By E.J. Kessler

Published March 12, 2004, issue of March 12, 2004.
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Flipping for Florida: Pounding the Republicans’ main line of attack on the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman rapped Massachusetts Senator John Kerry on Monday for “flip-flopping” on Israel’s security fence and for “mistakes in judgment” regarding a 1997 remark praising Yasser Arafat as a “statesman.”

Speaking to reporters during a conference call, Coleman accused Kerry of tailoring his position on the fence to different audiences — Kerry called the fence “a barrier to peace” when he addressed an Arab American group last fall but recently praised it to a Jewish group — contrasting that approach to what Coleman called President Bush’s “steady leadership.”

Coleman, one of two Jewish Republicans in the Senate, indicated several times during the call that it was aimed squarely at pro-Israel voters in Florida. Not coincidently, Kerry was campaigning in Florida on Monday in advance of Tuesday’s Democratic primary there. The call was set up by the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.

Kerry, Coleman said, was “consistently inconsistent” on a host of policy questions, from the fence to the Patriot Act to intelligence-gathering, which he had once proposed to cut funding by $1.5 billion but now says is deficient. The Kerry campaign said in a statement that the senator did not propose to cut the meat of the intelligence budget, but “billion-dollar bloat” in a “slush fund for defense contractors.”

Kerry’s Arafat remark, published in a 1997 book at the height of the Oslo peace process when President Clinton was receiving the Palestinian leader at the White House, was a “mistake in judgment,” Coleman said, because “Arafat has been a terrorist from beginning to middle to end.” On the campaign trail Monday, according to the Associated Press, Kerry said Arafat was a statesman in 1995 but “blew his opportunity in 1999. As far as I’m concerned, he’s an outlaw to the peace process.”

Asked if Bush had flip-flopped himself for not moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem after campaigning explicitly on the promise to do so, Coleman said, “None of us in this business get everything done that we said we would do.”

Kerry spokesman David Wade responded by accusing Coleman, a former Democrat, of some inconsistencies of his own.

“With all due respect, Norm Coleman switches positions as often as he switches political parties to suit his personal political agenda,” Wade wrote in an e-mail. “One day he’s for Bill Clinton, the next he’s for George Bush. With a record like that I’d think he’d be more worried about his standing in Minnesota than John Kerry’s 30 years of proven commitment to the defense of our nation.”

* * *

Minnesota Musings: In more spin from the Gopher State, its former Republican Jewish senator sounds more bullish than the current one about the prospects of moving the state to the GOP column in 2004.

Rudy Boschwitz, who served as senator from 1978 to 1991, told the Forward that “election decisions are made quite late” in Minnesota so “if October is a good month for Republicans, it will break for Bush.”

Unlike in 2000, “We’ve been successful in getting [the Bush-Cheney team] to put their emphasis on Minnesota,” he explained.

Coleman, by contrast, takes a more cautious approach, saying that while the state is “in play,” it will be “very difficult” to flip because “historically” it has not gone Republican in a presidential election since 1972. Bush lost the state to Al Gore by 2.4%, or about 59,000 votes, in 2000.

Boschwitz also seconded Campaign Confidential’s observation that Coleman, who heads the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, is being groomed for higher office, perhaps as a future vice presidential pick. “I think so,” Boschwitz said. “He is attractive. He’s cutting quite a broad swath, especially for a freshman legislator who’s supposed to remain silent. He’s doing just fine.”

* * *

Joe’s Jolt: Speaking from the Senate floor Thursday, Joseph Lieberman chided both parties for politicizing the war in Iraq.

Complaining about “the rigid partisanship that has gripped our political system,” the Connecticut Senator asked that Bush and Kerry both “rise above partisan politics to put America first” in order to defeat the jihadists.

“For Democrats, that does not mean that all debate about the war must stop,” he said. “But it does mean, I believe, that we must focus on how best to win the war we are engaged in now against the terrorist insurgents. Questioning how we got into the last war against Saddam is simply not enough. Doing only that is not acceptable anymore.

“For the president and his party, it means not politicizing the conduct of the war,” Lieberman continued. “As commander-in-chief, the president has a special responsibility to focus first on winning the war, even in this election year, and particularly in these times. In the months ahead, he must be willing to make the tough decisions necessary to bring security to Iraq and a better life to the Iraqis, regardless of the political consequences, because that is what will best serve America’s values and security…

“We cannot allow a singular quest for electoral victory to impede the more universal and important quest for victory over terrorism, a victory that will enable the American people to feel fully secure again here at home, our soldiers to return from Iraq, and the Iraqi people to enjoy the blessings of liberty which it is America’s historic mission to advance and defend. As important as our party’s victory is for each of us, it is not more important than a victory against terrorism for all of us.”

* * *

O’Reilly Observation: The National Jewish Democratic Council is blasting Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly for “roll[ing] out one of the oldest canards of Jewish conspiracy theories” in a February 25 broadcast discussing Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

On the show, O’Reilly asks a Variety reporter why there is so much controversy over Gibson’s film, saying, “Okay, it’s a very, very difficult question. And I’m asking this question respectfully. Is it because the major media in Hollywood and a lot of the secular press is controlled by Jewish people?”

In its “Operation Emet-Truth” electronic newsletter, the council asked its supporters to complain to local newspapers and O’Reilly himself about this instance of “completely unacceptable rhetoric by leading conservatives, speaking on the conservative Fox News Network.”

O’Reilly did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, but his publicist, Robert Zimmerman, said that he’s “not going to comment on anything like that.” He added, “This is the first I’ve heard about it.”

* * *

Jack Be Nimble: Erstwhile Clintonista Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress and a supporter of Bush come lately, is close enough to the president to have been named by Secretary of State Colin Powell to serve on the American delegation to the Conference on Anti-Semitism sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Berlin next month.

Others on the delegation — which several have noted lacks Jewish worthies of the pain-in-the-Bush persuasion — include Betty Ehrenberg of the Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations, United Jewish Communities president Stephen Hoffman, Washington attorney Jay Lefkowitz and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council Chairman Fred Zeidman. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is to head the delegation.

Several Jewish organizational leaders are reportedly upset that they weren’t named to the delegation. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, reportedly said that he believed “political considerations” played a key role in the formation of this year’s delegation.

“I’m sure that was a significant factor,” said American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris, in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Harris, whose organization was represented last year in Vienna, added: “This is, after all, an election year, and that is the way Washington works.”

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