Playing Politics With Museum?
Republicans were quick to criticize the Clinton administration for playing politics with appointments to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, but a current member of the panel who had his chair yanked out from under him claims the Bush administration is doing just that.
Over the weekend the White House announced the nomination of former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) to the panel, which oversees the Holocaust Museum on Washington’s Mall. What administration officials didn’t say is that Boschwitz will fill the seat occupied by Steven Susman, a Houston attorney who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton in 2000.
According to Susman — who said he is suing the White House as “a matter of principle” — he was told that he was never really a member
of the council because of a clerical error.
That, according to the administration, freed up the seat for Boschwitz, a longtime Bush family loyalist.
“I had another three years to serve,” Susman said in an interview. “But they claimed my appointment was never officially concluded because of an omission. Everything was done, but apparently a clerk in the White House neglected to issue the commission.”
The result, he said, is that he was summarily relieved of his seat on the council.
“If they’d asked me to resign, I probably would have done it, but to pretend that I never was a member is ridiculous,” he said.
Is the administration playing politics with the panel? “That’s exactly what they’re doing,” Susman said. “I’ve been on the council, I’ve been attending meetings and my name is listed as being a member. I have all the papers, including the presidential decision memo.”
Requests for comment from the White House went unanswered.
The Boschwitz appointment may have political overtones, but the former senator — who lost his seat in 1990 to Paul Wellstone, a Democrat who is now in a tough race to hold on to it — has strong Holocaust credentials. He was an original member of the Presidential commission on the Holocaust, the predecessor to today’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, and he served on the council itself for a number of years.
His appointment also apparently violates the administration’s new determination not to reappoint current or former members — although a GOP source said that the rule was not meant to apply to members “who have been off the council for a few years.”
Boschwitz also served as President George H.W. Bush’s special envoy to the Jews of Ethiopia and played a significant role in their rescue and airlift to Israel.
Boschwitz, who is Jewish, was born in Berlin and fled Nazi Germany on Jan. 31, 1933 — the day after Hitler came to power.
Movement On Extra Israel Aid?
President George W. Bush is assuring pro-Israel groups that he is ready to press for the $200 million in supplementary aid for Israel that he killed recently when he slapped Congress down for what he said was overspending.
But pro-Israel activists say that promising the aid is one thing, finding enough budget slack to make it happen is something very different.
The extra aid has followed a twisted route to the current dead end. Originally, Israel wanted an extra $800 million to help with the costs of the 2000 Lebanon pullout, on top of its annual $2.8 billion in economic and military aid. But Congress and the Clinton administration couldn’t get together on a plan and the aid request languished.
Then, pro-Israel forces tried to get a smaller amount to help Israel meet the astronomical costs of fighting a new wave of Palestinian terrorism. That finally passed Congress in July as part of a $28 billion emergency supplemental appropriation, but President Bush said he would use a loophole in the law to hold back $5.1 billion in spending — which includes Israel’s extra chunk of change.
The president’s reason: The bill was stuffed with pet spending projects that he said would make the looming budget crisis worse.
Next week a congressional committee will mark up the foreign operations appropriations bill, and the administration has promised to work for inclusion of the extra Israel aid. But with the deficit burgeoning and homeland security and defense spending soaring, budget cuts, not new spending, will be the order of the day.
“We have every reason to believe the president really wants this to happen,” said a top pro-Israel activist here. “But the administration is also facing some huge budget problems, and they are telling Congress they have to hold the line. So there are some big problems ahead.”
Pro-Israel forces have already left their mark on the 2002 congressional elections, with two anti-Israel House members — Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and Earl Hilliard of Alabama — defeated in bruising primary battles at least in part because of pro-Israel campaign contributions going to their foes.
Another race has galvanized the attention of pro-Israel forces, although it has not prompted the same kind of campaign-finance outpouring.
Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) is in the fight of his political life as he fends off a tough primary challenge by three-term Rep. John Sununu, also a Republican. Sununu, son of the former White House chief of staff, is the only Palestinian-American in Congress. Morris Amitay, treasurer of the pro-Israel Washington PAC, termed his House record on Mideast issues “dismal.”
But pro-Israel forces have not been heavily involved in funding Smith — who was “uninterested” in Mideast issues early in his Senate career, Amitay said, but who has become a pro-Israel supporter in the past few years.
The reason: While many pro-Israel funders fear Sununu, they are not overly impressed with Smith’s chances in the November general election, when the winner of the primary will face Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen — an attractive, energetic campaigner who has made strong overtures to pro-Israel groups.
The Sununu-Smith face-off took on a Mideast tinge last year when former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ventured into New Hampshire to give the incumbent his blessing. Whether because of Bibi or not, Smith’s standing began slipping, and until recently polls showed Sununu with an edge.
But polls now show Smith narrowing the gap; political prognosticators say the Sept. 10 primary is too close to call.
On another front, many Jewish politicos are celebrating last week’s primary defeat of Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) in a race that turned into a showdown between pro-Israel and pro-Arab and Muslim political donors.
But one segment of the Jewish community was unhappy with the result of the bitter election.
Tikkun Magazine, whose activist founder Michael Lerner participated in a “Jews for McKinney” petition drive, said in a message to members of the “Tikkun community” that the incumbent’s loss may “exacerbate Black-Jewish tensions. McKinney may have been a ‘loose cannon’ in her comments about the Bush family profiting from 9/11, but she was a strong supporter of liberal and progressive causes that served the interests of the Black community.”
At the same time, the publication revealed why even liberal Jews had a hard time swallowing McKinney’s re-election bid.
“When Rabbi Lerner asked her to make a strong and unequivocal statement condemning the bombing of students in the Hebrew University lunchroom three weeks ago, she did not respond,” the e-mail statement related. “That statement was planned to be the basis of an ad from Jewish progressives that would have appeared in an Atlanta newspaper endorsing her candidacy. After repeated attempts to secure that statement from her campaign failed, the support for the ad fizzled.”
The result, according to the magazine: “This was McKinney not acting in her own self-interest.”
Neo-Nazis Rally On Capitol Hill
Last Saturday’s neo-Nazi rally at the Capitol and “Rock Against Israel” music concert went about as Jewish activists here expected: a lot of noise, a lot of white-supremacist and anti-Semitic slogans and energetic counter protests by leftist and anarchist groups that themselves are not friendly to the Jewish state.
The duel event was organized by the National Alliance — “the largest and most active neo-Nazi organization in the United States,” according to Anti-Defamation League officials. The counter protests were put together by a loose collection of anti-globalism, anti-racism and anarchist groups.
The counter-protestors promised physical confrontations with the racist groups, but aside from a few rock-throwing incidents there were no serious outbreaks as swarms of police kept the two crowds apart.
“We have to give the police a lot of credit,” said David Friedman, ADL’S Washington regional director. “They were very successful in preventing trouble. People on both sides were looking for opportunities for violence.”
Friedman said there are no reliable estimates of the crowd size — media accounts ranged from 300 to 1,000 — but said that “without question, this is an effective way for [the National Alliance] to attract young, at-risk people. They’ve found a vehicle that attracts people; then, they begin to indoctrinate and influence them.”
As they have done at several recent demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy, the group promised a rock concert — but revealed its location only at the anti-Israel rally.
Other neo-Nazi and skinhead groups joined the National Alliance protestors, decrying non-European immigration and demanding a racially pure America.
“It’s everything we’ve come to expect from the National Alliance,” Friedman said.
Congress Set For Closing Blitz
Lawmakers return from their August recess next week to a legislative logjam made even worse bythe impending congressional elections and a budget crisis that gets worse by the minute.
With only four weeks remaining until the target date for the end of the current Congress, the legislative pipeline is clogged with unfinished appropriations bills and the biggest government reorganization since World War II — the creation of a Department of Homeland Security.
Senate leaders are promising quick action on the Senate version of the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative, the Charity Aid, Recovery, and Empowerment Act (CARE). The measure is now mostly a collection of tax incentives to boost charitable giving, without the “charitable choice” provisions that generated strong opposition from many Jewish groups.
But a leading Jewish activist recently termed it a “stealth charitable choice bill” because it states that religious organizations have the same rights to government funding contracts as nonreligious ones.
Still, most Jewish groups are fighting only for clarification of some provisions, not against the entire bill—which they say is much better than the House-passed version.
“What we want are explicit provisions about funds not being used for specific sectarian purposes,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director for the American Jewish Committee. “Those provisions do not appear in CARE.”
The Orthodox Union and the United Jewish Communities are supporting the CARE bill.
Foltin also expressed concern about the “Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act,” which would allow churches, synagogues and mosques to endorse candidates and make political contributions from their coffers. Opponents — including many Jewish groups — say that would just entangle religious groups in partisan politics and create a big new campaign finance loophole.
But influential Christian right groups that have been accused of encouraging churches to improperly endorse candidates are pushing for the bill, and it may move quickly in the House when lawmakers return.
Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) has also introduced a new version of his old bill for parochial school vouchers in the District of Columbia; Jewish groups are lined up on both sides of that fight.
A number of Jewish groups are involved in the fight over reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program, which expires next month.
The shortened election-year calendar means it is highly unlikely lawmakers will take up another bill close to the hearts of many Jewish leaders: the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA), which would make it easier for employees to fulfill their religious obligations without getting fired. n