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gopher://gopher.igc.apc.org:70/00/peace/mideast.gopher/24

The Jews Who Run Clinton's Court

By Avinoam Bar-Yosef
Maariv, September 2, 1994

Notes and translation by Israel Shahak

Several weeks ago the rabbi of "Adath Yisrael" synagogue in Cleveland Park, Washington, dedicated his Sabbath sermon to the Jewish cultural and political center which is being formed in America. "For the first time in American history", the rabbi said, "we no longer feel that we live in diaspora. The U.S. has no longer a government of Goyim [Gentiles], but an administration in which the Jews are full partners in the decision making at all levels. Perhaps the aspects of the Jewish religious law connected with the term 'government of goyim' should be re-examined, since it is an outdated term in the U.S.". 1

Indeed, as far as the Jews are concerned, President Bill Clinton contributed towards a real change in the Administration's outlook, having concluded a series of changes in enhancing Jewish power beginning during under President Reagan and his Secretary of State, Schultz. True, the Jewish political influence was also evident in America of the previous decades. We have already seen a Jewish Secretary of State, Kissinger, enjoying the confidence of President Richard Nixon and there were Jewish Cabinet members under Carter. However, they were usually the exceptions testifying to the rule. Especially. pious Jews were hardly ever appointed to participate in political work concerning the Middle East.

The picture has now totally changed and not only about the Middle East For example, every morning at about 6:00 o'clock, several staff cars travel from the CIA center to the White House with senior officers of the American intelligence community, who are about to present to the president and to the four top staffers a PDB - President's Daily Briefing - the term for the most exclusive report in Washington. The document, consisting of 5-7 pages, is often accompanied by top secret satellite photographs transferred by the Pentagon. It is composed in the course of the night by the best American intelligence experts who analyze the telegrams and reports arriving from the CIA's world-wide network of agents. It contains the most sensitive information regarding developments around the world. Its uniqueness, compared to other American intelligence documents, lays in the fact that it almost always indicates the source of the information, whether it is a document stolen by a spy, or an agent or 'mole' infiltrating a foreign government, or whether the source is tapping by means of satellite. If Clinton is in Washington, he holds a short discussion on the contents of the document with the five other addressees: Vice-President Al Gore, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, White House Chief of Staff Leon Penta, Deputy National Security Adviser Samuel ("Sandy") Berger, and National Security Adviser to the Vice-President, Leon Perth. Two of the addressees, Berger and Perth, are warm Jews. They have reached posts that are extremely sensitive for the U.S. policies. They are by no means exceptions.

In the National Securitv Council, 7 out of 11 top staffers are Jews. Clinton had especially placed them in the most sensitive junctions in the U.S. security and foreign administrations: Sandy Berger is the deputy chairman of the council; Martin Indyk, the intended ambassador to Israel, is a senior director in charge of the Middle East and South Asia; Dan Schifter, the senior director and adviser to the president, is in charge of Western Europe; Don Steinberg, the senior director and adviser to the president, is in charge of Africa; Richard Feinberg, the senior director and adviser to the president, in charge of Latin America; Stanley Ross, the senior director and adviser to the president, is in charge of Asia.

The situation is not much different in the president's office which is full of warm Jews: the new Attorney General, Abner Mikve: the president's schedule and programs manager, Ricky Seidman; deputy chief of staff, Phil Leida; economic adviser, Robert Rubin; media director, David Heiser; staff director, Alice Rubin; Ely Segall, in charge of volunteers; Ira Mezina, in charge of the health program. Two Cabinet members, Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Micky Cantor in charge of international trade agreements, are Jewish. They are joined by a long list of senior Jewish officials in the State Department, headed by the head of the Middle East Peace Team, Dennis Ross, and followed by many deputy secretaries and even more senior secretaries' chiefs of staff.

One of the most interesting Jews from the Israeli point of view, who has rarely been exposed to view till now, is Rehm Emmanuel, Clinton's senior adviser in charge or coordinating special projects in the White House. His office is located next to the famous Oval Office. Rehm won extra points from his boss last week, when he succeeded to pass the law for combatting crime. He has become an expert at communicating with Congress and has already had many successes, the most prominent of which was the ratification of NAFTA. Now he is immersed in the passing of the Health Bill. Last Thursday his office was in shambles and he strode around it like a typical Sabra, simultaneously conducting a lively conversation with me, studying the protocols of the debate held at the time by the Senate and watching the report of Wolf Blitzer (also a Jew) on the CNN and being updated by his secretary and three aides on the positions of the senators regarding the vote. "Do you prefer to meet over the weekend or early next week, after this whole nightmare is over?" I asked him. "That would be a real relief," he replied. The following day, after the law passed by one vote, I called to congratulate him: "If you want to come - you have to do it now. The president decided to take a vacation and told us that whoever wanted to enjoy the summer should also take a vacation. So I'm packing and leaving on Sunday morning." Even then he was not calm but nervously fiddling in his chair. He has a face that is more suitable for an Israeli tourist than for a senior official in the U.S. Administration. "You know, Rehm Emmanuel is a name that would not be out of place in the Tel-Aviv phone directory," I told him. A large warm smile spread across his face. "Our origina1 name was Auerbach. We opened the first pharmacies in Tel-Aviv and in Jerusalem. My father changed his name after my uncle. Emmanuel, was killed in Israel's War of Independence (I 948-49]. My father was then a member of Etzel [IRGUN) commanded by Begin, and it was customary to change names in the underground. Yes, he is still a warm Likud supporter, but he also admires Yitzhak Rabin since he admires whoever becomes Prime Minister as a result of the last Israeli elections. After that war he came to America. studied medicine and met my mother who was then a social work student. [ was born in Chicago". Rehm and his two brothers received a warm Jewish education. "You know, we studied at a Jewish school and had private Hebrew teachers. My first visit to Israel was three days after the Six Day War. My father said then that we had to go to Israel. I was eight years old, but I remember it as if it were this morning. The Arabs were completely delighted there was such a joy and it was so very exciting. There were high hopes that as a result the Jews will enjoy freedom and peace. Since then I continued to visit Israel every summer until 1972. Then I began my studies. When I matured I went into politics the pastimes of an Amedean youngster."

"What meaning does the connection to Israel and to Judaism have for you today? "Since 1972 1 did not visit Israel, until 1991. Then the Gulf War broke out and missiles landed in Tel-Aviv. I immediately volunteered for one month service in the Israeli army, through the "Overseas Volunteer Unit".2 What I did then to help the Jews was not much. Naturally, it was not combat service. But we helped as much as possible and the main thing was that we were there. Does that answer your question?"

Perhaps the most intriguing thing that happened to me personally in the course of the past year. since I have been posted in Washington, was the meeting with the organized American Jewry. The best place to see them as they are, the place where I always came each year to admire them, is the annual convention of the pro-Israeli lobby, AIPAC. This is the place not only to feel the pulse of American involvement in the Middle East, but also where I felt that somehow it helps me to ignore the deep distress inherent in the feeling of loneliness of living in a state located in the heart of so many hostile Arabs. I always asked myself what was the value of the Jewish experience in America as far as Israelis concerned. Did the identification with Israel derive from a deep sensation of a common Jewish fate or was it one of the tools of the local community to garner power for achieving truly equal rights in a mixed society comprised also of many emigrants and members of various faiths? Was the Jewish power in the U.S. a phenomenon which will decrease or to increase? Were the intermarriages of Jews with Gentiles threatening to weaken the Jewish power in the U.S.? Or, so I was sometimes afraid, were the American Jews building a new Jewish cultural center that would compete with Israel?

"Adat Yisrael" synagogue in Washington is not only a place of worship. It is a Jewish community center, with a prestigious Jewish kindergarten, a Jewish school with Judaism, literature, culture and of course, Hebrew classes. On Saturdays there are always two separate prayer sessions. The first is the large one, encompassings hundreds of worshippers. which ends in a food blessing at tables tastefully laid with Jewish delicacies- Its members belong to the creme of Washington society. senior administration officials, successful lawyers, rich businessmen. All are wealthy people. Next week, on the Jewish New Year, the prayers will be joined by many other Jews who usually spend their weekends at the most exclusive clubs, or on the most expensive golf courses, or riding the best horses, or at their expensive houses near the West Virginia lakes, or sailing in their private yachts. Next week, like during all Jewish holiday seasons, the most expensive limousines that can be imagined will stop at the entrance to the synagogue, to let out the elegant women, the men mummified in their expensive suits at their side, followed by the well-dressed children. The entrance fee to synagogue is $1000 for a single holiday In addition to that prayer session another, with younger members and cheaper entrance fees, regularly gathers in one of the other halls, where prayers are held according to the customary Israeli style, except for the fact that men and women sit together. This famous session has several other characteristics. Most of the members visit Israel at least once every year. Most of them speak fluent Hebrew. All of them are familiar with the prayer procedures. Only a few of them come out of deep faith. Others do so out of the wish to meet the best Jewish society or to meet a Jewish girl whom they would marry. But the most important reason for their praying is that they feel a close connection with Israel. Those of them whose love for Israel is most ardent watch the Israeli TV news every night. It might sound strange, but the Washington cable station broadcasts the Israeli TV news program every night at half past midnight.

The other synagogue competing for the young generation of wealthy Jews is located in Georgetown. It is a fully Orthodox synagogue, but its prayers are conducted in the Israeli style favored by "Gush Emunim". The Israeli flag is proudly displayed above the Sacred Ark alongside the American flag. On each Sabbath the prayers include the benediction for the Israeli Jewish soldiers and the prayer for the welfare of the Israeli government and its officials. Many Jewish Administration officials pray there. They not only don't try to conceal their religious affiliation but go to a given length to demonstrate their Judaism since it may help their careers greatly.

The enormous Jewish influence in Washington is not limited to the government. In the Washingtonian media a very significant part of the most important persons and of the givers of the most popular programs on the TV are warm Jews. A significant part of senior media correspondents, newspaper editors and analysts are Jewish and many of them are warm Jews too. Many of them are influenced in Israel's favor by attending suitable synagogues. AP's political reporter, Barry Schweid, and the Washington Post's education reporter, Amy Schwartz, regularly participate in a prayer session which is considered to be close to Israel at the Cleveland Park synagogue. Also there the Israeli flag is posted proudly above the Sacred Ark. Let us not forget in' this context the Jewish predominance in the Washingtonian academical institutions. At the National Center of Medicine the percentage of Jewish researchers is very much higher than their relative percentage in the population. In the fields of security and science, in the film industry the art and in literature, the Jewish influence can only be described as immense, with a corresponding enhancement of the Jewish power.

Where did they all spring from? In Israel we are already accustomed to the names of the Jews called Dennis Ross, Dan Kurtzer and Aharon Miller, since they have taken part in each of the Secretary of State's visits to the Middle East in the last six years. But that is a relatively new phenomenon. When Dan Kurtzer, a pious Jew who observes the Sabbath and all commandments of Judaism arrived at the American State Department 18 years ago with a doctorate in Middle East studies, he was told: "You have all the qualifications to serve in the Middle East division, but don't even think of suggesting it because of your Jewish origin." Today he is the boss of those who gave him that piece of advice, so much had the Jewish power increased meantime. When he arrived it was the time when the Arabists ruled the State Department and the few Jews who had infiltrated it preferred to conceal their Judaism. There were precedents, such as the late Arnold Rapel, who was a senior deputy of the Secretary of State's assistant for the Middle East, but his co-workers learned of his faith only when he was buried in a Jewish ceremony. Dan Kurtzer was the first to announce that he could not work on Jewish holidays since he observed all the commandments of Judaism and went to synagogue. Today, when the TV star Roseanne Arnold announced that she intended to produce a series on Hanuka since the Christmas programs are already too numerous, and when public schools in the U.S. are closed on the first day of the Jewish New Year, the story about Kurtzer seems very distant.

It happened several weeks ago. The Haiti crisis started to accelerate. I phoned the State Department and requested a briefing from the person in charge of that area. They referred me to Yehuda Mirsky. I introduced myself to his secretary. Suddenly someon picked up the receiver and then t heard a voice saying in perfect Israeli Hebrew: "Good morning, how can I help you?" For a moment I thought that I had mistakenly dialed the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "Where do you know Hebrew from, and are you an Israeli?" "No, I am American, but I spent three years, mainly studying the bible and the Talmud, at the military "Har Etzion" Hesder Yeshiva, with Rabbi Lichtenstein and Rabbi Amital in Gush Etzion." Mirsky, like Kurtzer, belongs to the professional of the American foreign service. Another Jewish official who came to the State Department through a trainees' (:oitrse is Tom Miller, currently political attache in Athens. He was previously, among other things, Phillip Habib's assistant in Lebanon, and the Head of the North African desk at the time of the dialogue with the PLO and then Head of the Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict desk. I met Tom when he served in de.~k he.~d in the anti-terronsm branch. His interest in Israel began when he was sent to Israel by his father during the Six Day war to help a family friend who had immigrated there some time ago. The friend was inducted to the army and his farm was in a need of help. Afterwards Tom Miller spent six months at Orot collective farm, near Kiryat Malachi. The effect on him was similar to the influence which his first visit to Israel had on Rehm Emmanuel. "It was for me a period of euphoria, of great achievements for the entire Jewish people. It was impossible not to identify with Israel in the hour of its magnificent victory", he told me. The second event which left a harsh and life-long impression on him were the stories about the horrors of the Holocaust. "The Holocaust creates a sense of a destiny shared by all Jews. The Jews must act to strenghen Israel so that the Holocaust cannot be repeated", he told me in another conversation. Indeed, all the Jews at the top of Clinton Administration, including Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk firmly believe that the change in the attitude of American Jewry towards Israel came mainly as the result of the Six Day War, since that war had first reawekened the Holocaust memories3 and then filled them with enormous pride. "It was the Six Day war which brought the U.S. Jews out of the closet. They had been there, wielding power and influence in the fields of science and culture but they were rather distant from Israel", said one of the top Administration officials, who is very close to Clinton. "The main goal of our parents' generation was to become part of American society, perhaps even to become assimilated. It must he remembered that the
Holocaust was also a traumatic event for American Jews.4 They were unable to do anything for their brothers who were murdered. The Six Day War created tremendous identification with Israel among the American Jews. Its main importance was to create a deep link between the Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish tendency in America, and Israel."

Today, when there is talk about 51 percent of interfaith marriages, the danger of assimilation appears to be even greater, yet when examining the phenomenon from close up one finds that the trend is opposite. More and more Jewish youngsters seek out the synagogue and Jewish education which are very good for advancing one's career. It is important that Israel do its bit in this area. Rehm Emmanuel is a living proof of that. 3 months ago he was married in a Jewish religious ceremony to Amy, a young woman from a Christian family. She converted to Judaism and her Jewish name is now Yad. If Rehm had wanted to assimilate, he would not have married in a religious ceremony. Dennis Ross, so familiar and so friendly to us, has an even more amazing personal story. His parents were divorced when he was two years old. His contact with his father, the son of a cantor from Chicago, was almost totally severed. Two years Iater his mother married a Catholic and moved to California. However, she posed a condition for her new husband that her children were to have a Jewish education. Dennis grew up in a Reform Jewish environment md could have easily assimilated without remaining true to his roots. Although he attended a Reform Jewish school on Sundays, it was more of a social than a Jewish experience. But he did not forget and it was Israel which made a warm Jew of him. In 1970 he visited Israel for the first time with a group of American students in that glorious period of victory after the Six Days War, his connection with Judaism grew stronger ever since. Later he married Debbie, with a traditional Jewish education in Jewish history. In her neighborhood she was very active in the synagogue. At a relatively mature age Ross began to study Hebrew, opened a prayer book for the first time and turned the prayer into a regular habit. His Jewish roots, he proclaimed, were most important to him and influence all his attitudes. His children follow in his footsteps. Almost every Saturday, if he is in Washington and is not hopping between Jerusalem, Damascus and Cairo, he goes to synagogue with his children. His eldest son has already celebrated his Bar Mitzva, and at the ceremony at the synagogue the ambassdors of Syria, Israel, Egypt and Jordan sat alongside each other.

Can Israel really sense that at a distance of thousands of miles away there is a flourishing Jewish center that not only deeply admires and supports it, but also feels a shared destiny with it? There is no doubt about it, especially in the matters concerning its existence. All the Clinton's Administration officials dealing with Israel, Ross, Kurtzer, Indik and Miller being just a sample, may have different views concerning the desired solution for the lsraeli-Arab conflict but they are warm Jews in whatever they do. They sometimes disagree among themselves and they sometimes even disagree with the views of the Israeli governments, first and foremost since they are Americans and their primary loyalty is towards America. But they also firmly believe that the shared interests between the two states are fundamental and permanently enduring. It is because of this deeply held belief that they made a huge contribution to the fact that Clinton Administrations has fully adopted their approach on the issue of relations between the U.S. and Israel. Perhaps because of that belief they claim that they are upset about the Israeli violations of human right in the Territories, and are even more upset when one or another Israeli minister takes an initiative concerning Iraq which does not accord with the American line. "If Israel wants American support for all its interests it also must coordinate its steps with us when this concerns the basic interests of the U.S.," one of the senior officials told me this week, following the news of the initiative of ministers Moshe Shachal and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to add Iraq to the peace process.

The many Jews in Clinton's Administration have not been created by a design, but their large number is it not due to chance either. The American way of life supports the achievers. Despite the previous Jewish generation wish, perhaps, to assimilate, it gave its children the best education and not necessarily only in Jewish religion. It was especially their achievements and ability which, while also preserving their Jewish roots, brought the present generation of Jews to their present positions of enormous influence. Dennis Ross, the founder of the theory of "the confidence building measures" between Israel and the Arab states, is a typical product of that Jewish generation in America. Their power might certainly boost the confidence of the Israeli Jews in the eternity of the Jewish people and dull their sensation of loneliness among the Arabs.

Incidently, although the Jewish power in the current Democratic Administration is so huge, there are also many warm Jews heading for the top positions in the Republican Party. I met Paul Wolfowitz, for example, who was the senior deputy of the American Defense Secretary in the Bush Administration in the course of a visit to a Patriot missile base during the Gulf War. When he was received by the commander of the base, whose name was emblazoned over his chest, Lieutenant-Colonel Crimkowitz, his face glowed: "You're Crimkowitz, I'm Wolfowitz. We both have relatives here." That does not mean that they are all like that. Even in America there are and will be people with Jewish roots who do not support Israel, to say the least. Such was the former American Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger and such is Richard Hass, Martin Indik's predecessor on the National Security Council. But now they are certainly exceptions.

Perhaps the rabbi at Adath Yisrael synagogue intended to compliment Bill Clinton on his warm attitude towards the Jews and to strengthen the loyalty of his Administration Jewish officials to America. Rehm Emmanuel told me that Clinton's proximity to the Jews should be explained by his love for human beings which he exhibits on every conceivable occasion. Others mention the Jewish environment during his studies in university. I would add to that a mixture of various factors, of which certainly the most important is the great admiration for Israel he exhibited following the Six Day War. Clinton was also made conscious by his many Jewish friends about the distressing memory of the Holocaust, which still haunts the leaders of the U.S. Jewish community and about its importance for the continual support of Israel which is obligatory on the U.S..


Notes:

1. According to the Jewish religion the obligation to follow the rules and laws of a Gentile government is limited to some extent. For example, its custom and currency regulations of such government need not be followed by pious Jews in all cases. On the other hand, the regulations of a government in which pious Jews have a predominant influence, even if it contains also some Gentiles, have to be strictly obeyed.

2. By a special permission of the U.S. Administration, which is not often mentioned in the U.S. media for reason clarified in this article, the American Jews can volunteer to serve in the Israeli army and some of them often do so, especially during Israeli wars. The number of the U.S. Jews who rushed to volunteer in the Israeli army during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and who "helped" it to besiege Beirut was quite big, but since the Israeli censorship banned any mention of them they were "invisible" to the U.S. media. No other army enjoys a similar privilege. The service of the U.S. Jews in the Israeli army is not supposed to include combat duties, but only such things as helping to repair tanks. Some of it certainly takes place in the Territories, including the Golan Heights.

3. Needless to say, these "Holocaust memories" are a fake. The Israelis were not only not afraid but sure of victory before the Six Day War and of course Israel faced no danger during the Gulf War. On the other hand, when the Israelis were really afraid during the 1973 October War, not of "a Holocaust" but of a stalemate affecting their interests, the American Jews swallowed all the stories about the supposed Israeli victory.

4. Actually it was not a trauma at the time when the Holocaust happened. The trauma developed much later, when the U.S. Jews acquired power.



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