By E.J. Kessler

Published September 19, 2003, issue of September 19, 2003.
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Dean Defense: In his latest attempt to mend fences after the dustup over his comment that the United States “ought not to take sides” in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Howard Dean is trying to assuage the ire of Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Foxman described Dean’s remark, recorded on the campaign trail in New Mexico on September 3, as “either ignorant or naive.”

In a September 9 letter, Foxman asked Dean to clarify his statements.

“I deplore violence of any kind, especially violence perpetrated by terrorists against innocent civilians,” Dean wrote in a letter to Foxman dated September 12. “The U.S. and Israel are partners in the war on terror. As long as that war continues, members of Hamas, who are enemies in that war, are going to be casualties if they continue to target innocent civilians with terrorist acts. Ending violence and stopping the terrorists is the first step toward a lasting peace in the Middle East.”

The same day, the Democratic contender sent another “make-nice” missive on the same subject. Dean penned a response to a letter sent earlier last week by 34 congressmen — including Rep. Howard Berman of California, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui — chastising him for “sending mixed messages” on support of Israel at a time when “we must reaffirm our unyielding commitment to Israel’s survival and raise our voices against all forms of terrorism and incitement.”

“There is no difference between our positions when it comes to my unequivocal support for Israel’s right to exist and to be free from terror,” Dean wrote in response, adding, “I believe, however, that the United States has another important role to play in the region — that of an honest broker at the negotiating table — with the trust of both sides and able to facilitate direct talks between the parties.”

Pelosi pronounced herself satisfied with Dean’s statement, according to press reports.

A supporter of Dean, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, said anti-Israel voters were not welcome in the Dean campaign. “If there are people who are anti-Israel, they shouldn’t support Howard Dean,” said Nadler, a Jewish congressman who represents a heavily Jewish district and is known for his pro-Israel stances. “I’m looking for people who support Israel to support Howard Dean.”

But Mandell Ganchrow, a Republican pro-Israel activist whose political action committee has raised money for Democrats, said Dean had hurt himself with his remarks. “Dean may have a Jewish wife, but he doesn’t have a Jewish heart,” Ganchrow said. “He’s staking out a position on the far left. He’s not going to get Lieberman people. He’s making a calculated effort that the Peace Now people and others are going to help him. If Dean gets the nomination, there’s no question in my mind the chances of Bush carrying New York and New Jersey are vastly increased.”

Dean’s remarks about the Middle East have been roundly criticized by some of his competitors for the Democratic nomination: Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt.

* * *

Congressional Breakdown: Israel fracas sidelight: More than one campaign was incensed by the Dean campaign’s contention that the letter from 34 congressmen rapping Dean for his remarks was solely a partisan sally, the work of “supporters of other candidates.” So someone helpfully provided a count.

“Of the people who signed [the] congressional letter knocking Dean on Israel statements, there were more unaffiliated than the former Vermont governor would have you believe,” wrote someone from one of the campaigns who keeps track of these things. “The breakdown: 11 Gephardt, 4 Kerry, 4 Lieberman, 1 [Florida Senator Bob] Graham, 1 [Reverend Al] Sharpton, 12 unaffiliated. Unaffiliated include such big ‘catches’ as [Reps.] Martin Frost, Tom Lantos, Bob Menendez, Rahm Emanuel and Linda Sanchez. Unaffiliated New Yorkers on the letter include [Reps.] Joe Crowley, Steve Israel and Gary Ackerman. This is also an interesting measure of how strong supporters of Israel break down among major candidates.”

* * *

Prop 54 and the Recall: The October 7 California recall election was stayed this week by a federal appeals court, which argued that the antiquated punch-card ballots used in many counties would disenfranchise minorities. The question of minority voting is no side issue for Democrats. They are cheered by the fact that Proposition 54, the Ward Connerly initiative banning California from collecting data on race, appears on the recall ballot because they are counting on it to drive turnout in favor of the state’s beleaguered Democratic governor, Gray Davis.

“I think Proposition 54 is a get-out-the-vote machine for the Democrats in this election because it will help energize Democratic base voters, particularly African Americans, who may not be wildly enthusiastic for Davis but will certainly oppose the proposition,” said an adviser to the anti-recall forces, Chris Lehane.

Proposition 54 does not appear to have revived the old black-Jewish civil rights coalition at the ballot box, however. While the Anti-Defamation League in Northern California “strongly opposes” the proposition on the grounds that it will not permit the state to keep accurate figures on hate crimes, its anti-54 drive has not gotten much traction.

“Most of the organizations I have contacted are not taking a position on Proposition 54,” said Coby King, a Los Angeles consultant and adviser to Jewish organizations. “My sense is that despite the argument that Proposition 54 would harm efforts to collect information on hate crimes and would hamper research on genetic disorders, the organized Jewish community is leery about getting involved in such a hot-button issue.”

Even so, “We’re working hard to get the word out in the Jewish community,” said the ADL’s state legislative director, Amy Blumberg.

* * *

More Republicanmania: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas visited New York and New Jersey last weekend for fundraising events, including some in Jewish venues. On Sunday, he addressed Norpac, a bipartisan, North Jersey, pro-Israel political action committee. That evening he attended a dinner fundraiser at a Manhattan kosher restaurant, the BoxTree. Lunch on Monday — not a fundraiser — was a briefing with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Then it was on to a fundraiser organized by New York Governor George Pataki and former Senator Alphonse D’Amato.

The fundraisers come on the heels of a speech DeLay gave in Jerusalem in front of the Knesset in August, in which he staked out positions on the Middle East conflict to the right of President Bush and even Prime Minister Sharon. Such moves are making DeLay wildly popular among right-wing, and especially Orthodox, Jews.

“The DeLay phenomenon is epic, and it could not happen to a better friend, not just of Israel, but of the Jewish people,” said Republican activist Jeff Ballabon. “It used to be aggravating to see how the Democrat flacks tried to scare Jews away from DeLay because he took faith seriously; now it’s just comical.”

In other Republican news, the capitol’s most famous shiny-pated mouthpiece, Bush’s former press secretary Ari Fleischer, is finding something to do with his spare time: Fleischer has been named to the board of directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

One thing we forgot to mention in last week’s item about the Republican Jewish Coalition’s naming of Pataki operative Greg Menken as its New York executive director: Last time we talked to Menken, he was a registered Democrat, like a number of Jewish operatives who work for Republicans in the state. “In this great, large state of Jews, they couldn’t find someone who is a registered Republican?” snickered one Dem. Hmm.

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