WASHINGTON (Aug. 16)
President Clinton is promising American Jewish leaders that he’ll use his bully pulpit to denounce anti-Semitism, but said he doubts Congress will follow his lead on gun control.
With the specter of the shooting spree at a Los Angeles-area Jewish community center hanging overhead, Clinton and roughly 30 Jewish leaders last week held a 90-minute free-for-all discussion originally set up to discuss the future of the Mideast peace process.
The Aug. 12 session at the White House instead focused largely on the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks and possible legislative responses.
At the urging of the leaders, Clinton pledged to use office to speak out forcefully against anti-Semitism and racism and to push Congress to enact stricter laws to combat hate crimes and control guns.
He did not sound upbeat, however, about the prospects for passing new gun control measures. One Jewish leader who attended the meeting said Clinton was “outraged by the unwillingness of the House to do anything about guns,” citing its failure in June to pass the juvenile justice bill.
Clinton was also quoted as lamenting that the National Rifle Association “runs the House and nearly runs the Senate on this issue,” adding, “It has to do with special interest money and lobbying and not with what the people want.”
He made his own appeal to Jewish leaders, urging them to come together with other minority groups in a united front against anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry.
Following the meeting, many of the leaders said they came away believing Clinton was firmly and passionately committed to stamping out hate violence.
“He was empathizing with us,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. “He was feeling our pain.
“We really look to him to rally the nation, to arouse its moral conscience,” Yoffie added. “That’s the task of the president, so this doesn’t get lost in the headlines in a day or two.”
On the Middle East front, Clinton said he was optimistic that Israel and the Palestinians will resolve differences in the coming weeks on implementing the Wye accord. He also said he was hopeful that Congress will approve the $1.2 billion in special aid for Israel and $400 million for the Palestinians that Clinton promised in return for implementation of the Wye agreement. The money has not yet been included in foreign aid legislation.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that while Clinton expressed optimism about potential progress, he also “expressed great concern that Palestinian rejectionists who will settle for nothing less than driving Israel to the sea will try to sabotage” progress in the peace process and undermine Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and “the confidence of the people of Israel.”
In addition, Clinton made what Jewish leaders said were encouraging remarks on the status of Jerusalem. Clinton told them he continues to believe in the need for a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but said that the Oslo accords mandate that it remain an issue to be decided in final-status negotiations.
He added that the goal of the peace process is for Israel to define its own destiny — and that it should not be defined by others.
According to the officials, he also made clear that Arafat ultimately will have to “settle for less than what he has been speaking about for 30 years,” but Clinton did not elaborate further.
A full range of other international issues, including concerns about anti- Semitism in Russia and the change of leadership there, the transfer of weapons of mass destruction from Russia to Iran and the fate of 13 Jews arrested in Iran, were also discussed.