Groups Take Issue With Bush Address

By Ori Nir

Published January 23, 2004, issue of January 23, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

WASHINGTON — President Bush’s State of the Union Address drew mostly negative reviews among Jewish groups upset over his pointedly partisan stance on several domestic issues and his failure to make any mention of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Just months after describing the push for peace as a personal priority to which he is deeply committed, Bush and his advisers opted not to include even one direct reference to the U.S.-backed “road map” plan, instead simply mentioning Jerusalem in a list of many cities around the world still plagued by terrorism. The omission drew immediate criticism from several Jewish groups and Democrats.

In her rebuttal to Bush‘s address, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California faulted the president for a “diplomatic disengagement that almost destroyed the Middle East peace process.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said she was “disappointed” at the president’s failure to mention the peace process. And the president of the Democratic Leadership Council, Bruce Reed, told the Forward he expects Democratic presidential candidates to step up this line of criticism as “another exhibit in the larger critique about the string of foreign policy fumbles that the administration has made recently.”

On the domestic front, several Jewish groups were distressed at the president’s tentative endorsement of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and his call for congressional action to codify his executive orders offering billions of dollars in government funds to religious organizations delivering social service programs.

The speech comes amid predictions by the president’s supporters that in November he will significantly surpass the estimated 20% of the Jewish vote he won in 2000. Those predicting such a shift generally have based their prediction on the assumption that Bush’s support for Israel would win over Jewish Democrats. But in his address, widely viewed as the opening shot in his 2004 campaign, he downplayed this supposed strong point, veering instead into domestic terrain where his willingness to lower the church-state wall and cater to his conservative base seems certain to alarm many Jewish groups and voters.

“To date, virtually none of the safeguards that we have called for and asked for and written in formal comments for have been integrated” into Bush’s administrative orders on funding faith-based organizations, said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League. “It’s just a matter of time until there are going to be the kinds of abuses that we are concerned about.”

The Orthodox Union took an opposing view, praising the president’s call for Congress to codify his measures into law, saying that religious organizations should not be blocked from receiving such funds. But the O.U. seemed to be staking out a lonely position among Jewish groups: In addition to the ADL, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism raised concerns about Bush’s remarks on funding religious groups.

Bush’s opening call for Congress to make the USA Patriot Act permanent also drew criticism from the Reform center and JCPA, an umbrella group of 13 national Jewish agencies and 123 community-relations councils.

“We have serious concerns with the Patriot Act,” said JCPA executive director Hannah Rosenthal. “The fact that Bush led with the Patriot Act was disappointing.”

Liberal groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are particularly disturbed by provisions in the act granting law enforcement agencies sweeping powers. One of the most controversial, Section 215, allows the FBI to obtain “tangible things” — a category including library, travel, genetic, health, business and firearms records — without standard judicial review or any mechanism for the person affected to mount a legal challenge.

The Reform center also expressed concern over Bush’s omission of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“So far, the president seemed to have been personally engaged in trying to move the peace process along, for the last year and a half, and one can only hope for the sake of peace in the Middle East, that this will remain a major priority for the administration, and that the absence in the speech does not signal a change of policy,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the RAC.

Yet foreign policy experts and Republican insiders agree that the Bush administration is unlikely to work hard at brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace as the president embarks on his reelection campaign. “I think it is true, from a policy point of view, that Bush will not inject himself any further in the Middle East peace process” before the November election, said Henry Siegman, a former head of the American Jewish Congress who now is a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Siegman said that, in an election season, “Bush will not put pressure on [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s government to significantly alter its basic approach, absent a real Palestinian effort to control terror.” And, Siegman added, such a Palestinian effort is very unlikely.

Bush will not feel pressure to take bold action to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, political observers agreed, because Democrats are unlikely to make a credible case against his Israeli-Palestinian policy.

Marshall Breger, who served as White House liaison to the Jewish community under President Reagan and now teaches law at Catholic University in Washington, said that attacking Bush over his policy on Israel “would not get Democrats much traction.”

A similar sentiment was expressed last week at a panel discussion hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank. Both panelists, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg and conservative pundit William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, agreed that, although the Bush’s broader Middle East policy will take center stage as a campaign issue this year, his policy on Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution will be marginal to the campaign.

“We’re going to have a big foreign policy election to which the Middle East will be central,” said Kristol, predicting that Bush’s post-September 11 policy in the Middle East will all but dominate the televised presidential debates.

“The debates are going to be at least half foreign policy, and its going to be very contentious,” Kristol said. “It’s been a long time since we had a major partisan divide on foreign policy in a presidential election.” But, Kristol added, “there is no big difference between the parties on the Israeli-Arab issue.”

Greenberg seemed to agree, predicting that Democrats would focus their criticism of Bush’s foreign policy on what they describe as his reckless unilateralism, rather than on his handling of Israeli-Palestinian talks.

“I think rhetorically the Democrats will not talk about democratization and Israeli-Palestinian peace and all these things,” Greenberg said. “I think the only thing that matters here is whether the go-it-alone policy is successful and whether it’s likely to be successful in the future. The other pieces are a small part of the equation.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.