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Jewish Groups Seek to Hammer out Joint Resolution About Iraq Action

Jewish groups are raising concerns about a draft resolution from the umbrella organization of American Jewry expressing support for U.S. actions on Iraq, with one key member even saying it will not sign on.

Yet despite the concerns — which come from both sides of the political aisle — most groups seem willing to sign on to the five-paragraph statement from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The debate comes as Jewish groups seek to establish a common position on an issue that could have important repercussions for Israel and American Jewry.

A draft of the statement expresses support for President Bush’s and Congress’ efforts to make Iraq stop developing weapons of mass destruction and to comply with U.N. resolutions and “other standards set forth by the president.”

The Conference of Presidents hopes to receive member groups’ feedback by Wednesday and issue a final statement later this week.

The draft reads: “We support the measures necessary to ensure Iraqi disarmament, including the consequences for Iraq if it fails to meet its obligations.”

Some Jewish leaders say the resolution is too vague, granting support to Bush without specifying what Jewish groups do or don’t support.

Several groups argue that the resolution does not enunciate a preference for nonviolent tactics, the need to build U.N. support for any action and a clear explanation of why military action is needed, steps some Jewish groups have called for.

“It’s vague in the bad sense,” one Jewish leader said. “It’s a blank check for the president to do whatever he sees fit, regardless of what” the U.N. Security Council might decide.

Other groups say the wording is not strong enough, mentioning only “consequences” — rather than an explicit warning of military action — if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein does not meet with U.S. demands.

Many leaders say they will sign on to the resolution despite their concerns. Few, however, were willing to speak for attribution before a final version of the resolution is released.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the Conference of Presidents’ executive vice chairman, said he has received several requests for revisions to the resolution and has tried to accommodate them. But the resolution generally has received overwhelming support, he said.

The conference has been criticized in the past for not seeking input from member groups before declaring an opinion on their behalf. This time there will be no vote on the statement, but Hoenlein is seeking unanimity.

“Our intention is not to ask individual groups to endorse it, but to let it stand as the consensus for the conference,” Hoenlein said.

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said the vagueness of the resolution might be an indication that the conference has heeded the reservations expressed by many groups.

“It took into account many of the concerns raised about justification of the use of force, by not mentioning the use of force,” she said.

The JCPA last month tabled a resolution on the Iraq issue, a sign that Jewish support for a U.S. attack may not be as comprehensive as once thought. The JCPA is expected to review its policy at an Oct. 14 meeting in New York.

The American Jewish Committee, one of the largest groups in the Conference of Presidents, says it will not sign on to any resolution because it doesn’t think this is the time for Jewish groups to speak out.

“It’s not helpful for American Jewish organizations to be out front on this,” said Kenneth Bandler, the AJCommittee’s spokesman. “And other Jewish organizations should not feel pressured to do so.”

But the AJCommittee and the Anti-Defamation League have come under some pressure. The American Jewish Congress, a staunch supporter of Bush’s policy, issued a press release last week calling on the two other organizations to “take the tough stand.”

“Now, we’re in a full-fledged debate in Congress and the United Nations, and Jewish groups should state their position publicly,” the president of the AJCongress, Jack Rosen, told JTA. “If this is not the time, I can’t imagine a better time.”

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman called Rosen’s advice to the ADL “arrogant grandstanding.”

“It’s the height of arrogance for another American Jewish organization to decide what is important for us to do,” Foxman said. He said the ADL had expressed its support for the president, issuing a press release after Bush’s Sept. 12 speech to the United Nations and expressing support in media interviews.

ADL is likely to support the resolution, Foxman said.

“I feel very comfortable, when asked, that ADL is very clear on where we stand,” Foxman said.

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