Angst Over Hussein’s Health
The Clinton administration went out of its way this week to debunk reports in Israel that Jordan’s King Hussein is unlikely to resume his duties because of deteriorating health. The king’s illness was a persistent subtheme to this week’s frantic diplomatic effort at the Wye River Conference Center even before Hussein’s dramatic appearance at the summit on Tuesday — summoned from his sickbed by an administration that believed the Israeli-Palestinian meetings were in deep trouble.
Administration sources said the king’s presence was requested to boost the sagging talks — but also to refute claims that he was incapacitated by his illness.
The king, who has been undergoing cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota since July, “has been making good progress,” according to a State Department
statement over the weekend. “We look forward to his full recovery.”
But officials also said they have full confidence in Crown Prince Hassan, who has assumed his brother’s duties while the king undergoes treatment.
Hussein’s involvement helped break the January, 1997 deadlock over the Hebron negotiations, and administration officials clearly hoped this week he could repeat his magic.
But the angst over the king’s health goes much deeper.
Despite claims of administration confidence in the crown prince, there is a deep foreboding here over the possibility of an ugly battle over who would follow Hassan in the line of succession. And administration officials worry that while Hassan is a smart and capable leader, he lacks his brother’s charisma.
Hussein, said one prominent Mideast analyst, “is the cement that holds this country together. Without him, it could all unravel, with tremendous repercussions throughout the region.”
Hussein’s dramatic appearance in Maryland on Tuesday, White House sources confirmed, was intended to send out a message that he is still an active player in the region.
Refugees Spared In Budget Bill
The 105th Congress was still at work on Tuesday, trying for final passage of a catch-all budget bill that critics say now contains record amounts of a very unkosher meat.
It will be weeks before staffers figure out exactly what’s in the 2,400-page resolution, which was bloated with dozens of pork-barrel programs in the frantic last days of the session — not Capitol Hill’s proudest moment, in the view of many observers.
But in the end, legislators came through for immigrants and refugees, according to several Jewish activists.
Included in the omnibus measure is renewal of the Lautenberg amendment, a 1989 law making it easier for Jews from the former Soviet Union to win refugee status.
Although Jews are now free to leave the former Soviet states, Jewish leaders want to keep the amendment in place in case social and economic turmoil prompts a new wave of refugees.
But Congress was losing interest — leaders had indicated they no longer wanted Lautenberg to be part of the Foreign Operations bill, its traditional vehicle.
“There was a real worry it would be lost in the shuffle,” said Leonard Glickman, executive director of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which — along with the Council of Jewish Federations and the National Council on Soviet Jewry — pressed for renewal.
In the waning days of the session, he said, Sen. Arlen Specter (R- Pa.) picked up the ball and made sure the amendment was included in the omnibus spending measure.
The Jewish groups were also able to beat back a last-minute attempt by Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) to overhaul the Immigration and Naturalization Service — a proposal they said was poorly conceived and written.
And Congress approved an INS request to “reprogram” appropriated money to reduce the backlog of new Americans applying for citizenship.
“Large numbers of Jewish refugees resettled by our system are now eligible for citizenship,” Glickman said. “But many are caught up in the INS backlog. This should help reduce that backlog.”
Proposals to reduce the backlog by simply cutting the number of immigrants and refugees eligible for citizenship were also beaten back.
Farrakhan And Dual Loyalty
With the Mideast peace talks hanging by a thread, the ever-helpful Louis Farrakhan weighed in this week with his own analysis of the situation.
The problem, he told reporters at the National Press Club on Monday — the same day a Hamas terrorist injured dozens of Israelis and Palestinians in Beersheba — is that President Bill Clinton is surrounded by “dual citizens of Israel and the United States of America. And sometimes, we have to raise the question, ‘Are you more loyal to the state of Israel than you are to the best interests of the United States of America?’”
Farrakhan went on to list a few of the culprits, including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.
The Nation of Islam leader also had some advice for Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, who was sequestered with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Maryland conference center some 70 miles from Washington D.C.
“I would beg my brother Arafat not to give in and make himself a tool of Israel’s policy to destroy the militant members of Hamas,” he said.
That prompted a quick response from leaders of the American Jewish Congress, who pointed out the obvious — that accusations of dual loyalty sounded odd coming from Farrakhan.
“This is the same Farrakhan who on his various world tours has paid homage to dictators, demagogues and despots who are among America’s mortal enemies, an honor roll which encompasses Saddam Hussein, Moammar Khaddafy and the leaders of Iran and Sudan,” said Jack Rosen, the group’s president.
Farrakhan’s unchanging anti-Semitism, he said, “makes him a disgrace to his country and to the African-American people he purports to represent.”
Hormel Nomination Dies
The nomination of philanthropist James C. Hormel as ambassador to Luxemburg died in the waning moments of the 105th Congress when Senate leaders once again refused to allow a vote.
Hormel, heir to a meat packing fortune, a former law school dean and a big Democratic contributor, would have been the nation’s first openly gay ambassador.
Several Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Congress and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, expressed outrage that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) — who characterized homosexuality as a disorder similar to alcoholism or sexual addiction — refused to allow the nomination to come to a vote, even though a bipartisan majority indicated they would approve it.
But critics insisted that Hormel would use his position to advocate the “homosexual agenda.”
The Senate’s inaction was “a stark example of bigotry on the basis of sexual orientation,” said David Harris, Washington representative for the American Jewish Congress.
Harris said the AJ Congress and other Jewish groups will press for confirmation in the next Congress, and possibly for a “recess appointment,” which would enable President Clinton to make an interim appointment before the new Congress convenes.
OU Voter Guides
With congressional elections just around the corner, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America has issued its first-ever guide for voters around the country.
But unlike guides distributed by groups such as the Christian Coalition, the OU booklet does not rate incumbents and challengers; instead, the guide simply lays out the group’s top domestic and international issues.
“We’re not interested in providing scorecards,” said Nathan Diament, head of the group’s Institute for Public Affairs. “We see this as a basic tool for helping our constituents focus on the issues that are important to us — and for informing candidates about what issues our community thinks are critical.”
The guide indicates support for implementation of a resolution calling on the administration to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and for congressional letters opposing U.S. pressure on the Netanyahu government.
The OU also gives the nod to candidates who support school voucher plans and a scheme for “education savings accounts” that will help parents pay for private school tuition. Both are opposed by more liberal Jewish groups.
At least 8,000 copies of the guide will be distributed by synagogues around the country, and the document will be available on the OU’s web site.
Meanwhile, the Christian Coalition is taking a more aggressive approach to the upcoming congressional elections. The group’s “Blueprint for Victory” lays out a $2.7 million plan for voter registration and a “get-out-the-Christian vote” effort.
In 1996 the Federal Election Commission filed a suit charging that the group, despite its claim to be a nonpartisan educational organization, was operating as a partisan Republican advocate. At the center of that controversy was the group’s detailed voters guides.