The Importance of Accessibility


Although this was my third visit to the White House, the novelty does not easily wear off. My first invitation was to a prayer breakfast toward the end of the Clinton administration.

The
second time, I wasn’t actually invited. I just hitched a ride as the guest of my close friend, Rabbi David Wolpe. Then, the occasion was a dinner to mark the opening of the Anne Frank exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

My most recent presidential encounter began with a call from the official liaison to the Jewish community. He explained that the president wanted to convene a small meeting to discuss Jewish higher education. The gathering was to take place on the morning of Dec. 18 in order to coincide with a Chanukah party at the White House later that same evening.

I was still a bit uncertain about the purpose of the meeting, but at 10 a.m. on the appointed day, I presented myself in the lobby of the West Wing.

I was part of a small group that included six presidents of Jewish universities and seminaries, as well as a few students and representatives of B’nai B’rith Hillel.

Soon we were joined by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten (who is Jewish), Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and, finally, by the president himself.

President Bush made a point of going around the table and greeting each of us personally before the “formal” meeting began. But herein lies the curious part. There really was no formal meeting. For almost an hour, the president discoursed on a variety of themes, including Iraq, the nuclear threat emanating from Iran, global terrorism, Darfur and, of course, Israel. Little was actually said about higher education.

At one point, Bush reminded us of his trip to Graceland with his friend and fellow Elvis fan, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, as an example of how former enemies can, in time, become friends. Unable to restrain myself, I raised my hand and asked whether he had considered a trip to Graceland with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

My question evoked the anticipated laughter from those seated around the table, but I think the president may have taken me a bit too seriously. He stressed that it would be inappropriate for an American president to “reach out” to a leader who currently poses a potential nuclear threat to other nations of the world.

This very serious response to a very unserious question provides an insight into Bush’s view of his presidency. He is exceedingly concerned about his legacy, and he measures that legacy in terms of his own willingness and ability to protect us from the perceived threats leveled against the United States. Simply put, he does not want to be remembered as the president who ignored any encroaching danger.

Bush argued that the Islamic extremists could not possibly be religious people. After all, he reasoned, religious people do not murder others.

Had I not already squandered my one chance to speak on a joke, I would have begged to differ with him on this point. Perhaps a committed Christian in today’s America sees religion primarily in terms of love, but periods of “killing the infidel” have historically been a part of Islam, Christianity and even biblical Judaism.

Often, the theory is advanced that important White House policy decisions are made by someone other than the president himself. However, the Bush we encountered is a man who appears to know his own mind. He may not always be highly articulate, even in a small group, but the moral clarity of his message came through.

The meeting concluded with a photo op in the Oval Office. In the evening, my wife, Hana, and I returned to the White House, where we were greeted by a blazing menorah and a military band playing a medley of Chanukah songs. (Of course, since the Chanukah repertoire is a bit meager, they did add a few generic holiday classics, like “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells.”)

Earlier that day, the White House kitchen had been made kosher so that the dietary needs of all 500 Jewish dinner guests from around the country could be accommodated.
Hana is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and as our evening at the White House drew to a close, she could not help comparing what we had just witnessed with the experience of her parents in Eastern Europe before and during World War II. I agreed that the event was remarkable, but I asked her if this whole affair had any practical significance for the Jewish community. Hana thought it did.

“Just think about it,” she said. “If Jews had enjoyed this kind of access to the president during World War II, our history might have taken a very different turn.”

Dr. Robert Wexler is the president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles

With Friends Like These…


I didn’t show up to see Jimmy Carter sign any of his other 20 books, but I have a feeling none of those signings drew quite the crowd of the one Monday night in Pasadena.

At the other appearances, I bet there weren’t angry protestors from the Jewish Defense League waving signs saying: “WORST PRESIDENT EVER!” and counterdemonstrators — mostly from a group called “LA Jews for Peace” marching under signs saying “PEACE NOT APARTHEID!”

At the other signings, I bet a security guard didn’t have to ask three attractive dark-haired young women holding an Israeli flag to step back from the entrance to Vroman’s Bookstore, where the 39th president was inside signing books. I asked one of them what organization they represented.

“We’re our own group,” she said. “Call us Shirlee, Aviva and Michele United.”

Carter was scheduled to start signing copies of “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (Simon and Schuster 2006) at 7 p.m. By 1 pm the store had sold every book and had passed out all 1,800 tickets. Ticketholders stomped their feet in the chilly night in a line that ran down Colorado, around the block and back up.

“It’s a big one,” said a cashier. “But we had more for Howard Stern.”

Sure, a lot of the people showed up for the celebrity factor — parents taking their young children to see a real president; many people holding any of the Carter oeuvre just to score an autograph, a “good Christmas gift,” said one elderly lady.

But the television news trucks, the young woman in kaffiyehs passing out flyers demanding a “Just Peace in Palestine,” the heated arguments by the magazine racks over who started the Six-Day War — the general circus-like atmosphere was solely due to the partisan passions the book has stirred.

“He’s right on the money,” said Bob, a middle-aged studio musician in a coat and tie waiting in line. “I think he’s being kind in calling it ‘apartheid’ and not ‘genocide.'”

I have a feeling the protestors — pro and con and just plain strange — will be following Carter for as long as the 82-year-old former president is out flacking “Palestine: Peace or Apartheid.”

Write a factually sloppy, unfairly partisan polemic about a complex and sensitive issue and you get just what you’d expect: controversy at every whistle stop, major face time with Larry King and a book that shoots up the best-seller list. By Tuesday there wasn’t a copy to be had at a single L.A. bookstore. It’s like “A Million Little Pieces” for the foreign policy set.

I read the book and found it remarkably shallow. Carter’s bottom line: Israel is to blame. America, urged on by the “Jewish lobby,” is the co-conspirator.

By now numerous intelligent, detailed critiques of the book are available — The Journal printed Alan Dershowitz’s dissection several weeks ago — and former friends and allies of Carter have distanced themselves from this book.

Professor Kenneth Stein resigned his post from the Carter Center last week. The book, he wrote, “is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.”

On Monday, I phoned Los Angeles attorney Ed Sanders to get his reaction.

When Carter was President, Sanders was his liaison to the Jewish community. He flew seven missions to the Middle East. Sanders was with Carter at Camp David and was an official witness to the Camp David Accords.

“I bet I know what you’re calling about,” Sanders said.

He said he hadn’t read the book — he still can’t find a copy to buy — but he read an op-ed Carter published in The Los Angeles Times summarizing his arguments and has followed the controversy closely. And his reaction?

“I’m shocked and dismayed,” he said. “It’s unacceptable.”

Sanders can’t understand why Carter couldn’t at the very least present the Israeli argument for the barrier it has erected between the country proper and the Palestinian territories. “The wall is being erected because Israeli citizens were being murdered,” Sanders said.

He is flabbergasted that Carter could present the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as little more than a kindly old man, when it was Arafat’s duplicitous, kleptocratic rule that helped derail peace efforts and destabilize Palestinian society.

“Arafat couldn’t make a deal if his life depended on it,” Sanders said.

Sanders was the national president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee when he resigned to serve the president. Doesn’t that prove Carter’s point on the influence of the pro-Israel lobby or, as Carter now repeatedly refers to it, “the Jewish lobby?”

Sanders doesn’t see it that way: “There was never any restraint on a discussion of the facts.”

That discussion led to the Camp David Accords, an outstanding legacy of peace. But Carter evidently sees no difference between the late Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, who came to Jerusalem to make peace in full recognition of Israel, and the leaders of Hamas who have at most offered Israel a cease-fire on the way to Armegeddon. Between Hamas and Egypt, Sanders said, “there is a difference.”

Dismay and disappointment are Sander’s gentlemanly, judicious way of saying the book is a huge missed opportunity. What’s so disappointing to me is that by the last thin chapter, Carter finally proposes the best possible course for Israel: a two-state solution that recognizes Israel’s security and allows the Palestinian a viable state.

But one-sided diatribes don’t engender the kind of debate that can help bring that solution closer. Israel is far from perfect, and its policies in the West Bank and Gaza have, as the conservative Ha’aretz columnist Shmuel Rosner pointed out, amounted to apartheid. But Israel’s enemies are far from blameless in this tragic history, and in his book, Carter all but sanctifies their heinous methods and awful aims. A fair deal can’t begin from a false premise.

“This book,” Sanders said, “doesn’t help.”

U.S., Israeli officials see conflicting Iraq study ideas


American and Israeli government officials agree on two things: Iraq has nothing at all to do with Israeli-Arab issues.

Except when it does.

From President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on down, the leadership of the Israeli and U.S. governments are simultaneously embracing and rebuffing last week’s conclusions of the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group, which makes Israeli-Arab peace progress a linchpin of a successful outcome in Iraq. The crux of their argument is that while it is wrong to blame the Israeli-Arab impasse for any part of the crisis in Iraq, actors in that crisis — chief among them Iran and its allies — are successfully using Israel as a justification for raising the stakes in Iraq.

“We do this not because we are persuaded by some linkage or another, but because it is in the U.S. national interest,” David Welch, the top U.S. State Department envoy to the Middle East, said Friday of U.S. involvement in Arab-Israeli peace when he addressed the Saban Forum, an annual colloquy of U.S. and Israeli leaders.

Another Bush administration official put it more bluntly: “Palestine is not a relevant issue to Iraq, but it is an issue exploited by Iran and extremists throughout the region,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Arab-Israeli peace talks would have a “positive, emboldening effect,” the official said. “If progress among Israel and the Palestinians is manifested, then moderates throughout the region win and extremists lose.”

Conversely, the official said, “We believe that a success in Iraq, a success for moderates against forces of extremism, whether secular or religious, will have a very significant impact in the region, in Syria, in Lebanon, as well as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Bush administration has welcomed Olmert’s recent overture to the Palestinians, in which he promised a release of prisoners and increased mobility, should a cease-fire hold and the Palestinians prove themselves able to present a negotiating team that renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s existence.

Mahmoud Abbas, the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority president, has all but given up on such concessions from the Cabinet, led by the terrorist Hamas group, and has proposed new elections.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, said at the Saban Forum that Israel and the West should encourage alternatives to the Hamas government, although she did not elaborate.

Bush launched a weeklong review of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations on Monday, starting with meetings with top State Department officials. Later in the week he was to have met with outside experts, top U.S. diplomats in the region and top military brass.

His primary concern about the report is its deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the first quarter of 2008. Bush has steadfastly resisted timetables until now. However, after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is scheduled to tour the region, Bush suggested that he embraces the report’s Iraq-Israeli-Palestinian linkage, counting it as one of three ways to move the Iraq process forward.

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is important to be solved,” the president said.

That’s music to the ears of Blair and other Europeans. They enthusiastically welcomed the recommendations of the commission headed by James Baker, secretary of state for Bush’s father, and Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana Democratic congressman.

“The German government shares many of the political observations in the report,” a statement from the German Embassy in Washington said last week on the eve of a U.S. visit by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The entire Middle East region must move into the international community’s scope. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of central importance.”

Such views were hardly welcome at the Saban Forum, where the Iraq Study Group’s report lent an anxious irritability to the weekend proceedings. The Saban Center, a Brookings Institution subsidiary funded by American-Israeli entertainment mogul Haim Saban, attracts top names to its annual colloquies. Last year’s was in Jerusalem.

“The Iraqi conflict has very little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis,” Yuli Tamir, Israel’s education minister, said during a break from the conference’s closed sessions. “I don’t think it’s relevant — it’s a good justification but not a reason.”

On Sunday, Olmert, who had earlier suggested that he disagrees with the report’s conclusions, ordered his Cabinet not to comment on it, saying it was an internal American affair.

Livni did not mention the Baker-Hamilton report by name, but its conclusions were clearly the focus of her keynote address at a gala State Department dinner last Friday.

“There is a commonly mistaken assumption that I sometimes hear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core of the trouble of the Middle East; that somehow if this conflict could be resolved, so the situation could be different, and we can face a totally different region,” Livni said. “So, this is wrong. This view confuses symptom and cause. The truth is that the conflicts in the Middle East are a consequence, not a cause, of radicalism and terrorism.”

Nevertheless, in the same speech Livni was preoccupied by how Iran would fare in the Iraq crisis — and what a success by its Shiite Muslim protégés in Iraq would bode for Israel and the region.

“The idea of spreading Shiism all over the region is a threat not only to Israel but the region itself,” she said, citing efforts by the Hezbollah terrorist group to topple Lebanon’s Western-leaning government.

Bush expressed wariness about the commission’s recommendations to engage Iran and Syria. He was adamant that those countries are out of bounds until they stop backing terrorists. If Syria and Iran are “not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up” to a regional conference on Iraq, he said after meeting with Blair.

Iran’s ambitions dominated much of the Saban Forum. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke darkly of the possibility of war in a Saturday panel with former President Bill Clinton.

“Iran’s strength derives from the weakness of the international community,” Peres said. “If there was an international coalition, there would be no need to go to war against Iran, and Iran would return to its natural dimensions.”

Israel backs U.S. and European efforts to sanction Iran until it gives up enriching uranium, a step toward manufacturing a nuclear weapon. Peres described a range of options to prevent Iran’s nuclearization: monitoring its missiles with nuclear warhead capability, economic sanctions, limiting its oil production and assisting regime change.

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.

Evangelicals Slate Pro-Israel Lobbying


Some 2,000 extremely pro-Israel community and religious leaders will meet in Washington on July 19, fan out across Capitol Hill and, in effect, tell their legislators: If you want our political backing, you must support the Jewish state — no ifs or buts.

There won’t be a single Jew among the citizen lobbyists. They will all be evangelical Christians, mainly ordained and lay pastors, embarking on the first major public action of the newly formed Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

The founder and leader of the group is the Rev. John C. Hagee of the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church of San Antonio, Texas, and a televangelist whose broadcasts reach millions in the United States and 120 other countries.

In 1978, in the first of his 21 trips to Israel, “I went as a tourist and returned as a Zionist,” Hagee said.

Last week, Hagee visited Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego to enlist support for his 4-month-old organization –both among fellow evangelicals and in front of generally enthusiastic, but occasionally skeptical, Jewish audiences.

Addressing the Board of Rabbis of Southern California at the L.A. Jewish Community Building, Hagee outlined two major projects, in addition to the July summit in Washington:

  • Expand the existing “rapid response network” of 12,000 pastors, who can mobilize their congregations instantly to flood the White House and Congress with e-mails on any legislation affecting Israel’s security and well-being.
  • Institute an annual “Night to Honor Israel” in every major American city to assure Israel and Jews everywhere that “you do not stand alone.” The emotional event is already a fixture in large Texas cities and in other Southern states.

Hagee and his followers have given a total of $8.5 million to Israeli causes, including an orphanage and for absorption of Russian immigrants, he said, but the major impact of CUFI is likely to be on the political scene.

The pastor didn’t spell it out, but his associates made clear that they view CUFI as a kind of super American Israel Public Affairs Committee, representing some 50 million evangelical Christians. This constituency, in sharp contrast to the Jewish community, shares the conservative social outlook of the present administration and represents its hardcore political base.

This kind of influence cannot be ignored by U.S. Jews, said Shimon Erem, founding president of the Israel-Christian Nexus, who introduced Hagee.

“We don’t have too many friends; we cannot prevail without them,” said Erem.

CUFI’s purpose, according to its official brochure, is “to provide a national association through which every pro-Israel church, parachurch organization, ministry or individual in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to biblical issues.”

The last six words may sound vague, but they are key to the evangelicals’ deeply rooted advocacy for Israel. As unquestioning believers in the inerrant truth of Scripture, Hagee and his followers are convinced that every inch of the God-given land belongs to the Jews alone and forever.

Hagee insists that he never interferes in the decisions of the Israeli government, but his opposition to the withdrawals in Gaza and the West Bank, for instance, gives concern to liberal Jewish organizations.

However, it is mainly Orthodox spokesmen, who otherwise agree with Hagee’s social and biblical views, who have publicly questioned whether the pastor’s underlying motive is the conversion of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.

The Rabbinical Council of America, representing Orthodox rabbis and congregations, has officially protested the Israeli government’s license to Daystar, the second largest Christian network in the United States, to broadcast 24/7 over an Israeli satellite network.

Hagee, a major Daystar supporter and on-air personality, has consistently affirmed that he will not proselytize Jews, although the network’s lineup also includes “messianic” Jews with long pro-conversion records.

When Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, head of the anti-cult Jews for Judaism, raised this issue with Hagee at the Los Angeles meeting, the pastor did not respond directly, but his genial Southern folksiness took on a harder edge.

“If rabbis would put more emphasis on putting Jewish kids into Jewish schools, young Jews would never want to become Christians,” Hagee said.

 

Gay Marriage Ban Could Alienate Jews


It’s a familiar calculus in the relationship between the Jewish community and the Bush administration: a social issue that divides the country 50-50 has the Jewish community split 75-25 against where President Bush stands.

On Monday, Bush strongly endorsed the federal marriage amendment to the U.S. constitution, which would effectively ban gay marriage.

“Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization, and it should not be redefined by activist judges,” Bush said after meeting with supporters of the constitutional amendment. He was referring to the 2004 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages.

The bill, which was likely to be considered by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, has virtually no chance of passing. Constitutional amendments need 67 of the 100 Senate votes to pass, and no one anticipates the vote breaking 55.

That makes it a win-win for Bush in his effort to keep evangelical conservatives on board ahead of the November midterm congressional elections. The reasoning is that the amendment will still resonate with the GOP’s conservative base five months from now, but will likely have disappeared from the memories of Republican-leaning social moderates.

However, Jewish Republicans, who have been trying to lure Jews away from their solid 3-to-1 support for Democrats, might have been dealt a blow, at least according to the amendment’s opponents.

“It’s unclear to me how the Republican Party will gain ground in the Jewish community by bringing forth a centerpiece of the religious right’s agenda,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “For a large section of the Jewish community, this is an issue of fundamental rights and they will be watching closely to see how their senators vote.”

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements oppose the amendment. On Tuesday, the Conservative movement’s leadership joined in the opposition, in a statement that referred to a 2003 United Synagogue resolution opposing any such discrimination. Also in opposition are major Jewish civil liberties groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

The National Council of Jewish Women has taken a lead in opposing the legislation, organizing clerical lobbying against it and leading an alliance of liberal Jewish groups in urging senators to vote it down. Orthodox groups, led by the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, support the amendment.

The most recent polling on the issue, by Gallup, found 50 percent of Americans in favor of the amendment and 47 percent opposed. A 2004 American Jewish Committee survey of American Jews found 24 percent in favor and 74 percent opposed.

Jewish supporters of the amendment suggested they would sell the amendment to the Jewish community as one that would guarantee religious freedoms.

Proponents of gay marriage were “pursuing a deliberate plan of litigation and political pressure which will not only redefine marriage, but will follow from that to threaten the first freedom enshrined in the First Amendment — religious liberty,” said Nathan Diament, the director of the Washington office of the Orthodox Union.

Diament, the only Jewish participant at the meeting with Bush on Monday, said the Massachusetts ruling already had a negative impact on religious freedom. He cited as example the state’s Roman Catholic Church decision to drop out of the adoption business because it would be required to consider gay couples as parents.

“They’re trying to impose their position on society at large,” he said of proponents of gay marriage. “How a society defines marriage affects everybody.”

That view had some backing from at least one Jewish civil rights group, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

Marc Stern, the AJCongress’ general counsel, cited the example of an Orthodox kosher caterer who could face a lawsuit for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding.

A successful compromise would “recognize the marriages in the context of a secular economy, for instance by not discriminating on domestic partner benefits, but it would not force people to act in areas they find morally reprehensible,” Stern said.

Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University law professor and an activist for gay rights, said such arguments had no place in the public arena.

“There are lots of ways in which a religious organization can run its business as it wishes,” Feldblum said. “Rabbis don’t have to perform a marriage that they don’t agree with, a religious organization does not have to allow lesbians as rabbis. The problem is when religious organizations are operating in the public arena, with lunch banks, day camps, shelters. Then it’s very difficult to allow a religious organization to go against the public policy of the state.”

Republican Jewish spokesmen turned down requests for comment, but the amendment was not likely to help their efforts to appeal to Jews on domestic issues.

The emphasis before the 2004 election on Bush’s friendship with Israel and his tough reputation on security issues failed to make much of a dent on the Jewish Republican vote, which crept up to between 23 percent and 25 percent from about 19 percent in 2000.

Since then, Jewish Republicans have learned the lesson of emphasizing foreign policy too much and have carefully calibrated a social message designed to appeal to younger Jews. In Jewish newspaper advertisements and in stump speeches, Bush’s pro-business record is pitched to Jewish voters who may be more fiscally conservative than their parents.

And spokesmen like party chairman Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish, bluntly acknowledge to Jews that the Democrats were on the right side of history when they backed civil rights in the 1960s; but they say that Bush has inherited that mantle with his efforts to promote democracy abroad and force education reforms at home.

The most prominent Jewish Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would vote against the amendment. He cited classic Republican small government philosophy: government “ought to be kept off our backs, out of our pocketbooks and out of our bedrooms,” Specter said, according to The New York Times.

Democrats said the marriage amendment would help cripple such efforts.

“The Republicans are saddled with an agenda that’s horrific to the vast majority of American Jews,” said Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Supporters of the amendment said they believed momentum was on their side. A similar effort in 2004 garnered just 48 Senate votes; this effort will top 50, they believe.

Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, said he believed all Americans would eventually internalize the amendment’s moral arguments.

“This battle will be won in stages,” he said. “It takes time for the nation to fully absorb the implications of allowing same-sex marriage and the effect it will have on traditional families.”

The Reform movement’s Pelavin said his impression was that time was on the side of opponents of the amendment.

“This isn’t a fight that we picked, this is a fight that the president and the Republican leadership have picked,” he said. “This is an issue of fairness.”

 

The View From L.A.: Hoping for the Best


Los Angeles supporters of Israel’s political parties praised or mourned the results of the Knesset election, but even the winners weren’t entirely in a mood to celebrate.

Shimon Erem, a former high-ranking officer in the Israeli army, said he had planned to fly to Israel to cast his ballot for Kadima (Israel has no absentee voting). However, with pre-election predictions that the centrist party would gain around 40 seats, Erem felt his vote wouldn’t be needed.

Instead, Kadima got only 29 seats out of a total of 120, a showing he attributed to “faulty strategy due to overconfidence, to taking its support for granted.”

Dr. Yehuda Handelsman, a veteran leader of the local Israeli community, also backed Kadima, but had been more realistic.

“I think we did pretty well,” he said. “If Ariel Sharon had remained healthy and had led the party, I think we would have gotten 35-40 seats.”

As a new party, Kadima has not yet organized an American support group, but Handelsman predicted the establishment of such an organization in the next two years.

The Labor Party came in second with 19 seats and Bea Chenkin, regional executive director of Ameinu (formerly Labor Zionist Alliance), said she was satisfied.

“Considering that [former Labor Party leader] Shimon Peres jumped ship to join Kadima, we did as well as could be expected,” she said. “A lot of Israelis feel that the social problems of the country have been neglected, but now these issues are coming to the fore again.”

Rabbi Meyer May, president of the (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of California, said that the three religious parties had done a good job in mobilizing their base among the generally apathetic electorate.

“Shas, National Union-Religious Party and United Torah Judaism understood that there was a lot at stake for the observant community and managed to retain their strength, May said.

Even among the Orthodox parties, there are strong ethnic and ideological differences, noted Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, a Loyola Law School faculty member and an Orthodox leader.

At least one of the religious parties, most likely the less ideological United Torah Judaism, will join a Kadima-led coalition, Adlerstein predicted.

Robert Rechnitz, national vice chairman and Western regional president of American Friends of Likud, said he was “obviously disappointed” by the election results.

Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, had been the largest party in the sitting Knesset, but will have only 12 seats in the next one.

Rechnitz blamed the decline on Sharon’s absence at the top of the ticket and defections by many retired and Orthodox voters, who had been hurt by Netanyahu’s past economic policies, as well as by what he called a “vicious” campaign against Netanyahu in the Israeli media.

The leftist Meretz Party managed only five seats, to the dismay of Dr. Isaac Berman, a national board member of Meretz USA.

“Similar to the Democratic Party here, Meretz didn’t seem to have clear message and didn’t make the right kind of noise,” Berman said.

Views on the road ahead in the peace process varied from wait-and-see resignation to cautious optimism among several community leaders interviewed by The Journal.

Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, a pro-Israeli advocacy group, said the situation in Israel is so fluid that it is difficult to make predictions about how events will unfold. Given the internal and external challenges Israel faces, though, she said that now is a time for unity.

“This is a time when Israelis need to pull together and work together,” Rothstein said. “You have the potential polarization of the Israeli society on the left and right on the inside and the Hamas threat from the outside.

A more upbeat assessment came from Mark LeVine, associate professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine. He said that despite Olmert’s vow to draw Israel’s final borders unilaterally, a negotiated settlement could eventually emerge. Hamas, he said, despite its refusal to recognize Israel, is not opposed to cutting a deal. And because of its standing in the Arab street, the group has the credentials to do so.

“Assuming Hamas doesn’t engage in too much violence either against military targets or terrorism against civilians, I would assume that in the next couple years there’s going to be a repeat of the negotiations you had at Camp David in 2000 and in Taba,” said LeVine, who wrote the 2005 book, “Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil” (Oneworld). “They’re probably going to be using pretty much the same maps.”

A local Muslim leader weighed in with similarly cautious optimism.

“There’s a recognition by the bulk of the Israeli population that the Greater Israel Project is over,” said Nayyer Ali, past chair of the Muslim Pubic Affairs Council. “Unlike the mood in Israel in 2000 and before, we now have a consensus among Israelis that the end solution is a Palestinian state.”

Ali added that the rise of the terorrist Hamas group on the Palestinian side also should not be viewed as a fatal impediment to peace. Just as the Israeli left cannot make peace without the support of more conservative Israeli parties, Ali said, Palestinian leaders, absent Hamas, also could not make a binding agreement. Despite its vow never to recognize Israel, “like other ideological parties, I think Hamas will have to deal with reality now that it’s in power,” Ali said.

But Sabiah Khan, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California chapter, said she sees nothing but a stalemate ahead in at least the short term: Israel, on the one side, refuses to negotiate until Hamas renounces terrorism and recognizes its right to exist. The new Palestinian government, on the other hand, won’t engage Israel until the Jewish state ends its “occupation,” recognizes the national rights of the Palestinian people and renounces terror.

“Basically, we have two groups saying the same thing, that they’re not going to talk to each other [until the other side does something that it isn’t willing to do], Khan said. “Outside intervention from the U.S., Europe, the United Nations or Arab governments is needed.”

Some or all of those parties, she said, could break the impasse by encouraging a negotiated settlement based on international law and existing U.N. resolutions.

Regardless of last week’s voting results, the local Israeli consulate was in campaign party mode on Election Day. Consul General Ehud Danoch and his staff festooned the consulate’s Jerusalem Hall with small Israeli flags, and had spread out a generous supply of pita, hummus, techinah and cookies for more than 100 guests who jammed together to watch the results of the first exit polls.

Danoch drew on his own political background for a running commentary on the merging trends and shared the general astonishment at the success of the Pensioners Party, which came out of nowhere to gain seven seats.

 

Foul Mouths


This is my fourth presidential scandal. Watergate was my first, and it had the counterintuitive effect of making me less — rather than more — cynical about government. The dirty tricksters were found guilty and almost all of them imprisoned, and the president, who disguised if not micromanaged their crimes, resigned. It was a bad time for America, but a good time for those who believe in the idea of America.

But this idealism took a couple of gut punches with the Iran-Contra Affair, during which members of the Reagan administration sold arms to the Iranian mullahs in secret — how could they ever pose a threat to us? — to finance Nicaraguan rebels, in express violation of U.S. law. Of the 14 charged with crimes, 11 were convicted, and one was imprisoned.

President George H.W. Bush stepped in to pardon six of the men convicted. Two others, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, received pardons before trial. Two of those convicted, Oliver North and John Poindexter, had their convictions overturned on appeal, for legal technicalities.

Iran-Contra could make one believe that in Washington, D.C., it’s not what you did, it’s who you know. There was even an element of self-dealing on the part of the first President Bush, who set free insiders who would, as a result, never be tempted to disclose anything damaging about Bush’s own record as vice president under Reagan.

The third presidential scandal was the lying-about-sex matter that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. To put it mildly, that episode did nothing to reduce any accrued cynicism.

Now comes the indictment of Irving “Scooter” Lewis Libby, which arises out of his role in outing covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

In the end, Libby is not actually charged with revealing Plame’s identity, but with perjuring himself — lying — during grand jury testimony about the case.

He has protested his innocence and predicted he will be exonerated. Given the evolution of these scandals, he is at least likely to escape time behind bars for his alleged role in this traitorous episode.

But not going to jail or even not being judged guilty is not the same as being innocent. If there is, as commentator David Brooks cheered, “no cancer on this presidency,” there is certainly a gruesome moral and ethical open sore. And if it’s not within our power to make those in power actually pay for their trespasses, we needn’t be fooled either about exactly what sin the perpetrators allegedly committed:

They lied about really important things.

In the realm of ethics, Jewish law parses lying with great precision. In his upcoming book, “A Code of Jewish Ethics – Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy” (Harmony 2006), Rabbi Joseph Telushkin notes that while the Torah prohibits stealing, cheating, adultery or taking advantage of the less fortunate, falsehood is the only sin the Torah deems necessary to admonish people to avoid actively.

“Stay far away from falsehood,” reads Exodus 23:7.

If one of God’s attributes is truth — you could argue a primary purpose of religion is to set people on the path toward discovering what is true — then swearing false oaths or bearing false witness “indicates a lack of God’s presence.”

Certainly you are forbidden to lie in God’s name, that is, telling others what you think God told you. You are also warned against telling half-truths, against speaking with imprecision, against exaggerating. You are admonished to avoid lying by readily admitting what you don’t know, by being willing to change your mind, by avoiding false statement even to help another or to help a cause. In this spirit, the Talmud reminds us to carry out our obligation to truth and our vows even when they disadvantage us. We are to do what we say we’ll do, to avoid false excuses or lies of convenience (even to our children and our parents — what do these rabbis expect of us!), and to stay far from deceptive behaviors in our business and civic practices.

But what makes the discussion of lying in these matters so fascinating and challenging are the exceptions. Shouldn’t you be able to avoid unnecessary hurt or to lift someone’s hopes or avoid humiliating the poor? Doesn’t every good business negotiation contain the assumed lie that a final price may not in fact be final? And what of lies, even those told under oath, that enable one to avoid punishment by an unjust or evil regime?

Telushkin quotes educator Dr. David Nyberg’s Golden Rule on the issue of beneficial lies: “Be untruthful to others as you would have others be untruthful to you.” A religion doesn’t last 4,000 years by being blind to the grays.

But even so, there are what Telushkin calls “three particularly destructive lies”: lies that promote evil, or that make it impossible to distinguish good from evil; lies told in a courtroom setting under oath; and lies that destroy another’s good name.

It is into this less-than-gray territory that Libby apparently wandered.

To lie under oath is to profane God’s name and to thwart justice itself, the underpinning of a moral society. It is one thing to commit a wrong in the first place, quite another to undermine the justice system itself.

“You shall not take the Name of the Lord, your God, in vain, for the Lord will not absolve anyone who takes His Name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). The Third Commandment offers precious little wiggle room.

To lie to destroy the good name of another person is particularly grievous, a sin in Hebrew called moztzi shem ra. “The great wrong of such a lie is that the damage inflicted might well be irrevocable,” writes Telushkin, noting that this is one of the few offenses for which the victim is not obligated to forgive the offender. Whichever White House officials outed Plame destroyed her professional identity, and in so doing tried to destroy the credibility of her husband, as well.

Finally, there is the lie that promotes evil, or that makes it impossible to distinguish good from evil. Telushkin cites the example of The New York Times reporter in the 1930s who acted as an apologist for Josef Stalin during his murderous purges.

But what of a man who in advancing a political agenda that would entail the loss of life and human suffering — however justified it might be — deliberately paints honest criticism as traitorous falsehood, thereby punishing people of good intention with professional retribution? And what of the same man if he then lies to cover up such misdeeds?

We live in dangerous times, and a political culture that sanctions dishonesty — especially if one can get away with it — heightens the danger to us all. Not the least risk is that such official misbehavior merely promotes deeper cynicism among us all. This politics of doublespeak, what George Orwell called, “the vast system of mental cheating,” only makes us less apt to believe our leaders when real danger is imminent.

“Such is the punishment of the liar,” the Talmud says, “that even when he speaks the truth, no one listens to him.”

 

Retiring Cal Tech Chief Reflects on Roots


The announcement that David Baltimore will retire next year as president of the California Institute of Technology has been greeted with a rich outpouring of encomiums that go well beyond the mandatory praise on such occasions.

What has not been mentioned is that the career of the brilliant biologist, who won a Nobel Prize at age 37, stands as well for the breadth and social responsibility of an American intellectual rooted in his Jewish heritage.

Such a man of science, like many of his peers, tends to be neither religious nor involved with the organized Jewish community. However, as The Journal reported in an earlier, lengthy interview with Baltimore, he “sees himself now as a secular Jew, but one whose outlook and achievement are rooted in his early Jewish upbringing and family life, and who hopes that he has transmitted the same values to his daughter.”

On another level, Baltimore’s biography represents the familiar success story of the American-born son of struggling immigrant parents ambitious for their children.

His father, Richard, was the only son of a poor, Orthodox family from Lithuania, orphaned at age 14. He worked in the garment industry, never went to college, but taught his two sons that “the most important thing in the world is a book.”

Baltimore’s mother, Gertrude, grew up in the household of a tailor from Ukraine. After her sons were born, she went to college, earned an advanced degree in psychology and at age 62 became a tenured professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

Although Baltimore’s father was a religious Jew and his mother an atheist, they maintained a comfortable relationship with a mutual understanding of their differences.

Young David attended Sunday school at Conservative Temple Israel in Great Neck, N.Y., and celebrated his bar mitzvah there. Hand in hand with the family’s intellectual interest went a humanitarian life view and an “inchoate socialism” that dictated concern for the underprivileged.

During his nine-year tenure as Caltech president, the 67-year old Baltimore translated many of his family’s principles into practice, on top of raising the university’s already elite level of scientific research and education. He showed a keen interest in the quality of student life through improved housing and a multimillion dollar student activities fund, and raised the profile and number of women on the faculty and in the student body.

On the public stage, shunned by more cloistered scientists, Baltimore spoke out freely on controversial issues, an attitude consistent with his family background.

Indeed, he almost lost out on his 1975 Nobel Prize, when, on the cusp of a breakthrough experiment, he shut down his laboratory to protest the U.S. Army’s invasion of Cambodia. An early and insistent advocate for AIDS and stem cell research, Baltimore has not hesitated to criticize President Bush and his administration for endangering the nation’s future scientific strength.

Will there be a future generation of great Jewish scientists whose home environment spurred them on to excellence? Perhaps, but Baltimore is not overly optimistic.

“In my generation, and the one before, the leading scientists have been extraordinarily and prominently Jewish,” he said. They rose to the top because they made “the necessary sacrifices to develop the skills to become great scientists.”

Encouraging and enforcing the needed sacrifices were the Jewish parents, “who exerted, and believed in exerting, the necessary pressure” on their sons and daughters. Today, that pressure is largely absent, not because the parents are less ambitious for their offspring, but “because they believe that their kids should define their own existence,” Baltimore said.

Baltimore is married to Alice Huang, senior councilor for external relations at Caltech and a faculty associate in biology. The couple has one daughter, Teak, who is married and lives in New York.

As for now, the driving ethos of the old Jewish home, he observed, seems to have been taken over by Asian immigrants and their children.

Baltimore will remain at Caltech as professor of biology and focus on his scientific research and teaching.

In June, he received a $13.9 million grant by the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Baltimore’s proposal, “Engineering Immunity Against HIV and Other Dangerous Pathogens,” will address the challenge of creating immunological methods to deal with chronic diseases.

 

A Historic Event


It was a remarkable sight: the president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan sitting on a New York dais alongside leaders of the American Jewish community and Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations — while eating a kosher dinner beneath a blue-and-white banner reading: “Council for World Jewry.”

It was all the more notable, considering the significant personal risk the appearance must have entailed for Pervez Musharraf, who has been the subject of several recent assassination attempts at the hands of Muslim extremists who are violently anti-Israel and anti-America.

There was near-unanimous agreement among Jews and Pakistanis at Saturday night’s event that Musharraf’s mere presence before an audience of Jewish officials represented a potentially historic step in Muslim-Jewish relations. For his landmark gesture, the Pakistani general received a series of standing ovations.

“I would never have imagined that a Muslim, a president of Pakistan and, more than that, a man in uniform would ever get such a warm reception from the Jewish community,” Musharraf said as he ascended the platform to excited applause.

Beyond the novelty of the appearance, however, Musharraf’s half-hour speech met with disappointment from some Jewish leaders who found his remarks rich in hyperbole but poor in specific proposals.

“If we waited 100 years [to hold this meeting] it would have been even more historic, but what is it we have achieved?” asked Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “In his world, in his culture, in his environment, this is a major step. From our perspective, it isn’t.”

Some lamented that Musharraf said little beyond his previous comments about establishing relations with Israel, which he again conditioned on future actions by Israel, culminating in the establishment of a Palestinian state. Musharraf’s address followed closely his brief encounter last week with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the sidelines of the United Nations World Summit and a recent meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries, which do not have full diplomatic ties.

Still, said Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress — whose Council for World Jewry sponsored the event — given Musharraf’s domestic political constraints, Jews should not underestimate what he was able to offer.

“It is not helpful for us to be critical of a Muslim leader who, given his political pressures, comes to speak to us and doesn’t give us everything we want at that moment in time,” Rosen said. “We couldn’t have expected that he would have announced last night that he would immediately begin normalizing relations with Israel. It wasn’t a real expectation.”

Challenged by Foxman to show more leadership by moving to formalize Israeli-Pakistani relations right away, Musharraf responded that “57 years of hatred, bitterness, animosity cannot be undone so fast.”

“It is my sincere judgment that this is not the time to do it,” he said. “We need to be very patient. I need some more reasons and rationale. I need some more support” to be able to convince the Pakistani people to go along with the move.

Israel’s foreign minister, for his part, said he looked favorably on the meeting as a step in what he acknowledged could be a “long process” toward full ties.

“The time has come, I believe, to have full diplomatic relations with all of these” moderate Muslim countries, Silvan Shalom told Jewish journalists this week. “I believe that many of them are close. They’re always looking for the appropriate time.”

Shalom did not attend the Musharraf event.

Musharraf spoke about religious similarities between Muslims and Jews and characterized recent hostility between the two groups as an aberration against a background of historical coexistence. He further earned plaudits for insisting that terrorism “cannot be condoned for any cause.”

While he referred to “Schindler’s List” and praised Sharon for the recent Gaza Strip withdrawal, Musharraf upset many in the audience by insisting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a root cause of world terrorism, and that Pakistan won’t forge diplomatic ties with Israel until the Palestinians have a state — essentially giving the Palestinians a veto over the entire process, several Jewish leaders noted afterward.

“Palestine has been at the heart of troubles in the Middle East,” Musharraf said. “I have no doubt whatsoever that any attempt to shy away or ignore the root causes of terrorism is shutting one’s eyes to reality and is a sure recipe for failure.”

That sentiment struck a raw nerve among many Jews in the audience, who lamented that Muslim nations for too long have tried to lay the blame for many of the world’s ills on Israel.

“The root cause of terrorism is the same as the root cause of Nazism: simply, the hatred of Jews through teaching hatred of Jews,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Musharraf also called on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and respect other faiths’ attachment to Jerusalem. He did not express any corresponding demands on the Palestinian side.

“Israel must come to terms with geopolitical reality and let justice prevail for the Palestinians,” Musharraf said. “They want their own independent state, and they must get it.”

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pakistan has had something of an image problem in the West. Daniel Pearl, a Jewish reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and decapitated by terrorists in Pakistan; Osama bin Laden is thought to be in hiding somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; a Pakistani nuclear scientist was discovered to have supplied nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, and Pakistan’s extensive network of religious schools has been accused of spreading a radically violent and anti-Western version of Islam.

Many in the audience saw Musharraf’s decision to address a Jewish audience as a public relations move, rather than the reflection of a serious desire for detente. Like many in the Muslim world, Musharraf views the American Jewish community as key to securing political influence along the Beltway, some said.

Musharraf didn’t do much to dispel this impression.

“I feel privileged to be speaking to so many members of what is probably the most distinguished and influential community in the United States,” he said.

But Mossadaq Chughtai, director of the Pakistani American Liaison Center, which runs the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, dismissed this line of thinking.

“We have good standing with Congress” and the White House, he said, noting that President Bush has hosted Musharraf at Camp David. “Not as good as AIPAC, but we’re making strides,” Chughtai said, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Still, many considered the symbolism of the event key. Unlike Palestinian leaders, who often have made conciliatory statements to foreign leaders in English, while urging their constituents to war in Arabic, Musharraf spoke before a full contingent of Pakistani media beaming his words back home, where they are likely to be controversial.

For Dr. Abdul Rehman, an officer of the MMSI mosque in Staten Island, N.Y., Musharraf’s appearance gives the “green light” to Muslims to work toward cooperation and dialogue with Jews.

Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s chief rabbis, thought Musharraf was “very sincere” and praised him for not making grand promises that he would not be able to fulfill.

“There’s no question he will have a hard time explaining to his people what he’s doing and trying to bring them along,” Lazar said. “On the other hand, he didn’t give any kind of time frame” for normalizing ties with Israel.

At the least, the event led to immediate interreligious dialogue in the hallways: Lazar was seen chatting and posing for photos with Imam Ghulam Rasul of the MMSI mosque and invited mosque leaders to visit him if they’re in Moscow.

Pakistani television reporters pulled Israelis and American Jews aside for interviews to be broadcast in Pakistan.

“I think the event was very significant,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Something that hopefully can be built upon.”

Michael Arnold contributed to this report.

First Lady Jostled in Jerusalem


She may have brought a message of American goodwill toward Muslims, but Laura Bush spent a potential high point of her Middle East tour fending off protests from Palestinians angered by U.S. policies — and from Israelis, too.

After arriving from Jordan, the first lady toured Jerusalem on Sunday, traveling from site to site under heavy Israeli police and U.S. Secret Service. In lieu of speeches, she spoke to her media entourage of the need to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“What an emotional place this is, as we go from each one of these very, very holy spots to the next,” Bush said. “We’re reminded again of what we all want, what every one of us prays for,” adding, “What we all want is peace.”

Some want more. When Bush arrived at the Western Wall, demurely dressed, to place a written prayer in the cracks of its stones, she found herself facing off with dozens of Israeli demonstrators who chanted that the United States should free Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. jail for spying for Israel.

From there, it was up to the Temple Mount, for a tour of one of Islam’s most revered sites, the Dome of the Rock. Most worshipers looked on incuriously, but there was heckling from Palestinians angered at a Newsweek magazine report — later retracted — that U.S. interrogators had flushed a copy of the Quran down a toilet in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to torment a Muslim prisoner in their custody.

“Quran, Quran,” hissed one woman.

The Islamic terrorist group Hamas even posted a notice against the first lady on the Internet.

“We in principle don’t reject anyone’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque [compound], but we see in the visit of Mrs. Bush an attempt to whitewash the face of the U.S., after the crimes that the American interrogators had committed when they desecrated the Quran,” it said.

Having earlier voiced regret at the Newsweek report and the Muslim rioting that has been linked to it, Bush took a more positive tack on the Temple Mount, marveling at the beauty of the shrine. She also voiced hope for the U.S.-led “road map” to Israeli-Palestinian peace, which has been tested by renewed fighting in the Gaza Strip but which President Bush hopes to bolster by hosting his Palestinian Authority counterpart in the White House on Thursday.

“The United States will do what it can in this process,” Laura Bush said. “It also requires the work of the people here, of the Palestinians and the Israelis, to come to the table…. What we all want is peace and the chance that we have right now to have peace, to have a Palestinian state living by a secure state of Israel, both living in democracy, is as close as we’ve been in a really long time.”

Stakes Loom Big in Future of High Court


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Spitzer


Jack Spitzer, an international Jewish leader and prominent Mercer Island banker and philanthropist, died Saturday, July 31) after suffering a cardiac arrest several days earlier. He was 86.

An Israeli university, King County libraries, black South Africans who wanted to become doctors — all benefited greatly from Spitzer’s generosity.

He served four years as international president of B’nai B’rith, the Jewish cultural and service organization. He led the first delegation of international Jewish leaders to visit Egypt. He was the only Jew in the U.S. delegation to Rome when Pope John Paul II was inaugurated. He served as a public delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.

Spitzer consorted with presidents. But he also washed dishes at Seattle hospitals on Christmas so Christian workers could take the day off.

“I have a philosophy very compatible with being a banker,” he told a Seattle Times reporter in 1994. “I believe that people should pay their debts. My debt to society is so great that if I were to live 100 years I could not completely begin to repay it.”

He was born in New York City and moved to California with his family during the Depression. He graduated from high school when he was 15 and from UCLA when he was 18. While in college, he joined Aleph Zadik Aleph, the young men’s arm of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. Four years later, he was elected the group’s international president.

Spitzer worked as a field director for B’nai B’rith, then served as an Army finance officer in India during World War II. After the war he was associate director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, then joined his father in the commercial real-estate business in California in the early 1950s.

He also served as first vice chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee.

Spitzer, who moved to Seattle in 1972 and purchaed, Security Savings and Loan. Over the next few years he restored the troubled institution to profitability. He served on the board of United Way and quickly became a fixture in Seattle’s Jewish community. He helped Seattle and Beer Sheva, Israel, become sister cities.

A lifetime of service to B’nai B’rith culminated in Mr. Spitzer’s election to the international organization’s presidency in 1978. He sold Security Savings, relocated to Washington, D.C., and traveled extensively over the next four years, promoting both a strong Israel and peace in the Middle East.

He was a guest when leaders of Israel and Egypt signed a historic peace agreement on the White House lawn in 1979. He developed a warm relationship with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; when B’nai B’rith honored Mr. Spitzer at a Seattle dinner in 1998, Sadat’s widow was the keynote speaker.

When Spitzer stepped down from the B’nai B’rith presidency in 1982, the organization named him honorary president for life.

After his stint at B’nai B’rith, Mr. Spitzer returned to the Seattle area and started Covenant Mortgage of Mercer Island. He served on the board of the King County Library System Foundation.

He was a major benefactor of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, serving on its board of governors. He co-founded Medical Education for South African Blacks (MESAB), the largest source of private aid for students of color preparing for health-care careers in South Africa.

He also became a fiercely competitive table-tennis player.

This year, Spitzer and his wife, Charlotte, were among the state’s top 10 political contributors.

“I have no budget,” Spitzer said last month when asked about the contributions. “I give in response to people. Perhaps more than I should.”

He is survived by his wife, Charlotte; and son, Rob; daughter, Jil Spitzer-Fox; and seven grandchildren.

The family suggests gifts to a favorite cause, or to the B’nai B’rith Foundation of the U.S., American Friends of Ben-Gurion University, re: Spitzer School of Social Work, or the King County Library System Foundation. — Seattle Times

Jewish Groups Meet Bush at Conclave


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Begins Jewish Outreach Effort


Now that he’s proven he’s electable, John Kerry is ready to tell Americans why he should be elected.

Only in recent days has the Massachusetts senator started to outline detailed policy positions. Some of these having to do with foreign policy and terrorism have been of particular interest to Jewish voters.

One measure of his new seriousness was a New York meeting Sunday with about 40 Jewish organizational leaders, where Kerry elaborated at great length on his Middle East policies.

All participants interviewed by JTA described the closed-door meeting as successful.

"It would be impossible for anyone to leave that meeting not impressed," said Hannah Rosenthal, the executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Until now, Kerry’s campaign says, the candidate has had little breathing room for such explanatory encounters because of the grueling primary schedule and because his energies were devoted to his come-from-behind triumphs.

The campaign has hired a Jewish coordinator for New York, Lisa Gertsman. But Cameron Kerry, the senator’s brother who converted to Judaism 20 years ago when he married a Jewish women, is key to the campaign’s Jewish outreach effort.

The Kerry brothers’ own Jewish background — their paternal grandparents were born Jewish in the former Austro-Hungarian empire — gained a further wrinkle over the weekend when an Austrian genealogist revealed that two Kerry relatives died in Nazi concentration camps.

Last week, the senator forcefully defended Israel’s right to build its West Bank security barrier after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed eight people in Jerusalem.

"Israel’s security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense," Kerry said, a salve to Jews who had been concerned after Kerry described the fence to an Arab American audience in the fall as a "barrier to peace."

Participants at Sunday’s meeting said the candidate went into unprecedented detail on how a Kerry presidency would deal with the Middle East.

"He was able to talk to the complexity," said Judith Stern Peck, president of the Israel Policy Forum, which promotes greater U.S. engagement in the region. "He knows Israel; he’s been going there for years."

Kerry displayed a wide-ranging command of the issues, participants said, addressing the failure of the Oslo accords, the collapse of accountable authority in the Palestinian Authority, the role of neighboring Arab regimes and demographic threats to Israel’s future as a Jewish State.

One feature of Kerry’s outlook was using U.S. leverage with Arab allies to end incitement and pressure the Palestinians into making peace.

"He painted a picture that a Kerry presidency would be more engaged" on Israeli-Palestinian peace, "and build on the relationships he has and would hold others accountable," Rosenthal said.

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said the meeting helped lay to rest a nagging concern — that relentless Democratic criticism of Bush’s foreign policy implied criticism of Bush’s closeness to Israel.

"He tried to exempt Israel from the critique of Bush’s foreign policy," Foxman said, saying Kerry agreed with administration policy on isolating Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, supporting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and on the security fence.

Kerry also implicitly backed away from earlier remarks touting former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker as potential envoys to the region.

This time, he named figures regarded as much more favorable to U.S. Jews, including former top Middle East envoy Dennis Ross and Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser.

Kerry said he would more aggressively pursue disarming Iran of its nuclear capability, saying the Bush administration has not done enough.

Republican strategists suggested that Kerry’s vulnerabilities in the Jewish community would have more to do with terrorism than with Israel.

"He hasn’t been strong in the defense functions of this country," former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, the chairman of Bush’s reelection campaign, said.

Some participants at the Jewish leadership meeting expressed disappointment that Kerry never got around to discussing domestic issues of concern to Jews.

"Surely the community’s fundamental value of taking care of the vulnerable populations should have been up there on top of the agenda," Rosenthal said.

Cameron Kerry said that he believed his brother — like his party — was in lockstep with U.S. Jews on domestic issues. Of particular concern, he said, was the Bush’s administration’s appointment of hard-line conservative judges to appeals courts.

Ultimately, Cameron Kerry said, his brother would continue to be his own best counsel.

"He’s somebody who really sifts through all sides, he likes to have the facts, he’s got an inquiring mind," he said. "He doesn’t accept ideas filtered for him. He tests, challenges, is a devil’s advocate, but in the end — once he’s made up his mind — it’s full speed ahead."

JTA staff writers Rachel Pomerance in New York and Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

Of Kerry and King


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t forget to vote Tuesday.

Crystal Ball Sees


It seems like we’ve been on the verge of 2004 for ages —
presidential election years always seem to distort the space-time continuum —
but now it’s really upon us, and a lively year it is certain to be.

Congress and the White House are up for grabs, the war on
terrorism is sputtering and political leaders face a host of pressing domestic
problems that they did their best to duck in 2003. In addition, the Middle East
is its usual seething tangle, ready to ensnare policymakers here and around the
world.

Here are a few predictions for the coming 12 months.

• The Presidency: More Up for Grabs Than the Pundits Say

Today’s conventional wisdom is that improving economic news
and Saddam Hussein’s capture have made President Bush all but invincible. Guess
again. Many key indices point to the president’s reelection, but that
conventional wisdom could be upset in a moment by a down tick in the shaky
economy, new terrorist attacks, big new scandals or bad news in Iraq.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, pulling far ahead in the
race for the Democratic presidential nomination, could become a formidable
candidate if he learns to stop shooting himself in the foot and steers toward
the political center.

Some Jewish voters, concerned primarily about Israel, will
make the long-awaited shift to the Republican side, but don’t look for a mass
exodus to the promised land of the GOP.

• Congress: More Republican, More Partisan

A year ago, the Democrats were plotting strategies for
winning back one or both houses of Congress. Today, they’re trying to figure
out how to limit their losses.

In 2003, the razor-thin GOP Senate margin allowed Democrats
to block a few of the administration’s most controversial domestic proposals
and a handful of judicial nominees. November’s election will likely make it
harder for them to keep that up.

• The Budget: More Red Ink

Lawmakers passed several big tax cuts in the past two years,
then fled the scene of the crime, abandoning 11 of 13 appropriation bills.

In January, lawmakers will have to pass a giant “continuing
resolution” to keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year.
That pork-filled legislation is the opposite of the fiscal discipline both
parties piously promised.

Then it will be time to deal with next year’s budget. The
fiscal problems that gave Congress such fits this year will be that much more
severe, because they were just put off. Soaring defense costs could lead to
overwhelming pressure for domestic spending cuts.

However, with elections in November, lawmakers may once
again dodge the bullet, putting off the hard decisions until 2005, producing
bigger federal deficits and a bigger burden for the next generation.

• More Hype About Marriage

The Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on gay marriage
will propel so-called defense of marriage constitutional amendments to
political center stage. Conservative Christian groups will pull out all the
stops; gay and civil rights groups will fight just as hard on the other side.

The issue will become even more dominant, because of
politicians eager to divert attention from vexing issues — such as terrorism
and the retirement crisis — and it will continue to divide the Jewish community,
with Orthodox groups supporting the religious conservatives, defense
organizations and the Reform movement backing the civil rights advocates.

• More Movement Toward Public Funding of Parochial Schools

School voucher supporters are close to winning a big
skirmish in their war — a model voucher program for the District of Columbia.
That could ignite a flurry of new voucher proposals at the state and local
levels. The Supreme Court will rule in June on a case that could really open
the floodgates to new programs for parochial school funding.

The Bush administration will also continue using its
executive authority to give grants to religious groups that provide health and
services.

• More of the Same in U.S-Israel Relations

There’s plenty of potential for new U.S.-Israel friction,
but the Sharon government has a powerful protector: Yasser Arafat. As long as
Arafat is back at the helm of Palestinian government, Washington won’t really
turn the screws on Jerusalem, unless Sharon goes too far with his security
barrier and his proposal for “disengagement” from the Palestinians.

Less clear is the impact of a self-proclaimed protector of
Israel in this country: the Christian right. Televangelists and conservative
politicians such as Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have become avid backers of the
Sharon government and of the idea that Israel should not give up any land to
the Palestinians.

However, many of these new Zionists have been reluctant to
go against a Republican president when he pressures Israel. New conflict over
the fence and Sharon’s proposal could put that new friendship to the test.

• New Jewish Divisions Over Peace

Jewish doves, paralyzed by the resumption of Palestinian
terror in 2000, are coming back to life, but centrist Jewish groups here have
shifted to the right. In Israel, Sharon’s call for removing some settlements
will touch off a furious battle that will spill over onto the American Jewish
scene.

All of that means more polarization than ever in a Jewish
community that will continue to support Israel, but which has very different
visions for the Jewish State’s future.

Bush Expands Mideast Agenda


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bush administration dismissed the report.

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

The DeLay Factor and the Jews


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Watch


Clark Looks for Jewish Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mixed News for Lieberman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Administration Accelerates Faith-Based
Push

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharon, Abbas Court White House


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

After the Cease-Fire What Comes Next?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Beyond Summit: Chance for Peace?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.