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Pennsylvanian’s Powder: Senator Arlen Specter, the moderate Pennsylvania Republican who is facing a primary challenge from conservative Rep. Patrick Toomey, is being criticized by his rival’s campaign and a conservative pro-family organization for refusing to take a position on the constitutional amendment against gay marriage pushed by President Bush.

“Gay marriage joins the long list of issues — along with taxes, spending, school choice, tort reform and others — on which Arlen Specter and John Kerry agree,” Toomey campaign spokesman Joe Sterns said in an e-mail message to the Forward. “It’s a shame that President Bush will have to do battle once again not only with liberal Democrats like John Kerry, but also with liberals in his own party like Arlen Specter.”

That’s not quite true: Kerry opposes the idea of the anti-gay-marriage amendment, declaring it unnecessary and divisive, while Specter is running between the raindrops in regard to it. His spokesman Bill Reynolds told the Forward that the longtime Republican senator is “waiting for the states to determine and see whether or not they can handle the situation” posed by those pressing for gay marriage. “If they fail, he’ll consider an amendment,” Reynolds said. He said a Family Research Council press release dated March 23 saying that Specter was working on a compromise constitutional amendment with Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah was “misinformation.” The release criticized both lawmakers.

Family Research Council spokesman Bill Murray said Specter was dodging the issue.

“If he believes marriage is only between a man and a woman, he would have to acknowledge that a constitutional amendment is the only way to safeguard that,” Murray said.

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Kerry Contortion: Kerry’s campaign used the excuse last week that the senator was on vacation in Idaho to dodge repeated requests from the Forward for a statement from him on Israel’s assassination of Hamas head Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. It is still dodging the matter.

Campaign spokesman David Wade issued a statement to the Forward this week in his own name that suggested Israel’s action was akin to American efforts to hunt down Al Qaeda’s mastermind.

It said: “The United States is committed to bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. Israel, too, has a right to defend herself against a terrorist organization that boasts about its efforts to kill innocent civilians.”

Needless to say, however, we still do not know what Kerry himself thought of the killing.

Bush, in remarks to reporters, called the assassination “troubling,” although he insisted Israel has “a right to defend herself from terror” and instructed his permanent representative to the United Nations, John Negroponte, to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution censuring Israel for the act.

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‘Talmudic’ or ‘Jesuitical’?: The 9/11 Commission hearings last week featured a remarkable use of the adjective “talmudic” — a pejorative one that many Jews thought was dead and buried.

Asking former national security adviser Sandy Berger about certain national security memos on the use of force against Al Qaeda after the bombing of the USS Cole, commission member John F. Lehman noted that counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke had called the memos “talmudic” — meaning, in this case, obfuscating and designed to forestall action.

He then grilled Berger, concluding, “Since Clarke used the word ‘talmudic,’ frankly your response on waiting and [claiming] you didn’t really know about Cole sounds a little talmudic. The time to retaliate for the Cole would have been the day after the Cole, because as you have rightly pointed out, the administration was basically at war with Al Qaeda.”

Berger let commission members know he was sensitive to the offensive usage, at one point joking that while “talmudic is one way” to describe the memos…. “you can use ‘Jesuitical’ if you’d rather,” to which another of his questioners answered, “Yes, I’m not going to offend 5.5 million people.”

Memo to the 9/11 Commission: Skip the adjectives.

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Dem Defense: Democratic Senators Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John Corzine of New Jersey stressed their party’s strong support of Israel at meetings with Jewish groups on Capitol Hill last Thursday.

According to participants, at a meeting held by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the three went on the offensive and indicated to audiences that they were tired of the aspersions voiced by Republicans about Democratic security stances and argued that the Democrats are better on the war on terrorism and homeland security than Bush. Echoing criticisms frequently made by the Democratic presidential candidates, the senators laced into Middle Eastern terror supporters Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Clinton, head of the Senate Democratic Steering Committee, also suggested that aid to the Palestinian Authority should hinge on its efforts to combat antisemitic and anti-American incitement, according to The Hill newspaper, which speculated that the “Democrats may be nervous about the defection of high-profile Jewish donors to the Republicans.”

A participant at the Presidents Conference meeting, a Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he thought the senators’ sallies were “good” and “appropriate.”

“These are good friends of Israel, and they’re having their patriotism impugned,” he said.

Corzine, however, was criticized for sounding “unnecessarily defensive” about the Dems’ support for Israel at a Capitol Hill parley Thursday of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union.

“I was surprised by his remarks,” said a participant at the Orthodox Union function, Democratic lawyer Ben Dayanim, adding “It came across as if [he thought] there was a large rift between the Orthodox community and the Democratic Party…. There have been and continue to be a large number of Democratic supporters in the Orthodox community.”

Corzine spokesman Darius Goore said Corzine “didn’t remember being defensive at all.”

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Labor’s Lather: The president of the Jewish Labor Committee, Stuart Appelbaum, sounded some fighting words against Bush administration policies at the committee’s annual human rights awards dinner in Manhattan last week.

“It is a dangerous moment… for organized labor and the values we share,” said Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “We see it in the redistribution of wealth in this country, with the government channeling money to those who already have too much. We see it in an outrageous plan to write bigotry into the constitution itself.”

The dinner honored United Food and Commercial Workers International Union president Joe Hansen, New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council president Peter Ward and top Unite aide Evelyn Dubrow.

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