does not make concessions until the Palestinians have uprooted terrorism.

"You need to make sure [that Bush sticks to his ideology to uproot all terrorism in the world] including, of course, the Palestinian infrastructure," Livnat, who abstained from the Cabinet vote endorsing the road map, told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents.

There’s a decade’s worth of experience that makes American Jews fear the worst.

"If it’s hard for the community to be on board, it’s for good reason," said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). "I don’t think the Jewish community will be that much ahead or behind Congress and public opinion."

That worries some more dovish Jewish groups, who fear Jewish leaders may be reluctant to embrace a new process, when the last one burned Israel.

"The concern I have is if groups get wrapped up in the opposition to any talks of a return to diplomacy, and too tightly wound around denigrating the other side," said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

He fears that Jewish groups, while technically on board, will not expend any political capital on supporting — and pushing — the peace process.

The question, others say, is whether Abbas and the Palestinians will follow through where they have not in the past. If progress is made by the Palestinians, with terrorism especially coming to an end, there would be almost universal support among American Jews for a revived peace process, they say.

Even hawkish groups like the Zionist Organization of America say they will "openly and publicly support negotiations" if the environment is right, said the group’s national president, Morton Klein. He said they would need to see Palestinian arrests of terrorists and other requirements before they would support the process.

Indeed, several Jewish leaders said they will be working in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that Palestinians and other partners are keeping the commitments stressed in the road map, because they fear the main problem with Oslo was that Palestinian compliance was not enforced.

"The role for the American Jewish community is to be skeptical and watch and move in when the Arabs are not fulfilling their commitments," Amitay said.

Also on the agenda is setting the scene to entice the Palestinians to fulfill those commitments. AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, last month pushed for a provision in the State Department Authorization Act that would give substantial U.S. assistance to a Palestinian state, once it achieved a thorough peace.

Jewish leaders said the provision, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the leaders of the House International Relations Committee, sent a signal that the new state would have American Jewish support.

"I think our role is to encourage our government to play a constructive role to facilitate an opportunity for peace," Raffel said. That means finding international donors and other financial avenues to support the state. "I only wish that we get to the point where money is needed," he said.

For now, many American Jewish groups say they will take their cues from the Israeli government.

"Some of us sometimes lose sight of the fact that it’s their decision," Foxman said. "It’s not our role to push them or to hold them back."

The Jews and Iraq


Pollsters didn’t survey American Jews after last week’s
dramatic United Nations speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell, but if they
did the results would probably show that the community is on the same
wavelength as a confused, anxious American public.

Ask any rabbi or community relations professional; in Jewish
communities across the nation, there is support for the Bush administration’s Iraq
policy laced with healthy doses of skepticism and outright opposition — the
whole range of reactions of a worried nation.

That refutes an article of faith of the anti-war Left — that
American Jewish concerns about Israel, and pressure from the right-wing
government in Jerusalem, are critical factors in propelling America to a new
Gulf War.

That theory is wrong on several counts.

Despite the prominence of several Jewish defense hawks in
the administration, no reputable analyst believes Israel’s views, or a U.S.
desire to protect the Jewish State, are significant factors in the Bush administration’s
single-minded focus on Iraq. President Bush’s determination to press ahead with
the military option has nothing to do with his friend in Jerusalem, Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon.

Most Israelis would like to see the Iraqi threat
neutralized, but their enthusiasm for a U.S. attack is tempered by memories of
the Scud attacks in 1991, and the knowledge that this time around, Saddam could
lash out with much deadlier weapons, especially if he is wounded, but not
removed.

And many Israelis doubt the sweeping Mideast vision of the
administration officials who predict a tidal wave of moderation across the Arab
and Islamic worlds if the Iraqi dictator is sent packing. As the U.S.
experience in Afghanistan has shown, a successful military campaign does not
necessarily translate into successful nation and democracy building.

In this country, most Jewish leaders have quietly signaled
support for the administration’s tough stance. But even at the height of last
year’s debate over a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force,
only a small handful actually weighed in on Capitol Hill. Jewish leaders, wary
of a potential backlash and facing a community that is far from unified on the
war issue, have kept a very low profile as war preparations mount.

Out in the communities, the watchword is “ambivalence.”

As usual, there is a wide gap between dedicated pro-Israel
activists, who tend to put Israel first in their list of policy concerns, and
the majority of Jews who care deeply about Israel, but tend to view public
policy through a wider lens.

Among the latter group, there is understanding of the need
to fight terrorism, concern about Iraq’s threat to Israel, but also skepticism
about the administration’s motives.

According to a recent American Jewish Committee survey, 59
percent of American Jews approve of U.S. military action against Iraq — about
the same as the support from the American public at large — with 36 percent
opposed.

More than half of the Jews surveyed — 56 percent — worry
that a war between America and Iraq is “likely to lead to larger war involving
other countries in the Middle East.” 62 percent believe the threat of
terrorism against the U.S. will increase if the United States takes military
action against Iraq.

The survey also showed that while a majority of Jews still
approve of the way President Bush is handling the anti-terror war, the
proportion has dropped steeply from the overwhelming approval ratings in the
days after Sept. 11.

Again, Jews seem right in the uncertain American mainstream.

Jews remain one of the most liberal groups in American life;
not surprisingly, liberal Jews are already a significant presence in the
growing anti-war movement, despite the presence of vehemently anti-Israel and
even anti-Semitic forces in that movement.

Even some Jewish hawks say Bush has not made the case about
why Iraq can only be dealt with by massive military action, while diplomacy is
the preferred approach to North Korea — a nation that already has nuclear
weapons and which has demonstrated an unparalleled recklessness in selling
weapons to Mideast bad guys.

There may be good reasons for the disparity, but to many
Americans — Jews and non-Jews — the president has not made a persuasive case.

Big Jewish organizations generally support the president,
albeit quietly, because of their focus on Israel, but many rank-and-file Jews
see more pressing emergencies at home, where a sinking economy seems to
threaten the middle class way of life.

Last week’s terror alert warning of possible Al Qaeda
attacks against Jewish institutions and businesses may increase that
skepticism; why is the administration so determined to engage Iraq when Al
Qaeda is probably readying new attacks on American citizens?

Anti-war activists who see Jewish and Israeli pro-war
conspiracies are far off the mark.

It is true that some of the loudest and most prominent
advocates of war in the administration are prominent Jews. But the community
itself mirrors all the concerns and doubts that make war with Iraq a high
stakes political, as well as military, gamble for President Bush.

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