Bush Says Magic Word: Israel


What’s in a word?

President Bush one-upped John Kerry by uttering the word "Israel" in his speech Sept. 2 accepting the Republican presidential nomination, but it’s unclear whether the simple mention of the Jewish state will have any effect on Jewish voters.

"Palestinians will hear the message that democracy and reform are within their reach, and so is peace with our good friend Israel," Bush said to loud applause from delegates at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Speculation was rampant for weeks that Bush would speak of Israel, largely because Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) did not when he accepted the Democratic nomination in July.

There also was talk that Bush would speak about international anti-Semitism to catch the attention of undecided Jewish voters.

But in the end Bush said nothing more than Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), did in his Boston convention speech, when Edwards suggested that a change of president would bring the world to America’s side and ensure "a safe and secure Israel."

As the campaigns move toward the final stretch, each believes it has the stronger message to the Jewish community and anticipates making a thorough effort to reach what is considered an important voting bloc.

Republicans have been touting inroads into the Jewish community this election season, and the buzz at the Republican convention focused on how larger numbers of Jews are likely to back Bush for four more years. By making only a perfunctory reference to the Jewish state in his speech, some say, Bush may have missed an opportunity to woo Jewish voters.

Nonetheless, Republican Jews were gratified by Bush’s comment, suggesting that the mere mention of Israel — in an address where every word is carefully considered — was important.

"The silence of John Kerry in his acceptance speech says a lot to the Jewish community," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). Brooks said presidential candidates’ speeches are closely analyzed, while speeches by vice presidential candidates such as Edwards are of secondary importance.

Jewish Republicans said Bush’s comments had to be seen in the larger framework of the convention, which included formal Jewish outreach events by the campaign, an appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney at an RJC event and significant comments about Israel and Jews in former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s convention speech.

Giuliani was the key conduit to the Jewish community, using his Aug. 30 speech to attack Kerry’s record in the Middle East.

"In October of 2003 he told an Arab-American Institute in Detroit that a security barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian Territories was a ‘barrier to peace,’ " Giuliani said. "OK. Then a few months later, he took exactly the opposite position. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post he said, ‘Israel’s security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense.’"

Giuliani also referred to the 1972 terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, in which a paralyzed Jewish American passenger was thrown into the sea.

Democrats downplayed Bush’s Israel reference.

"It’s window dressing," said Jay Footlik, the Kerry campaign’s senior adviser on Middle East and Jewish affairs. "If I were the Republicans, I would be talking up Israel as well in an attempt to draw support from our community."

Footlik said he felt voters weren’t counting who had said the word "Israel" more, but were taking a more sophisticated look at the candidates’ policies.

The battle for the Jewish vote likely will resemble a football game for the next two months, as Republicans work on offense to raise Jewish support and the Democrats play defense to maintain levels of Jewish support they traditionally have enjoyed.

Based on recent polls, Democratic operatives appear confident that the shift of Jewish voters to Bush is not as profound as Republicans have suggested. After Labor Day, they believe, the conversation will shift back to domestic policy, where Kerry has an advantage in the Jewish community.

They also note that they have had only several months to showcase Kerry to a national Jewish audience, while Bush has had almost four years.

But some advisers in the Democratic camp are urging Kerry and Edwards to say more about Israel and the Middle East, believing Kerry’s speech to the Anti-Defamation League in May did not do enough to prove his understanding of Israel. The Kerry campaign reportedly is receptive to calls from the community for Kerry or Edwards to do more outreach out to Jews.

Republicans acknowledge that they have had an easier argument to make to the Jewish community this election cycle, preaching "conversion" rather than working to prevent "converts." They also seem to have the support of the upper echelons of the campaign, including campaign manager Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish, as they tout issues of concern to the community at high-profile events.

Both sides say grass-roots efforts in key battleground states with significant Jewish populations — such as Florida, Ohio and Michigan — will be the focus for the rest of the campaign. Advertisements geared toward the Jewish community, and spending efforts from advocates for both candidates, are expected to start soon.

Of Kerry and King


If I were John Kerry, I would spend every spare moment standing in front of a mirror, practicing the speech I’m going to give in October when U.S. soldiers capture Osama bin Laden.

The 2000 presidential election was a referendum on the future — who did Americans believe could lead them forward. 2004 is a referendum on the past –who do Americans believe can prevent Sept. 11, 2001 from happening again.

Democrats perceive Kerry, a Vietnam vet, as electable because he knows Americans are looking for someone to step into the role of Protector-in-Chief. He has military credentials, foreign policy experience and a diplomat’s diction. But Bush’s Osama in the hole could beat Kerry’s three of a kind in an instant. Capturing the Saudi terrorist mastermind is important, not least for the visceral sense of relief and revenge it will offer a grateful nation. Everybody knows this, so it wasn’t surprising this week when the Pentagon announced an increase in military personnel along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where bin Laden is thought to be hiding. There’s no guarantee of an October surprise, but such things have been known to happen.

The people gathered at Richard Ziman’s expansive Beverly Hills home the evening of Feb. 12 preferred to banish such thoughts. Ziman and his wife, Daphne, had been early supporters of Kerry (see story, p. 12), and this was their second fundraiser for the Massachusetts senator. Tickets were $1,000 or $2,000. The list of co-hosts included numerous entertainment industry notables whose politics ranged from the far-left all the way to the center-left. This was not Swing Voters Night. Kerry had just scored solid wins in New Hampshire and Iowa, and the poll numbers were looking strong in Wisconsin. About 300 upscale Democrats ate crudités and sipped wine in the foyer and living room, finding praise for a candidate whom many had just woken up to after wiping Howard Dean out of their eyes. The mood was closer to a victory party.

"A few months ago I didn’t think there was any hope," said a fundraiser with close Hollywood ties. "Now I do."

Kerry was not there — something many people were astonished to hear. If they had wanted to see Kerry, their $1,000 would have been better spent on a round-trip ticket to Madison, where you could see him — endlessly that week — for free. The candidate did call in, and Ziman, whose home is a way station for political hopefuls, seamlessly patched him into the Surround Sound.

"I wish I were there," Kerry said. "Everywhere I’m campaigning is so cold."

"We’re going to have a prolonged and tough fight," he went on, headlong into an attack on the president. "He’s calling himself a war president. They can’t talk about jobs, healthcare, the economy, so they’re going to try to use the politics of fear."

Kerry spoke for a bit longer — eloquent, hard-edged — and the crowd erupted in fierce applause. Comedian Richard Lewis, who has performed for Kerry at such events across the country, took the mike. "I forget that a president does not have to speak ESL," he said.

A few obligatory speeches — former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and state treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides — might have brought the energy down, but Dukakis, bright and self-deprecating as he is, only served to remind the faithful that this time, in Kerry, they have a real he-man. America loves a he-man.

Carole King then sat at Ziman’s piano and sang. She has also been campaigning for Kerry from the start.

"I was with him in Iowa when we saw the momentum turn," she said. She sang every song you know by heart from her "Tapestry" album, and standing an arm’s length from her, I and the dozens of others crowded around the piano probably would have voted a dead beagle into the Oval Office if that’s what she wanted. By the time she got to, "I Feel the Earth Move," the faces were ecstatic, as if people forgot that just three and half years ago this was the party of Al Gore.

The pods of conversation that formed and split and morphed afterward seemed to dare themselves to spurn cautious optimism for a full-fledged embrace. People offered their suggestion for vice president — Democratic candidate John Edwards and former U.N. Representative Bill Richardson were the popular choices — and allowed themselves to wonder aloud what kind of first lady Teresa Heinz Kerry would be.

But these liberals were almost all rich liberals, their idealism alloyed with enough weighty pragmatism to have gotten them rich in the first place. So Ziman and a couple of dozen others separated from the mix and entered a large den sealed by a wall of French doors, which they shut.

"That’s where the heavy hitting is going on," one Democratic activist said.

The president has a campaign war chest of more than $100 million. Because he wisely passed on public matching funds, Kerry can keep raising money. Jews, few in number but well-represented in terms of political contribution, will find the candidate turning the Westside and similar neighborhoods into an ATM if he hopes to go ad for ad with Bush.

I walked out onto the lawn, knowing full well that somewhere in a leafy Houston suburb someone was hosting the same kind of party with the same number of people to raise money and spirit for the president. There would be a view across the lawn to a landscaped pool and tennis court. There would be a popular entertainer inside, though certainly not Carole King — or the Dixie Chicks.

Kerry will get the money, and the enthusiasm, building slowly, will come. But his fate depends on whether, come October, he can convince voters that capturing Osama bin Laden is not the only thing that will make America a stronger nation.

Don’t forget to vote Tuesday.

Partners in Dysfunction


Israel and the United States have a lot more in common these days, and it’s not just because the Bush administration has apparently adopted an Israeli military tactic they previously criticized: targeted assassinations.

That became apparent last week when a CIA-operated drone plane blasted a group of alleged Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen.

No, there’s more: both nations have utterly demoralized, dysfunctional opposition parties. For Americans, that became clearer on Nov. 5, when President George W. Bush defied the conventional wisdom that parties in the White House always lose seats in Congress in midterm elections.

And it is even more apparent in Israel, where new elections in January will really just be a contest between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Likud leadership.

The Labor Party and others that oppose the current government’s hard-line policies are officially in the race, but it is universally expected they will lose ground.

Like the Democrats in this country, Labor doesn’t have a message for voters. So not surprisingly, the once-proud party will be just so much background noise in the upcoming elections.

The Democrats, reeling from last week’s midterm election loss, should take a good, hard look at the sorry state of Israel’s once-dominant Labor Party.

For two years, Labor leaders stuck like glue to a "unity" government whose leader, Sharon, played them for chumps. They rationalized that they were keeping the government from swinging too far to the right, but in the end all they did was convey the impression that their only real goal was to hold on to whatever scraps of power were thrown their way.

Their leaders are weak and vacillating, right out of the Tom Daschle playbook; they spend more time fighting each other than fighting Likud. The impression they create is of petty politicians worried mostly about their own jobs, not principled leaders worried about the country.

Many Laborites fear Sharon is leading the country to economic and strategic disaster, but their fears of being labeled soft on security — and perhaps their own lack of creative ideas — have turned off a worried electorate.

They seem to feel that if they’re vague enough, voters may mistake them for Likudniks, but the public isn’t buying their political camouflage act.

After last week’s congressional elections in this country, the Democrats may be heading in the same direction. They took a pasting not because voters didn’t like their ideas, but because voters couldn’t figure out what the heck those ideas were.

A timid, confused congressional leadership tried to act as an opposition party without really opposing a president they feared.

Democratic candidates across the country tried to blend in with the mostly Republican landscape, and then acted surprised when voters didn’t see them. When they did take on the Republicans, it was just to carp and criticize, not offer creative new ideas for dealing with the nation’s problems.

Many Democrats distrust the president’s rush to war with Iraq — like a big chunk of the electorate — but were too fearful to speak out when they had the chance. And they were loathe to offer any new ideas of their own on how to deal with the undeniable menace of rogue and terror states that are rushing to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Many Democrats believe that Republican economic policy — tax cuts, tax cuts and then more tax cuts — will make a bad economic situation much worse and create enormous pressure to cut vital health and social service programs.

But those criticisms were muted to the point of inaudibility during the long campaign, mostly because Democrats were petrified of being tarred with the "tax and spend" label. Indeed, many had earlier swallowed their misgivings and voted for a big tax cut they regarded as destructive. Not exactly profiles in courage.

Ditto the issue of corporate malfeasance. There is a widespread feeling in Democratic circles that the Republican administration and Congress have no intention of bringing about serious reforms that will prevent new Enrons and Worldcoms, but the fear of going out on any limbs has rendered the party elders speechless.

Instead, Democrats have worked hard to blur their message. Not surprisingly voters see less and less reason to vote for them. In two years, the Democrats will try to unseat Bush, but without stronger leadership and a clearly defined message, their hopes will be just as futile as Labor’s in the upcoming Israeli reelection.

The reality in both countries is that the conservatives know what they want and aren’t afraid to go after it aggressively, while the liberals are so worried about getting left behind that they serve up indigestible, unpalatable milquetoast.

Labor long ago abrogated its responsibility to offer an assertive, intelligent opposition, and the result is that the party is rapidly becoming marginal in Israeli politics. Here, the Democrats are in danger of following the same self-destructive path.