CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By E.J. Kessler

Published August 13, 2004, issue of August 13, 2004.

‘Truth in Labeling?’ I: A glossy new White House publication titled “President George W. Bush: A Friend to the American Jewish Community” is raising the ire of Democrats, who contend that it is a thinly disguised — and dishonest — campaign document put out with public money.

The 26-page booklet, issued by the White House’s Office of Public Liaison, is a feel-good piece with many gauzy publicity photos of Bush conferring with Jewish leaders (including a gaggle of Lubavitchers), visiting Auschwitz with First Lady Laura Bush (they can be seen crossing the infamous train siding at the gate) and meeting with Prime Minister Sharon. It sells the president mainly as the resolute leader of the war on terror, with headings such as “Defeating the Networks of Terrorism” and “Supporting the Nation and People of Israel.”

The publication irked the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, who described some of its contents as “shameless.”

For example, Forman said, the booklet commends Bush for a November 19, 2003, speech at the Whitehall Palace in Britain in which he called on Arab nations to “end their state media’s incitement of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment,” but it neglects to mention that in the same speech Bush “bitterly criticized” Israel for its conduct toward the Palestinians and its security fence, which he called a “wall.”

According to a transcript of the speech at the White House Web site, Bush said at Whitehall: “Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences.”

Bush did mean what he said then: Later that month, he docked Israel $290 million in loan guarantees because of the fence and settlement construction. Tensions over settlement construction, unauthorized outposts and the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza have flared between Washington and Jerusalem in recent weeks.

A White House spokeswoman, Maria Tamburri, disputed Forman’s contentions. “It’s not a campaign document,” she said. “It’s an update of a 2002 document with similar content. It’s part of an outreach initiative.”

* * *

‘Truth in Labeling?’ II: A Republican Jewish activist is launching a not-for-profit venture that he says is a nonpartisan, grass-roots group of Jews supporting Bush.

Jeff Stier says he created Best for Israel, which maintains a Web site at bestforisrael.org, in order to “educate the public on issues.”

The site consists of a blog and essays criticizing John Kerry and touting Bush, with no information regarding its leadership.

It says it represents the opinions of “a diverse coalition of individuals, Democrats, Independents and Republicans who believe that now, more than ever, Israel needs the United States to have a president who will be ‘best’ for Israel, not just one who may be ‘also good.’ Based on their records, we believe that President Bush is that candidate.”

Asked to name a Democrat involved with the effort, Stier mentioned Rutgers University professor Steve Miller, who authored one of the site’s essays.

Stier’s own affiliations raise questions about his group’s claims of non-partisanship, however. He is vice chairman for press relations of the Young Jewish Leadership PAC, a political action committee for young Republicans.

The PAC’s advisory board is made up of Republican heavy hitters, including lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former Reagan Jewish liaison Marshall Breger, top fund raiser Cheryl Halpern, conservative Rabbi Daniel Lapin, former administration domestic policy aide Jay Lefkowitz and pollster Frank Luntz.

Stier insists that Best for Israel is not an arm or emanation of the PAC, although he mentioned the PAC when pitching his new site to the Forward. “It’s not as if it’s what the PAC is doing,” he said, acknowledging, however, that some of the new group’s contacts are “people who grew out of” the social circle of the PAC. “There’s not a lot of activity in the PAC,” he said, adding that it has made few donations this cycle.

Such protestations do not hold much water with Democrats. “It’s ridiculous,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist. “The so-called P.R. flack for a Jewish Republican leadership group is suddenly a non-partisan analyst of pro-Israel politicians? Not every kid with a Web site in his bedroom gets to be an election analyst.”

* * *

Stay Tuned: After communal leaders and commentators complained that Kerry did not mention Israel in his nomination acceptance speech, Republicans were scrambling to ensure that Bush mentions it in his.

* * *

Names and Faces: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Bush-Cheney ‘04 Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will speak at the August 29 Jewish community celebration welcoming the 2004 Republican National Convention to New York City. Governor George Pataki, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are invited.



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