Beating The Drums For An Iraq Pullout


President George W. Bush may get a boost in the polls after a U.S. air strike killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the top al Qaeda leader in Iraq, but a growing number of Jewish voices are speaking out against the war. This week the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism issued an action alert urging its network of activists to support a bill in the House that would require President Bush to “develop and implement a plan for the withdrawal of the United States armed forces from Iraq.”

And a leading Jewish congressman who voted against the initial congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq is ratcheting up his own efforts to force the administration to develop a viable exit strategy.

This week Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who is running for the Senate seat held by the retiring Democrat Paul Sarbanes, said he wants to “cut our troops levels in Iraq in half” by the end of 2006 and that all troops should be gone a year later, with National Guard troops returning first. The lawmaker also called for an international conference to deal with the future of the battered nation and for increased humanitarian aid to help rebuild Iraq.

In an interview, Cardin said that an increasing number of Jewish activists are expressing concern that the mess in Iraq is making it harder for Washington to deal effectively with the threat of a nuclear Iran.

“The concern is that the political will of America is being depleted because of the length of time we are in Iraq,” he said. “We have to differentiate between Iraq and Iran, which is a much great danger.”

Cardin said that a growing number of Democrats are expressing concerns about the war, but that Republican leaders are preventing a full debate in the House. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), another member of the informal Jewish caucus on Capitol Hill, went one step further.

This week Rothman voted against a $94.5 billion emergency supplemental spending bill, the latest installment of the Iraq war tab. Rothman said the troops “continue to serve with courage and bravery,” and hailed the “successful mission to eliminate the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” but said none of that changes “the fact that the President’s failed policy in Iraq has cost too many American lives, tarnished America’s image abroad, nearly exhausted our military, and taken our attention away from the global war on terrorism.”

Rothman said “it is time to change course and bring our troops home within six months.”

The Religious Action Center, the political arm of the Reform movement, is pressing for a technical procedure on the Homeward Bound Act that would require the administration to develop an exit strategy for Iraq. If it wins 218 signatures, the “discharge petition,” will force 17 hours of“much needed debate on the war, controlled equally by both parties,” the group said in its action alert. Last November, the Union for Reform Judaism became the first major Jewish group to join the ranks of war opponents when it called for “efforts to bring about, as soon as feasible, a withdrawal that supports peace and stability.”

The group also called for stronger congressional oversight of the war, something Rep. Cardin and other Congressional Democrats say has been thwarted by the GOP leadership. Also this week, the Shalom Center in Philadelphia urged its network of progressive activists to lobby in support of two amendments to a Senate defense bill — one calling for all troops to be brought home by the end of 2006, another recommending withdrawal during the next 18 months.

“We don’t expect them to pass right now, but an outpouring of support will strengthen the backbone of politicians who have not yet stood up against this self-destructive war,” said the group’s director, Rabbi Arthur Waskow. Gilbert Kahn, a Kean University political scientist, said there is “significantly growing dissatisfaction with the war” in the Jewish community.

While the impact of Iraq on Washington’s ability to deal effectively with Iran is a top concern of the “strategists and activists” in the community, he said most of the opposition reflects broader national trends. “Americans are getting very anxious about the bloodletting, and I suspect that if there is no movement on the war soon, it will become a significant factor in the November elections,” Kahn said.

Israel Gets U.S. Aid, But No Extra Money for Gaza Pullout

It’s so routine that only pro-Israel groups noted the event, but last week the House of Representatives passed a foreign aid spending bill for fiscal year 2007 with $2.46 billion in U.S. aid to Israel.

That total includes $2.34 billion in military aid and $120 million in economic assistance.

The bill also included a continuation of a yearly $40 million appropriation to help Israel resettle refugees from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Ethiopia.

But despite preliminary talks by Israeli officials last year, there was no extra money to help Israel pay the huge costs of last year’s Gaza withdrawal.

hat, several people said this week, bodes ill for the likely request for much more in U.S. aid and loan guarantees to pay for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to withdraw from up to 90 percent of the West Bank.

An amendment sponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn) took a symbolic swipe at the government of Saudi Arabia, a growing target of congressional ire because of its support for terror organizations and the incitement that continues to spew from its mosques and schools.

The Weiner amendment, which passed the House by a vote of 312 to 97, cuts a $420,000 program to help train Saudi forces in counter-terrorism, apparently the only aid the oil-rich Saudis receive.

According to Weiner, it’s time to start treating the Saudis like other terror-sponsoring states, a group that includes Iran, Syria and North Korea, all of which are barred from receiving direct U.S. aid. “American taxpayer dollars should not be supporting Saudi hate and terror,” the lawmaker said in a statement. “The Saudis have not cooperated with American investigations. They continue to provide financial support to terrorists and they continue to nurture fanatical Wahhabism.”

The House was kinder to Egypt. In a 225-198 vote earlier in the month, lawmakers turned down an amendment to cut $100 million in economic aid to Egypt and shift half that amount to refugee assistance programs for the Darfur region of Sudan.

e Senate has not yet taken up the $21.3 billion foreign aid bill. Rice Still Mum On AJCongress’ Passport Request

Is Israel getting dissed once again in U.S. passport regulations?

The answer is yes, according to the American Jewish Congress, which has protested strongly against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But, after three months, Rice’s office has failed to respond.

The issue involves a rule in the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, which allows people born after the creation of Israel in 1948 and who live within Israel’s 1967 borders, to list their place of birth by city only—and no country—on their U.S. passports.

That, in effect, allows Palestinian-Americans born in Israel to maintain the fiction that Israel has never existed.

According to the AJ Congress, it implies that Israel itself, and not just the West Bank, is disputed territory. The administration policy is “simply mind-boggling” said Jack Rosen, the group’s chairman.

In a statement, the group said the policy encourages “Israel’s most extreme opponents by treating the Jewish state as if it is all disputed territory.”

Rosen said that State Department rules allow those born in “territories whose sovereignty is disputed” to choose what country to put on their passports, but that Israel itself is hardly disputed territory.

“There is no legitimate dispute about sovereignty over Jaffa, Tel Aviv or Haifa,” he said. “These are firmly and indisputably sited within the borders of the State of Israel. No United Nations resolution, no rule of international law so much as casts doubt that Israel is not sovereign in these places.”

That logic apparently hasn’t impressed the State Department, which has yet to respond to the AJ Congress plea.

That silence may reflect “a decision that they’re not going to even bother answering this, that they can’t defend the policy or simply that it got lost in the bureaucracy,” said Marc Stern, the group’s legal director. Stern said that it shouldn’t be complicated. Legally, he said, “The issue is a real no-brainer.