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Strife over conference delegation

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WASHINGTON, March 9 (JTA) — Several Jewish organizational leaders are fuming that they aren’t included in the U.S. delegation for an upcoming anti-Semitism conference in Berlin. Organizational leaders are suggesting that the Bush administration is playing politics with the U.S. delegation to the conference, sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Instead of selecting Jewish leaders who have been deeply involved in the issue of European anti-Semitism and who served on the American delegation to the first conference in Vienna last year, Bush picked Jewish leaders loyal to his re-election efforts, those who were snubbed suggested. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said he believed this year’s delegation was made with “political considerations.” “I’m sure that was a significant factor in looking at this year’s delegation,” said Harris, whose organization was represented last year in Vienna. “This is, after all, an election year, and that is the way Washington works.” Stephen Hoffman, the United Jewish Communities president and CEO who is on the delegation, denied any politicization. “I’m assuming that part of what the White House is trying to do is pass the representation around,” Hoffman said. Indeed, White House officials say Bush merely was seeking to spread the wealth among Jewish leaders and holding to his policy of not reappointing people to commissions or other positions. Delegates to this year’s conference, announced last week, include Hoffmann; Betty Ehrenberg, director of international and communal affairs for the Orthodox Union; Jay Lefkowitz, a Washington lawyer and former domestic policy adviser in the Bush White House; Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress; and Fred Zeidman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. Many of those on the list are active backers of Bush’s re-election effort, including Zeidman, who has been raising money in the Jewish community for Bush; and Rosen, a lifelong Democrat who has actively supported Bush’s Middle East policy. The Orthodox Union has been among the staunchest supporters of White House policies in the organized Jewish community. The Bush administration previously had named former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, one of the first Democrats to openly back the president’s re-election, to lead the delegation. Last year’s delegation was led by another former New York mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. Also named to the U.S. delegation this year were Stephen Minikes, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE; Edward O’Donnell, the U.S. special envoy for Holocaust issues; and Tevi Troy, the White House liaison to the Jewish community. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a delegation from the World Jewish Congress on Monday that he would like to attend the conference, scheduled for April 28-29. The State Department also has asked Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to address the conference. Left out of this year’s delegation are representatives from the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, and NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia. All four groups were represented last year and are considered major players in combating international anti-Semitism. “It was a bit of a surprise,” said Mark Levin, NCSJ’s executive director. Leaders of the organizations are publicly downplaying the snub, suggesting they will still be in Berlin for the conference as representatives of non-governmental organizations. Being part of the official delegation would have meant more prestige and clout, however. “We believe that these four organizations have much to offer our government — and at this point, whether we are part of the official delegation or not, we will make a contribution,” Levin said. But privately, many believe the choices could have an effect on what the conference accomplishes. “This is not about egos,” said an official with one of the organizations left out. “It is so easy for things to go wrong in Berlin, in real time.” Their representatives claim that the four groups in question have long-standing ties with European officials and have done much of the legwork for the conference. “They’re going to be turning to us and asking, ‘Who are these guys with Koch?’ ” one Jewish official said. But others suggest that these four groups are merely seeking attention, disappointed because they will not be able to highlight their participation in fund-raising appeals. Zeidman said he would be in contact with all the members of last year’s delegation to seek their assistance. “We are doing everything we can do to integrate them into what we’re doing,” he said. “I personally don’t want to lose their knowledge and their background.” Hoffman, too, said, “I’ve received quite a few offers to be briefed by people who were there last year, and I will be accepting those briefs.” But Rosen said he believed the AJCongress had a right to represent the Jewish community at the conference. “It’s clear to me that there is a place there for AJCongress,” he said. “We clearly have standing as one of the choices.” Other members of this year’s delegation were either unavailable or did not return calls seeking comment. The White House and State Department also did not respond to requests for comment.

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