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October 8, 2004     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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October 8, 2004

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PAGE 24 HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, 9 By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Now that Ariel Sharon is hurrying along plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, a number of American Jewish groups believe it's time to formally sign on with the Israeli prime minister. An effort to round up or- ganizational support for the removal of settlements from the Gaza Strip and from pait of the West Bank is revealing cracks in the U.S. Jewish con- sensus on Israel, with some groups enthusiastic, others derisive and others waiting to see how it plays out. The Anti-Defamation League is circulating a "statement of support" for the plan. AWN C mauricelawncare @ Art Jewelry Judaica Contemporary Crafts Stay at The ~ P, ee~f at World 6o# 18ag~ surTound~ by a golf paradise that includes the one-axt-ocdy Wor~ Goff/~d of Fanw and two of the wodCs most spectacular coumes -/0rig & Bea; ~e only course ever 1 co-d~gned by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicldaus, and S~mmer & Squ~ o~s~gne(I with inspiration from superb dining and first-class amenities make ~ your experience way above pad THE RENAISSANCE. RESORT AT WORLD GOLF VILLAGE 4~t~r x cptkmal k~ by/ekn Q. H~ H~ 1-I oe~ ilood Ite0t~ ~2~o/o4. lm e~l ~ It not Ircl~ SeM ~ ~ly, "This plan is consistent with long-term strategic interests to promote Israel's security and improve the situation on the ground in the territories," it says. The author of the state- ment, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, acknowl- edges that the Conference of Presidents of MajorAmerican Jewish Organizations would ordinarily be the aveoue for such a community-wide statement. The 50-plus-member Conference of Presidents' standards for consensus, however, stymied him, Fox- man said. "I was hoping that it would be done through the confer- ence, where most expressions of support come from, but it wasn't possible because of the nature of the conference and the issue," said Foxman, who said he hoped to issue the statement, along with signatories, after the Sukkot holiday ends on Oct. 8. Foxman emphasized that his end-run was not implic- itly critical of the conference, or of its senior executives and staff. He said it had more to do with the pressures on Sharon, who is under pressure to shep- herd the plan through Israel's political system by March and tosolicit support from Europe and the Arab world. "In a situation where the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public supports the initiative of the government of Israel and the president of the United States has stood behind it in a letter, it's appro- priate for the American Jewish community to express itself in support," he said. Foxman does not yet have an idea how many organiza- tions will join him, and several leaders interviewed said their groups were just now consid- ering their stance. Several senior staffers from member organizations said the Conference of Presi- dents would likely support the Gaza initiative, but was waiting for Sharon to pass his first political hurdle--a vote in the Knesset or in the full Cabinet, likely to take place within two months. Malcolm Hoenlein, the Conference of Presidents' executive vice chairman, said of his member groups: "Many have raised questions about the timing, not the substance, when the Knes- set and government haven't taken it up." Hoenlein said the Conference of Presidents un- derstood the time pressures, and was pressing forward with its consideration of the Gaza plan. He said Foxman's state- ment and others would be considered at an Oct. 14 meeting. One problem dogging sup- port of the ADL in its initia- tive is the sensitivity of ceding the lead to one of the 50 or so organizations around the conference table. "By and large we prefer to see the conference speak with one voice when possible," said David Harris, the American Jewish Committee's execu- tive director. Harris said his group in principle supports $haron's plan---and has said so pub- licly-and he would not count out joining the ADL appeal Consensus "is not always possible, and we have to consider various .options." Another factor is domestic politics, said Martin Raffel, the associate executive vice chairman of the Jewish Coun- cil for Public Affairs. A task force of the umbrella body for Jewish community relations councils decided in June to delay a decision on support until after the November presidential election, "Things that were not par- tisan could be interpreted as being partisan," Raffel said. The main problem for many member organizations is that the plan's governmental sta- tus is murky. Sharon has won the over- whelming approval from his Inner Cabinet to set in place the legal, military, diplomatic and financial groundwork for the plan. But it has the caveat that ultimately nothing can move forward without approval ei- ther from the Knesset or the wider Cabinet. That means that Sharon might be ready to go in March, his declared deadline for withdrawal, but might lack the political backing to do so. Such ambiguity affects the traditional U.S. Jewish orga- nizational ethos of letting the Israeli government take the lead on matters of Israel's se- curRy--has the government spoken or hasn't it? "We're not going to get ahead of ourselves if it's not clear if the Israeli government has or has not adopted this," said David Twersky, the inter- national affairs director of the American Jewish Congress. He noted the AJCongress's emphatic support last May for the withdrawal, but also noted its conditionality of the government accepting it. Because the government has not yet accepted it, the AJCongress would not sign on to the ADL letter, Twer- sky said. Of course, not every organi- zation concerns itself with the mechanics of consensus. The Israel Policy Forum, a group promoting U.S. engagement in Middle East peace pro- cesses, was emphatically on board with the planned Gaza withdrawal within days of Sharon outlining its parameters to President Bush on April 14. IPF has abjured membership in the Confer- ence of Presidents. The organization most sen- sitive to not getting ahead of the Israeli government is the American Israel PublicAffairs Committee. The powerful lobbying group is mindful, among other things, of the willing- ness of Israeli political parties to use its endorsement of any plan a~a political football. On the Gaza withdrawal, AIPAC has 'refrained from formal statements of sup- port, instead emphasizing support for the U.S.-led "road map" peace initiative--a now- moribund plan that the Bush administration says could be resuscitated by the Gaza dis- engagement. Other groups said to be reluctant to sign on include the Orthodox Union and the United Jewish Communities. Without naming any groups, Foxman dismisses such concerns as nitpicking. "The to the best of my is the prime ministera policies, dent of the United comfortable enough plan, and if the in poll after poll in solid we're okay." Foxman groups in Israel the plan--many often seeking American know that the corn was behind Sharon. "Especially now prime minister is threats on his life, can do is say, you,'" he said. For his there was no doubt t disengagement way, the be on board. "When disen implemented we'll him on it," Sharon. That might be a bolting the barn the horse has said other orgam leaders who back statement. "There is no more crucial to Israel than the withdrawal," said Yoffie, the Union for "It is the termine I: of the consequences of Israel's future, the U.S.qsrael conference take motet those of us who say it the time support." Yoffie, who groul slowness was a Ion lem with the "The conference 53 members ber is eq 3,000 members or a members, so the which it is always a q~ "And it is that run into the right." Such is natural after the of the Oslo Morton Klein, the of the Zionist of America. "Until the Israeli ment formally throwing the JeWS Gaza, no America leaders should be this policy, it is notf ernment policy," Americans for also a conference said the, pullout signaled a return toe borders support was crucial, "I ho conference will this recc choice for the Israel,' an APN founder group's LikeYoffie time was of the If the dents doesn't act, initiative could ful, he said. "It will be too conference and umbrella organ are unwilling to significant it will come fro Rosenblum said.