Blocking Mideast Peace
Jewish American sparks furor in Israel
By John Donnelly, Miami Herald
September 21, 1997
Daily News (Los Angeles)



Dr. Irving Moskowitz's week in Jerusalem couldn't have had many more milestones. He moved Jews into an all-Arab neighborhood. He cemented his hero status among the radical-right settler movement.

And he made a lot of Israelis think it is time to limit the influence of American Jews who ``meddle'' in Israel's political affairs.

As the crisis boiled around Moskowitz's transplanting of Jews into an area of Jerusalem that Palestinians claim as part of their future capital, Israeli politicians began questioning the Miami Beach physician's ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the larger issue of diaspora Jews' role in politics in Jerusalem.

Left-wing Israeli politicians began demanding closer scrutiny of campaign finances. While the total amount of donations to political parties is made public in Israel, individual donations - especially those funneled through third-party organizations - remain secret.

Yossi Sarid, the head of the dovish Meretz Party, asked the state comptroller to investigate Moskowitz's donations to Netanyahu. Sarid said Moskowitz, 69, gave ``large sums'' to the prime minister.

And debate has been strong over whether Moskowitz has crossed a line with his activist stance. Meir Shalev, one of Israel's most prominent authors, called it ``outrageous'' that Moskowitz could create political turmoil without being a citizen of Israel.

``This is an American citizen doing this, and it's not only interfering with our business, it is really poking into our flesh, playing with our lives.''

American Jews becoming involved in Israeli politics is, of course, an old story. Many in the United States and Israel strongly argue that a close relationship ultimately strengthens the Jewish state and strengthens the diaspora's commitment.

But Netanyahu, the most American of any prime minister in Israel's 49 years, an MIT graduate, diplomat at the embassy in Washington and the United Nations, has elevated the American-Israeli connection to new heights. Over the last two decades, he has shown extraordinary talent for winning over conservative American Jewry's rich and famous.

Moskowitz's role in this week's crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations brought even greater attention. A 69-year-old multimillionaire who contributes to right-wing Israeli causes, Moskowitz moved Jews under the cover of darkness into a house he owns in the all-Arab Ras al-Amud neighborhood.

Money and influence

The questions now bubbling to the surface in Israel concern money and influence, almost a mirror image of questions dogging President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. How much did Netanyahu raise from North American donors for his campaign? How much did Moskowitz donate? Were promises given in exchange for donations? Did Moskowitz win assurances of favorable treatment for his projects in Jerusalem?

There is little firm evidence of any influence-peddling. Moskowitz denies any wrongdoing. The prime minister, through his spokesman, strongly denies any deal-making as well.

The allegations involve Moskowitz and one of his chief projects in Israel, the Aterit Cohanim yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem. Moskowitz and other Aterit Cohanim representatives, Likud Party insiders have told The Miami Herald, had long pressed Netanyahu to open the Western Wall tunnel. Netanyahu gave the order nearly a year ago, igniting three days of riots that left 80 people dead.

Last year, Moskowitz, in his only public comments on the issue, told the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that he had given ``not much, and in the framework of the law, from my private funds'' to Netanyahu.

But Moskowitz reportedly also has given funds to Netanyahu's Likud Party and helped start the Third Way party, which is headed by Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani. It was Kahalani who worked out a compromise deal this week with Moskowitz to replace Jewish families at the Ras al-Amud house with seminary students.

A top aide to Netanyahu - who characterized the prime minister's fund-raising abilities in the United States as ``amazing, simply amazing'' - said that Netanyahu's relationship with Moskowitz may now be over.

``I don't think Netanyahu agreed with people who were maligning Moskowitz as coming from Miami to create problems,'' the aide said. ``But when you take power, responsibility goes with it, and sometimes you have to part ways with people in the past.''

Drawing the line

But where does Israel draw the line on U.S. Jews' political involvement? Opinions differ widely.

Next to Moskowitz's house in Ras al-Amud, Galia Golan, a Peace Now activist who attended schools in her youth in Miami Beach, said Friday she had no problem with American Jews expressing their political views in Israel. She said that since the United States gives vast sums of private donations and public funds - $3.1 billion annually in taxpayer money alone - ``American Jews have every right to take part in the national dialogue.

``This is not the United States, which sees itself as representing the free world,'' said Golan, a Hebrew University political science professor. ``We have a bond with Jews the world over and they have a right to say what they think.''

But, she said, ``I do have a problem with what is done with the money once it gets here. What it goes for can be very dangerous. What Moskowitz is doing with his buying of property in east Jerusalem is creating time bombs that are going to explode.''

Some leftists, though, say Moskowitz has no right to get involved in politics because he doesn't live in Jerusalem and works outside the government. For these people, Miami became a dirty word this week.

``He should go back to Miami,'' said Anat Hoffman, a Jerusalem City Council member. ``He would never have the guts to play the games in Miami that he is playing here. He is essentially throwing matches all around, and then, poof, he will go back on the plane and leave us with the fire.''

Writer Shalev said Netanyahu should have dealt with Moskowitz like the state dealt with a Miami Beach troublemaker nearly 30 years ago: Meyer Lansky, well-known gangster, was politely asked to leave.

A religious right-wing activist, Ellen Horowitz of Jerusalem, also found fault with Moskowitz this week - but on the grounds that he was causing trouble for a right-wing prime minister.

But Horowitz believed that some of the anger toward Moskowitz was connected to Israelis' growing disenchantment with being dependent on outsiders.

Often, she noted, outsiders come with extreme ideological views and deliberately set off storms.

``When you live in the Middle East, you have a certain responsibility,'' Horowitz said. ``You can do a lot of wonderful things, and a lot of damaging things. One person can draw a pig - and it's not a big deal anywhere else in the world - but here it is a big deal. You cannot take unilateral action on this powder keg that we're sitting on.''

This summer, a young woman drew a picture depicting the prophet Mohammed as a pig and posted it throughout Hebron, setting off riots. The woman was a new Israeli, a Russian immigrant.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News


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