May 20, 1999
The Local Reaction
There were decorous cheers and scattered thumbs-up signs as Ehud Barak's projected victory was announced at 12:30 p.m. Monday to some 20 people gathered in Sherman Oaks for an hour-long video conference with pundits in Israel, Washington and New York.
There was another small stir when Israeli analyst Arye Carmon told conferees in eight American cities that Binyamin Netanyahu had resigned as head of the Likud Party.
Otherwise, the small audience of professional Jewish community workers seemed attentive but not particularly excited during the remainder of the video conference.
In an informal audience poll afterwards, the dominant feeling was one of relief that Israel would be spared two more weeks of acrimonious campaigning and a run-off election.
Becky Sobelman-Stern, Western regional director of the United Jewish Communities, which hosted the event together with the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, said that one of Barak's early priorities should be a visit to the United States to introduce himself to the Jewish community.
At the Israel consulate-general in Los Angeles, spokesman Arthur Lenk reported that he and his colleagues kept their TV sets tuned to CNN for regular updates, and that half a dozen media had called in for comment.
Elsewhere in the community, Barak's landslide evoked strong and immediate opinions. "Halellujah. Is that enough of a quote?" said Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh of Temple Israel of Hollwyood. "I know he will balance Israel's security needs with the desire for peace."
John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said Barak's ability to draw froma wide base of support bodes well for the future of Jewish unity.
"I think the general mood is an eagerness to heal Israel's inner tensions," said Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sepahrdic Temple Tifereth Israel. "And I think Barak's camp will make concerted efforts in the area of Sephardi/Ashkenazi relations."
Dr. Larry Eisenberg, president of the Orthodox Union West Coast region, warned against using a landslide victory as an excuse to steamroll over those who disagree. "I'm hopeful that the new administration will look for a consensus in Israel, particularly regarding how to pursue peace, but that they don't view this as an opportunity to impose the entire agenda of the secular left, which will split the country once again," Eisenberg said.
Avi Davis, director of the Israel Development Group, asserts that the press and the Israeli Left demonized Netanyahu, and that Barak, once the shine of victory fades, may turn out to resemble his predecesor more than "even his supporters would care to admit."
But businessman Dick Gunther, a leading activist for Americans for Peace Now, joined many in welcoming the end of what they considered the divisive and bitter prime ministership of Netanyahu. "I think it's wonderful," he said.