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Democrats Fighting Back Against Bad-on-Israel Charge

In response to the GOP campaign to paint Democrats as weak on Israel – see the recent advertising campaign from the Republican Jewish Coalition, for example – leading Democrats have been speaking out.

Last week, California Rep. Howard Berman responded to the charges with an op-ed in our pages.

Yesterday, three leading Democrats – Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – held a press call with Jewish reporters, ostensibly on the “security of America and its allies,” and hit back against the GOP.

To wit: “There is an effort to drive a wedge with repect to support for Israel, between Democrats and Republicans, and I don’t think the record bears it out,” Sen. Wyden said. “What we have tried to do is stick particularly to the issues and not try politicize these questions and not make them partisan. [But we] have real concerns about the execution of our policies in Iraq and as a result of our execution of our policies in Iraq we have had this disturbing new report.”

Later, Sen. Biden, put it even more bluntly, saying that the Democrats’ support for Israel “comes from our gut, moves through our heart, and ends up in our head. It’s almost genetic.”

When asked to speak about what the U.S. course should be at this time – trying to help jumpstart the Saudi iniative of 2002, for example, or being more open to a Palestinian unity government, Biden had this to say:

“There has never been progress in the Middle East without the United States acting as a catalyst. The fact of the matter is that our good offices are important. The fact as the matter is that I would not do anything that I did not coordinate with the Israeli government. I woud not pretend to be anything other than we are. Arabs know where we are and all they want to know is that we are going to, in fact, be blanced and fair about it. I think we can still establish that. I think it’s virtually impossible at this particular moment for any Israeli government to take the initiative that they might want to take. For example, I have private discussionns with members fo the Likud, as well as members of the unity government, as well as members of the Labor government – and I realize that we’re talkling about a wide range – [and] there are serious people over there who think this may be the moment to make an entrée to Syria, to maybe move Syria into a different position, that this may be the moment to take advantage of that. There are others who think that we shouldn’t.

“My point is that we should have some very important person on the ground there, ready to explore all the initiatives, any serious person in the government thinks it might be worth considering. We should be a catalyst here. In the meantime, we should not be out there proposing a route of settlement, imposing a route of settlement. But what has dawned on everybody in Israel is that, two things: One, that there doesn’t seem to be anybody they can talk to or negotiate with … and two, the policy of unilateral disposition of the situation has also now been put in jeopardy. So they’re in a bind. There is a legitimate, legitimate concern in Israel … [that] the two options, the only two options that have been on the table, both seem to be not very workable now … so we should be sitting down with them, brainstorming with them as to what may be a path by which we can get this back on track, because I don’t know … many people in Israel who think that the status quo is okay, that we’re going to be alright just sitting the way we are. There’s an opportunity here for U.S. leadership to begin to change the environment in which the Israelis are able to negotiate, staring with Lebanon, starting with Egypt, starting with the Saudis – not even as it diretly relates to Israel, as it relates to their own interests…. We should be engaging Mubarak on a regular basis right now. I don’t know that we are, but I’ve seen nothing that indiciates that we are.”

“The point is that the idea that we don’t have somebody 24-7 available to the leaders of Israel, on the ground – thinking of nothing but the Israelis’ interest and how they negotiate through this incredibly dangerous neigbhorhood they live in – is a big mistake. This is not an ad hoc job. The single most important thing we could do for Israel right now is to get a political settlement in Iraq. That changes the dynamic, frees up resources for us, frees up our capability and changes the whole game, but we don’t seem to have anyone in this administration that can connect the dots.”

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