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December 11, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 11, 2009 U.S., Israel closing gaps on Iran and peacemaking PAGE 11A By Leslie Susser JERUSALEM (JTA)--Israel and the United States seem closer than they have been for months on two key issues: peacemaking with the Pales- tinians and Iranian nuclear ambitions. The point was hammered home with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's an- nouncement of a 10-month freeze on building in West Bank settlements and strong White House censure of Iran's plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants. But important differences of nuance remain on both fronts. Israel would like to see more robust action on Iran without delay, and the United States wants Israel to make further substantial peace overtures to the Palestinians. The latest escalation in tension between Iran and the international community came after the International Atomic Energy Agency de- manded that the Islamic Republic immediately halt enrichment at a previously secret site near the holy city of Qom, and outgoing IAEA director Mohammed EIBara- dei declared that he could not confirm that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program. The strongly worded IAEA motion of censure was en- dorsed by Russia and China, two powers that in the past have tended to steer clear of tough measures against Iran. Iran responded with con- tempt. Rather than close Yossi Zamir/Flash 90/JTA Signs show that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Nov. 29 during a news conference in his Jerusalem office, and President Obama are very much on the same page concerning Iran sanctions. down the facility at Qom, it would start building five new ones over the next few months, and accelerate plans for another five in their wake. The Iranian parliament urged reduced cooperation with IAEA inspectors, and there was even talk of Iran with- drawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty-- moves that would give it a free hand to pursue a nuclear weapons program without international scrutiny. Israeli pundits say the Iranian threats are intended to test international resolve in the hope of getting an improved offer from the United States and other major powers: permission to enrich uranium to industrial grade on Iranian soil rather than in France and Russia. But this time, the pundits say, the Iranians may have miscalculated, and the clear White House warning that "time is running out for Iran to address the interna- tional community's growing concerns about its nuclear program" could presage the end of President Obama's at- tempt to engage Iran and the beginning of the harsh sanc- tions regime Netanyahu has long advocated--with Russia and China aboard. Indeed, when he first met Obama in 2007, before either man was in high office, Ne- tanyahu pressed the case for strong economic sanctions against Iran. Obama, then a junior senator, picked up on this and soon afterward sponsored the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act. During their latest meeting in Washington just over three weeks ago, Iran again was high on the agenda. Netanyahu told journalists that time would show the meeting to have been very significant--he strongly emphasized the word very-- language some pundits took to imply that major understand- ings on the Iranian nuclear issue had been reached. For now, the signs are that Obama and Netanyahu are very much on the same sanctions page, with slightly different views on the timing. The big question is what hap- pens if sanctions fail. Israeli pundits argue that Obama, embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, will not want to open a third front against Iran, whereas Netanyahu is not ready to take any option, including the military one, off the table. What is clear to both lead- ers is that if either decides to attack Iran, Israel will become a target for Iranian retalia- tion. Hence the huge joint military exercise in the Negev in late October, testing Israeli and American anti-missile defense systems. On the Palestinian front, the Americans welcomed Netanyahu's building freeze as going beyond anything pre- vious Israeli governments had done. But at the same time the Americans made it clear that they would have liked to have seen more--for example, a freeze that did not ex- clude East Jerusalem, public buildings and housing units already started--because the object of the exercise was to get the Palestinians on board for peace talks, and only a full freeze might have achieved that aim. The Americans also are pressing Netanyahu to free hundreds of Palestinian pris- oners outside the framework of the impending deal for the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal held by Hamas for more than three years, because of the bitter rivalry between the secular Fatah organization and the more militant Hamas. The thinking is that the stand- ing of the U.S.-backed Fatah leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, could be weakened by the planned release of about 1,000 prisoners to Hamas in return for Shalit. Releasing large numbers of Fatah prisoners to Abbas would help prevent him from losing face. The main U.S. goal, though, is to revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and here they believe Netanyahu could have done more--for example, by agreeing to resume talks where his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, left off, or giving the Palestinians a clearer idea of the contours of a final peace deal. Theway forward now could be new U.S. bridging propos- als that do exactly that. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says Netanyahu's settlement freeze has made this possible, and the United States will soon present the parties with something along these lines. The Americans, however, are well aware that with Hamas in control of Gaza, and with conflicting Israeli and Palestinian bottom lines on all the core issues, the chances of success are not high. On the other hand, the prize to be won is huge. Suc- cess would mean a pacified Middle East with enhanced American influence and prestige. The question is, will Obama be prepared to take the risk of likely failure, with the at- tendant consequences for his and America's international standing? Conservatives rap ADL report on anti-government anger By Eric Fingerhut WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Some conservatives are ac- cusing the Anti-Defamation League of launching a parti- san attack following its report asserting that a "current of anti-government hostility" has swept the United States in the year since Barack Obama was elected. The Jewish defense or- ganization did not respond similarly to anti-Bush hatred during the previous eight years, the conservatives have argued, and was unfairly linking mainstream criticism of the president with fringe attacks on Obama. But the ADL said it fre- quently denounced extremist rhetoric during the Bush administration, and that its new report does make a distinction between everyday partisan vitriol and more problematic attacks. "The comments are com- ing from people who have not read the report," ADL spokeswoman Myrna Shin- baum said. "They're reacting to the media spin and not its substance." The report, titled "Rage Grows in America: Anti-Gov- ernment Conspiracies," exam- ines both some mainstream and more fringe expressions of anti-government anger, which it says is characterized by a"shared belief that Obama and his administration actu- ally pose a threat to the future of the United States." "Some of these assertions are motivated by prejudice," the report states, "but more common is an intense strain of anti-government distrust and anger colored by a streak of paranoia and belief in con- spiracies." Among other things, the report cites the "tea par- ties," the "Birther" move- ment and the disruptions of congressional town hall meetings across the coun- try this summer--often by protesters comparing the Obama administration and the Democrats to Nazis. The report also examines conspiracy theories circulat- ing among anti-government extremists--including fears of the imposition of martial law and government confis- cation of guns--and finds a "sudden and surprising resurgence of the militia movement" that had peaked during the mid-1990s. The ADL charges that some in the mainstream media have played a role in promoting anti-government anger, specifically singling out Glenn Beck of Fox News as a "fearmonger-in-chief" for making comparisons between Obama and Adolf Hitler, and promoting con- spiracy theories. Beck responded on his Nov. 25 radio show to the ADL re- port and a Los Angeles Times piece that mentioned the report and compared Beck to the 1930s anti-Semitic radio broadcaster Father Coughlin. Beck slammed the ADL, saying it was "nothing...but a political organization at this point--and it kills me to say that." "Name the person that has been more friendly to Israel, name the person that has spoken more to the Holocaust deniers running Iran," Beck said. Among the more promi- nent critics of the report was Commentary executive editor Jonathan Tobin, who wrote that it essentially ar- gued that those who "merely cry that they 'want their country back' from the Democrats while standing outside a town-hall meeting become the thin edge of the wedge of a new threat to de- mocracy and, by extension, a threat to the Jews." "By choosing to frame its report denouncing this brand of extremism in such away as to associate all those who have opposed Obama's policies in one way or another with the far right, the ADL has stepped over a line that a nonpartisan group should never cross," he said. ADL officials said the report does distinguish be- tween mainstream partisan attacks and more hostile rhetoric. The introduction states that for the most part, conservative politicians and media figures "eschew the conspiracy theories and more outlandish notions and tactics propagated by oth- ers. Some of their activities parallel Democratic tactics during the Bush adminis- tration. These mainstream political attacks fall outside the bounds of this report." The report adds that "one of the most important effects of these activists, however, is to help create a body of people who may be predisposed to believe the assertions and claims of more extreme in- dividuals and groups." Republican Jewish Coali- tion executive director Matt Brooks argued that the ADL was disproportionately focus- ing on the right when there were "equally troubling and disturbing actions on the left." Brooks cited U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) for com- paring the U.S. health care system to the Holocaust and Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) for comparing town hall at- tendees to "brownshirts." TheADL did send a letter to Grayson taking issue with his remarks, but Brooks argued that the organization should have called on Democratic leadership to denounce the remarks--as it did for the Republican leadership when some spoke at a Tea Party rally featuring two signs com- paring Obama health care proposals to Nazi Germany. "ADL really should ensure that they're treating propor- tionately the actions on both sides," Brooks said. "People look to them to be nonpar- tisan." Other conservative com- mentators have argued that the ADL never put out a similar report on anti-Bush hatred. The ADL did not release a formal "report" decrying inflammatory criticism of President George W. Bush, but it did issue a well-pub- licized statement in 2004 slamming for allowing a 30-second adver- tisement comparing Bush to Adolf Hitler to be posted on its Web site as part of a contest. This summer, liberal bloggers pointed to that statement in urging the ADL to condemn statements from the right comparing Obama to Hitler. The ADL also frequently criticized the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic signs and sentiments at anti-war ral- lies sponsored by the far- left group ANSWER during the Bush administration, and a lengthy chronology documenting what went on at its events appears on ADL's Web site. The ADL also has released two reports on 9/11 anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that emanate from both the left and the right. National Jewish Democrat- ic Council executive director Ira Forman said he was glad to see the ADL "do the right thing" and that the organi- zation was doing its job as a nonpartisan organization. "The ADL made the dis- tinction that not every Re- publican elected official is the same as the Tea Partiers, but they did say there was a responsibility" for those on the right to disassociate themselves from that inap- propriate rhetoric. 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