Organizational Flap Over Hillary


The Zionist Organization of America did not orchestrate a campaign against First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the group insisted this week, prompting a retraction and apology from the Anti-Defamation League.

In a statement issued last Friday, the ADL called on the Jewish community to denounce "ZOA’s campaign against Hadassah," which on Tuesday bestowed an award on the first lady and likely U.S. Senate candidate at its annual convention. Critics of the award say it amounts to a political endorsement of a candidate they view as pro-Palestinian.

"The launching of a campaign [against Clinton] has the feel to it of a step taken against an enemy and is, in our view, entirely inappropriate conduct," said the ADL statement.

But several hours later, the group issued a revised statement deleting any mention of ZOA, except in a note to editors that "ADL mistakenly named the Zionist Organization of America as launching the campaign against Hadassah. While ZOA officials were quoted as opposing Hadassah honoring the First Lady, it was other organizations that orchestrated the campaign."

The retraction and a subsequent apology from ADL national director Abraham Foxman were prompted by complaints by ZOA president Morton Klein. In a statement and in an interview with The Jewish Week Monday, Klein insisted he had never issued a press release or "action alert" against Hadassah.

Klein seemed to be taking a proactive stance in June when he told The Jewish Week that ZOA had "informed our members around the country that [Hillary Clinton] personally invited Arab and Muslim groups who have publicly praised Hamas and Hezbollah to the White House." But Klein insisted this week that this was different from calling for a ZOA campaign against Hadassah.

"I talk to ZOA board members all the time," he said, insisting he had only privately expressed his opposition to the bestowing of the Henrietta Szold Humanitarian Award to Clinton in a conversation with Hadassah president Marlene Post.

It was Americans for Safe Israel (not a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as are ZOA and ADL) that picketed outside the Manhattan headquarters of Hadassah and has blasted the first lady for alleged support of Arab causes hostile to Israel, Klein noted.

Klein has previously tangled with the ADL over its presentation of an award to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and the proposed appointment of scholar John Roth to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Commission. Klein considers both men anti-Israel.

The Hadassah controversy points up the potential of a Clinton candidacy to expose sharp rifts between segments of the Jewish community on Israel issues, particularly as the peace process approaches its final stages.

"It will be a hard-fought campaign," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference. "But I don’t think it will lead to any internal difficulties in the community. In every New York Senate race, Israel and issues of particular interest to the Jewish community take on significance, in this case maybe more than usual. But I don’t think there is any reason to believe there will be greater tensions within the community."

Like Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Bruce Teitelbaum is a quintessentially New York personality. So it would be no surprise if the mayor’s former chief of staff and director of his Senate exploratory committee planned to stay here, rather than work in Washington should Giuliani be elected to succeed Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 2000.

Indeed, sources say Teitelbaum is hoping to return to City Hall in 2001 should City Comptroller Alan Hevesi become mayor. Giuliani and Hevesi have enjoyed a warm relationship over the past few years, even as the mayor openly disdains the city’s other top Democratic official, Public Advocate Mark Green, also a mayoral hopeful. Teitelbaum’s wife, political consultant Suri Kasirer, is a key fund-raiser for Hevesi.

One political insider pointed out that running a Senate staff doesn’t compare to the ability that Teitelbaum had to control hundreds of jobs while at City Hall. "He wants that kind of power again," said the insider.

Teitelbaum had no comment, nor did Hevesi’s media consultant, Hank Morris.

Brooklyn Councilman Noach Dear (D-Borough Park) insists he felt no discomfort at last week’s White House dinner for Prime Minister Ehud Barak, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton was hosting the event and Dear is likely to support Giuliani for Senate.

Dear, a sponsor of Giuliani’s May fund-raiser, said the first lady politely greeted him on the receiving line and the president warmly introduced him to Barak.

"My relationship with the White House is as strong as ever," said Dear, who pointed out that "Giuliani hasn’t announced that he’s running."

In the latest poll on their still theoretical race, the Zogby Group found Giuliani leading Clinton among Jewish voters 44.1 percent to 40.9 percent: a statistical dead heat considering the 3.8 percent margin of error.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn, Queens) is joining the growing chorus of officials calling for the reopening of the 1994 murder case of Ari Halberstam. The 16-year-old chasidic student was shot to death on the Brooklyn Bridge by a Lebanese livery cab driver.

Weiner and 12 colleagues last week wrote Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate whether the incident was an act of terrorism.

"The evidence to support the classification of this case as an act of terrorism is overwhelming, and it is time the Justice Department took notice," said Weiner in a statement.

The freshman rep also chose Tisha b’Av to introduce a resolution calling on the Argentine government to more fully investigate the unsolved 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.