Jewish Journal

Mixed Reaction

Los Angeles Jewish leaders expect changes in approach to peace process as most pledge support.

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Feb. 8, 2001 at 7:00 pm

Ariel Sharon, who won a sweeping victory in Israel's election for prime minister this week, casts his vote Tuesday.  JTA photo

Ariel Sharon, who won a sweeping victory in Israel's election for prime minister this week, casts his vote Tuesday. JTA photo

In an initial reaction Tuesday to Ariel Sharon's electoral victory, most Jewish leaders in Los Angeles pledged support to Israel's democratically elected leader.

Some liberal spokesmen took a wait-and-see attitude on the new prime minister's future policy, while others, including an Arab American leader, foresaw increasing pressure by the new U.S. administration on Sharon.

Among the latter was political activist Stanley Sheinbaum, one of the earliest advocates of relations with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"I think President Bush's administration, given its oil connections, will exert more pressure on Israel to come to terms with the Palestinians. Israel will have to be careful not to lose the $3 billion it gets annually from Washington," Sheinbaum said.

He saw some slight hope that Sharon, emulating President Nixon's breakthrough in relations with China, might be in a position to rally right-wing support for a deal with Arafat.

Sheinbaum was also critical of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak for resigning the Labor Party leadership. "Barak should have done that one week earlier, instead of showing a selfish attitude, so that Shimon Peres could have run in his stead," he said.

By contrast, advertising executive David Suissa, publisher of Olam magazine, termed the Sharon victory "a major reality check."

Suissa, who acknowledged that his Jews for Truth campaign aided Sharon, ascribed Barak's defeat to his attempts to quick-fix problems rather than tackle the underlying conditions.

Furthermore, "Barak went to a street brawl in ballet shoes," Suissa said.

The mainstream view of major Jewish institutions was given voice by John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

"There has been a democratic change of leadership in Israel, which will likely pursue different strategies in moving toward peace," Fishel said. "We have worked with successive prime ministers of different ideologies and will continue to do so."

Similarly, Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles, the dean of Jewish congressmen, said that "U.S.-Israel relations transcend political shifts and parties, because they are based on shared values of democracy."

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, believes that the Sharon victory does not mean "a eulogy for the peace process itself, but only for a peace process accompanied by continuous violence. ... If Arafat can't control the violence, then he should step aside."

Quoting a Tel Aviv cab driver, Hier concurred that "Arafat has earned Sharon."

Bruce Bialosky, who chairs the Los Angeles chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, urged that Sharon be given a chance to prove his effectiveness as prime minister, without prejudging him on the basis of any past actions.

He blamed former President Bill Clinton for forcing Barak into making unacceptable concessions, especially on the future of Jerusalem, and said he was "shocked that the American Jewish community hadn't called Clinton on this action, designed to enhance his legacy.

"Clinton was responsible for the downfall of both Binyamin Netanyahu and Barak, and we can be sure that the Bush administration will follow a different policy," Bialosky said.

Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, a leading Reform rabbi and past president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said much will depend on "which Sharon will become prime minister. Will he model himself on [former prime minister Menachem] Begin and become a hawk who makes peace? Or will he stand and not give an inch?"

Goldmark just returned from Israel, where the U.S. ambassador told him that the Middle East was like a bicycle: you move forward or you fall off. "I hope Sharon understands that," the rabbi said.

Rabbi Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple said, "I am deeply concerned about Sharon's election. He faces enormous challenges, and though he has the capacity to move forward, it will take all his strength and imagination to do so."

Donna Bojarsky, a well-known activist in liberal and Democratic Party circles, drew some encouragement from the fact that "Sharon had to use peace slogans in his campaign in order to win, so you can't automatically consider his victory as a rejection of the peace process. After all, some 70 percent of Israelis say they are for the peace process."

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