Saturday’s planned neo-Nazi march in downtown Washington had all of the elements of a major clash — including thousands of counter protesters, Jewish militants itching for a fight and armies of shield-toting police — except for one thing: the neo-Nazis themselves.
Only four supporters of the American Nationalist Party, formerly the Knights of Freedom, showed up. Faced with thousands of jeering spectators, they promptly turned tail.
That came after dire warnings by some Jewish organizations of potential violence — and unprecedented preparations by local authorities who had little intelligence about a group termed a “nonentity run out of a student’s dorm room” by a local Anti-Defamation League official.
District of Columbia police chief Charles Ramsey was not amused, and instructed the city Corporation Counsel to look into suing the South Carolina-based organization for the million-dollar-plus tab for the heavy police presence.
Most Jewish groups stayed away, or joined a multi-ethnic counter-rally across town at the Lincoln Memorial. Several local Jewish community groups felt they were being baited into mounting demonstrations on Shabbat — by a minuscule group not worth the angst.
But at Lafayette Square, the expected terminus of the march, Shalom International, a Miami-based group that had a permit to mount a counter demonstration, was out in force.
“We’re disappointed,” said the group’s leader, Bob Kunst.
“We wanted them to be here. We’d like [the ANP] to come back so they can see how we’re just beginning to organize. Next time we’ll have 10,000 to protest their presence.”
He said the crowd of counter-protesters would have been bigger if not for “the intimidation by the police and the media. We fought two forces: the Nazis and the establishment that didn’t want us to succeed.”
His stern words were belied by the carnival atmosphere on Lafayette Square, with mass drumming by multi-earinged young people, squads of vestigial hippies and some of the last young socialists left on the continent.
The Jewish Defense League was stationed further up Pennsylvania Avenue. Its leader, Irv Rubin, was seething because police were keeping everybody — protesters, reporters, ordinary pedestrians — more than a block from the planned parade route.
“We came 3,000 miles from Los Angeles to confront Nazis. We came to get in their faces, and if we were attacked, we’d fight back,” he said. “But [the police] have totally slaughtered our First Amendment rights. That shows you how free the country is. They don’t want anybody interfering with the Knights.”
But local Jewish leaders just heaved a sigh of relief.
“We’re pleased there were no confrontations,” said David Friedman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, which argued that counter-demonstrations would just give the tiny, offbeat group — led by Davis Wolfgang Hawke, nee Andrew Britt Greenbaum —credibility it didn’t deserve.
“We said all along that this group was a nonentity. This proves it,” he said.
Russia Sanctions On Hold
Responding to a clear signal from Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Ehud Barak is mounting a diplomatic initiative intended to slow Russian technology transfers to Iran and other Mideast bad guys, Congress is putting on hold legislation imposing new sanctions on Moscow.
But not for long: the Russia sanctions legislation will resume its march through Congress in September if the Russians do not respond to the Israeli overtures.
And some pro-Israel lawmakers, doubtful of Russian intentions, are chaffing under the restraint.
Barak’s signals came during his recent trip to Washington. Pro-Israel sources say he said he wants to give the new Russian Prime Minister, Sergei Stepashin, a chance to live up to his promise to take additional steps to slow the high-tech sales.
After the prime minister’s visit, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger met with Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), the chair and ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee. Berger urged the lawmakers to wait three months before taking new action on Russia sanctions.
Initially, Gilman agreed. Then, under pressure from House Republican leaders, he reversed course and said he would mark up the measure last Thursday, a day before Congress went on its summer recess.
But that infuriated three leading Democrats on the committee — Gejdenson, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who sent a letter demanding that Gilman live up to his promise.
The result: Gilman agreed to hold off until Congress returns in September, when the committee will be briefed on Russian progress in limiting arms sales. Gilman said the bill could be marked up soon after Labor Day. If there is no change in Russian compliance, it could go to the House floor by late September.
Initially, pro-Israel lobby groups were among the measure’s strongest supporters. Now, with Barak flashing the amber light, most are holding their fire.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that Jewish groups will go along with Barak’s implied request, but warned that it would be dangerous to wait too long.
“Time lost means that facts are being created in these countries,” he said. “Once they acquire the basic technology, it will be too late. They will be sufficiently far along that they can complete these weapons on their own.”
He said congressional support remains high, and that lawmakers will be poised to move quickly if there are no indications of progress next month.
Bronfman, Labor Leader Get Highest Civilian Honor
President Bill Clinton was due to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 10 recipients this week — including three prominent Jewish activists.
Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress and a major Democratic contributor, is being honored for — among other things — his continuing work to win restitution for Holocaust survivors and heirs.
Bronfman “has worked to insure basic rights for Jews around the world and to fight anti-Semitism and has spearheaded the effort to retrieve the assets of Holocaust victims and their families,” according to a White House statement.
Evelyn Dubrow worked for more than a half-century as lobbyist for the International Lady’s Garment Workers Union and became a legend in the modern labor movement. Over the years, she worked closely with representatives of Jewish organizations on a host of social welfare issues.
And Max Kampelman, a lawyer and diplomat under several administrations, is being honored for his leadership in arms control negotiations for several administrations and his focus on international human rights. Kampelman has been associated with a number of Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Also getting awards will be two former presidents — Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, the latter honored for his role in brokering the 1979 Camp David agreement.
Unfinished Congressional Business
Lawmakers fled Washington for their August recess last week with a slew of issues of Jewish concern still on the table. And with Congress headed toward a September explosion over tax cuts, budget bills and how to deal with the surplus, some of those issues are likely to stay bottled up for the rest of the session.
At the top of the agenda for several Jewish groups is the Senate-passed measure enhancing current federal hate crimes statutes.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the subject last week, with emotional testimony by hate crimes victims, but Jewish activists say the measure, which expands current hate crimes laws to cover crimes based on gender, disability and sexual orientation, will be a hard sell in the Republican-dominated House.
Both Houses have passed a foreign aid spending bill that includes $2.8 billion for Israel, in line with the U.S.-Israel agreement for a 10-year economic aid phase out. But last week President Bill Clinton signaled a possible veto because the overall total — $12.6 billion — is almost $2 billion less than the administration requested, and insufficient to meet U.S. foreign policy needs.
Also on hold: efforts to pay this country’s arrears to the United Nations.
Lawmakers appropriated some of the money, but not enough to satisfy the UN bill collectors. And that could leave Israel without its only friend in the General Assembly in January, if UN officials follow through with their threat to boot Washington out if it doesn’t ante up.
Both Houses have passed a controversial juvenile justice bill that Jewish groups are following closely for two reasons.
The first: The Senate-passed version has modest gun control language, while the House version has none. “Encouraging conferees to include those provisions in the final version will be a recess priority for us,” said Reva Price, Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA).
At the same time, she said, Jewish groups are pushing hard for removal of House language allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms.
The Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA) awaits action in the Senate. The House passed the measure, which makes it harder for government bodies to inhibit religious practice, even inadvertently, despite a rebellion by some original co-sponsors — including a number of Jewish members — because of concerns the measure might trump other civil rights protections.
Jewish groups remain firmly behind the bill, but the civil rights issue will reappear in the Senate, and RLPA’s prospects are uncertain.
Complicating the congressional agenda will be the looming budget confrontation between Republicans, who favor using predicted surpluses for big tax cuts, and the Democrats, who say its more important to shore up social security and protect vital domestic programs.
The Orthodox Union last week praised the $792 billion tax cut passed by the Republican-led Congress as “family friendly,” but most other Jewish groups are worried about its impact on social and health programs.