New Policy On Iran?
The Clinton administration’s Iran policy, never a model of clarity or consistency, had many Jewish leaders scratching their heads this week. Despite dogged U.S. efforts to encourage Iranian moderates, new information suggests the Tehran government has increased its support for terrorists opposed to the Mideast peace talks. And a recent U.S. decision on spare parts for airplanes may make it easier for Iranian suppliers to get material to them.
According to reports that first surfaced in the Washington Post and largely confirmed by administration insiders, Tehran is providing more explosives to Hamas and Katyusha rockets to Hezbollah.
That assessment is in synch with Israeli intelligence estimates.
The news provided a disturbing backdrop for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Mideast trip this week. Even more troubling: the news that Washington
will now allow Boeing to sell spare parts for Iran’s aging fleet of commercial 747 airliners, planes that Jewish leaders say are used to deliver arms to terrorist groups.
Late last week, State Department spokesman James Rubin said that Iran’s “support for terrorism to oppose that peace process is profoundly troubling to us.”
Privately, administration officials argue that it is still not clear if the increased trafficking with terrorists represents a long term trend, or just another phase in the jousting between moderates and the Islamic extremists who have run the country since the 1979 revolution.
And they defend the decision to let Iran have the spare parts, despite the U.S. economic boycott. “If we denied them the parts, we might be giving them an important card to play, if one of the planes went down,” said one administration official. “And nobody has given up hope that they can be nudged down the path of moderation.”
Jewish leaders scoff at that argument.
“None of us have seen any evidence there’s a ‘new Iran,’ ” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “The Boeing sale suggests a naive approach; the sale is not warranted by the facts.”
In addition to its accelerating support for terrorist groups, Iran has shown no flexibility on the question of the 13 Iranian Jews in police custody, he said.
Administration officials say there’s no connection between the Boeing sale and efforts to win the release of the captive Jews.
But one official suggested that the gesture might provide an opening for Tehran if the government is looking for a face-saving solution to a controversy that has damaged that country’s international standing.
Jewish GOP: Bush And Supporting Cast
The Republican Jewish Coalition is basking in the afterglow of its presidential candidates forum last week, which drew all six GOP contenders and a voracious swarm of political reporters.
Leaders of the group were pleased as punch with the performance of the GOP frontrunner, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, but the other five contenders put in credible performances, as well — with only a couple of mishaps.
Bush staffers conceded that the candidate gave his standard stump speech on “compassionate conservatism,” with a few minutes of ad-libbing about his trip to Israel and his belief that “lasting peace will not happen if our government tries to make Israel conform to our vision of national security.”
But to the Jewish Republicans, he looked like a winner as he worked his folksy charm from the podium.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is also making an active play for Jewish support, used the forum to make his first major foreign policy address.
Several Jewish Republicans praised the content — but complained about his stiff, formal delivery.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) revealed that he wears a mezuzah charm because of his attachment to the Jewish state, and offered the sternest criticism of the Clinton administration’s Mideast peace policies.
“I am sick and tired of the U.S. meddling on the part of an administration seeking to build for itself a self-serving legacy on which the Israelis have to bet their lives,” he complained.
Publisher Steve Forbes gave his usual wonky flat-tax pitch, but spiced it up with some colorful rhetoric about Palestinian incitement.
“Blood libels have no place in diplomacy,” he said.
All of the candidates read pretty much from the same page — or RJC talking points — on the Middle East: praising Israeli democracy, demanding more support for the Arrow missile, castigating Saddam Hussein and promising to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Several of the GOP presidential candidates had problems with geography.
Hatch spoke emotionally of his love for Israel and the Jewish people — and his support for “a united and indivisible Jerusalem as the capital of Utah.”
He quickly corrected himself, and added that it was a “Freudian slip.”
Asked about moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Alan Keyes, the former Reagan administration official, first suggested that Israel should continue holding Jerusalem “in trusteeship,” and called the city a “common possession of humankind.”
As president, he said he would “make a decision as to where we put our capital.”
Whoops: “Our embassy rather, sorry,” he added.
Former Family Research Council director Gary Bauer offered the nastiest Hillary Clinton joke of the day — which he repeated, in case the audience didn’t hear it the first time.
But Jewish Republican leaders insisted Bauer was one of the big winners. “He succeeded in demonstrating he’s not the great extremist monster some in our community have described,” said one official of the group.
How To Talk Jewish
Participants at the all-star Republican Jewish Coalition meeting got a pep talk from pollster Frank Luntz, who reviewed his 1998 guidebook written to instruct Republican candidates on the fine art of talking to Jews.
Luntz urged the GOP to say the right things on Israel, moderate their language on social issues and take advantage of the perception that the Clinton administration is biased in favor of the Palestinians.
According to Luntz, “Jews agree with the GOP on virtually every economic and foreign policy issue, as well as many cultural issues. The problem is style: Republicans show too much anger and not enough heart for the typical Jewish voter.”
Luntz’s guidebook, subtitled “The Words That Will Win the Jewish Vote,” pointed to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — the keynote speaker at the lunch session — as an example of how GOP candidates can talk about moral issues without raising the specter of the Christian Coalition.
The Next Big Jewish Controversy?
It may be the next big divisive issue in the Jewish community: labor unions around the country are agitating for something called The Living Wage, and Jewish groups are on both sides of the bitter debate.
Living Wage plans require companies and agencies that provide human services for local governments to offer workers a kind of enhanced minimum wage — enough to keep a full-time worker above the official poverty line. That appeals to Jewish liberals and labor supporters, but local Federations and community social service providers see nothing but skyrocketing labor costs.
That was the dynamic in Montgomery County, Md., where a living wage proposal was tabled recently after fierce debate.
Reform and Reconstructionist activists, along with groups such as the Jewish Labor Committee, actively pushed the measure, but a coalition of Jewish service providers were leading opponents.
“The proposal had very serious implications for Jewish social service agencies,” said Murray Tenenbaum, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, who said the plan, with its $10.44 per hour wage, would force Jewish social service agencies to come up with an extra $1 million per year and cut services.
Jewish social agencies also fear management problems when lower-level workers earn more than supervisors — which could happen under the living wage model.
But Reform and Reconstructionist groups pressed the issue as a matter of economic justice.
The issue will go national later this month when the Union of American Hebrew Congregations takes up a proposal supporting the living wage concept at the Reform group’s meetings in Florida. And the Jewish Council for Public Affairs is expected to take up a similar resolution next year.
“Both sides make important points,” said an official with one major group that is currently studying the issue. “And passions are very high on the issue. It has the potential to be a hugely divisive issue for our community.”