Israel-Bashing Feared at Racism Conference
Jewish groups and Israeli diplomats met in London last week to map out strategies for fighting Arab and Muslim efforts to hijack an upcoming international conference on racism that is shaping up as the biggest bash-Israel session ever.
But the Israeli officials who addressed the activists provided little reassurance that their government has a strategy for controlling the anti-Israel rhetoric at the gathering, which will convene in Durban, South Africa, in late August.
Last week's meeting included representatives of groups such as the Wiesenthal Center, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the World Jewish Congress.
One participant described that session as "useful, " but said the Israeli delegation -- headed by deputy foreign minister Michael Melchior -- "really didn't want to hear what we have done. There was a sense that the government has a plan, but what that plan is wasn't really clear. "
For American Jewish groups, the issue is complicated by strong support for the conference by African American leaders, who are working to avert any U.S. boycott -- in part because it's the first major conference focusing on racism, in part because it will also take up the issue of reparations for descendants of slaves.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has made it clear he objects both to the anti-Israel content of the conference and the reparations focus.
Jewish groups want the United States to press the meeting's planners to delete the anti-Israel rhetoric.
The Jewish groups do not want a boycott, however. "We want Powell to go," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who attended the London meeting. "If it really looks like [the debate] will go after Israel, we need our best representative there to argue against it. And what more powerful symbol could we have than Powell?"
The Bush administration is keeping its options open as planning for the conference accelerates.
Officials here privately concede that the best U.S. efforts will not eliminate the anti-Israel themes, but are hoping increasing U.S. pressure will provide a modicum of balance.
"This is an effort to delegitimize Israel, to characterize the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in Israel as 'ethnic cleansing,'" Cooper said.
He said the 1975 U.N. "Zionism is racism" resolution is "nothing in comparison to what is being done by Israel's enemies today."
Congress is also starting to look at the upcoming conference. This week Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) was gathering signatures on letters to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and to Powell that state: "Outdated canards and unfair attacks should not be part of any conference in which the United States participates."
Anti-Semitic Newspaper Goes Bust
A group described by the ADL as "the most significant anti-Semitic propaganda organization in United States " is going out of business, the victim of a fierce internal war.
The Washington-based Liberty Lobby and its weekly newspaper, the Spotlight, specialized in what it called "exposing " a wide range of so-called bizarre Israeli government conspiracies and attacking "Zionist control" of Congress.
The newspaper was vended from machines around Capitol Hill. Unlike many extremist groups, "the Liberty Lobby did have an audience in Washington, " said Abraham Foxman, ADL director. "A lot of people were sucked in because of its name, because of its publications."
At its peak, the Spotlight's circulation was more than 315,000, but it had fallen to under 100,000 in recent years. This week the newspaper's plan for reorganization was thrown out by a bankruptcy court.
The bankruptcy was the result of a long legal tussle between Willis Carto, who founded the group in 1955, and the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) -- a group ADL has labeled a top purveyor of Holocaust revisionism. Carto was a co-founder of that group, but split with it in the mid-1990s.
Foxman cheered the bankruptcy. "Once in a while there is good news in the fight against bigotry and anti-Semitism, " he said. "It is a positive message that one of the oldest and most extreme groups has collapsed. It may indicate that there is less of a market for these kinds of extreme views."
The last issue of the Spotlight featured a warning that the IHR was preparing to sell the Liberty Lobby's mailing list to the hated ADL.
White House Pushes Courts on Vouchers
The Bush administration failed to get school voucher provisions into the education bill now moving through Congress -- which is why the White House is now turning its attention to the courts.
Last week the administration officially urged the Supreme Court to take up a Cleveland voucher program that partisans on both sides of the voucher debate say may be the best case available for the long-awaited High Court airing of the subject.
The Cleveland program, which serves some 3,700 students, was ruled unconstitutional by an appeals court last year. Ohio has appealed that ruling, and the Supreme Court will consider that case when they reconvene in October.
Recently, Theodore B. Olson, the new solicitor general of the Justice Department, formally urged the Supreme Court to take up the Cleveland case, arguing that it is important for policy-makers to know "whether such programs are a constitutionally permissible option for expanding education opportunity for children enrolled in failing public schools across America."
Abba Cohen, Washington representative for Agudath Israel of America, said the unusual petition was a way for the Bush administration to "make a tangible expression of support for school choice and its constitutionality."
Cohen said the statement was particularly important since the Bush voucher plan was derailed in Congress -- in part because of concerns among lawmakers about the constitutionality of the whole vouchers concept.
A Supreme Court decision in favor of the Cleveland program, he said, would boost efforts to pass a voucher bill in Congress.
Voucher opponents also said they would welcome a definitive ruling on the Cleveland program. "There is wide agreement that it's about time for the [Supreme]Court to take a major voucher case, " said Richard Foltin, legislative director for the AJC, which opposes vouchers. "From a church-state point of view, this would be a very favorable case."