Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jews and Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jews and Israel

Article excerpt

Until early November, leaders of organized Jewry were upset that President George Bush had met twice with Arab-Americans since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but not even once with Jews as a group. "They fear he is bypassing them for friendlier ears," wrote Larry Kohler in the Washington Jewish Week, at a time when they believe it is extremely important for the president to be aware of Jewish concerns.

After the president did meet with a Jewish group at the White House, however, many were still concerned. These leaders are worried that the frequently mentioned personality clash between Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and differences between them over Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, could lead to a major rift in the US-Israel alliance.

Bush and Secretary of State James Baker are still angry that Shamir backed out of the peace plan he himself proposed in May 1989, which included Palestinian elections in the occupied territories. Shamir and most other Israelis insist that Jerusalem is an integral part of Israel, while the US maintains that the final status of the city sacred to three religions must be determined in negotiations.

Bush has held several meetings with Republican Jewish friends, including wealthy businessman Gordon Zacks; Max Fisher, widely regarded as the "dean of Jewish philanthropists;" Jacob Stein, a former chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and real estate developer George Klein, who also chairs the conservative National Jewish Coalition. Some of these Jewish leaders urged Bush to meet with Shamir when he visits the US in December, but the president reportedly has ignored the suggestion.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Presidents Conference, says Jews must remind the American people and their elected officials that the US-Israeli relationship is based on shared values and that Israel is still America's most reliable ally in the Middle East. "If you care about democracy, you've got to get involved," Hoenlein told a Community Leadership Briefing sponsored by the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington. "The Arabs have learned that the road to Jerusalem is through Washington. Your job is to put up the roadblocks."

AIPAC Says Pro-Israel Community Had a Good Year In Congress

While many pro-Israel activists feel frustrated over cracks in Israel's relationship with the administration, they are more than satisfied with what has come out of the 101 st Congress. According to Melissa Patack, Acting Legislative Director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the principal pro-Israel lobby, "We began the year with a big question hanging over foreign aid, when (Senator Robert) Dole challenged the pro-Israel community by calling for a five-percent aid cut. But we ended the year with an enhanced aid package for Israel." (The Kansas Republican actually proposed a five-percent cut in aid to Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and the Philippines -- the five largest recipients of US foreign aid -- but other Congress members interpreted his initiative as aimed primarily at Israel, which receives a share approximately equal to the total aid received by the four runner-up nations. …

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