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Charming Kerry: Seeking to show an important Jewish communal group how his experiences visiting Israel had affected him personally, John Kerry told a number of stories during a speech Monday at the annual conference in Washington of the Anti-Defamation League.

Before a crowd of more than 500, Kerry spoke about his trips to Israel and his friendship with ADL’s beloved late Boston leader, Lenny Zakim, lauding him as “someone that you admired for his remarkable passion, extraordinary courage and commitment, not just courage in terms of the issues and what ADL stands for, but his personal courage as he lived out the final days of his life, still always just passionate about his work and what we can achieve together, all of us.”

The remarks seemed designed to display the human side of Kerry, who is often pilloried as stiff and aloof, and to demonstrate that he understands Israel’s predicament, as Jews say, “in his kishkes.”

Kerry, a licensed pilot, related a story about visiting Israel for the first time and flying an Israeli air-force aircraft above southern Israel, being forced to double back quickly because of the short distance to the Egyptian border and looping and looking at the landscape upside down, which, he said, “was the perfect way to see the Middle East and Israel.”

Kerry spoke of visiting Kiryat Shmonah, which, he said, he “will never forget because it was near a school where only a few years earlier children had been murdered” and of going “down into a shelter where children had to take refuge when the Katyusha rockets came across the border from Lebanon.”

He also told of visiting the ancient fortress at Masada, where, he said, “we stood on the edge and we yelled am yisroel chai and boom, across… across came the echo, the most eerie and unbelievable sound. And we so looked at each other and we felt as if we were hearing the souls of those who had died there speaking to us.

“So from the subtle colors of the Jerusalem Stone and the beauty and warmth of the mountains and the olive trees, to the rugged, extraordinary vista — those stone pastures — Israel is special. It is a place to be guarded and to be cherished by all.”

At the conclusion of the story, Kerry said, “I want you to know that as president, my promise to the people of Israel is this: I will never force Israel to make concessions that cost or compromise any of Israel’s security. The security of Israel is paramount, and we are an ally and we are a friend and we have a special relationship. And we must remember that.

“We will also never expect Israel to negotiate peace without a credible partner. And it is up to the United States, in my judgment, to do a better job of helping the Arab world to help that partner to evolve and to develop. And we should be engaged in that effort.

Kerry also denounced “a new wave of antisemitism, masking as anti-Israel sentiment” and said, “It’s not just Jewish problem. It’s an American problem. It’s a European problem. It’s an Arab problem. It is a world problem challenging everyone who loves freedom and cherishes tolerance.”

He pledged that a Kerry administration would “work hard to make certain that we put pressure on the Arab countries” and halt “the movement of money” to terrorist organizations, “including Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Aqsa Brigade and so forth.”

In sign that a Kerry may be damned-if-he-does, damned-if-he-doesn’t, a Republican lawmaker, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, speaking to reporters during a conference call after Kerry’s speech, called it “underwhelming” and without “specifics.” Cantor said Kerry’s stress on American “engagement” with the Middle East conflict would lead to “pressure on Israel” and a “continuation of [President] Clinton’s policies.”

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Mike’s Maneuver: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tapped former mayor Edward Koch to head the volunteer drive for the Republican National Convention in New York this August because he’s looking for a prominent face to interpose between himself and Bush, according to a top-ranking New York Democratic official, who said he doesn’t expect to see Bloomberg in too many photos with the president. Bush is not popular in New York and “Bloomberg knows we’re going to pin Bush to him when we run against him [in 2005],” the Democrat said.

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Franken Factor: Liberal satirist and talk-show host Al Franken, who’s mulling a run for the Minnesota Senate seat held by Republican Norm Coleman, is asking New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for advice on the matter.

“I asked Hillary, ‘Can you give me some suggestions about running for Senate in a state you haven’t lived for in a while, or in your case, ever?’” said Franken, who lives in New York City but grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, during an interview with the Associated Press. “And she said, ‘This will be a long conversation,’ so we agreed to have a long conversation about it.”

Franken said the chances he’d take the plunge are “better than 50-50.” Rising star Coleman’s term is up in 2008. But who knows? Coleman, who just announced his intention to vie for the post of National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, might be tapped as the Republican vice presidential nominee, opening his seat.


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