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Gov.'s Israel Trip May Be at Risk

Growing security worries in the Mideast could scuttle the plan. Schwarzenegger is getting travel advice from U.S. officials.

March 24, 2004|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Mounting security threats in the Middle East could jeopardize Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's planned trip to Israel in May.

Aides would not say whether Schwarzenegger might postpone his first trip abroad as governor: a scheduled appearance at a groundbreaking for a museum in Jerusalem devoted to understanding bigotry and the Holocaust.

But his office is consulting with the State Department over the security risks that a two-day visit could pose. On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv issued an advisory urging Americans to postpone trips to Israel "at this time."

The warning follows Israel's assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin on Monday.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, is helping to arrange the visit; he says it will not be disrupted. On the center's website, Hier is described as having "conceived" the new museum, to be completed by 2007.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 25, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 78 words Type of Material: Correction
Governor's trip -- An article in Wednesday's California section about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's planned trip to a Museum of Tolerance groundbreaking in Jerusalem incorrectly said the museum would be devoted in part to the Holocaust. The museum will in fact make no reference to the Holocaust out of deference to the central role of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem in documenting and researching the Holocaust, said Avra Shapiro, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's director of public relations.

Asked whether the governor would appear at the May 2 groundbreaking, the rabbi said: "Absolutely."

"We expect the president of the state of Israel will be at the event and the prime minister will be at the event. You couldn't ask for more security than there would be at such an event," Hier said in an interview.

Little of Schwarzenegger's itinerary has been made public, but Israeli officials are upset over some of the arrangements. The trip leaves scant time for formal meetings with government leaders, according to one Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Early plans call for Schwarzenegger to visit California businesses located in Israel and to attend a dinner tied to the new museum.

With the visit five weeks away, there is still time to arrange for Schwarzenegger to call on Israeli leaders, the official said. "I wouldn't be surprised if that happened," Margita Thompson, spokeswoman for the governor, said on Tuesday.

Some friends and political leaders close to Schwarzenegger are advising him not to make the trip.

As a celebrity known worldwide from his movies, the governor is a vulnerable target wherever he goes -- much less in a part of the world fraught with tension, according to one California political leader who has urged Schwarzenegger to cancel.

But some Jewish leaders in Los Angeles insist that the governor would return safely.

"In my experience, it's probably never a good time" to travel to Israel, said David Lehrer, former regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, who has accompanied former Mayor Richard Riordan to Israel. "But there are people who go constantly, and if one is careful and uses their head," risk can be minimized. Further, he said, "the Israeli security force is quite extraordinary."

Schwarzenegger's ties to the Wiesenthal Center are deep. He is a financial contributor and has invited the center to explore his father's past as a member of the World War II-era Nazi Party.

In 1990 and again during the recall campaign last year, Schwarzenegger invited the center to look into his father's record. The probe turned up no evidence that Gustav Schwarzenegger was a war criminal.

Going to Israel on his first trip abroad as governor sends an unmistakable message, political analysts said.

"The governor has said he's a strong supporter of Israel," said Harvey Englander, a Los Angeles political consultant. "There were intimations early on that, because of his father, he might not be. It's a strong statement for him to go."

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