Local rabbis, leaders ask Clinton to focus on Mideast

Determined to turn President Clinton's attention to the Mideast instead of on fending off scandal, prominent Jews in the Bay Area and Los Angeles sent him a letter urging him to put the peace process high on his agenda.

More than 100 Jewish community leaders, including 10 local rabbis, signed the letter, sent before last week's diplomatic talks. In Hollywood, film director Rob Reiner and actor Richard Dreyfuss also signed on.

The short message called for the United States "to encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authority to redouble their efforts to achieve an agreement on further Israeli redeployment and enhanced security measures…The longer this drags inconclusively, the greater the danger of a total collapse of the entire peace process."

The letter framed the peace process as crucial to both Israel's long-term security and America's strategic interests. Acknowledging that arbitrating the plodding peace process can be a thankless task, the letter prodded Clinton to remain a positive mediator.

The impetus for the letter came from Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) after she met in Los Angeles with state representatives of the New York-based Israel Policy Forum.

As the letter-writing plan gained momentum, the Israel Policy Forum contacted Dan Grossman, a San Francisco resident who has aided the group in the past. Grossman, who is also on the executive committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council, set out to drum up support for the letter.

Fearing that Mideast concerns would be all but forgotten by Clinton, Grossman sent the letter to Jewish leaders. "We wanted to be sure [the peace process] didn't fall off the horizon," he said.

Grossman believed renewed attention to diplomatic concerns would ultimately help the president, increasing his support among the public as well as in the Jewish community.

Pleased that some progress in the talks seemed to have occurred, Grossman nevertheless downplayed the influence the letter might have had. Still, he said that he and other signers view the renewal of dialogue as a positive sign.

But he remained cautious about whether the letter campaign will ultimately affect the peace progress.

"It is unclear whether both sides had to accept the talks as unavoidable for political reasons, or whether they will actually support further [steps] to make the peace more successful," he said.

Among the signers were Rabbis Mark Diamond of Temple Beth Abraham and Steven Chester and Samuel Broude of Temple Sinai, both in Oakland; Alan Lew of Congregation Beth Sholom, Martin Weiner of Congregation Sherith Israel, Helen Cohn of Congregation Emanu-El, Herbert Morris of Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, and Brian Lurie of the Jewish Museum, all in San Francisco; Roberto Graetz of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette; and Melanie Aron of Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos.

Notable Southern California signers included author Rabbi Harold Schulweis in Encino, a former spiritual leader at Beth Abraham. In addition to the rabbis and Grossman, other local signers include John Goldman of Atherton; Raquel Newman, Debra Pell and Marcia Smolens, all of San Francisco; Faye Straus and Sandor Strauss of Lafayette; and Professor Steven J. Zipperstein of Stanford University.