Last week, New York-based radio talk show host Steve Malzberg had Malcolm Hoenlein on his show. Hoenlein, as some readers may recall, is head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. (Or as I call it for short, President of the Presidents of the Conferences of the Committees of the Coalitions of the United Councils of Congregations of the Biggest Most Important American Jewish Federations, Foundations, Organizations, Leagues, and Big Schvitzers.)

I’d met him in 2000 or 2001, when interviewing with him for a PR-writing job I didn’t want. Here was a part of the conversation as I’d previously described it:

After discovering I was from Russia — and even recognizing my family name from the Refusenik lists he and other Jewish activists in the 1970s kept for clandestine visits behind the Iron Curtain — he told me of a recent trip that he and some other giants of organized Jewry took to Moscow. They were on a mission to impress upon the Russian government U.S. concerns about the selling off of Russia’s military weaponry to the highest bidders.

Mr. Hoenlein said he and his colleagues were blindsided by the chilly and condescending reception they got from Moscow. “They laughed at us,” he told me. “They said, ‘Why should we do what you Americans tell us?’ The way we were treated — it was as if it was 20 years ago.”

I thought for a moment, then asked whether he thought it could have something to do with our recent actions in Yugoslavia…Mr. Hoenlein looked at me as if I had two heads: “What does that have to do with anything?” he snapped indignantly. At that moment the phone rang, and afterward the subject was dropped.

At the end of the interview, when asked what salary I’d require, I gave a purposely too-high figure, ensuring that would be our last meeting and this would not become my boss.

In the recent radio segment between Malzberg and Hoeinlein, the former said he imagined Hoenlein couldn’t be too happy about the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary, citing a paper in which Hagel wrote that you certainly “can impose a (two-state) solution, and it would take tens of thousands of U.S. troops to be so-called peacekeepers to impose that solution.” (That’s a quote of Malzberg’s summary.)

In other words, Hagel — whom Hoenlein presumably doesn’t like and shudders at the prospect of such an imposed solution — was proposing for Israel and Palestine precisely the “solution” we imposed on Serbia vis-a-vis Kosovo. Which Hoenlein — like so many other prominent American Jews — didn’t mind.

And that’s why they’re staring down the barrel of the same “solution” for a place they do give a fig about.

Epilogue

I couldn’t believe my eyes a few years ago when I found a copy of an April 1999 article in the Jewish newspaper Forward, quoting this very same Malcolm Hoenlein. In it, Hoenlein expressed pretty much the same concern, and made the same connection, that I did about Clinton’s war and relations with Russia. Here is an abridged version of it:

April 2, 1999

As Allies Escalate Air War Against Serbs, Aim for Belgrade, Sharon Warns of Islamic Terror, Bigs Fear Rogue A-Bombs

A shortage of Cruise Missiles at $1.2 Million Apiece — Republican Rep. Curt Weldon Says Clinton Is ‘Trigger Happy’ — Israelis Remember How the Serbs Helped Jews During the Holocaust — Daylight Between Jerusalem and Washington — Ties Seen Between Kosovo Liberation Army and Hezbollah.

FORWARD STAFF

NEW YORK — As Allied warplanes escalate their attacks on Serb targets in Kosovo and at Belgrade, a small but distinct policy rift over the war in the Balkans is opening between America and Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu was reported on Wednesday to be a supporter of the actions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was preparing to escalate bombings in Kosovo and Serbia to the Serbian capital at Belgrade. Statements by aides to the premier, however, were overshadowed by those of the foreign minister, Ariel Sharon, who, according to reports in Ha’aretz and other papers, indicated earlier in the week that he would neither condemn Serbia explicitly nor declare support for the bombing.

The flashing yellow light in Israel comes as a rapidly escalating refugee problem and a more spirited than expected defense by the Serbs is creating consternation in the Allied camp. Jewish groups at America are generally lining up in support of the air war with such major organizations as the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, the Anti-Defamation League and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations weighing in with support for the administration…

“On a human level, we see things very gravely,” Mr. Sharon was quoted by Ha’aretz as saying on Israel Radio. “But one must understand that in this region, there are extreme Islamic groups. One can find there Hezbollah people among the Albanian forces…..There are also mujahidin forces and Bin-Laden people,” references to Iranian-backed militias and to the Saudi terrorist financier Osama Bin-Laden. “It is unparalleled in its complexity.”

Despite the comments, Israel was preparing to send an Air Force Hercules to ferry $100,000 worth of medical supplies and warm clothing to Macedonia and Albania to help them handle the tens of thousands of Kosovar refugees flooding to their countries…

Meanwhile, criticism of the Clinton administration’s planning and operations was being voiced on Capitol Hill, and atomic experts and Jewish leaders are reportedly worried that the strain the fighting is putting on Russo-American relations will increase the possibility that a Russian nuclear warhead could end up in the hands of Saddam Hussein or another rogue state.

Vice President Gore was supposed to raise several nuclear-related issues when he met with the Russian prime minister, Evgenii Primakov, last week. That meeting was canceled by Mr. Primakov because of the NATO air strikes. Now, a number of Washington voices are saying that the Clinton administration risked a major American strategic interest, Russia, in exchange for a minor one, Kosovo.

“I think this could have a dramatic effect in a number of areas involving Russia,” Rep. Curt Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania, told the Forward. “You see a case where not only are they in a weak position but also one of the peoples they strongly identified with is being humiliated,” Mr. Weldon said. “The [Russian] nationalists can say we told you this was going to happen. It feeds right into the message of the ultra-nationalists.”

Mr. Weldon added that the Russian position would also make it more difficult to marshal congressional support for programs…[that] fund Russia’s ability to track its warheads.

A former assistant defense secretary under President Reagan and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Richard Perle, said America should take a tough approach against the Russians. “We should say to Primakov, if you do anything at all, we’re cutting you off,” Mr. Perle said.

The executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, said the new environment hinders America’s ability to deal with the problem of errant nuclear warheads. “It makes Russia less susceptible to pressure,” Mr. Hoenlein said…

Is that not the essence of the very thought that, a year and a half later, made Hoenlein so angry? Here he’d expressed the same concern — and he was right, as he found out first-hand. But apparently a year later he’d either forgotten he was concerned, or disagreed with himself. A head-scratcher for sure.

p.s. A note on Forward’s own case of amnesia. The subhead includes the sentence “Israelis Remember How the Serbs Helped Jews During the Holocaust” (though the article didn’t elaborate on this part, or it was cut). And yet the Forward was among the unquestioning Jewish publications that fell easy prey in 2007 for the Albanians-saved-WWII-Jews PR that was going around.