WASHINGTON - An unusual visitor was invited to address the annual conference held last week in Washington by AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States: the head of the Washington office of the Iraqi National Congress, Intifad Qanbar. The INC is one of the main opposition groups outside Iraq, and its leaders consider themselves natural candidates for leadership positions in the post-Saddam Hussein era. Qanbar's invitation to the conference reflects a first attempt to disclose the links between the American Jewish community and the Iraqi opposition, after years in which the two sides have taken pains to conceal them.
The considerations against openly disclosing the extent of cooperation are obvious - revelation of overly close links with Jews will not serve the interests of the organizations aspiring to lead the Iraqi people. Currently, at the height of rivalry over future leadership of the country among opposition groups abroad, the domestic opposition and Iraqi citizens, it is most certainly undesirable for the Jewish lobby to forge - or flaunt - especially close links with any one of the groups, in a way that would cause its alienation from the others.
"At the current stage, we don't want to be involved in this argument," says a major activist in one of the larger Jewish organizations.
In the end, Intifad Qanbar did not attend the AIPAC conference.
At the last moment, he was asked by the American administration to go to northern Iraq to help organize opposition to Saddam there. In his place, another well-known opposition activist spoke to the conference, Kana Makiya, who is less identified with the Iraqi exile organizations.
The Jewish groups maintain quiet contacts with nearly every Iraqi opposition group, and in the past have even met with the most prominent opposition leader, Ahmed Chalabi. The main objective was an exchange of information, but there was also an attempt to persuade the Iraqis of the need for good relations with Israel and with world Jewry.
"You have to be realistic about your aims," says one Jewish activist. "You have to understand that Iraq will be an Arab state, and that it won't want to adopt a controversial foreign policy."
Nevertheless, the Jewish activists make it clear they do expect the future Iraqi regime to obligate itself not to be aggressive toward Israel and adopt the mainstream view of the Arab world, "perhaps something like the position taken by Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states," says the activist.
Sources in the Jewish community noted last week that while Chalabi's people expressed positive opinions vis-a-vis Israel in conversations with Jews, Adnan Pachachi, another opposition leader who recently founded an opposition movement that competes with the Iraqi National Congress, said last week in London that he does not expect good relations between the new Iraq and Israel, as this would be antithetical to Iraqi interests.
Prayer for soldiers
Aside from the annual AIPAC conference, two other major events in the United States last week underscored the gamut of opinions and perspectives in the American Jewish community on the war. The positioning of the AIPAC people to the right of the coalition forces and to those who sent them is not surprising. AIPAC is wont to support whatever is good for Israel, and so long as Israel supports the war, so too do the thousands of the AIPAC lobbyists who convened in the American capital.
There is no such uniformity among the various religious Jewish movements, and indecisiveness is still very much the case. In Los Angeles, members of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly gathered and tried to clarify their position on the war. The 350 rabbis shelved the discussions that were on the original program, and devoted all of their time to the question of whether they were for or against the war. In the end, the issue was submitted to an executive council, which issued a draft resolution that offered support for the war, albeit with reservations.
"Judaism affirms the permissibility of war as a response to life-threatening aggression, current or anticipated," read the statement drafted by the Conservative rabbis, who confirmed that they were in agreement with the idea of a preemptive war such as the one declared by President Bush. The movement's rabbis also expressed support for the efforts of coalition forces to remove the threat of terror and nuclear weapons, and expressed support for the soldiers themselves. The movement qualified this by stating that Judaism "affirms the supreme value of peace and peacemaking," although it could accept wars conducted for the purposes of defense.
The rabbis also called for "continued restraint" in conducting actions among civilian populations and for harming non-combatants to be avoided as much as possible.
Nevertheless, the Conservative movement went through its share of trial and tribulation before reaching this draft resolution. Before the war and in its initial days, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the movement's primary educational institution, was one of the most prominent spokesmen against the war. The U.S. was entering an "era of darkness," he said, adding the war was motivated by political, not defensive, aims.
Once the war began, however, Rabbi Schorsch took a step back. In a New York Times article, he declared that he did not want to criticize the war at a time when soldiers were engaged in combat. Many viewed this as a restatement of his views.
To a great extent, the approach taken by Schorsch reflects the path taken by the Conservative movement. Despite the wide diversity of opinions within the movement on the eve of the war, and the numerous reservations voiced, as soon as combat began, those with criticism opted to declare their support and minimized their criticism. The resolution approved in Los Angeles last week is a product of this process.
The dilemma is more pronounced among Reform Jews. They also convened last week to formulate a joint position, and they too were careful not to launch any strident criticism of the war itself. The Reform movement is considered the home of liberal Jewry, and its membership is thought to be people who were the driving force of the civil rights movement of the `60s. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Democratic members of Congress who came to address the conference, including Senator Edward Kennedy and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, were received with thunderous applause. The sole Republican representative, Congressman Eric Cantor, sufficed with a modicum of polite applause.
Sharp criticism was voiced from the podium at President Bush on a variety of issues, but criticism of the war in Iraq did not take central stage.
"While there is a spectrum of views in the Reform movement on the Iraq war, there is a consensus that it does not take the place of all the other wars - against poverty, hatred and exploitation," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
The only decision relevant to the war was agreement on a prayer for the welfare of the soldiers at the front, and recognition of the fact that there are a variety of opinions on the war. The resolution that was adopted is very far from constituting an expression of support of any kind for the war, but is also far from constituting criticism of it.
The situation is simpler among the Orthodox. Immediately upon the outbreak of the war, the Orthodox Union, the umbrella organization of the community, released a statement that expressed unequivocal support for President Bush and his decision to launch the war on Iraq, which was described as having "noble aims."
So far, the only poll that has been sought to gauge Jewish opinions on the war - conducted a month before it broke out - found that 56 percent of Jews were supportive of the war. The rate is said to be even higher now, corresponding to increased support for the war among the American populace in general.
Secret relations with Saudi Arabia
Last week, the United States decided to alter the flight paths of its Tomahawk cruise missiles, which had been passing above Saudi Arabia, in response to Saudi complaints that four of the missiles had fallen in its territory and endangered residents of the kingdom. A similar request was voiced by Turkey, after it developed that the IQ of some of the smart bombs was not high enough for them to find their way to Baghdad, and they landed on Turkish soil.
The Saudi request to cease firing the missiles above its territory is illustrative of a fact that all of the sides are trying to conceal - that from the outset Saudi Arabia agreed to place its air space at the disposal of the Americans for the purpose of launching missiles at Iraq from ships in the Red Sea.
Saudi Arabia is the hidden player in the American war on Iraq. Prior to the outbreak of combat, it made it publicly clear that it opposed the war and declared that it would not cooperate with the Americans. As opposed to the first Gulf War, in which Saudi Arabia was a major partner and a main base of departure for the military forces in Iraq, it is now sitting on the sidelines, ostensibly uninvolved. Nevertheless, well-informed American sources report that the two countries agreed it would be better to obscure the military cooperation between the two sides, which have reached agreement to allow America to exploit many of Saudi Arabia's strategic assets.
The trajectory of the cruise missiles above Saudi Arabia is but one example. It is further charged that the Saudis are also permitting the United States to use Saudi air space for intelligence flights and that the main U.S. Air Force base in Saudi Arabia is assisting by providing flight control of the aircraft conducting bombing missions in Iraq. This American base was supposed to play a major role in the war, and serve as a home base for most of the bombing sorties, but in the early stages of preparations for war about six months ago, the Saudis made it clear they would not permit the Americans to take off from Saudi soil to bomb Saddam. However, once the crisis atmosphere faded somewhat, the Americans realized it would be possible to reach quiet understandings with the Saudis. One if them is that while America would not take off from Saudi Arabia, it would be able to use its air space, and provide flight control from its territory.
Another understanding has to do with oil. American war planners feared that one of the immediate repercussions of the war would be a steep spike in oil prices, due to both the suspension of albeit limited Iraqi oil exports (of 1.7 million barrels a day) and the generally nervous wartime market. In this case, Saudi Arabia again entered the picture. Many weeks before the first shot was fired in the Gulf, the Saudis stepped up the pace of oil production in order to compensate for a possible shortage, reaching a rate of production higher than anything in the past 20 years.
The United States is buying up the surplus and laying in a stockpile, while simultaneously ensuring that world oil prices remain stable. When the war ends, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will again be able to out their relationship from the closet.
One American source declared that the American public would be surprised to discover just how critical was the Saudi contribution to the American war effort. The kingdom is not enjoying much support from American public opinion. On the day after, Washington and Riyadh will have to find a way to overcome the other obstacles that have hurt relations of the two countries in the past two years: the attitude toward Crown Prince Abdullah's peace plan, the issue of Saudi cooperation in the terror investigations, and the continued massive presence of American soldiers on Saudi soil.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now