John Kerry’s plans for securing more European and international support in Iraq are prompting worries among Jewish communal leaders — including some Democrats — that such outreach will carry a price tag: increased American pressure on Israel.
During a speech Monday, Kerry repeated his belief that Europe needs to be more involved in Iraq. Some Jewish leaders say that European nations will not increase their activity in Iraq without a parallel increase in American pressure on Israel.
Questions over Kerry’s approach arose even as most Jewish groups offered no criticism of President Bush’s pointed criticisms of Israel. In a speech Tuesday before the United Nations Generally Assembly, Bush rebuked Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.
“Israel should impose a settlement freeze; dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and avoid any actions that prejudice final negotiations,” an apparent reference to the route of Israel’s security fence.
Kerry offered his own vision for international cooperation in the Middle East during a speech on Iraq, delivered at New York University.
“We must make Iraq the world’s responsibility, because the world has a stake in the outcome and others should share the burden,” Kerry said. “I’m convinced that with the right leadership, we can create a fresh start,” Kerry added, ticking off a list of suggestions of ways in which Europeans could help America, such as supplying trainers for Iraqi security forces.
Echoing concerns often heard among neoconservatives — and quietly among some pro-Israel Democrats — David Twersky, the international affairs director of the American Jewish Congress, said that the increased involvement of European nations probably would come at the expense of concessions regarding American policy toward Israel.
“It’s not at all clear to me how you get countries that have been aloof or hostile to American policy in Iraq to pony up and pull our bacon out of the fire,” Twersky said. “Usually, in international affairs, you have to offer something to get something. What is John Kerry offering?”
“The only place the Americans have something to give is Palestine,” Twersky continued. “I don’t think Kerry is anti-Israel, but the party is cool to Israel and there would be a fight in a Kerry administration over foreign policy generally and Israel in particular. It’s hard to reach the conclusion a Kerry administration wouldn’t look to Israel because it doesn’t have much wiggle room elsewhere.”
David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said that while some Europeans might be willing to accommodate Kerry’s Iraq plan in order to prove that they are merely anti-Bush as opposed to anti-American, others would outright refuse, vowing: “We’re not going within 100 yards of Iraq.”
“My guess is, if John Kerry wins, the Europeans will make substantial overtures to the new Kerry team,” said Harris, who recently returned from meetings with top leaders in France and Germany. “The Europeans will be probing as well for what’s new and what’s not. One of the areas they will truly probe will be the Arab-Israeli issue. Our hope and expectation is that they will see no daylight between the Kerry approach and that of the previous administration.”
The Kerry campaign was quick to dismiss any speculation that it would sacrifice Israel, so to speak, on the altar of Babylon.
“That’s absurd,” said Mel Levine, a former California congressman who heads up Kerry’s Middle East task force. “John Kerry has made it abundantly clear in his career and his campaign: He doesn’t want to press Israel to make any concessions that would compromise it.”
Levine said that “it’s bizarre to suggest that working with the international community in ways that would enhance Israel’s security, not detract from it” would be bad. He gave as an example the need to forestall Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon — a goal, he added, that America could not accomplish by itself.
Levine’s contentions found an echo in the liberal foreign policy establishment. “In all likelihood, many traditional allies would be delighted if Kerry wins,” said Charles Kupchan, a Georgetown University professor who directed European affairs for the National Security Council during the early years of the Clinton administration.
“They will do what they can to rebuild alliances and look like they’re offering more in Iraq,” Kupchan said. He added: “I don’t think American Jews should be worried about a Kerry administration selling short Israel. That’s ridiculous. Would our allies like that? Yeah. But it’s more a question of process than outcome. There isn’t much difference in vision between Europe and the United States. Both envision a two-state solution.”
“I think the Europeans would be much more inclined to work with the United States on Iraq if there’s a Kerry administration,” said Henry Siegman, director of the U.S./Middle East project at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Europeans are rooting intensely for a Kerry victory. If Kerry came in, their efforts to undo the damage would begin immediately. I don’t think a Kerry administration has to sell out the State of Israel. That’s a paranoid notion.”
A Western European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he expected “more political or moral pressure” from a Kerry administration regarding Europe’s role in Iraq. As far as the rest of the Middle East goes: “Not much change is to be expected concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
That might be good news, as far as American Jewish communal leaders are concerned. Bush’s U.N. speech and its references to Israel sparked mainly praise; leaders including Pro-Israel lobbyists on Capitol Hill and Israeli diplomats were especially satisfied with Bush’s call on world leaders not to deal with or support Yasser Arafat.
The president’s speech followed up on three years of American policy, said the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, adding: “It is what Israel has been asking for, a Palestinian rulership that is tolerant, open ended, which fights terrorism.”
— With reporting from Ori Nir in Washington and Marc Perelman in New York.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK: President Bush (left) urged an Israeli settlement freeze during his United Nations speech on Tuesday. Meanwhile, John Kerry (right) spoke about Iraq at New York University the same day.