Dual Loyalties

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Ariel Sharon Booed! To the Right of Most American Jewry but Far to the Left of AIPAC Style Radical Extremists

Israeli PM faces restive U.S. Jews - (United Press International): "Israeli PM faces restive U.S. Jews

By Philip Turner
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
Washington, DC, May. 23 (UPI) -- After being booed by right-wing Jewish activists at a rally to promote his Gaza withdrawal plan Sunday in New York City, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is scheduled to conclude his U.S. speaking tour Tuesday evening addressing to the annual policy conference of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.

Sharon's plan to evacuate 25 Jewish settlements in Gaza has angered religious-nationalists in Israel and the United States. Prior to giving a speech to a crowd of 1,000 supporters at Baruch College Sunday, he was heckled by activists protesting what they feel is his weakening stance in Gaza.

One heckler interrupted Sharon's speech by tearing open his jacket to reveal an anti-withdrawal T-shirt. Sharon told the crowd, "I usually handle these things myself," as the protesters were whisked away by security.

Sharon is on a private trip to the United States. He will not meet officially with the Bush administration during the visit.

Experts predicted a generally supportive reception from AIPAC contributors and activists during their annual high-profile policy meeting that ends Tuesday. They said Sharon needed the support of pro-Israeli American political groups as the Aug. 15-16 withdrawal dates draw nearer.

Sharon has said his plan is the best way to open up a peaceful dialect with Palestinians. His current trip to the United States is an effort to galvanize support from what Sharon recognizes as the important pro-Israeli Jewish groups in American politics.

Alon Ben-Meir, professor of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at New York University, said he expects Sharon's withdrawal plan to be positively received by AIPAC despite the disunity he faced in New York City. "For decades now, you can see that AIPAC has always sided with the Israeli government in power," he said.

That does not mean the reception as a whole will reflect all the attitudes within AIPAC.

"Some people within the leadership in AIPAC might have personal views that differ with the leadership. But their credibility is at stake and they have always shied away from going against the official Israeli position," Ben-Meir said.

Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Sharon has handled the criticism of his controversial plan properly and also expects a receptive crowd at the AIPAC conference.

"AIPAC is a large group that only comes together once a year -- they are likely to be supportive. Prime Minister Sharon comes from a democracy and we are a democracy -- he took it (the heckling) well," said Kipper.

"He is doing a difficult thing," she said. "It is a tough time for Israel moving Israeli's from settlements and he needs American support and understanding. He has taken the time to come across the world, obviously in a posture to seek the support of the Jewish community and organizations like AIPAC."

AIPAC has recently been under controversy as two high-ranking officials, former research director Steve Rosen and Iran analyst Keith Weissman, face the possibility of indictment for allegedly receiving classified information about attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq from Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former top adviser to President Clinton, said that while it is an important speech, Sharon's imperatives go far beyond AIPAC. "The problem with AIPAC is its most influential (former figure) may face indictment. Rosen has quit, but it is under something of a cloud," said Blumenthal.

Blumenthal said the Gaza-withdrawal issue is becoming increasingly important among Jewish groups around the world. "The withdrawal from Gaza creates schisms in Israel and the American community and potentially among supporters of Israel of all kinds," he said. "Right-wing supporters are split on whether they support Sharon or the settlers."

Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, said he expects Sharon's stance on the Gaza withdrawal will be met with some skepticism by AIPAC. "It will probably be as divided as much as Israel society is right now," said Preble. "It is important for Americans to recognize that Israeli society is bitterly divided over the withdrawal plan."

Sharon's speech is to follow one by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. The annual meeting features more than 4,000 pro-Israeli activists from all 50 states and speeches from leadership in both houses of Congress. More than a dozen forums will be held to discuss matters such as Iran's nuclear capabilities, the struggle with Islam and whether or not the Palestinians are ready for a state.

"One of Sharon's major purposes is that he wants to jointly consolidate support with the Jewish community, Congress and the administration," said Ben-Meir. "He knows he has problems with some, but he wants to have support from the most important segments of the population."

Blumenthal said the Gaza withdrawal was just heating up. "This issue will become more prominent and divisive not only in Israel but here in the United States as the date for withdrawal approaches," he said."

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