Nations see Jews as key to winning favor with U.S.  By Michael J. Jordan

NEW YORK, Sept. 13 (JTA) - It's after Labor Day, which means kids are
back to school, the football season has kicked off and the presidential
race is heating up.

With much less fanfare, the Jewish diplomatic season is also under way.

The three-day U.N. Millennium Summit last week presented American Jewish
leaders with a unique opportunity: about 150 presidents, kings and prim
ministers, gathered together to discuss the lofty goals of global peace,
prosperity and an end to infectious diseases.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the summit, Jewish leaders scrambled to
meet with dozens of these rulers.  Regardless of the summit, this is
typically peak season, with the United Nations set to resume its annual
sessions.  Leading the way was the American Jewish Committee, followed
by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Also networking were groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the
American Jewish Congress and the leading pro-Israel lobby, the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Why U.S. Jews want to meet with world leaders is clear and well known:
The focal point of most of these meetings is Israel and how the Jewish
state can foster stronger alliances around the world.

Why world leaders would want to meet with Jewish groups is more
interesting, less publicized, and to some Jews, a bit discomfiting:
These leaders believe in Jewish power.

In past years, such discussions between Jewish leaders and various heads
of state centered on the Middle East peace process and soothing the
hostile treatment toward Israel at the United Nations. Now, though,
American Jewish leaders detect a shift in international opinion toward
the Jewish state.

This shift, they say, is due to the fact that Israel is seen as making
greater efforts in the peace process, has fully withdrawn from Lebanon,
and now has more or less equal status at the United Nations. During the
summer, Israel was finally accepted into the Western European grouping
of the world body.  This year, the peace process was certainly a popular
topic, as was how to apply international pressure on Iran to release 10
Iranian Jews the Jewish world believes were unjustly convicted in July
on espionage charges.

In some cases, talks between American Jewish leaders and their
counterpart across the table are a question of deepening relations with
Israel. In other cases, there may be a state interested in establishing
relations with Israel, but under pressure from other countries not to
have formal ties.

Such meetings are often confidential, said Jason Isaacson, the
AJCommittee's director of government and international affairs. "There
are instances where tentative feelers are being put out, where we can
assist and be an important interlocutor," Isaacson said.

"But if even the discussion of modalities can be highly controversial,
it serves no good purpose to publicize those meetings. If our interest
is to encourage a more formal relationship, the best way may be to act
discreetly and diplomatically and not in the public view."

In its publicized meetings, the AJCommittee met with, for example,
President Ahmet Sezer of Turkey, which has a growing military alliance
with Israel; President Abdurrahman Wahid of Indonesia, which is the
largest Muslim country in the world; and President Thabo Mbeki of South
Africa, which is the economic and military powerhouse on the African

The Presidents Conference met with Sezer as well, but also with less
prominent states like the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan,
Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.  These meetings went beyond Israel and the
fate of the local Jewish community; they also included discussion of
global issues such as nuclear proliferation, international terrorism and
Islamic fundamentalism.

It's hard to imagine any other religious or ethnic community in America
with as active or ambitious an agenda as U.S. Jews. This outward-
looking worldview, say Jewish leaders, is rooted in Jewish history and
the Jewish people having lived for thousands of years in the Diaspora.

"We are an internationalist community," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive
vice chairman of the Presidents Conference. "We have a much broader
perspective, not bound by the borders of this country. Foreign affairs
is not exactly a burning passion of most Americans. But we pursue it far
more than others do."

More interesting, perhaps, is why these foreign heads of state are
willing - in many cases, in fact, eager - to meet with American Jewish
leaders. Though they were generally in town for 24, 48 or 72 hours, with
jam-packed itineraries, many made American Jewry a priority. One Jewish
leader was even surprised when a foreign dignitary called and apologized
profusely for having to cancel his planned meeting.

In fact, Jewish leaders nowadays receive mostly red-carpet treatment.

They have access to the corridors of power in most capitals around the
world. A slew of foreign embassies in Washington have diplomats assigned
to the "Jewish portfolio," said Isaacson, from the Chinese and Japanese;
to the Germans and Poles, to the Egyptians, Jordanians, Moroccans and
Tunisians; to the Argentinians and Australians.

At Passover, they and others turn out in droves for diplomatic seders
held in Washington and New York.

American Jewish leaders explain all this buttering up in euphemistic
terms, suggesting that foreigners have a "fascination" with or
"appreciation" for American Jews.  But when pressed, Jewish leaders
admit the true driving force behind it is the lingering belief that Jews
are capable of making or breaking relations with the United States and
capable of wreaking havoc on the world's financial markets.

This belief is derived from the century-old hoax, "The Protocols of the
Learned Elders of Zion." It is never articulated, say Jewish leaders,
except for the rare gaffe by a less sophisticated diplomat. But the
message is loud and clear when dignitary after dignitary says his
country views the American Jewish community as a "central address" for
improving relations with the world's lone superpower.

Several Jewish leaders say they used to try to disabuse various rulers
of their perception of "Jewish power," in light of the misery this myth
has caused Jews. To no avail.  Then they realized how it could also work
in their favor.

On the flip side, they admit that on occasion, a Jewish activist here or
there is guilty of fanning this mythology to advance his own agenda.
He'll intimate to a stubborn head of state that the road to closer ties
with Washington runs through American Jewry, presenting, in effect, an
offer they cannot refuse.

"We don't traffic in that fear or suspicion, or exaggerate our depiction
of the community's position," Isaacson said.

But he added, "I've been around politics for 20 years, and I've come to
realize that perception is reality. If there's a perception of Jewish
power, then that's the reality and you have to deal with that reality.
What we do is we judiciously and with great care make use of that
reality for noble ends."

Indeed, American Jews are viewed as vigilant and vocal, denouncing
regimes that persecute Jews and other minorities, like Iran, and
pressuring Congress, not always successfully, not to do business with
rogue states.

Likewise, Jewish groups praise leaders and states that respect human
rights, and sometimes put in a good word for them on Capitol Hill.

In the case of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, the trio pins
their hopes for the future on ties to the West, not with Russia. These
countries seem to believe that chummy relations with American Jews and
Israel will help secure a beachhead into the United States. So they
wanted advice, and assistance, on how to boost their image in
Washington, and urged foreign investment, Jewish and otherwise, said

"We reach out to them," he said, "and they reach out to us."

(Jewish Telegraphic Agency Inc. The above information is available on a
read-only basis and cannot be reproduced without permission from JTA.)

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