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Jewish leaders rally behind Bush


NEW YORK, Oct. 8 (JTA) — With the launch of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, American Jewish leaders are rallying behind Washington.

At the same time, anxiety that Israel’s interests may be shunted aside seems to be dissipating.

In the weeks since Sept. 11, the administration seems to have acted upon the realpolitik equation that beginning with a narrow goal — going after Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida terrorist network — would garner a broad international coalition, while pursuing a broader goal from the get-go — such as eradicating all terrorism — might result in a narrower coalition.

In the run-up to Sunday’s initial airstrikes against Afghanistan, two well-publicized dust-ups over the administration’s course hinted at Jewish and Israeli dissent, and perhaps a schism within American Jewry.

Many Israelis and American Jewish leaders felt blindsided amid news reports that the Bush administration had been prepared to launch a new Israeli- Palestinian peace initiative and declare support for a Palestinian state.

Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was quoted as describing such policy — perceived as a leak to entice more Arab states into the anti-terrorism coalition — as “a very short-sighted and erroneous policy” that would reward the Palestinians for their past year of violence against Israel.

Zuckerman later said his words had been taken out of context and misunderstood.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon then expressed the fears of many Israelis when he warned the Bush administration not “to appease the Arabs at our expense,” invoking the infamous appeasement of Hitler in 1938 when the West sold out Czechoslovakia in an effort to avoid a wider European war.

Sharon’s speech sparked a diplomatic tiff, and a schism appeared to be developing in the American Jewish community as the weekend approached, when some 50 Jewish leaders wrote a letter of support to Bush.

Sharon and the White House reportedly patched up relations over the weekend, before the airstrikes.

And on Monday, with America embarked upon a new military campaign, Jewish leaders voiced their support — and banked on off-the-record reassurances from Washington that the anti-terrorist dragnet likely will extend beyond bin Laden and his network to include enemies of Israel such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Most Jewish leaders expressed the belief that U.S. and Israeli interests more or less coincide.

“There is broad consensus and support for the administration, both for what it’s doing right now and for going after the global terrorist infrastructure, to not make it a one-shot deal,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents.

“If you address those who are a part of this terrorist network, you are enhancing Israel’s security, in addition to America’s security and interests.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group for Jewish communal organizations nationwide, was also backing the president.

“We support the direction in which the president is going, and it’s important we go on record saying so,” said Martin Raffel, the group’s associate director.

“It’s not a question of ‘wait-and-see’; we support the president based on what he’s said, that we’re striking out against those who use violence against civilians,” Raffel said. “This is the beginning but certainly not the end of the campaign against terrorism.”

Meanwhile, to the left and right of the mainstream, views were predictably mixed about the appearance that Washington was linking the Palestinian issue to the anti-terrorism campaign.

Numerous analysts and Middle Easterners — including bin Laden himself — have pointed to the Arab-Israeli conflict as one of the main, if not the primary, source of anti-American anger in the Muslim world.

The Israel Policy Forum, while praising the Bush administration’s steps against terrorism, also welcomed its renewed push to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

“The Arab-Israeli conflict, with few exceptions, has only moved forward with help from the Americans,” said Tom Smerling, director of the IPF’s Washington Policy Center.

“Parties involved in deep conflict are almost never able to extricate themselves without third-party involvement.”

On the other side of the spectrum, though, Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Bush had done “serious damage” to Israel’s attempts to repel Palestinian violence.

While stressing his support for Bush’s efforts to fight terror, Klein warned: “By saying he has a vision for a Palestinian state he is whetting the appetite of the Arabs to continue their terrorism. He pledged that we will end all regimes that harbor terrorists, but then he turned around and asks precisely those regimes to join the coalition. That proves Sharon’s charge that he is appeasing regimes of great danger to Israel.”

Still, Klein implied that the fight ultimately would be broadened, to Israel’s benefit.

“I remain confident that overall Bush’s policies will be of benefit to both the U.S. and Israel,” he said.

To destroy only bin Laden and the Taliban, he said, “while allowing the others to continue with business as usual will mean we’ll lose the war on terrorism. He’ll have to destroy them, or terrorism will persist.”

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