U.S. Stays Mum On Israel’s Lieberman

U.S. Stays Mum On Israel’s Lieberman

In Israel, a teetering government elected on the promise of unilaterally leaving much of the West Bank has been rescued by a politician opposed to any new pullouts. But the Bush administration, which recently renewed its call for creation of a Palestinian state, has reacted with barely a murmur.

That could change next month, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert comes to town and when former Secretary of State James Baker releases his U.S. Iraq strategy, which is expected to include recommendations for a new Israeli-Palestinian peace push.

But for now, the dominant American reaction to the political melodrama in Jerusalem has been mostly silence.

The deal, which still must be approved by the Knesset, means a prominent cabinet position for Avigdor Lieberman, the Israel Beiteinu leader who opposed
last year’s Israeli pullout from Gaza and who rejected Olmert’s “convergence” plan for the West Bank. That plan was the centerpiece of his new Kadima Party but is now among the wreckage of this summer’s Lebanon war.

Lieberman has been condemned by Israeli Arabs for advocating their “transfer” to an eventual Palestinian state. Earlier this year, he earned a strong rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League for his suggestion that Arab members of the Knesset who meet with Hamas leaders should be executed, which the ADL called “horrendous and provocative” comments and “dangerously inflammatory language.”

Several pro-peace process activists here said the deal means the effective end to any peace efforts by the current Israeli government.

But the Bush administration has said little about the political shift, in part because there is no optimism in either Jerusalem or Washington that progress on the peace process is likely anytime soon.

“With or without Lieberman, there is very little likelihood of significant talks with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future,” said Yossi Alpher, a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. “Olmert’s decision to bring Lieberman in reflects the absence of any peace option or even a disengagement option, and the general public move to the right in the aftermath of the Lebanon war.”

And the Bush administration, beset with the worsening Iraq situation and the possibility Republicans may lose big on Nov. 7, is in a holding pattern on the issue, he said.

Still, advocates of a stronger U.S. peacemaking role are not happy. “It’s a major setback,” said Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum.

Reich stressed that it is not yet clear what role Lieberman will have in dealings with the Palestinians, but said that “from his past positions, it would seem likely there will just be no movement to resolve the Palestinian issue.”

The Bush administration, he said, has “too many things on the table” to react to the change in Olmert’s coalition or its likely impact on policy.

But Reich predicted that could change after Election Day.

“If the administration has concerns about the new government, they could be expressed when the prime minister comes to Washington in several weeks,” he said.

And the White House position could change if Baker, now heading a bipartisan commission evaluating U.S. Iraq strategy, suggests that America will not be able to extricate itself successfully from Iraq without significant progress on the Palestinian-Israeli front.

“The Baker report may be the key,” Reich said. “I cannot envision that he won’t recommend changes not just with respect to Iraq, but to other issues, including a second Madrid conference on the Middle East.”

Abraham Foxman of the ADL said he doesn’t expect Washington to object to the change because “what the administration wants and hopes for is a strong Olmert government, with a strong coalition. You cannot proceed with peace if it’s a weak government, if it can be toppled on the whim of a few.”

The inclusion of Lieberman’s party, he said, might provide that kind of stability.

Foxman said his group had objected to specific comments by Lieberman, not to his platform.

“He is a significant political force; he is one of the few members of parliament who has a significant constituency,” he said. “He is to the right of center, but he is not disqualified from being part of the cabinet. He has served Israel well in the past, and I have no doubt he will do so again.”

Congressman Offends NCJW

It’s Politics 101 that it isn’t smart to insult constituents, so maybe the re-election campaign of Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) should enroll in some remedial courses.

Recently a Hayworth surrogate appeared at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women and got the audience so riled up most of them left.

Jonathan Tratt, delegated by the Hayworth campaign to appear at the NCJW event, told the group that his candidate, a Christian, is a “more observant Jew” than the NCJW members because he opposes abortion, according to a report in the Arizona Republic confirmed by several NCJW members. The paper reported that Tratt’s wife made similar comments.

NCJW is the leading Jewish abortion rights group, and its members did not take kindly to the comments by Tratt, who is Jewish. His charge produced a robust chorus of boos and then a walkout by what one NCJW member described as “most” of the audience.

Even before the NCJW controversy Hayworth, who was first elected as part of the 1994 Gingrich revolution, had become a favorite target of Jewish Democrats because of his praise of the “Americanization” campaign by Henry Ford, which most Jewish leaders consider rabidly anti-Semitic.

“He even compared Ford to Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson,” said Seth Scott, spokesman for Harry Mitchell, the former Democratic mayor of Tempe who is trying to unseat Hayworth. “This is the kind of divisive rhetoric we’ve been hearing from Congressman Hayworth for 12 years.”

Scott said Hayworth’s refusal to apologize for his surrogate’s harsh words “sends the wrong signal.”

Tratt’s comments even earned a rebuke from leaders of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, which usually avoids involvement in election year squabbles.

“AIPAC unequivocally condemns the Tratts’ statements,” said AIPAC Board Member Gene Schupak of Phoenix. “Their actions were repugnant.”

But Hayworth supporters insist Tratt was baited by a hostile audience even before he spoke.

Hayworth won some praise recently for withdrawing his support for a Republican state representative who distributed via e-mail an article produced by a neo-Nazi group.

State Rep. Russell Pearce, who represents the Mesa area, distributed an article written by the National Alliance.

Last week Hayworth pulled the plug on his support for Pearce, saying he would “not be associated with any communication that contains anti-Semitic remarks.”

Jews Defend MoveOn

Jspot.org, the blog of the Jewish Funds for Justice, is embarking on its first-ever “action campaign.” The theme: defending MoveOn.org, the liberal Internet-based political action group, from persistent charges of anti-Semitism.

The issue first arose in August, when the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) complained about anti-Semitic entries in an open blog on the MoveOn Web site, some involving Sen. Joe Lieberman.

But those comments were removed, and ADL leaders expressed satisfaction that the group’s leaders had responded appropriately. Still, MoveOn continues to be the target of attacks — many of them anonymous, distributed on the Internet — claiming it is a haven for anti-Semites.

Recently Rabbi Shea Hecht, a prominent Chabad rabbi and chair of the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education, sent an e-mail to Chabad emissaries in Pennsylvania saying “At this moment, we need to show our support for Sen. Rick Santorum. This goes beyond politics. Bob Casey has taken money from MoveOn.org, an organization that has shown an anti-Semitic and anti-religious bend [sic].”

Hecht asks readers to contact the Casey campaign and “ask him to give the money back.”

In an interview, Hecht, who describes himself as one of “very few Lubavitchers given permission” to be involved in politics, said that even if MoveOn removed the offensive posts, “you know where these guys stand when it comes to religious issues. We know where they stand when it comes to religious groups and Israel.”

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the Washington office of Americans Friends of Lubavitch, said “it would be inappropriate to be involved in partisan political activity of this nature. I regret that the e-mail was sent out, even by an individual, but it certainly did not emanate from any official entity within Lubavitch.”

Jspot says the continuing campaign against MoveOn is just using the potent anti-Semitism charge to play partisan politics. Signers of the group’s online petition said “we condemn the manipulation of fear of anti-Semitism for political gain, including the recent campaign against the online movement MoveOn.org. We stand for the Jewish value of placing hope over fear by expanding opportunity and creating justice for all Americans.”

Despite MoveOn’s quick response to the ADL complaints, Jspot activists say the Internet has been flooded with e-mails castigating the group and tarring Democrats with connections to it.

“We see this is a prime example of the politicization of anti-Semitism,” said Mik Moore, director of communications and public policy for the Jewish Funds for Justice. “Our feeling is that when people respond appropriately after an incident happens, they should be praised for it. What’s happening here is exactly the opposite.”

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