BOSTON (Oct. 15)
With both America and Israel focused on the threat of terrorism, American Jewish organizations should seize the opportunity to press the Bush administration to combat the groups that threaten both countries, but delicately, supporters of a major pro-Israel lobbying group said at their summit over the weekend.
“Although we shouldn’t stop doing what we’re doing, we should have a little bit less of a profile,” said Stan Zicklin of Los Angeles, here for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s national summit.
Attendance at the weekend summit was three times what was originally anticipated, a reflection of the level of concern about the threats both domestically and in the Middle East.
Major donors who were invited to the conference said they believe AIPAC and other American Jewish groups must stay the course.
“We need to continue to pressure our adversaries, point out the similarities between the United States and Israel and make certain that evil does not win,” said Gilbert Baker of Houston.
Many at this conference believe that America now understands what Israel has been facing for the last 50 years — the threat of domestic terrorism. But while AIPAC and other American Jewish organizations support America’s war on terror, they have concerns about some of the details.
These include what role Israel will play in President Bush’s coalition and how Israel’s enemies will be treated.
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke out forcefully about feeling pressed by the Bush administration to make concessions to the Palestinians as the White House courted Arab support for its coalition.
AIPAC supporters also worry about the role Iran and Syria — adversaries of Israel that, according to the U.S. State Department, support terrorism — will play in the coalition. The Bush administration originally expressed enthusiasm for their participation, but since has placed conditions on their alliance.
Expressing these concerns takes tact, AIPAC supporters said.
“There’s a fine line,” said Jeff Ross of Bellaire, Texas. “We should support the president and what the administration is doing. But in some gentle, persuasive manner, we need to let them know that other extremist groups need attention.”
Israeli allies want to press the U.S. government to target Hezbollah and Hamas, but believe now may not be the time to go against the Bush administration, which has garnered strong public support for its actions after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and which has put these groups on a back burner while he goes after bin Laden.
“Once Al Qaida is out of the way, we won’t have to watch so much about being diplomatic,” said one donor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Many believe there will be a second round of assaults on terror groups once the organization headed by Osama bin Laden is defeated. Then, they say, will be the appropriate time to press the United States to target Israel’s aggressors.
Locally, the AIPAC supporters invited to the convention say they are being asked more questions and are speaking out more.
“People seem more interested in my views,” said Richard Katz of San Diego. “I’ve not attempted to modulate any thing I’ve said.”
Advocates say last month’s terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have emphasized the need to work for Israel, despite America’s need to focus on domestic terror.
Michael Franzblau, of San Rafael, Calif., said he is leaving for Israel after the AIPAC summit because he believes Israelis feel even more isolated with American attention focused now on domestic concerns.
He is focusing on Israel, Franzblau said, because the United States is “a huge country with 280 million people that can take of itself.”
Many liken the strategy pursued by AIPAC and other Jewish organizations to that of congressional leaders, who are publicly maintaining a united front while voicing hesitations and concerns behind the scenes.
Officially, AIPAC is supporting the war in Afghanistan.
Leaders say that if the Bush administration does something they like they will say so, yet will make their disapproval heard as well. The first test of the organization’s will came last week, when media reports surfaced that the Bush administration would outline a Mideast peace plan that included a Palestinian state.
In a statement from the organization’s president and executive director, AIPAC said the administration officials who are urging a meeting between Bush and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat are “undermining America’s war against terrorism.”
“Arafat must make a decision. And until he decides to stand against terrorism, it is unthinkable to grant him a meeting with the president or gain U.S. support for a Palestinian state,” AIPAC President Tim Wuliger and Executive Director Howard Kohr said in the statement.
But as the dust settles from that incident, AIPAC supporters say the relationship between Israel and the United States remains strong. As longtime advocates against terrorism, the group finds it has a receptive ear in the U.S. government.
“We are pushing against an open door,” said Lonny Kaplan, chairman of AIPAC’s Board of Directors.