Indyk Blasts ZOA President
A top State Department official, criticized for hiring a pro-Palestinian activist, fired back with both barrels this week. Speaking before the Anti-Defamation League leadership conference on Monday, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Martin Indyk read an angry statement defending his hiring of Joseph Zogby, a young lawyer and the son of longtime Arab-American leader James Zogby.
Indyk explicitly criticized Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein, who uncovered Zogby’s writings and mounted a campaign against Klein, for “scurrilous attacks and inaccurate claims.”
Zogby was hired last summer for a one-year stint as a special assistant to Indyk. Before coming to State, he was a co-founder of the Palestine Peace Project, which brings American lawyers to the West Bank to work with human rights groups.
During that time, Indyk said, Zogby “experienced [the Palestinian] side of the conflict, and that is what he wrote about. He wrote in anguish, not in anger; he was certainly critical of Israel and aspects of American policy, but he was not then and is not now an Israel hater, as he has been depicted.”
Indyk, a former employee of the pro-Israel lobby, expressed his disagreement with Zogby’s writings, calling them “distasteful and disturbing.”
But he said that Zogby accepted U.S. policy in the region, which he said is based on the view that Israel is a close friend and strategic ally.
“He has been thoughtful, intelligent and very hardworking. Most importantly he has been loyal and supportive of the administration’s policies. That is how we judge him, and that is how he should have been judged.”
Indyk said that he had asked Zogby — who attended the event — to stay after his one-year job ended, and offered him a promotion. “He is considering this offer, together with other job offers he has received. The decision is his to make. He has not been fired, ousted, nor will he be.”
Indyk’s words were enough for ADL director Abraham Foxman, who said that he will not object to Zogby’s continued employment in the Near East bureau.
They weren’t enough for Klein, who said the Zogby appointment was just one more example of an administration that has been hostile to Israel.
“The fact that Indyk would hire a man who has written articles in an anti-Semitic magazine saying Israel is a ‘monster and alien oppressor’ strongly suggests that not only are Clinton and Indyk not pro-Israel, but that they are biased in favor of the Arab cause.”
Reform Activists In Washington Spotllight
Jewish activists were out in force in Washington this week as several major groups held gatherings that delved into a wide range of issues.
More than 400 activists attending the “Consultation on Conscience,” a biennial gathering sponsored by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism that traditionally focuses mostly on domestic social justice issues, veered off and spent much of their time this week agonizing over the tragedy in Kosovo.
But delegates were also briefed on issues such as Social Security and Medicare reform, health care, tobacco regulation and gun control.
NAACP executive director Kweisi Mfume spoke about the growing problems of police brutality and racial “profiling,” and urged the Reform movement to continue its long tradition of helping bring diverse groups in the nation together. He also termed the black-Jewish relationship “essential.”
The group honored Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) and Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.) for their role in defeating last year’s school prayer amendment to the Constitution.
“God does not want forced followers,” Edwards told the group, which played a major role in the defeat of the “Istook Amendment.”
A highlight was Monday night’s oversold tribute dinner marking Rabbi David Saperstein’s 25th year as RAC director.
The featured guest: President Bill Clinton, who fired off the usual jokes about Saperstein’s loquacity. “When I first met him, I thought, this guy is some talker,” he said.
“Even by the high standards of rabbis, he can talk.”
But the president then turned somber, musing on the links between the crisis in Kosovo and last week’s high school massacre in Colorado. Both were related, he said, to our tendency to define the world according to inflexible social, racial and national categories.
He promised to continue the effort to end Serbian ethnic cleansing, but said it won’t be enough.
“We cannot stop when the war is over and the refugees go home,” he said. “We have to give the people in the Balkans a way to be proud of their ethnic heritage, acknowledge that
they all have legitimate historical grievances, and then recognize that no one ever gets even. That is God’s work; we don’t do that.”
Leaders of the Anti-Defamation League were also in town for briefings by a number of public figures, including Education Secretary Richard Riley, who analyzed the problem of hate crimes on campus, and Attorney General Janet Reno.
On Sunday the group met in a closed session with CIA director George Tenet, who reiterated that “I will not tolerate a double standard — or a heightened level of counterintelligence scrutiny — for any person simply due to that person’s religion or ethnicity.”
He was responding to complaints by a former CIA lawyer, whose suspension has led to charges of rampant anti-Semitism in the spy agency.
ADL executive director Abraham Foxman said Tenet “broke no new ground,” but praised the CIA director’s openness and willingness to come before the group.
Duking It Out
Jewish politicos are waiting in suspense as voters in a district just outside New Orleans get set to cast their ballots in next week’s special election to fill the seat of retired Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.).
The big issue: the candidacy of former Ku Klux Klansman and current white supremacist David Duke, who is running for the seat as a Republican.
The experts say the frontrunner is former Gov. Dave Treen, Livingston’s choice for the job. Treen — also a former congressman — is a law-and-order Republican who favors public executions of drug dealers.
The field features other unconventional candidates, including an ophthalmologist named Monica Monica and an electrician who says he should be elected because he is a virgin.
Polls show Duke doing poorly. But Jewish politicos are not ready to declare him a sure loser in the May 1 vote.
“Traditionally Duke always does better than the polls indicate because people are reluctant to admit they’re going to vote for him,” said Charles Brooks, executive director of
the National PAC, a pro-Israel funding group. “Under Louisiana’s strange open primary system, the two top candidates in the field of nine will face each other in a May 29 runoff. In a field filled with weak opponents to Treen, it is not inconceivable Duke could win one of the runoff slots, Brooks said.
Local Republicans have been unwilling to follow the lead of the Republican National Committee and repudiate Duke, which has led to criticisms from Jewish groups.
Recently the American Jewish Congress blasted Gov. Murphy J. Foster for his “astounding” refusal to condemn Duke.
“In our discussions with the Republican National Committee concerning Mr. Duke’s claim to a leadership role in the party, we have been repeatedly assured that no responsible Republican harbors the slightest sympathy for Mr. Duke,” wrote AJ Congress director Phil Baum. “Your silence in the face of Mr. Duke’s candidacy threatens to undermine that assurance, to the detriment of the entire Republican Party.”
Uneven Progress On Auschwitz Crosses
Efforts to remove hundreds of crosses erected by Catholic extremists at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps are inching forward, though not without snags.
Recently the Polish senate passed their version of a law approved earlier by the lower house to turn over jurisdiction of all Polish death camp sites to federal authorities.
That would permit officials in Warsaw to remove the new crosses. When they were erected last summer, a coalition of Jewish groups broke off negotiations with the Polish government over the future of the Auschwitz-Birkenau site.
But the senators threw in a nasty little surprise: an amendment approving the continuing presence of another cross, erected a decade ago to commemorate the visit of the pope in 1979.
The Jewish negotiating team, led by U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council chair Miles Lerman, had said the papal cross was negotiable, while the additional crosses were not.
The amendment approving the cross would have constituted a precondition that the coalition could not accept, Council sources say.
But the lower house, or Sejm, quickly reversed the Senate’s action on the papal cross. Under Polish law, that means it will not appear in the final legislation.
“It would have been a problem if it had remained,” said Ralph Grunewald, director of external relations for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The government realized that. They acted responsibly and removed it.”
The final version of the measure should be approved by May 6, he said. After a mandatory 14 day waiting period, he said the new crosses will be removed and negotiations can resume.