Wake-up Call On Missiles?
Will the recent test of an advanced North Korean ballistic missile awaken Washington from its long slumber on the issue of missile defenses? That was the underlying question posed by a group of Israeli legislators who made the rounds in Washington this week, seeking to bolster missile defense cooperation and encourage American efforts to combat the escalating threat.
A series of Capitol Hill meetings resulted in pledges of new cooperation from lawmakers, but it was far from clear whether that would translate into additional money for expensive missile defense research and development.
The blitz included the first-ever joint hearing by members of the Knesset and their congressional counterparts.
“This week’s hearing was unprecedented, and it gave us an opportunity to transmit the gravity of the threat — that it
is real, and that it is common to the United States and Israel,” said Uzi Landau, a Likud member of Knesset and chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
The composition of the delegation — including Likud, Labor and Meretz lawmakers —reflected “the very broad Israeli consensus on this issue,” he said.
The easy exchange of advanced weapons technology, he said, is combining with geopolitical changes to magnify the missile and nonconventional weapons danger.
Anti-proliferation efforts are important, Landau said, but in the end, the United States as well as Israel will have to face the necessity of creating large-scale missile defense systems.
Landau’s argument about the effectiveness of U.S.-Israel cooperation got a boost this week with the first successful test of the Arrow-2 anti-ballistic missile, an Israeli project funded largely by Washington. Israel hopes to deploy the first wave of Arrows in 2000.
The Capitol Hill hearing included testimony by families of victims of Iraqi Scud missile attacks during the Gulf War.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) praised the Israeli program and urged greater strategic cooperation between the two allies. “What brings us together is a mutual threat and the potential for cooperation,” he said.
The visiting Knesset delegation also met with Pentagon officials and visited the Navy shipyard at Norfolk.
No Votes on High Holy Days
The House of Representatives probably won’t have any major votes on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, thanks to the intervention of a Capitol Hill rabbi and a House member from New York.
Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Washington director of American Friends of Lubavitch, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) were concerned because of the likelihood that critical votes would keep members from celebrating Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur with their families.
Both took their case to House Majority Leader Richard Armey.
Despite an overcrowded House calendar — members are trying to finish off a number of appropriations bills, as well as deal with the legislative fallout from the White House sex scandal — Armey relented and promised no votes on the second day of Rosh HaShanah, or the afternoon before Yom Kippur, as well as the holiday itself.
“I am gratified that the House Leadership fulfilled their duty to Jewish Americans,” Nadler said in a statement. “Members of Congress should not be forced to decide between their duty to their constituents and the requirements of their faith.”
Rep. Eliot Engel wasn’t as lucky. The New York Democrat requested the same consideration for legislators who expected to be occupied on Tuesday night with the New York primary; Armey declined.
NCJW Push On Partial Birth Abortion
Could there be a connection between this week’s Senate vote to override President Bill Clinton’s veto of a ban on late-term abortion and the Christian Coalition’s Road to Victory conference, scheduled for this weekend?
“The vote is a day after their lobby day, their top issue being the override of the president’s veto,” said Nan Rich, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, a group that has made upholding the veto a top priority.
NCJW’s message, backed by groups such as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Rabbinical Assembly, and Planned Parenthood’s Pro-Choice Religious Network, is that “there is opposition to the ban on so-called partial birth abortion within the religious community, despite what anti-choice groups would like the public to believe,” Rich said.
NCJW is distributing a letter signed by 729 rabbis states supporting the veto. The group is particularly worried that the broad language of the legislation would “criminalize common abortion procedures used throughout pregnancy,” Rich said. “This is consistent with the anti-choice movement’s ultimate goal of outlawing all abortions.”
At a news conference last week, NCJW was backed by Rabbi Seymour Essrog, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the group representing the Conservative rabbinate, and Rabbi Donald Weber, a Reform rabbi from Western Monmouth, N. J., who spoke about his wife’s abortion in 1984.
“We made this choice together with our rabbis,” he said. “We made this choice because it was the right thing for us and for what we hoped to be the family that we would have in the future, a family that we were hoping to have at that time and that did not work out.”
He said the rhetoric of the anti-abortionists made them feel “that we had been branded as murderers. And we promised from that moment on to make it known that we are not only not murderers, but there is a sustainable religious tradition and religious viewpoint that allows people to make their own choices about abortion and pregnancy and child birth.”
The NCJW effort was intended to counter a campaign by the conservative Institute for Religious Values, which earlier in the year garnered signatures from some 100 rabbis on a letter arguing that partial birth abortion violates Jewish law.
Primakov Appointment: Bad News All Around?
The recent appointment of Yevgeny Primakov as Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s latest prime minister is adding to the worries of Jewish groups concerned both about the fate of Russia’s Jews and about that country’s role in supplying advanced military technology to various Mideast bad guys.
Primakov, whose Jewish ancestry is a matter of some controversy, has been a longtime opponent of U.S. efforts to contain Iran and Iraq, and he has a record of interfering with Washington’s role as mediator between Israel and her neighbors.
“Primakov’s appointment is certainly not good news,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a group that has pressed for sanctions against Russian companies that supply critical materials to Iran’s missile builders. “His record is not encouraging. But we’re going to have to wait and see if he implements agreements his government has already made.”
The sacking of Andrei Kokoshin, formerly secretary of Yeltsin’s Security Council, has added to the concerns of Jewish leaders.
“When we were in Russia recently, Kokoshin reassured us of several steps they were taking [to limit sales] despite the weakness of Russia’s laws,” Hoenlein said. “But now he is gone. So we have to keep a very close eye on developments.”
Soviet Jewry activists weren’t any happier.
“His views could be problematic,” said Mark Levin, director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. “We don’t know where he is on human rights issues. He has not had a strong domestic involvement in the past.”
More ominously, he said, Primakov has no experience in economic policy; that means he may not be in a strong position to deal with Russia’s most pressing emergency.
“What Yeltsin has done is bought some short-term stability, without doing anything about the economic issues,” Levin said. “And the bottom line is that everything — including the position of Russian Jews — still goes back to the economy.”
New IPF Hires
The Israel Policy Forum (IPF) is continuing its effort to capture the American Jewish middle. This week the pro-peace process group — which had already recruited Jewish conservative guru Marshall Breger as a consultant — announced the appointment of M.J. Rosenberg as director of policy analysis.
Rosenberg, a former staffer at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and an aid to a number of lawmakers, worked most recently for the Agency for International Development. For years, he was a central figure in the informal network of pro-Israel congressional staffers.
Also appointed: Samuel Lewis, a former State Department official and one of the most popular U.S. ambassadors to Israel, will be IPF’s senior policy adviser. Lewis is currently a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs. And Howard Squadron, a former chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has jointed IPF’s board.
A press release by the group emphasized the number of former AIPAC officials now working with IPF — “a clear strategy for trying to reinforce their mainstream credentials,” said a longtime pro-Israel activist here who praised the new appointments.