American Jews tread softly on `road map' during war in Iraq
By Nathan Guttman
WASHINGTON - Around 3,000 Jewish activists are expected to go to Capitol Hill next Tuesday to try persuading their Congress representatives to continue supporting Israel. It will mark the culmination of the annual conference of America's pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is held each year in Washington and is attended by senior U.S. administration officials and members of Congress, as well as numerous Israeli representatives.
This time the thousands of lobbyists on Capitol Hill will be bearing a more complex message. They will as usual stress their expectations for support from the lawmakers for the approval of Israel's special aid request. But what will they be saying about the U.S. administration's political initiative under the "road-map" plan?
The American Jewish community appears critical of both the content of the road-map plan and the timing of its publication, but criticism of this kind is not easily expressed America is at war.
To neutralize American Jewish reservations about the plan, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice hastily convened a meeting with a delegation of representatives of the American Jewish organizations on March 14 in the Rose Garden - just a few hours after President George Bush announced his intention to push the road map in the near future.
Rice was unable to allay the concerns of many of the participants at the meeting. "The timing is problematic," says Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who attended the gathering.
In his speech, Foxman said, Bush created a link between the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - a link that Israel and the U.S. Jewish community have been trying to dismantle since the conflict in Iraq began. Foxman defines the linkage as "a dangerous precedent."
The concern among Jewish activists is that the very creation of a link between the two conflicts serves as ammunition in the hands of those who view Israel as encouraging the U.S. administration to attack Iraq. Furthermore, according to the Jewish activists, presenting the road map at the present time creates the impression that the United States is willing to pay in Israeli currency for world - and primarily British - support for the war.
But the timing is not the only issue troubling U.S. Jews. Some of the organizations also feel the content of the road map in its present version does not fall in line with the demands of the government of Israel and the manner in which it would like to see the implementation of Bush's vision.
Malcolm Honlein, executive vice-president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, says the plan poses real problems relating to Israel's security. He believes there is a need to wait to hear Israel's official position on the plan, but stresses that if Israel does express reservations, the U.S. Jewish community will come to its assistance.
"We will not hesitate to make our voice heard if we will feel there is a real danger for Israel's security," he says. But criticizing the administration is no simple matter at a time of war.
Factions in the American Jewish community explain that their representatives who come into contact with the administration and Congress are trying to emphasize the positive rather than the negative aspects of the road map, and are not coming out with statements on the need to make changes to the plan.
They are pointing out Israel's commitment to Bush's June 24 speech and are saying that despite the changes evident in the field, it is important to preserve the agenda laid out by the U.S. president.
In other words, although a Palestinian prime minister has been appointed, they say, the reforms and war on terror in the Palestinian Authority must continue and these matters must be emphasized in the talks between the sides.
The prevailing view in the American Jewish community is that the road map will not be submitted to the sides before an end to the central part of the war in Iraq, and that America will not come out with a comprehensive Middle East initiative before it knows how things in Iraq are developing.
If the road map is passed on to the sides while the U.S. forces are still fighting, the Jewish community will have to tread lightly when it comes to criticizing the Bush administration.
"It's a question of tone and decibels, but we should not roll over," Foxman says. "This is not a war of Israel or of the Jewish community and we should not be afraid to talk about the issues we oppose."
AIPAC spokeswoman Rebecca Needler adds: "We don't have to choose between being pro-Israeli and American patriots. We support both matters simultaneously."