Conference of Presidents to focus on Iran

Military strike would be a sign of failed policy, Hoenlin tells 'Post'

ahmadinejad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
ahmadinejad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
American Jews seem to agree on very little this year. From the possibility that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may be negotiating secretly on Jerusalem, to the difficult choice of Sen. John McCain - immensely popular among Jews - and two Democrats who are just as popular, to conversions and halachic observance, the Jews in America and elsewhere are deeply divided on a wide array of issues. The exception, it seems, is Iran. One of the weathervanes of consensus among American Jews is its senior political umbrella, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Composed of 51 organizations - from the ZOA on the Right to Americans for Peace Now on the Left, the Orthodox and Reform, Jewish War Veterans of the USA and the Friends of the IDF - the Conference represents the broadest consensus among organized American Jewry. Each year, the Conference visits a country in order to meet its leaders and lobby them on issues relevant to American Jewry. The list of recent visits is telling: Qatar, Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic (a diplomatic lynchpin of NATO), Kazakhstan, Turkey, and, this year, Georgia. A Christian country on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, Georgia borders Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. It's a stone's throw from (and an airspace corridor to) Iran, and a conduit for the Caspian oil that reaches Israel. It is seeking strengthened ties to Israel and the US, in part to offset the influence of Russia, with which it has strained relations. It has deployed troops to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. "Georgia is a pro-US and pro-Israel country that has resisted anti-Semitism for 2,600 years," explains Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. "They're demonstrably looking for better relations with the US and Israel." Georgia has also sought economic integration with the European Union. To facilitate this, its government has conducted a major drive to combat widespread corruption, which has apparently experienced a steep decline. Ranked 130th in the world in the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International in 2005, the country rose to 99th in 2006 and 79th in 2007, a figure showing a drastic decline in the population's perception of corruption in government. Though the country's January elections were rancorous, with concerns raised, particularly in Europe, over their conduct, they were also nonviolent. "There is no question there are problems," agrees Hoenlein, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post ahead of this week's visit to the country. "You can't expect these countries to go from zero to 60 in no time." But the country is moving in the right direction, he adds. Georgia's political situation will not top the agenda of the Conference visit, which will include meetings with President Mikhail Saakashvili and other senior officials. According to Hoenlein, "we're not there to get involved in the domestic situation, although we are there to encourage democracy. We'll meet with opposition figures, religious figures." More than anything else, this visit, which the Post will accompany as a guest of the Georgian government, will be about Iran. "Iran is on the agenda everywhere we go. These countries, which are closer to Iran, feel it more, the possibility that Iran will go nuclear." What exactly will the Jewish visitors say on Iran? "We'll say that Iran is a leading state sponsor of terrorism, that it's a barbaric regime that executes people in barbaric ways"; that "after the NIE, the Europeans are now pushing the Americans" on Iran, rather than the reverse; that, "as the NIE showed, sanctions work and they're already having an impact. Ten percent of the population has left, including 250,000 members of the intelligentsia each year, because of the economic situation." And, adds Hoenlein, they will say that "a military strike would be a sign of a failed policy, because it would show we didn't do everything we could have done."