Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jim Himes Meets With Local Rabbis

Yesterday I took a couple of hours off from my vacation to join with a couple of dozen local rabbis for an informal chat with Congressman Jim Himes on the eve of his first official visit to Israel as our representative. The meeting was initiated by Rep. Himes, another very positive sign as to how he is listening to his constituents, and in particular to the Jewish community.

The group was diverse, both denominationally and regarding some of the key issues (settlements, for one), but we were united in expressing our gratitude for Himes' rock solid support for Israel during his first few months in office (see the ADL action alert below for one example). He listened attentively as rabbis spoke passionately about the concerns Israelis and American Jews share about the lack of a true negotiating partner on the Palestinian side, the lack of responsiveness from the Arab world to the Administration's call for confidence building measures, and the fear that Iran is attempting to run out the clock on the nuclear issue. While others face grave dangers, Israel is the only country now facing existential risk. No one wants Israel to act unilaterally until other options have been exhausted, but we all understand that such unilateral action in the past has made the world a safer place - and it may be necessary again.

Iran is the source of our greatest concern, and Himes' as well. He was not privy to any magical initiatives out there that will change the landscape between now and September, the initial deadline set for the Iranian government to respond to the US offer for dialogue. I asked how the US could even consider negotiating with a government whose legitimacy is now seriously being questioned by its own people, along with most of the world. Why lend legitimacy to such a rogue operation? But Himes knew of no plan B in the works, save for the dramatic increase in sanctions being discussed by Congress. The real action, of course, takes place on the Executive level. We can only hope that the Administration is ready to take that next step.

If the President has bought some credibility in the Moslem world - even if it is seems to be happening at Israel's expense (at least in terms of public perception) I think most Israelis and American Jews would accept that gladly; but only if it results in a widened coalition against the rogue government of Iran, with severe economic sanctions to be initiated around the time we are dipping apples into honey.

Otherwise, we suggested to Himes that he listen closely to the people - to hear whether the incremental and impressive economic and security progress being made on the West Bank is leading to a real moderation of views there. I suggested he look at a piece in last week's Forward by Yossi Alpher, "Reports of Peace on the Horizon Are Exaggerated." to better understand why Israelis are skeptical now, even though they have always been the first to jump at any glimmer of hope and take huge gambles for peace.

He flies to Tel Aviv on Sat night with a group of 25 from Congress. It will be an eight day trip, seeing Israel from top to bottom, including a stop in Sderot (which Himes also visited last summer). I told him that despite it all, he'll be amazed by the vibrancy of Israeli life, which is especially palpable at this time of year, following Tisha B'Av. Despite all the challenges, the energy is infectious. There is a real joy.

At the end of the meeting, a humorous moment: One of the rabbis presented Himes with a $10 bill from the group, following the popular custom of giving charity to a person headed for Israel, so that he can donate it there on our behalf. Given all the stories of political corruption lately, both here and in Israel, we made the purpose of this donation absolutely clear (And perhaps he should not turn it over to Avigdor Lieberman).

I wish I could be going with them!

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