By E.J. Kessler

Published October 22, 2004, issue of October 22, 2004.
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Leading Ladies: First lady Laura Bush and would-be first lady Teresa Heinz Kerry both spoke to United Jewish Communities’ Lion of Judah conference this week, a gathering that brought 1,300 of the nation’s top female Jewish philanthropists to the capital.

Both women were asked to speak about philanthropy, and did. Bush, however, gave a full-blown campaign speech that praised her husband and his policies repeatedly. Heinz Kerry, a philanthropist who heads the Heinz family endowments, a major charity in western Pennsylvania, hewed more closely to the topic at hand, mentioning her husband only sparingly and his positions not at all.

Both dropped Jewish phrases with aplomb. Bush praised the women for “faith, with hard work, and a whole lot of chutzpah.” Heinz Kerry spoke about “tikkun olam, the notion that we must heal the world and make it a better place.”

Bush touted her husband’s commitment “to the security of Israel as a vibrant Jewish state,” his order for the United States to walk out of the World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, because of the antisemitism there and his signing of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004.

She also hit again and again on the theme of terrorism, a centerpiece of the Bush campaign. “Terrorists are the enemy of freedom.… We see this in Iraq where the terrorists attack young men and women who are hoping to sign up for the police force. We see this in Russia, where they kill innocent schoolchildren to make a political point. And we see this in Israel, where Israelis are attacked in pizza parlors, on buses on their way to work or while shopping in supermarkets. And we saw this on a quiet September morning, when terrorists attacked Americans at work in cities that have always symbolized freedom.”

Heinz Kerry, who has been honored by Jewish organizations for her work as part of Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry, talked about standing with refuseniks Ida Nudel, Judith Rattner and Vladimir Slepak. She drew a lesson about philanthropy.

“It did not take great courage for us as congressional wives to challenge the human rights abuses of the Soviet Union,” she said. “But it did take a willingness to honor and support the bravery of those men and women who were risking their lives to speak out. It did require us to care enough about their plight to want to do something about it, to stand for those who could not stand entirely on their own, to speak for the voiceless and to shine light on the courage of the defiant. That concept lies at the very core of good philanthropy.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also spoke at the conference about the Jewish legal tradition.

* * *

Florida Flap: Voters in Florida may be forgiven if they thought the winner of the Monday night debate between Florida Senate candidates Betty Castor and Mel Martinez was alleged terrorist supporter Sami Al-Arian. Questions about the former University of South Florida professor, accused by the government of being a kingpin of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, dominated the first 20 minutes of the hour-long debate, according to news reports. He’s also been featured in television ads from the campaigns of Castor, the Democrat, and Martinez, the Republican. Martinez, echoing a campaign theme of Castor’s Democratic primary rival, Rep. Peter Deutsch, accuses Castor of “weak leadership” regarding Al-Arian when she was University of South Florida president in the early 1990s. Castor suspended, but did not fire, the tenured Al-Arian, who was being investigated but had not yet been indicted by the government. Her successor fired him after the indictment came through. Castor, for her part, accuses Martinez, a co-chairman of then-governor George W. Bush’s 2000 Florida campaign, of “allowing” Al-Arian to campaign with the candidate. Al-Arian and Bush posed for a photo in 2000, which Bush speechwriter David Frum later characterized in a book as being a “reward” for Al-Arian’s aid in helping with the Muslim vote, which went heavily for Bush in Florida.

Castor spokesman Dan McLaughlin called Martinez a “hypocrite” for his ads and said, “I have $50 that says Bush called Martinez and said ‘Stop it.’”

Martinez spokeswoman Jennifer Coxe said Castor “sided with the academic elite” on Al-Arian and said her ads were false. She called McLaughlin’s contention “absurd.”

* * *

Six of One: Some leaders of the Palestinian Authority seem to prefer that John Kerry be elected, while Iran’s leaders are endorsing George W. Bush.

“If Mr. Bush is re-elected, he promised that he would reinvigorate the peace process, but with his team around, and with his views so far, it doesn’t look very promising,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath told BBC television.

The head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Hasan Rowhani, told Iranian state-run television, “We haven’t seen anything good from the Democrats. We should not forget that most sanctions and economic pressures were imposed on Iran during the time of Clinton. And we should not forget that during Bush’s era, despite hardline and baseless rhetoric against Iran, he didn’t take, in practical terms, any dangerous action against Iran.”

Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, told the British newspaper The Guardian that neither Bush nor Kerry would be likely to make a Middle East settlement. “For me, it makes no difference,” he said.

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