Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

From the Jewish Press: Jewish Pressure on Clinton Moves Fugitive Marc Rich from "Most Wanted" to "Most Want to Forget" List

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

From the Jewish Press: Jewish Pressure on Clinton Moves Fugitive Marc Rich from "Most Wanted" to "Most Want to Forget" List

Article excerpt

FROM THE JEWISH PRESS: Jewish Pressure on Clinton Moves Fugitive Marc Rich From "Most Wanted" to "Most Want to Forget" List

Delinda C. Hanley is the news editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

A quiet but nasty tug-of-war has broken out among Washington insiders and Jewish community activists over the role played by Israel in President Clinton's decision to pardon fugitive billionaire Marc Rich. The Jan. 20 pardon has touched off a storm of protests. It followed extensive lobbying by Israeli and American Jewish leaders. More than 100 letters were written on Mr. Rich's behalf, almost half from Israelis, according to a list obtained by Forward. The aftermath is fast turning into a free-for-all involving the lead players of some of the messiest Washington feuds of the last decade." --Forward, Feb. 16, 2001

Fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich was one of 140 people Bill Clinton pardoned during his last hours as president. Rich, 66, was charged in 1982 with the largest tax-evasion scheme in U.S. history, having evaded more than $48 million in income taxes. In 1983 Rich was indicted on 51 additional counts of racketeering and wire fraud. Rich also violated the Trading with the Enemy Act by conducting business with Iran, even as U.S. embassy staff were being held hostage. In 1983, Rich fled to Switzerland, never serving a day in jail.

After fleeing the United States, Rich became an Israeli citizen and a major benefactor of Jewish charitable organizations, giving nearly $80 million to Israeli hospitals, museums, orchestras, and universities. A 1999 profile in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv called Rich "the biggest donor to artistic and cultural institutions in Israel" over the past 15 years. Cultural and educational institutions in Israel had no problem accepting money that was supposed to go into U.S. tax coffers.

In the U.S. Rich's generosity includes $5 million pledged to Birthright Israel, which has sent 17,000 young American Jews on free trips to Israel.

According to Avner Azoulay, formerly with the Mossad, who runs Rich's foundation in Israel, the trader also helped Mossad search for missing Israeli soldiers and brought dozens of Jews from Ethiopia and Yemen to Israel. He may have been entangled in a failed 1992 Israeli agreement with North Korea whereby the Asian country would cease selling long-range ballistic missiles to Middle Eastern states in exchange for $100 million in Israeli investments and mining aid.

Americans want to know if there was a money-for-pardon deal. Rich's ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, a major Democratic fund-raiser, contributed $450,000 to Clinton's presidential library foundation and more than $1 million to Clinton's campaign coffers. Did that money actually come from Marc Rich? There is little doubt that Rich's charitable contributions helped produce letters to Clinton from dozens of Israeli and American Jewish leaders. The letters came from what The New York Times called "a virtual Who's Who of Israeli society and Jewish philanthropy."

America's outrage over the pardons caught the Jewish community by surprise, and there was some backpedaling from leaders who earlier had supported Rich's case. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, was critical of Jewish lobbying on Rich's behalf. He charged in a Washington Jewish Week article that the Jewish community was "bought" and that its leaders failed an "important moral test."

The Jewish weeklies moaned about two "stationery mix-ups." According to a March 1 Washington Jewish Week article, Marlen Post, chair of Birthright Israel and a past president of Hadassah, mistakenly sent a "first-draft" of her letter on Hadassah stationery instead of Birthright stationery. Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg, chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, meant to use Jewish Life Network letterhead instead of Council stationery. Hadassah and the Holocaust Memorial Council--the organization that oversees the taxpayer-supported Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC--were embarrassed that they had appeared to support a pardon. …

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