Jewish Groups Pressed On Iraq
Pressure is growing for Jewish groups to abandon their deliberately low-profile pose and dive into the intensifying battle over the Bush administration’s plans for a military strike against Iraq.
The mounting pressure comes as Congress considers an administration resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq — and as some Democrats, led by former Vice President Al Gore, try to galvanize a strong opposition movement.
In recent meetings with Jewish leaders, congressional GOP leaders have called for an active Jewish lobbying campaign on behalf of the Iraq resolution.
The Bush administration is being more cautious — spelling out the reasons for their strong focus on Iraq, but not demanding that Jewish leaders take a high-profile role in the mounting struggle.
The administration “did not make an explicit request for
support,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose top leaders met with congressional and administration officials last week. “They just laid out the case in a very straightforward way. There was no direct call for endorsement.”
But some congressional leaders, he said, did ask Jewish groups to back the Iraq resolution.
Other Jewish leaders say the Republicans specifically urged Jewish leaders to use their influence with balky Democrats.
“Both in the public and private conversations, they made it clear that it is important for the Jewish community to publicly and clearly show their support for the administration taking strong action to get rid of the Iraqi regime,” said one Jewish leader who attended the meetings.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the administration is aware of the Jewish leaders’ desire not to be out front on the Iraq question.
“The administration understands our sensitive position,” he said, “and they, too, don’t want the Jewish community to be out front. This isn’t an Israeli issue or a Jewish issue; it’s an American fight against terrorism, against weapons of mass destruction — a fight in which Israel also has a significant interest.”
A broad spectrum of Jewish leaders support some kind of action to disarm Saddam Hussein — but worry that the core anti-terror message could get lost if the fight is seen as driven by pro-Israel interests.
But with a firm resolution now before Congress and lawmakers choosing up sides, staying on the sidelines is getting harder.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregation (UAHC), said that his group is “sensitive” to fears about a high-profile role for Jewish groups in the debate. “But it has reached the point where the president has submitted something to Congress, and Congress is about to engage in a debate. Jewish citizens will inevitably be called on for their input.”
Because of that, the UAHC board this week adopted a policy supporting U.S. action against Iraq, but with several conditions that stress the need to exhaust all the diplomatic possibilities and all options for serious international cooperation. The group also made it clear it will not support U.S. action “without explicit congressional support,” Rabbi Yoffie said.
Hoenlein said the President’s Conference was working on language for a “general statement of support for the Iraq legislation. On Tuesday the American Jewish Congress issued a statement supporting “the U.S. administration in its stated position to intervene in Iraq to ensure that Iraq is no longer a threat to the security of the United States and the world.”
Jewish Groups Split On Koby Mandell Act
Legislation named after an American teenager murdered by Palestinian terrorists has sparked intense controversy among Jewish groups that support its basic goals.
The Koby Mandell Act, named after a 13-year-old American-born Israeli killed in May 2001 is an updated version of legislation first suggested by the Zionist Organization of America several years earlier.
As originally introduced by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), the measure would have required the Attorney General to establish an office in the Department of Justice to “monitor acts of international terrorism alleged to have been committed by Palestinian individuals or individuals acting on behalf of Palestinian organizations.”
The legislation also mandated financial rewards for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of Palestinians who commit such terrorism and established mechanisms to provide families of victims with updated information.
But in recent weeks the bill was modified, largely because a coalition of other Jewish groups — including the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — believed the original bill would not pass.
That group convinced Sen. Smith to omit specific references to Palestinian terrorists and move the proposed office to the still-under-construction Department of Homeland Security.
Smith then attached the measure to the big homeland security bill that the administration wants to pass before Congress adjourns.
That led ZOA president Mort Klein to cry foul.
“We already have legislation dealing with terrorism in general,” he said. “The problem is that every recent administration has ignored the Palestinian Arabs who have murdered 36 American citizens. There has been no serious effort to capture, indict and prosecute them.”
But the Jewish groups responsible for the changes say they were necessary to make the legislation work.
“Many of us wanted something that could pass quickly, and wouldn’t get stalled in committee,” said Reva Price, JCPA’s Washington representative. “It’s broader, but the intent of the bill is still the same.”
And the revised measure, Price said, is now “more consistent with the Jewish community’s post-9-11 message — that terrorism really is a worldwide issue.”
The ADL’s Foxman said “we think it would be a real mistake to set up separate offices to deal with different groups of victims. We shouldn’t be dividing victims.”
Sen. Smith has accepted the changes, which he announced to startled ZOA representatives during last week’s meetings with the Conference of Presidents.
Klein said that the lawmaker has promised to reintroduce the original Koby Mandell act in the next session of Congress.
Armey’s Foot-in-Mouth Trouble
Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas), the retiring House Majority Leader, has become a darling of hardline pro-Israel groups because of his enthusiastic backing for the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
But Armey is getting swatted by some Jewish leaders because of recent remarks about the Jewish community’s poor political judgment.
In remarks quoted in the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald, Armey offered his assessment of Jewish political behavior.
“I always see two Jewish communities in America,” Armey reportedly said. “One of deep intellect and one of shallow, superficial intellect.”
And in what won’t be the surprise of the century Armey said conservatives are the intellectual ones, while the Jews earning the “shallow and superficial” label are liberals.
Jewish conservatives flock to “occupations of the brain,” he said, while the mushy-headed liberals gravitate to “occupations of the heart” and jobs in the arts.
Armey’s comments came only days after a new Gallup poll concluded that “Americans who identify their religion as Jewish are more likely to say they are liberal than are either Protestants or Catholics.”
The outgoing House Majority Leader was speaking at a Jewish campaign forum for Katherine Harris, a GOP candidate for Congress — and the former Florida election official who won national fame after the 2000 presidential election fiasco in her state.
Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, mocked Armey’s belief that only conservative Jews are smart.
“Disparaging our intellect? He’s the one campaigning for Katherine Harris,” Forman said.
Art Teitelbaum, Southern area director for the Anti-Defamation League, said, “I don’t see the comments as anti-Semitic. But it shows you the very narrow line between off-the-cuff comments and off-the wall ones. And I believe he crossed it.”
Armey, he said, “has gotten caught in the rhetorical swamp of stereotypes and unsupported generalizations; the notion of pigeonholing Jews into categories is simplistic and unsupportable.”
Armey also caught a broadside from two Jewish colleagues, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester) and Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas).
In a statement, the lawmakers said Armey’s alleged statements were “absolutely breathtaking in their ignorance. It’s very disappointing to us that a high-ranking leader of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives would make such divisive remarks.”