Though most American Jews favor a negotiated
settlement in the Mideast, two powerful Jewish organizations have
worked successfully to thwart one.
by Michael Massing
The American Prospect magazine, March 2002
In spite of growing affluence and ongoing assimilation, Jews
remain one of the most liberal groups in American society. And
although concern about Israel's security has pushed some of them
to the right, a majority have supported the Mideast peace process,
including the efforts by President Clinton late in his term to
bring about an agreement with the Palestinians. During and since
those years, however, the two Jewish organizations with the most
influence on foreign policy have had leaders who are far more
conservative and hard-line than are most American Jews.
One of those groups is the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee. Long regarded as the most effective foreign-policy
lobby in Washington, AIPAC has an annual budget of S19.5 million,
a staff of 130, and 60,000 members. Those members constitute a
powerful grass-roots network that can be activated almost instantly
to press Congress to take this action or that.
The other major group, the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations, is less well known. Made up of
the heads of 51 Jewish organizations, the Presidents Conference
is meant to reflect the broad spectrum of opinion among America's
6.1 million Jews. By charter, it is supposed to act only when
there is a consensus among its members. In practice, however,
the organization is run largely by one man, Malcolm Hoenlein,
who has tilted it decisively to the right on critical issues involving
Israel in recent years.
This is sensitive territory. On the streets of Cairo, Beirut,
and Tehran, vendors hawk anti-Semitic pamphlets claiming that
a small cabal of Zionists runs the world. Among Arab elites, it's
an article of faith that the "Jewish lobby" dictates
U.S. policy toward the Middle East. In fact, that policy reflects
an array of factors, including America's dependence on foreign
oil, its fight against Islamic terrorism, its efforts to contain
Iraq and Iran, and the fact that Israel is the one and only democracy
in the region. What's more, American Jews, in seeking to influence
U.S. policy in the area, are simply exercising their rights as
American citizens to organize politically and press their interests.
Unfortunately, those who are most adept at this do not necessarily
represent the broad range of Jewish views on the subject. At a
time when Palestinian terror bombings grow more horrific daily
and Israeli military action in the occupied territories grows
steadily harsher, this bias in political representation has reduced
the likelihood that the United States will be able to mediate
the conflict successfully.
According to public-opinion polls, most American Jews support
a more active U.S. role in the Middle East. In the late 1990S,
as negotiations were taking place between Israel and the Palestinians,
polls showed that more than 80 percent of American Jews wanted
the United States to apply pressure on both sides to help bring
about a settlement. Since September 1l and since the rash of attacks
on Israeli civilians, American Jews have become more hawkish,
but even now they decisively support efforts to draw the two sides
together. An October 2001 survey sponsored in part by the New
York-based Jewish Week found that 85 percent of American Jews
believe it is important for the United States to become more involved
in ending the violence between Israelis and Palestinians and in
moving the parties back to the negotiating table. Another 73 percent
said that they believe it's in Israel's interest for the United
States to serve as a "credible and effective facilitator"
of the peace process, even if that means occasional disagreements
between Washington and Jerusalem.
"Most American Jews vote in favor of Oslo, says J.J.
Goldberg, the editor of the Forward, citing polls conducted by
his paper. He adds, however, that Jews who-identify themselves
as doves feel much less strongly about Israel than those who identify
themselves as hawks. "Jewish liberals give to the Sierra
Fund," Goldberg says. "Jewish conservatives are Jewish
all the time. That's the whole ball game. It's not what six million
American Jews feel is best-it's what 50 Jewish organizations feel
is best." More precisely, it's what two Jewish organizations
feel is best.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
was founded, oddly enough, at the suggestion of John Foster Dulles.
Not known as a friend of the Jews, Dwight Eisenhower's secretary
of state grew tired of being approached by so many different Jewish
leaders and suggested that they form one organization to represent
them. They did. Created in 1956, the conference for its first
30 years was led by one man, Yehuda Hellman, and under him it
remained a relatively sleepy organization.
In 1986, however, Hellman suddenly died, and Malcolm Hoenlein
took his place. A product of an Orthodox Jewish family in Philadelphia,
Hoenlein (pronounced HONE-line) graduated from the University
of Pennsylvania and came to New York in 1971 to work on behalf
of Soviet Jewry. Five years later, he was named head of the Jewish
Community Relations Council of New York, an umbrella group of
Jewish organizations that he helped build into a powerful force.
When the job at the Presidents Conference became vacant, Hoenlein
was named to fill it.
Aside from its letterhead, Hoenlein found, the conference
had few assets. But what a letterhead it was. Virtually every
organization of influence in the Jewish community was on it, so
that when the conference spoke, it did so with great authority.
And Hoenlein moved quickly to assert it. Impassioned, energetic,
and dynamic, he used his impressive knowledge of the Middle East
to pry open doors at the National Security Council, the State
Department, and the Pentagon. Not a day went by that Hoenlein
wasn't on the phone to an assistant secretary of state, a White
House adviser, an ambassador, or a member of Congress, extracting
information from one, doling it out to another, cajoling and maneuvering
key players to tilt U.S. policy in Israel's direction. To boost
the conference's influence abroad, Hoenlein began taking his board
on annual trips to Israel and one other country. Destinations
have included Turkey, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Russia, and Uzbekistan.
Everywhere, the delegations have been received by heads of state
and foreign ministers.
Today, the conference employs a staff of only six and has
an annual budget of less than a million dollars, but its clout
belies its modest size. The Forward, which every year publishes
a list of the 50 most influential Jews, this year ranked Hoenlein
first. "The most influential private citizen in American
foreign policy-making," a former high-ranking U.S. diplomat
was quoted as saying of him.
In wielding that influence, Hoenlein is supposed to reflect
the broad consensus within the conference. And, when there actually
is a consensus, he gives it an effective voice. It's when there's
not that the trouble begins. The problem in part reflects how
the conference is organized. Of the group's 51 members, the two
largest are the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The former represents
America's 1.5 million Reform Jews and their goo synagogues; the
latter, America's 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their 760
synagogues. Both of these groups are generally liberal in outlook
and supportive of the peace process in the Middle East. Each gets
one vote on the board. By contrast, the Orthodox Union-the organized
arm of Orthodox Judaism-represents 600,000 Jews and 800 congregations.
Nonetheless, it, too, gets one vote. So do a host of smaller organizations,
such as Agudath Israel of America, the Zionist Organization of
America, and American Friends of Likud-all of them conservative
and unenthusiastic about the peace process. The smaller conservative
groups in the conference decisively outnumber the larger liberal
ones and so can neutralize their influence. And that leaves considerable
discretion in the hands of Malcolm Hoenlein.
As to how he uses it, Hoenlein insists that he is scrupulously
evenhanded. "I'm not an ideologue," he told me in an
interview at the conference's modest suite of offices on Third
Avenue in midtown Manhattan. "I devote myself to the security
of the Jewish state." A balding, bespectacled s6-year-old
who speaks with crisp self-assurance, Hoenlein added: "People
have said we're too close to Rabin, to Barak, to Sharon, to Bibi.
But we have to be in the center. I was and am close to Al Gore
and the Clintons, but I've formed a real relation with George
Hoenlein's statements, however, tend to echo Sharon more than
Barak. "Jews," he noted, "have a right to live
in Judaea and Samaria, part of the ancient Jewish homeland-just
as they have a right to live in Paris or Washington." The
catchphrase "Judaea and Samaria" is a biblically inspired
reference that Likud Party supporters use to justify the presence
of Jewish settlers on the West Bank. Hoenlein, in fact, has long
been involved with the settlers' movement. For several years in
the mid-l990s, he served as an associate chairman for the annual
fundraising dinners held in New York for Bet El, a militant settlement
near Ramallah that actively worked to scuttle the peace process
by provoking confrontations with neighboring Palestinians.
Such activities have fed the impression among some conference
members that Hoenlein has given the group a strong conservative
tilt. The organization "has been much more outspoken and
forceful in supporting governments of the right than those of
the left," says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union
of American Hebrew Congregations and a prominent dove. "I
feel strongly that during the Rabin and Barak years the conference
simply did not demonstrate the same kind of energy and aggressive
support for the policies of the Israeli government that it did
during the [Yitzhak] Shamir and [Benjamin] Netanyahu years."
Adding to the impression of partisanship are the individuals
who've been selected to serve as the conference chair. Candidates
for the two-year position are put forward by a nominating committee
that is appointed by the outgoing chairperson in consultation
with Hoenlein; the final decision is made by the full board. In
1999 one of the nominees was Ronald Lauder, the billionaire heir
of the Estee Lauder cosmetics company. A U.S. ambassador to Austria
in the Reagan administration, Lauder had donated millions of dollars
to Jewish causes over the years. Politically, however, he seemed
out of step with most American Jews; in 1989, while seeking the
Republican nomination for mayor of New York, he ran to the right
of Rudolph Giuliani. And, on Israeli issues, he was a vocal Likudnik,
with long-standing ties to Netanyahu. While Lauder was seeking
the conference chair, the Jewish press carried reports that he
had helped bankroll Netanyahu's campaign for prime minister. Such
foreign contributions are illegal under Israeli law; Lauder denied
the reports, but that did little to mollify his opponents. Lauder
had one key asset, however: He was widely believed to be Hoenlein's
choice, and in the end he was duly elected.
While in office, Lauder realized his critics' worst fears.
The flash point was a rally scheduled for Jerusalem in January
2001 to express opposition to the idea of sharing sovereignty
over that city with the Palestinians. Organized in part by Natan
Sharansky's Yisrael Ba'aliya Party, the rally was widely viewed
as a right-wing protest against the Barak government and its efforts
to forge a peace agreement with the Palestinians. At a meeting
of the conference board called to discuss whether to endorse the
event, Sharansky was invited to present his views; the Barak government
wasn't. Several members of the board, including Eric Yofffie,
spoke out strongly against participating. Various Orthodox groups
and other conservatives expressed their support. In the end, 17
board members voted in favor of participating and 10 voted against-hardly
the consensus required for conference action.
Nonetheless, Lauder decided to attend-as a private citizen,
he said. At the rally, which attracted more than 100,000 people,
Lauder was introduced as the chairman of the Presidents Conference,
and in his speech he said he was expressing the feelings of the
"millions of Jews" who felt that Jerusalem must never
be divided. Lauder's presence was widely seen as constituting
conference endorsement of the rally and its goals. Rabbi Yoffie
and his allies on the board were so upset that a special meeting
was called to discuss the issue, and at it a new policy was adopted
prohibiting the chairman from speaking out on issues when not
explicitly authorized to do so.
Such developments have raised deep concerns among some about
how the conference is run. "The real work is done behind
the scenes, involving a handful of people," Yofffie says.
Several years ago, he observes, the Reform representatives on
the board got together to try to make the conference more representative;
among other things, they pushed for the creation of an executive
committee that could supervise the staff's work. But the effort
collapsed. Today, Yofffie says, he rarely attends board meetings.
"They're useless," he maintains. "Many of the small
groups are extremely conservative, and that creates an atmosphere
at meetings. You try to make points, but nobody's interested."
Overall, he complains, "We're rarely consulted on anything."
In recent months, the conference has enjoyed relative calm.
With Israel under attack, most American Jews have united behind
the country; and even Hoenlein's detractors believe that the conference
has done a good job of communicating their concerns. But when
the issue of peace negotiations with the Palestinians again rises
to the fore, as it inevitably will, the conference's tilt, and
its lack of representativeness, will no doubt resurface as a serious
THE ACTIVITIES OF THE AMERICAN ISRAEL PUBLIC
Affairs Committee have raised similar concerns. AIPAC and
the Presidents Conference work together closely; all of the members
of the conference, in fact, sit on AIPAC's executive committee
(which is distinct from its board of directors). The two organizations
follow a clear division of labor, however: Whereas the conference
focuses on the executive branch of the U.S. government, AIPAC
concentrates on Congress. Its staff, which occupies two floors
of a nondescript office building near Capitol Hill, includes registered
lobbyists and a crack research team that tracks legislation, investigates
issues, and keeps a detailed record of how each member of Congress
votes on every issue of importance to Israel. Periodically, when
matters of importance arise, the staff issues a pithy "talking
points" report that updates AIPAC members and urges them
to action. In virtually every congressional district, meanwhile,
AIPAC has a group of prominent citizens it can mobilize if an
individual senator or representative needs stroking.
Most important of all, AIPAC distributes money. Lots of it.
It does this not as an organization-despite its name, AIPAC is
not a political action committee-but through its members. The
scale of their giving can be glimpsed at the Web site of the Federal
Election Commission (www.fec.gov), where contributions are listed
by individual. Between 1997 and 2001, the 46 members of AIPAC's
board together gave well in excess of $3 million, or more than
$70,000 apiece. At least seven gave more than $100,000, and one-David
Steiner, a New Jersey real-estate developer-gave more than 51
million. (Much of this funding goes to political parties and other
"soft money" recipients who are not subject to federal
election donation limits.)
And that's just the board. Many of AIPAC's 60,000 members
contribute funds as well, in sums ranging from a hundred dollars
to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Much of this money is distributed
through a network of pro-Israel PACs. Often, when an | individual
candidate is favored, these PACs I will organize multiple fundraisers
in different | parts of the country. Consider the case of Tom
Daschle. When, as a four-term congressman, Daschle first ran for
the Senate, in 1986, 1 his opponent was considered no friend of
| Israel. Daschle's own record was not particularly distinguished
on matters Israeli, but AIPAC and other Jewish groups, intent
on nurturing him, helped organize a round of fundraisers in different
locales. In the end, say former AIPAC officials, these events
netted Daschle roughly one-quarter of the s2 million he spent
on the campaign. Daschle has received similar amounts in subsequent
races. And as he's ascended the Democratic ladder in the Senate,
his votes on the Middle East have reliably reflected AIPAC's perspective.
Similarly, when Trent Lott was rising in the House under Newt
Gingrich, AIPAC assigned some of its wealthy southern members
to cultivate him. The Mississippian became a strong supporter
of Israel, and he remains so as Senate minority leader.
There are many others like them. An examination of AIPAC giving
on the FEC Web site turns up many of the same recipient names
from across the political spectrum: Joseph Biden, Christopher
Bond, Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, Susan Collins, Dianne Feinstein,
Charles Grassley, Tom Harkin, Dennis Hastert, James Jeffords,
Trent Lott, Nita Lowey, Mitch McConnell, Patty Murray, Charles
Schumer, Paul Wellstone, and so on. In all, hundreds of members
on both sides of the aisle receive substantial pro-Israel contributions.
This giving packs all the more punch because of the lack of a
counterweight by pro-Arab and pro-Muslim PACs. As a result of
such lopsided giving, says William Quandt, a member of the National
Security Council in the Nixon and Carter administrations, "70
to 80 percent of all members of Congress will go along with whatever
they think AIPAC wants."
What AIPAC wants, meanwhile, is determined by its board of
directors. And directors are selected on the basis of how much
money they give, not how well they represent AIPAC's members.
"If you want to be a player at AIPAC, you have to be a significant
giver both to AIPAC and to politicians," says Douglas Bloomfield,
a former legislative director at AIPAC. Accordingly, AIPAC's board
is thick with corporate lawyers, Wall Street investors, business
executives, and heirs to family fortunes. Within the board itself,
power is concentrated among an extremely wealthy subgroup made
up of past AIPAC presidents.
During the 19805, when AIPAC was establishing its reputation,
policy was effectively set by four ex-presidents: Robert Asher,
a lighting-fixtures dealer in Chicago; Edward Levy, a building-supplies
executive in Detroit; Mayer "Bubba" Mitchell, a scrap-metal
dealer in Mobile, Alabama; and Larry Weinberg, a real-estate broker
in Los Angeles (and a former owner of the Portland Trailblazers).
Asher, Levy, and Mitchell were stalwart Republicans who raised
huge sums for that party; Weinberg was a Scoop Jackson Democrat.
Regardless of party affiliation, the Gang of Four, as they are
known, were all committed to a strong Israel, and while Shamir
was prime minister, say current and former AIPAC officials, the
organization acted more or less as an arm of the Israeli government.
Among other things, AIPAC was instrumental in securing for Israel
an annual aid package of nearly $3 billion, making Israel the
largest recipient of U.S. Iargesse in the world.
In 1992, after becoming prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin visited
Washington, met with AIPAC, and upbraided the group for its coziness
with Likud. No longer, he said, would AIPAC act as Jerusalem's
representative in Washington. The AIPAC board, deciding it needed
a leader with ready access to both the Democrats in Washington
and the Labor Party in Jerusalem, found its man in Steven Grossman,
a direct-mail executive in Massachusetts who had served as that
state's Democratic Party chair and subsequently became chair of
the Democratic National Committee. (Grossman has also been a financial
supporter of this magazine.) During his four years as AIPAC's
president, Grossman remained on excellent terms with both Clinton
and Rabin. In 1993, after Rabin signed the Oslo peace accords
and shook hands with Yasir Arafat in the White House Rose Garden,
Grossman coaxed from his board a unanimous declaration of support.
But, according to former AIPAC officials, the Gang of Four
was not enthusiastic, and, in contrast to the bullish statements
AIPAC had issued on behalf of the Likud government, its board
remained largely silent on Rabin's peace initiative. Then, in
1995,, the board, showing its true feelings, took up an issue
calculated to impede Rabin's efforts: the location of the U.S.
embassy in Israel. Jerusalem was Israel's capital, but the United
States-like all but a handful of nations-had its embassy in Tel
Aviv because of Jerusalem's contested status. According to Oslo,
talks on the city's final disposition were to begin in May 1996
and conclude three years later. But AIPAC was not willing to wait.
Flexing its muscle in Congress, it got 93 of 100 senators to sign
a letter urging the administration to move the embassy by 1999,
regardless of what happened in the negotiations. Going further,
it convinced Republican Senator Bob Dole, who was preparing to
run for president against Bill Clinton, to introduce a bill that
would make the transfer mandatory by that year.
The Clinton administration opposed the bill, asserting that
it would damage the peace process. So did the Rabin government.
Members of Likud, by contrast, were jubilant. In a tribute to
AIPAC's influence in Congress, both houses passed the Jerusalem
Embassy Act by wide margins, and Clinton let it become law without
signing it. The measure included a waiver allowing the president
to suspend the transfer of the embassy if national security warranted,
and it was duly invoked, so no move occurred. But by inflaming
Arab opinion, the bill complicated the efforts to implement Oslo-and
that, of course, was AIPAC's goal.
Since 1996, when Steve Grossman stepped down, AIPAC has had
three presidents: Melvin Dow, a Houston attorney; Lonny Kaplan,
a New Jersey insurance executive; and Tim Wuliger, a Cleveland
investor. Together with ex-presidents Asher, Levy, Mitchell, and
Weinberg, this group holds the real power on the board, according
to current and former staffers. And while most of the recent presidents
have been Democrats, all share the Gang of Four's unyielding stance
on Israel. These board members, in turn, work closely with a handful
of AIPAC staff members, including Howard Kohr, the executive director,
and Steven Rosen, the head of research. Whether Democrat or Republican,
liberal or conservative, all members of this policy-making core
subscribe to one main principle: that there should be "no
daylight" between the government of Israel and that of the
While Clinton and Barak were in office, AIPAC's influence
was limited; with both leaders committed to the peace process,
the organization often found itself on the sidelines. But with
the election of George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon, AIPAC is back
on the front line. That has been especially true since September
1l. In waging its war on terrorism, the Bush administration has
come under strong pressure from European and Arab leaders to push
more aggressively for peace in the Middle East. For Israel and
the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, it's widely
believed, the United States must get tough with both Sharon and
Arafat, demanding not only that the Palestinians cease their terrorist
attacks but also that the Israelis ease their tough policies in
the occupied territories.
AIPAC, however, has pressed the administration to crack down
on Arafat-and to leave Sharon alone. In November, for example,
it got Senators Christopher Bond of Missouri, a Republican, and
Charles Schumer of New York, a Democrat, to circulate a letter
praising President Bush for refusing to meet with Arafat and urging
him not to restrain Israel from retaliating against Palestinian
violence; 89 senators signed it.
Meanwhile, as Secretary of State Colin Powell was preparing
to announce a new peace initiative with retired U.S. Marine Corps
General Anthony Zinni serving as a special envoy, AIPAC was
seeking to torpedo it. AIPAC's main vehicle was a "talking
points" memo sent to its members in the field urging them
to meet with their congressional representatives and press them
to keep the administration off Israel's back. Titled "America-Israel
Standing Together," the memo provided members a point-by-point
agenda to follow in their meetings. "We are concerned about
recent subtle shifts in the administration's policies toward Israel,"
it stated. While the United States is "actively seeking to
eradicate bin Laden and his terrorist network," it added,
the administration has "routinely criticized Israel for taking
actions to defend itself from terrorists Arafat refused to arrest."
The memo went on to note concern over the "poor timing"
of the administration's statements in support of a Palestinian
state and over the pressure Washington was applying to Israel
"to negotiate with Arafat before he fulfills his commitments
to combat terrorism."
The memo, says a former AIPAC official, was part of "an
aggressive campaign to get AIPAC members to call on their congressmen
to put pressure on the administration not to send Zinni to the
region. Their emphasis was clearly to try to minimize any effort
by the administration to say Israel must exercise restraint."
The suggestion that AIPAC tilts against peace, or toward Likud,
draws strong denials from the organization. "People who assert
that have a political motive," says a senior AIPAC staff
member who asked not to be identified. "There are fewer conservatives
at AIPAC than there are in Israel." Israel, he added, "has
a permanent dilemma: Should it take a risk for peace? Honest people
can differ. The only way to resolve the matter is through the
democratic process-and the people of Israel have a robust democracy."
Nonetheless, AIPAC's activities over the years-its cozy ties with
the Shamir government, its support for moving the U.S. embassy
to Jerusalem, its efforts to keep Washington from leaning too
hard on Sharon-leave the unmistakable impression that it, like
the Presidents Conference, does not want to see the United States
become too involved in pushing for peace in the Middle East.
That President Bush did speak in favor of a Palestinian state
shows that these groups do not always get what they want. Furthermore,
the United States has clear strategic and ideological reasons
for supporting Israel and would no doubt do so regardless of any
pressure from the Jewish community. The Bush administration's
determination to stamp out global terrorism has given it added
reasons for working closely with Israel. And Israel's status as
the one true democracy in the Middle East further cements its
ties to Washington.
Still, AIPAC and the Presidents Conference have kept the United
States from taking steps that many believe are essential if peace
is ever to come to the region. The issue of settlements illustrates
the point. Under both Labor and Likud governments, Israel has
continued to expand and entrench its outposts in the occupied
territories-a policy that has been a constant irritant in the
Arab world. As the supplier of billions of dollars of aid to Israel
every year, the United States could exercise significant leverage
on this issue. Yet it rarely does so, and these organizations
deserve much of the credit-or blame. "We could privately
and publicly make clear to Sharon that settlement activity has
to stop, and spell out the consequences if it doesn't," says
William Quandt. "We shouldn't be subsidizing with U.S. taxpayers'
money policies that we see as detrimental to peace, such as the
building of settlements."
Certain elements in the American Jewish community do support
a stronger U.S. role in the peace process. One is the Israel Policy
Forum, founded in 1993. With financial backing from moguls like
Norman Lear, David Geffen, and Michael Medavoy, the IPF has managed
to establish itself as an alternative voice to AIPAC and the Presidents
Conference. Last fall, for instance, as AIPAC was trying to keep
the Bush administration from leaning too hard on Sharon, the IPF
got 50 Jewish leaders to sign a letter praising the president
for seeking new peace negotiations. Jonathan Jacoby, the IPF's
founding executive vice president, who is currently a consultant
to the group, says: "It's a fundamental mistake to think,
as some American Jews still do, that America's special relationship
with Israel is in conflict with America's role as an honest broker.
The only thing the IPF stands for is that America has to play
both these roles." The IPF has managed to forge close ties
with many influential members of Congress, but, lacking a formal
membership and a strong fundraising apparatus, it cannot match
the influence of AIPAC and the Presidents Conference.
And that's unfortunate. For the IPF's position seems more
in line with that of the American Jewish mainstream-and with what
many Middle East specialists believe is necessary if the violence
in the region is to end. With Israelis and Palestinians killing
one another in an ever escalating cycle of revenge and retaliation,
only strong intervention by the United States seems capable of
stopping it. But as long as groups like AIPAC and the Presidents
Conference continue to be controlled by a small, unrepresentative
core, such a role for Washington seems out of the question.
Michael Massing is a New York-based writer.