Lieberman Mideast tour designed to provide "balance" for presidential run.
Morton Klein, president of the hard-
line Zionist Organization of America.
"I think that WILL hurt his chances
en. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.,
Lieberman met with Palestinian offi-
on a major Mideast swing
cials but shunned leader Yasser Arafat.
over the winter break, is
He also met with leaders in Qatar,
doing just what preside'ntial
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He warned
candidates do: traveling to world hot
spots to reinforce his presidential qual- Saudi leaders that they could jeopard-
ize relations with Washington if they
do not support the U.S. war against
But his 10-day Mideast trip has a
special significance for Lieberman,
He also jumped into the controversy
who hopes to become the first Jewish
the administration's relatively
presidential candidate of a major party.
low-key response to North Korea's
Lieberman's nomination prospects
accelerating nuclear weapons pro-
were boosted last month when former
Vice President Al Gore announced he - grams, while getting ready to send a
massive U.S. force into Iraq.
will not be a candidate in 2004.
"The Bush administration, in taking
Lieberman has said he will make a for-
option off the table and not
mal announcement about his plans
negotiating with Kim Jong.II has left
later this month.
us with a policy that seems nowhere
Benjamin Ginsberg, a political sci-
and has created a crisis," he told
entist at Johns Hopkins University,
Connecticut reporters over the week-
said Lieberman's state-
ments in the region rep-
All of which adds up to the opening
resent a conscious effort
of a yet-to-be-declared presi-
to pre-position the can-
didate for inevitable
"He's doing exactly what he should
campaign trail questions
be doing: getting himself on camera,
about his commitment
reinforcing his record on foreign poli-
to U.S. interests.
cy, showing he's fair and experienced,"
"He's running for pres-
said a top Jewish Democrat. "In
ident of the United
Lieberman's case, that may produce
States, not prime minister of Israel,"
controversy in some quarters of the
Ginsberg said. "He will be asked over
Jewish community, but that will have
and over again: will he put Israel's
little impact on his overall campaign."
interests over America's? He has to
make statements that he can point to
later on that show his long record of
Committee Musical Chairs
putting American interests first."
It's the kind of backroom game that
That's just what Lieberman did on a
only a congressional insider could
10-day trip that included meetings
with Israeli, Palestinian and Saudi
But the outcome of the quiet debate
over the future of a critical subcom-
In a series of statements, Lieberman
mittee of the House International
— a lifelong supporter of Israel —
Relations Committee could have a big
appeared to be striving for balance in
impact on pro-Israel efforts in the new
his Mideast positions.
Congress, which convenes next week.
In Israel, he stated his support for
The Middle East and South Asia
eventual Palestinian statehood and
subcommittee is on the GOP hit list,
referred to the "desperate humanitari-
now that the chairman — former Rep.
an conditions" among West Bank
Ben Gilman, R-N.Y. — is out of
That angered right-of-center pro-
The subcommittee was revived a few
Israel activists in the U.S.
years ago as a consolation prize for
"I think grassroots Jews will be very
Gilman after committee term limits
concerned about him endorsing a
forced him out of the top slot on
Palestinian state at a time when Jews
International Relations. Now that
are being killed on a daily basis," said
JAMES D. BESSER
Washington CO rresp ondent
Gilman is gone, House leaders are
eager to put the subcommittee out of
Under current rules, committees are
limited to five subcommittees; keeping
the Mideast committee would require
a special waiver from International
Relations chairman Rep. Henry Hyde,
Why does any of this political com-
mittee-shuffling make a difference?
Because the subcommittee has tradi-
tionally been a forum for pro-Israel
activism, and because Hyde, while
pro-Israel, is relatively indifferent to
the whole set of Mideast issues.
And having a Mideast subcommittee
means a separate staff that works
exclusively on related issues; if Mideast
matters are taken over by the full com-
mittee, Mideast issues will compete
with dozens of other critical interna-
tional issues for time and attention.
"For pro-Israel lobby-
ists there's a delicate cal-
culation going on," said
a Jewish Capitol Hill
staffer. "They aren't par-
ticularly happy with
Hyde's level of interest in
the pro-Israel agenda, so
they'd like the subcom-
mittee to stay in busi-
ness. But that calculation works only if
t4e right person takes it over."
Leading candidates to take over the
subcommittee, if it is spared are Rep.
Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., and Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
Ros-Lehtinen has been a hawkish
and vocal supporter of Israel; Bereuter
has generally not been a friend to pro-
Some pro-Israel leaders are quietly
urging Republican leaders to retain the
subcommittee — with Ros-Lehtinen
as its chair.
AIPAC On Campus
According to some accounts,
American colleges are seething breed-
ing grounds for anti-Israel and anti-
But some Jewish leaders say the cur-
rent crisis in Israel and the rise of anti-
Semitism around the world have also
ignited a Jewish campus revolution
that is producing a new breed of
focused, politically savvy activists.
Some of those young activists were
in Washington over the weekend hon-
ing their political skills as part of the
re-invigorated young leadership pro-
gram of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the
The group's Saban National Political
Leadership Training Seminar brought
together 240 students from 60 "target-
ed campuses" for advanced training in
campus activism that doesn't lose sight
of the real target of the pro-Israel
effort: decision makers in Washington.
"For the sophisticated- pro-Israel
activist, Washington is the target," said
Jonathan Kessler, who helped create
AIPAC's young leadership program
two decades ago and recently was
brought back when the group decided
to redouble its efforts. "That's as true
on campus as it is in the broader com-
munity. Advocacy without political
action is like shouting in the wind."
Kessler said AIPAC has forged a
strategic alliance" with other groups
active on campuses, including Hillel:
The Foundation for Jewish Campus
Participants in the AIPAC program,
he said, are being driven both by the
continuing threats to Israel's existence
and changing political realities in this
"They recognize that Israel is under
assault," he said. "They also recognize
that it isn't enough to play defense in
terms of pro-Israel activism; they have
to be actively involved in strengthen-
ing the U.S.-Israel alliance for the future.
And they're looking for tools to enhance
the effectiveness of their activism."
Already, he said, their activism is
starting to produce results.
Participants are circulating pro-Israel
petitions on all 60 campuses. "They're
being circulated face-to-face, not on
the Internet," he said. "That has
resulted in more than 120,000 person-
The signed petitions are being pub-
lished as full-page ads in campus
On more than 100 campuses, stu-
dents are inviting pro-Israel members
of Congress to speak. "And pro-Israel
students have created new Israel
forums to bring together student lead-
ers to discuss these issues," he said.
Many of the participants will be
heading to Washington this summer
to serve in political internships; many
others are already signed on to work
with congressional campaigns in 2004.
Collectively, "this is retail political
activism at its finest," Kessler said. Ei