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Lieberman Comes Out Swinging at President, Liberal Democrats

In his strongest criticism of President Bush’s Israel policies to date during the campaign, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is blasting Bush for threatening Israel over its security fence.

In an e-mail message sent Tuesday night to Jewish supporters, Lieberman wrote that he was “stunned” to learn of Bush’s threats to withdraw loan guarantees if Israel does not stop construction of the fence, which Israel says it needs to stop terrorism. Lieberman also suggested that Bush is not a true friend of Israel, and compared Bush to his father, whose stances toward Israel were often highly unpopular in the Jewish community.

“We all thought this kind of heavy-handed pressure tactic went out the window when the first President Bush left the White House,” Lieberman wrote. “That’s what George W. told us — he seemed to be a true friend of Israel. But making threats is no way to treat a friend. The Israeli people have the right to defend themselves from terrorism and to decide what’s necessary to do that. And it’s wrong to force them to choose between their security and our support. As President, I won’t make a habit of bullying our allies — especially Israel.”

The message goes on to ask the supporters to join Lieberman’s “1,800 Challenge,” an Internet drive to find 1,800 new donors in the first 18 days of August (see Campaign Confidential, above). While Lieberman has attacked Bush from the right on Middle East policy several times before during the campaign, the message appears to be the first time he has linked such an attack with a fundraising appeal.

The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein said that his group “strongly supports” Lieberman’s position on the security fence.

“I think it will resonate across the entire Jewish community and among Christian supporters of Israel,” he told the Forward. “I think, tragically, Lieberman is right that this is reminiscent of the ugly conflict Israel and its American supporters had over a decade ago with the previous Bush administration.… I think we will see people reconsidering their support for Bush. I’m surprised other candidates haven’t come out with this position.”

The Israel-related message was the latest sally in what has turned out to be a week of strong statements by Lieberman. In a speech at the National Press Club Monday and in remarks on Tuesday at an AFL-CIO forum in Chicago, Lieberman criticized “some Democrats” for their stance against the Iraq war and for sending America backward into a dead era of big government.

The remarks were widely seen as the Lieberman campaign’s acknowledgement that former Vermont governor Howard Dean, a pragmatist who has vaulted from nowhere by positioning himself as a left liberal, has become the Democratic field’s frontrunner, and was interpreted by some as a last-ditch effort to rev up what they described as Lieberman’s stalled candidacy.

Using a pugilistic metaphor, Lieberman hit hard at all his top Democratic rivals, saying their liberal nostrums would not win the day against Bush.

“To put it in boxing terms, when the opponent is covering up on his right, a left hook is not going to knock him out,” Lieberman said in the press club speech. “We’ve got to go right up the middle.”

Lieberman’s words were direct. “Some Democrats still prefer old, big government solutions to our problems, but with record deficits, a stalled economy and Social Security in danger, we can’t afford that,” he said. “It won’t work. That old way is wrong for America and wrong for the Democratic Party.”

“Some Democrats respond to the health insurance crisis with a break-the-bank $2 trillion program — leaving no money to create new jobs, invest in our schools, support our firefighters and cops, or shore up Social Security,” Lieberman continued, in a clear reference to Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt.

“Some said ‘no’ to eliminating Saddam Hussein or were ambivalent about it, before and after the war,” added Lieberman, in jibes aimed at Dean, Gephardt and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. “But we must not shrink from the use of force when our security and our values are at stake. That is right for America, and right for the Democratic Party.”

Lieberman even declared himself independent of Hollywood and its money, saying, “Some are silent about the marketing of violent or sexual entertainment to our children. But we should be allies with parents in the struggle to protect their kids.”

Gephardt returned the compliment Tuesday, attacking Lieberman’s “priorities” in a statement.

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