Orthodox, Hawks Blasting Joe For Remarks on Mideast Trip

By E.J. Kessler

Published January 10, 2003, issue of January 10, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

As the 2004 presidential race gets under way, Senator Joseph Lieberman appears to have damaged his support among hawkish and Orthodox Jews with statements he made during a recent trip to the Middle East.

At news conferences during the trip, the Connecticut lawmaker expressed support for a Palestinian state, deplored poor humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and identified Saudi Arabia as a target of Islamic terrorism. On visits to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain December 22-27, Lieberman conferred with leaders of those countries and the Palestinian Authority in meetings that were widely seen as a bid to establish his credentials as a leader who could deal fairly with problems in the Middle East.

“The trip did not play well in our community,” said the executive vice president of Religious Zionists of America, Dr. Mandell Ganchrow. “I say this as a friend — the Orthodox community is troubled by his statements, by his trying to lean over backward for a Palestinian state.”

Remarks like Ganchrow’s indicate that Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, risks losing the strong support he garnered from Orthodox and hawkish Jews during his 2000 vice presidential run.

While Lieberman’s candidacy provoked tremendous pride across the board among Jews, it generated special enthusiasm among Orthodox Jews, who, unlike some leaders of secular Jewish organizations, applauded the senator’s faith-tinged campaign talk and frequent references to God. Some hawkish Jews, meanwhile, long have looked to Lieberman, who has a reputation as a security hawk, to provide a check on any leftward drift in the Democrats’ foreign policy.

Morton Klein, national president of the hawkish Zionist Organization of America, said of Lieberman’s remarks, “It is deeply disappointing that Senator Lieberman, who says he strongly supports the U.S. war against terrorism, is now taking positions sympathetic to two regimes that actively support terrorism — Saudi Arabia, which funds Hamas and suicide bombers’ families, and the Palestinian Authority, which orders, finances and glorifies the murder of Israeli Jews.”

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, vice president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha, a hawkish Orthodox group, said he was concerned that Lieberman had met with P.A. officials at a time when “President Bush has clearly stated that you’re either with us or against us in the war on terrorism and made a strong position of not negotiating with leaders of the P.A., because they’re part and parcel of terrorism. It raises questions about what kind of message the senator is sending by the people he has chosen to meet with…. He’s arguing for a Clinton-type appeasement.… There’s concern the Senate will look to him as a Jewish voice.”

Lieberman pointedly avoided meeting with Yasser Arafat when he visited Ramallah, equated Israel’s fight against terrorism with that of the United States and said the Palestinians could only gain a state after foreswearing terrorism. His spokesman, Daniel Gerstein, reiterated that position in an interview with the Forward. “It’s the policy of this administration and the U.S., and has been the position of Senator Lieberman for a long time, that there will not be peace until there is a Palestinian state coexisting peacefully alongside Israel,” Gerstein said. “Before we can talk about the creation of a Palestinian state, terror committed by Palestinians has to stop.”

Gerstein said Lieberman’s “position on this is no different than the administration’s,” adding that the senator had criticized Bush last spring when Bush had tried to put a brake on Israeli incursions into the West Bank in response to a wave of terrorist attacks.

Even so, Lieberman was sharply attacked in a December 30 opinion article in The Jerusalem Post by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a popular Orthodox author and lecturer.

“What I found most troubling was Lieberman’s criticism of the Bush administration’s Mideast policies, contrasting them with the ‘tremendous regard’ he held for the devotion former president Bill Clinton showed for creating peace in the Middle East, and for the ‘enormous effort’ he put into trying to solve the conflict,” Boteach wrote. “Let us be clear. For all his good intentions, and for all his genuine love for Israel and the Jewish people, Clinton brought incalculable, even irreparable harm to the Jewish state. His misguided meddling, which involved, among other outrages, inviting Arafat to the White House more than any other world leader, pushed Israel into unending concessions with a partner who was never accepting of Israel’s existence. The result, as we now know, is thousands of Israeli civilians murdered and maimed by Palestinian terrorists.”

Several Orthodox Jewish communal officials said the Boteach article had gained wide distribution and was prompting sentiment against Lieberman’s expected candidacy. The Bush administration also has promoted itself successfully among Orthodox Jews with its hawkish foreign policy stances, they said.

Ganchrow, whose pro-Israel political action committee, Hudpac, has donated to Lieberman’s campaigns, said Lieberman would have to re-earn his stripes among the Orthodox.

“The Orthodox community has four heroes: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice,” Ganchrow said. “There are many people who believe that this is the most outstanding administration on the U.S.-Israel relationship. They don’t have to prove their bona fides or show that they’re fair. Our community is not interested in ‘evenhandedness’ or in showing that the Saudis have moral equivalency. We want a pro-Israel ‘special relationship.’”

Dovish pro-Israel activists, on the other hand, voiced appreciation for Lieberman’s remarks and actions. The director of policy analysis of the Israel Policy Forum, M.J. Rosenberg, said Lieberman had “broadened his base” with his remarks. “A tiny fringe will be upset by what he said,” Rosenberg said. “Most Jews will be proud.” In particular, Lieberman had improved his chances with Democratic activists and opinion makers, Rosenberg said. “I’ve heard people in Washington say they are taking a second look at him because of his Mideast trip,” he said. “When they see a nuanced approach, a middle way of achieving peace, compassion for the Palestinians, they say he’s anything but a mindless hawk.”

Lieberman told reporters after a December 23 meeting with Palestinian Authority Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo that “There’s strong support for the aspirations of the Palestinian people for independent statehood. The question is whether there will be sufficient leadership here and in the world to bring this about sooner than later.”

During a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Lieberman also criticized the conditions in the P.A.’s West Bank capital, Ramallah, as “desperate” and told him that Israel would have a problem in Washington if the situation is not eased after an expected American war with Iraq.

In Saudi Arabia later on in his trip, Lieberman said that the strictly Islamic state, which has been accused by many quarters of financing terrorism and Muslim radicalism, was the target of such terrorism, not its sponsor.

“There is a civil war going on within the Islamic world,” he told reporters at a Tel Aviv news conference. “States like Saudi Arabia ultimately are most at risk from groups like Al Qaeda. Even though they have attacked the U.S. ruthlessly, the goal must be Saudi Arabia. They are clearly not intending to conquer the United States of America, but they all have in mind overthrowing the regime in Saudi Arabia.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.