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May 22, 2009
 

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 22, 2009 \ White House photo by Lawrence Jackson President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the South Portico following their meetings at the White House Monday. By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- With a presidential pledge to hang tough on Iran under his belt, Benjamin Netanyahu could be forgiven for think- ing Barack Obama was an easy first date. Wait until he hears about what happens when the rela- tionship gets serious. The Israeli prime minister walked away from his first leader's summit with the U.S. president with a tan- gible prize: a commitment to a timetable on Obama's bid to use diplomacy to per- suade Iran to end its nuclear weapons program. "The important thing is to make sure that there is a clear timetable of---at which pointwe say these talks don't seem to be making any seri- ous progress," Obama said after the 2 1/2-hour meeting Monday, an hour longer than expected. "By the end of the year I think we should have some sense as to whether or not these discussions are starting to yield significant benefits, whether we're start- ing to see serious movement on the part of the Iranians. "If that hasn't taken place, then I think the interna- tional community will see that it's not the United States or Israel or other countries that are seeking to isolate or victimize Iran." In return Obama re- ceived, in effect, nothing from Netanyahu: No stated commitment to Palestin- ian statehood, no pledge to freeze settlements. No wonder, then, that Netanyahu was as eager as a prom date to lavish the love. "You're a great leader--a great leader of the United States, a great leader of the world, a great friend of Israel, and someone who is acutely cognizant of our security concerns," Netanyahu said, leaning toward Obama dur- ing an Oval Office photo opportunity. "And the entire people of Israel appreciate it, and I speak on their behalf." The "entire people of Is- rael" might be overstating it, but with Obama's com- mitment on Iran, Netanyahu swept aside concerns that he would repeat the disastrous opening months in 1996 of his first prime ministership, when he alienated then- President Bill Clinton by dismissing the Oslo peace process. Israeli voters cher- ish the U.S. alliance above all else, and that fiasco helped doom Netanyahu's chances for re-election in 1999. Yet between the lines and in his emphases, Obama made it clear throughout the news conference that this was no one summit stand: He expects tangible commitments from Israel further down the road. "Israel is going to have to take some difficult steps as well, and I shared with the prime minister the fact that under the 'road map' and under Annapolis that there's a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements," Obama said, referring to the most recent peace process agree- ments. "Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward. That's a dif- ficult issue. I recognize that, but it's an important one, and it has to be addressed." Obama also called on Israel to ease humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip in the wake of the devastation caused by the war between Israel and Hamas in January. "The fact is, is that if the people of Gaza have no hope, if they can't even get clean water at this point, if the border closures are so tight that it is impossible for reconstruction and humani- tarian efforts to take place, then that is not going to be a recipe for Israel's long-term security or a constructive peace track to move for- ward," Obama said. And Obama stressed the two-state solution, the phrase that has yet to escape Netanyahu's lips since as- suming office in early April. It was clear as well that Obama wants action soon. Insiders have said that George Mitchell, Obama's chief envoy to the region-- who also attended Monday's meeting--expects a final- status deal within two years. Obama is blitzing Middle East heads of state, meeting this month with the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, and readying an address to the Muslim world to be delivered next month in Egypt. Netanyahu appeared un- moved. Statehood, he said, was a matter of "terminol- ogy," and he was silent on settlements. Senior Israeli officials said afterward that they would look for signs of Palestinian reciprocity on security issues before dismantling even those settlement outposts considered illegal under Israel's laws. They did not define what constituted "reciprocity." Senior U.S. officials, in- cluding James Jones, the national security adviser who joined Obama in the meeting, believe that Pal- estinian Authority security forces trained by a U.S.-led team have made strides in placating the West Bank. The Israeli officials also said it was too early to remove roadblocks to ease Palestinian day-to-day liv- ing, although that also has been an oft-repeated Obama administration request. There were signs of tension on the Israel-Palestinian is- sue. When Obama pressed Netanyahu on the statehood issue, the Israeli prime minister told the president that Israel was committed to prior agreements--includ- ing those that envision state- hood--but that he thought it wiser to look forward to a new process. Both leaders strenuously denied that either side was pressing linkage, contrary to recent reports that Israel wants to see substance on Iran before moving forward with the Palestinians and that Obama wants to see results on the Palestinian front as a means of advanc- ing international unity on the Iran issue. Still, Obama said that if there were linkage, he saw its sequence as Palestinians first, then Iran. "If there is a linkage be- tween Iran and the Israeli- Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actu- ally runs the other way," he said, replying to an Israeli reporter's question about re- ports that Netanyahu wants to see evidence of an effort to isolate Iran before mak- ing bold peace moves. "To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestin- ians--between the Palestin- ians and the Israelis--then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat." Overall, however, the Is- raeli team reveled in its two "gets:" Obama's commitment to review the policy of out- reach to Iran by the end of this year--close to zero hour, in Israeli assessments of when Iran might go nuclear--and his commitment to extract from moderate Arab nations a commitment to active participation in the peace process beyond lip service. Not only did Obama out- line an Iran timetable, the president said he was "not foreclosing a range of steps, including much stronger international sanctions, in assuring that Iran under- stands that we are serious." Mention "options" or "steps" in a sentence about Iran and the Israelis under- stand it to mean that the United States is keeping a military option open. Netan- yahu made it clear that was his interpretation. "I very much appreciate, Mr. President, your firm commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear military capability, and also your statement that you're leaving all options on the table," he said. Israeli officials later sug- gested they also perceived the threat of military ac- tion behind Obama's twice- repeated warning that Iran's entry into the nuclear weap- ons club was "extraordinarily dangerous for all concerned, including for Iran." By Eric Fingerhut WASHINGTON (JTA)~Af- ter years of focusing on gays and lesbians with its protests, the Westboro Baptist Church has a new target--the Jewish community. The Topeka, Kan.,-based church, which features the slogan "God Hates Fags," protested at three Jewish sites here on the afternoon of May 8. The protests are part of a series of upcom- ing rallies that will bring members of the church to Jewish community in- stitutions in Omaha, St. Louis, South Florida and Providence in the next few weeks, according to the church's Web site and fliers the group is distributing that list scheduled protests and proclaim "Jews Killed the Lord Jesus." Led by Pastor Fred Phelps, the 71-member church, ac- cording to Anti-Defamation League research, first gained notoriety about a decade ago when it began picketing the funerals of gays or those they thought were gay, including Matthew Shepard, who was the victim of an anti-gay attack. In recent years, church members frequently have protested outside the funer- als of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or at other events that are likely to bring news coverage and, in turn, publicity to the church. One such event was the funeral of three young girls killed in a traffic accident. While picketing outside the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League May 8, Phelps' daughter Margie told JTA that the group is now focusing on the Jewish community because church members have been "testify- ing" to gentiles for 19 years that "America is doomed" and they haven't gotten the message. "Now it's too late," she said. "We're done with them." Margie Phelps added, "one of the loudest voices" in favor of homosexuality and abor- tion is "the Jews, especially the rabbis." "They claim to be God's chosen people," she said. "Do you think that God is going to wink at that forever?" Deborah Lauter, the ADL's director of civil rights, said the church has always been "anti- Semitic" but never targeted the Jewish community until recently. She said the ADL Eric Fingerhut Westboro Baptist Church member Margie Phelps rails against Jews and Israel May 8 in a protest outside the Washington offices of the Anti-Defamation League. isn't entirely sure what trig- gered the new focus on Jews, but speculated that the help the ADL provided to a school that the church picketed last month for performing the musical "Rent" could have something to do with it. Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project tracking hate groups, said he didn't think there was any real significance to the church's new focus on Jews. "With a group willing to picket the funerals of little girls killed in a school bus crash, it's hard to be surprised by anything they do," Potok said. "They're the farthest fringe," he said, noting that even hard-line anti-gay groups are embarrassed by Phelps' church. Lauter added that the protesters are not violent and don't try to recruit others to their cause. But they are provocative and are "baiting the Jewish community to respond." "We're advising Jewish in- stitutions not to give them the publicity they crave," she said, and not engage the protesters. In Washington, the group first picketed the funeral of former congressman Jack Kemp, and then protested outside the ADL offices, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the city's larg- est synagogue, Washing- ton Hebrew Congregation. (The group positioned itself across the street from the museum--on the edge of the National Mall--meaning that visitors to the museum that afternoon did not even necessarily see them when entering the facility.) Margie Phelps and three fellow church members stood on the sidewalk and held signs stating that "God Hates Israel," "Jews Killed Jesus," "America Is Doomed," "Is- rael Is Doomed," and "ADL Jew Bullies." One of the four women had an Israeli flag tied around her waist that dragged on the ground; she stepped on the flag as she walked. Alluding to prophecy in the book of Revelation, Phelps said that all the nations of the world would soon be march- ing on Israel, led by President Obama, whom she called the "antichrist." She said "Israel is doomed" and that only the 144,000 "righteous Jews out there" would survive the "persecution" that all other Jews will experience.