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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Sherman Oaks

Jewish Activists Applaud Barak in Israeli Election

May 18, 1999|ROBERTO J. MANZANO

A small crowd at the United Jewish Communities office erupted in cheers Monday as early results on satellite TV gave Ehud Barak a 14-point lead in his bid to become Israel's next prime minister.

"Most people wanted to see some change," said H. Jack Mayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, which sponsored the Israeli broadcast. "Mr. Barak is someone who will foster the peace process in a positive way."

Jewish professionals and activists gathered to watch a live video conference with Israel, featuring interviews with Middle East experts and Israeli officials.

Mayer said he hoped the Labor Party's Barak, in contrast to the Likud Party's Benjamin Netanyahu, would heal the divisions among Israeli Jews.

"There was a feeling the current government was not dealing effectively with those tensions and was not bringing people together," Mayer said. "Barak is more of a diplomat who can build bridges."

Barak, a highly decorated retired military official, had been leading Netanyahu in opinion polls Sunday. During the elections, Israeli voters also chose a new 120-member Knesset, or parliament.

Jordan Hinkes, 19, said he would have voted for Barak.

"The last few years, the peace process has been stalled," said Hinkes of Hidden Hills. "It's important to get it moving."

Lise Spiegel, who recently returned from a trip to Israel, said she sensed the majority of the Israeli population wants to revive the peace process.

"Netanyahu lost credibility for not keeping promises," said Spiegel, 41, of Encino. "I don't know if Barak was the best candidate; I think he had the best reputation."

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