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January 16, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 16, 2009 By James D. Besser New York Jewish Week Beneath the surge of Jewish unity, as a broad spectrum of pro-Israel groups back Israel's Gaza military surge, are differ- ences over tactics, growing uncertainty over exactly how to express support for the embattled Jewish state and some of the sharpest skirmishes yet between "mainstream" Jewish or- ganizations and the peace camp. Those clashes have in- cluded an organized cam- paign against J Street, the new pro-peace process lobby and political action committee, which is be- ing criticized sharply for statements that even some fellow peaceniks say put  the onus for the renewed violence on Israel. "What J Street is saying is. stop the fighting now and we'll worry about the rockets later." said Seymour Reich. a former chair of the Con- ference of Presidents and former leader of the dovish Israel Policy Forum. Union of Reform Judaisrfi President Eric Yoffie, writing in The Forward. said J Street state- ments "could find no moral difference between the ac- tions of Hamas and other Palestinian militants, who have launched more than 5,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli civilians in the past three years, and the long-delayed response of Israel." But others say J Street. which has organized an online petition calling for "immediate and strong U. S.-led diplomatic efforts to urgently reinstate a mean- ingful cease-fire that ends Fresh rift emerges over war response all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel and lifts the blockade of Gaza," has prompted such a strong response because the group is seen as hav- ing at least the potential of reaching a significant num- ber of lawmakers on Capitol Hill--and the incoming Barack Obama administra- tion-with a message that differs from that of the pro- Israel establishment. "Other peace groups is- sued statements, but they're not seen as serious people," said the leader of a major pro-Israel roup this week. "But J Street includes seri- ous people with serious connections with the new administration, and people are very worried. They don't have much power now, but there's a feeling that they could gain a lot of influence in the new Congress and with the new administra- tion." J Street's founder and president, Jeremy Ben- Ami, was unapologetic. saying his group's stance on an immediate cease-fire "has a really massive base of support in the Jewish community. The fallacy here is the argument that a military victory against an insurgent group actu- ally is achievable... Even if Israel wipes out every single missile launcher and takes every Hamas activist into captivity, what then? There are whole new generations behind them." Ben-Ami said mainstream Jewish groups were angered by J Street's positions pre- cisely because they under- stand that the new group is more representative of the views of the Jewish majority. Obama himself weighed in on Gaza on Tuesday, Jan. 6 after ten days of silence, albeit with a cautious, broad-brush statement that hinted,of changes in policy but offered no details. "The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern to me," he told reporters Jan. 6. "After January 20th I'm going to have plenty to say about the issue, and I am not backing away at all from what I said during the campaign, that starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to be engaged ef- fectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflict in the Middle East." As the latest Gaza fight- ing moved into its second week and Israeli ground troops thrust deep inside Gaza. reports surfaced of internal dissent among the top Israeli leaders and there were mounting efforts to arrange a cease fire. Under strong international pres- sure. the Bush administra- tion on Jan. 6 seemed to shift slightly toward favoring an immediate cease-fire that is "durable. sustainable and not timeqimited," accord- ing to a State Department spokesman. The fast-shifting land- scape and mixed signals from Jerusalem about Isra- el's goals provided treacher- ous footing for the Jewish groups that have united across political and ideologi- cal lines to support Israel. "I don't know if there are divisions, but there is a lot of uncertainty," said Hadar Susskind, Washing- ton director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). "Activists around the country are super-in- Gosh darnit, people like Franken MaxBand L Hyper-Speed DSL Now Available! Growing businesses demand faster Internet connections for improved transfer of critical data. everyday. Now. FDN Communications, Floridas leading. competitive voice and data provider is proud to offer MaxBand DSL technology. Franken-sense: The Jew- ish comic goes to D.C.-- maybe. be in raismg the money for that. given the uncertainty of whether he can make up the 225 votes." Still. Coleman forces insist it's not over yet, calling the canvassing board ruling"only preliminary" and hinting of a protracted court battle. What kind of senator wilt Franken make? Jacobs sound- ed a note of caution. "I think AI Franken will have a hard time because of his temperament and the way he interacts. Coleman is a gifted politician who is skilled at sizing up what you need. letting you know what he needs and finding ways of doing business. I'm not sure that's a skill Franken has demonstrated." And don't expect loads of laughs from the former comedian. "He was very serious on the campaign trail." Jacobs said. "Some came to his events and left disappointed: where were the laughs? In fact. he's a policy wonk: he's a serious dude.'" James D. Besser is in the Washington bureau of the New York Jewish Week, from which this article was re- printed by permission. Read the Jewish Week online at By James D. Besser New York Jewish Week Since Nov. 4. about the only sure thing in the contested Senate race in Minnesota is the fact that the winner will be a Jew. On Jan. 5 the controversy moved a big step closer to. resolution when the state canvassing board certified Al Franken. the television comic-turned-policy wonk. the winner over Sen. Norm Coleman. the Republican incumbent. Case closed? Hardly. The decision could just be the latest chapter in a legal war of attrition that started with Coleman's apparent wm on Election Day by about 225 votes out of almost 3 mil- lion that were cast. But after recounts and fights over disputed and absentee ballots. Franken is now up by about the same margin. Lawrence Jacobs. director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minne- sota. said things are looking grim for the Brooklyn-reared Coleman. even though his campaign is promising to challenge the certification in court. "He's a tough politician, but this is about the numbers and cash." Jacobs said. The relatively small num- ber of votes still under dis- pute means the probability of overcoming Franken's tiny lead has diminished greatly, he said. And the "meter is running" for the lawyers both sides have en- gaged for the bitter recount battle. "The campaigns have spent more than $4 million [since the election]," Jacobs said. "The legal challenge will be even costlier. It's not clear how successful Coleman will volved. They're very worked up. But this is one of those situations where it's not always easy to know what to do." Susskind said a primary goal of group s such as JCPA is to "create avenues of ac- tion for people." Another leading Jewish activist said that a surge of pro-Israel activism that includes solidarity rallies in cities across the country, intensive work with the media and congressional lobbying is mingling with feelings of uncertainty that were uncommon in previous crises. "There's been a lot of talk in the conference calls about rallies, advertisements, let- ters to newspapers and the like." this activist said. "But does anybody in Israel really care if we have a rally at city hall? The Bush administra- tion has been supportive, and so has most of Congress, so does anybody really care about petition drives? "' Even on the core mes- sage of the major pro-Israel lobby groups that Israel must be given enough time to seriously undermine Hamas before any cease fire is imposed there is uncertainty, this activist said. in large part because early in the week there were indications Israeli leaders were not in agreement about the purpose and scope of the operation and requirements for a cease fire. Brandeis historian Jona- than Sarna said memories of the botched 2006 Lebanon war and the lessons of Iraq are ricocheting through the Jewish activist community even as it comes together to support Israel. "In a sense, we are look- ing at the current situation through the eyes of those experiences," he said. "On one hand, we hope that maybe Israel can accomplish what America wasn't able to accomplish in Iraq. Maybe Israel will be able to show the world how to deal with terrorist organizations. On the other hand, there's this nagging fear that maybe this will turn out to be Afghani- stan or Iraq or Lebanon all over again, another example of the difficulties of a demo- cratic regime committed to Western standards of warfare trying to ,fight a terrorist organization." Still, a broad spectrum of groups ranging from center- right to center-left have been pounding away at the same point--that Washing- ton must prevent imposition of a "premature" cease-fire that would force Israel to abandon its military effort without credible guarantees the Hamas rocket barrages will not resume. "This time Israel can't accept a solution where Hamas can declare victory," said Malcolm Hoenlein. executive vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in a Monday, Jan. 5 conference call with activists around the cOun- try. "Israel needs time--to end it prematurely Will only mean the cycle of violence on part of Hamas will con- tinue." An unspoken btlt palpable sub-theme among major Jewish leaders was concern that while the Bush admin- istration reacted by endors- ing the Israeli military action and putting the onus for the violence on Hamas, the incoming Obama ad- ministration, more focused on multilateral diplomacy, might be more sympathetic to calls for an immediate- cease fire. As a result, ensuring that Israel faced the fewest pos- sible restraints until Jan. 21 was part of the Jewish com- munal response to Gaza. That consensus position may also have been a factor in the strong response to J Street statements, which rejected it. The new organization's stance was not significantly different from statements by Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and the Israel Policy Forum. But several major Jewish leaders were so angered by the J Street statement that they made unsolicited calls to reporters to blast the group. When asked whether the calls were orchestrated. several sources said they believed the campaign was being mounted by ,major pro-Israel groups and by the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Reprinted with permis- sion from the New York Jewish Week, online at www.