Likud defeat makes U.S. Jewish support of Israel an easier task, leaders say


The dramatic defeat of Israel's hard-line Likud government this week does not alter the fundamental reasons for U.S. Jewish support of Israel.

But it may make the job easier, some Jewish leaders in Baltimore acknowledge.

The positions of Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin, the likely new prime minister, are more compatible with what Washington wants: He is expected to quicken the Middle East peace process, curb Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, and work toward Palestinian autonomy.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir resisted many of those objectives.

Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he has found it rough at times in explaining Israeli policy under the Shamir government. "Obviously the election results make it easier" because "American political leaders tend to favor policies that are more in line with Labor," he said.

He suspects the same is true of most U.S. Jews. "If they had voted, they probably would have voted for Rabin," he said.

Rabbi Joel Zaiman, a past president of the Synagogue Council of America, which represents U.S. Judaism in dialogue with other religions, believes that "most American Jews are delighted with the victory of Rabin."

As a leader at the national level, "I became increasingly uncomfortable with what I consider to be the single focus of the Shamir government, which was that there should be a greater Israel in terms of land," said Rabbi Zaiman, spiritual leader of Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville. He said he feared that Israel's economy and other vital issues "weren't being addressed because of the single focus of the Shamir government."

The Jewish Peace Lobby in Silver Spring, which bills itself as an alternative Jewish lobby, welcomed the Labor victory as a breakthrough for peace prospects.

Steve Masters, the lobby's associate director, chided establishment Jewish leaders for not breaking ranks "when they themselves and the American Jewish public were significantly at odds with what the Likud government was doing."

But while Mr. Masters wants the Bush administration to continue linking U.S. loan guarantees for Israel to a halt in new settlements, other leaders say most U.S. Jews will continue to object to this tactic.

When U.S. Jewish leaders disagree with Israeli government policies, their objection is often inhibited because they don't live in Israel or with its security risks, said Adam Kessler, the Baltimore Jewish Council's associate director who staffs its Mideast committee.

"Sometimes you disagree with certain policies, but you understandwhy they came up with those policies," he said.

"The security risks of Israel are not as apparent as they once were," but those risks remain, he said.

In his role as "an advocate for the state of Israel," Jim Schiller, a Baltimore accounting firm partner who is national president of the Zionist Organization of America, said that no matter who is in power in Israel, the issues for him remain fundamentally the same.

For example, if Mr. Rabin abandons Mr. Shamir's aggressive policy of Jewish settlement, he is likely to continue supporting settlements in the territories that are necessary for security reasons.

And that might not be enough to appease the Bush administration, Mr. Schiller said. So as a new Israeli government takes power, he said, "our battle is the same way."

The loan guarantees are strictly a humanitarian issue of financing the absorption of Russian Jewish immigrants, said Jerold Hoffberger, former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The agency administers funds raised for Israel from the Jewish diaspora. He said his "comfort level in this country" changed not because of Mr. Shamir, but because of the Bush administration and its policies toward Israel.

And as Israel changes its government, with the prospect of significant policy change, U.S. Jewish leaders prefer to emphasize that Israeli voters "have demonstrated that the only democracy in the Middle East works very well," said Shoshana S. Cardin, chairwoman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Mrs. Cardin, a Baltimorean who was in Jerusalem this week as an elections said the results provide the next Israeli government with "a greater mandate than they have had for some years."

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