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The Jerusalem Post, Internet Edition, Jul. 15, 2004: 

Cameron Kerry: Bush too soft on Saudis

By HERB KEINON

 

 

Nobody, not even the campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, can accuse US President George W. Bush of not being an enormous friend of Israel.

So when vying for Jewish voters for whom Israel is a key election issue, the Kerry campaign is opting to bash Bush not for anything he has done toward Israel, but rather for what he has not done regarding Saudi Arabia. At least this is the impression one gets when talking with the presidential candidate's brother and close adviser Cameron Kerry, currently visiting Israel.

The Bush administration, Kerry said during a phone interview conducted on his way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, "has not been aggressive enough toward Saudi Arabia." Kerry said his brother criticizes Bush not over his policies concerning Israel, but "for not doing enough in other areas that affect Israel."

The younger Kerry, who met Thursday with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, said that Bush has not waged an effective enough war on terrorism, has not done enough to reduce American dependence on Middle East oil, and "has been timid about challenging Saudi Arabia." Kerry, who met Prime Minister Ariel Sharon briefly on Wednesday, said the US must do more to get the Saudi government to stamp out hatred being taught in religious schools and distributed through the press, and that more pressure must be leveled on the Saudis to end financial support for terror.

His comments were in line with the Kerry campaign's recently released position paper on Israel entitled "Strengthening Israel's Security and Bolstering the US-Israel Special Relationship." Regarding Saudi Arabia, this paper states that "John Kerry has forcefully spoken out against anti-Semitic statements by Saudi government officials, saying it calls into question their commitment to combating terrorism and pledging that as president he will never permit these kinds of attacks to go unanswered." Regarding Bush's strong support for Israel, Kerry said the administration's policies toward Israel and the peace process have bipartisan support.
"John has supported those policies, he has been a strong supporter with a perfect record in support of Israel in the 19 years that he has been a senator, and he will not walk away from Israel. President Kerry would be a strong friend to Israel," Kerry said.

For those American Jews who choose their candidate based on Israel, Kerry reiterated that his brother is a "staunch supporter of Israel, and for people for whom that is a critical part of their choice, there should at least be no difference [between him and Bush]. And then we can move on to a lot of other issues – economic, justice, church and state, security and education issues – that are important to the American Jewish community, and the reasons that American Jews have historically voted for the Democratic Party."

John Kerry raised some eyebrows in the Jewish community in October when, while speaking to an Arab American audience, he called the security fence a "barrier to peace." He has since changed his tone, referring in his position paper to the fence as "a legitimate act of self-defense erected in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israeli citizens." Asked to explain the change, Cameron Kerry replied, "There is no change. He believes that Israel has the right to protect its security, and that the fence is a reasonable exercise of that right. The statement you are talking about was made when discussing the route, and the Bush administration also has had issues concerning the route, as has the Israeli Supreme Court. And now those issues are being addressed."
Another issue that caused Kerry somewhat of a headache in the Jewish community early in the campaign was his remark that he might appoint former US secretary of state James Baker, remembered by many in Israel for a couple of particularly harsh statements toward Israel, as a special peace envoy.

Kerry said his brother had not made up his mind whom to appoint for this position, but hinted it would not be Baker.

"No candidate will be chosen for that position who doesn't also command the respect of Israel, other players and the American Jewish community," Kerry said.

Kerry, who converted to Judaism 21 years ago before marrying his wife Kathy Weinman, termed his visit – his first to Israel – "an emotional experience." Kerry, whose paternal grandparents converted from Judaism to Catholicism in 19th-century Austria, visited Yad Vashem Thursday and found information on his great-aunt and uncle who were murdered in the Holocaust. His paternal grandmother's brother was killed in Terezin in 1943, and his grandmother's sister was killed in Treblinka in 1942.

Asked if he thought his conversion to Judaism would attract Jewish voters, or possibly chase away others adverse to the idea of a president with such close Jewish family ties, Kerry responded, "I have no idea. It's something that is interesting to some people, but has not been an issue." Kerry, a member of the Temple Israel Reform synagogue in a Boston suburb where his wife is a member of the synagogue's board and its ritual committee, said he views this trip as part of his "continuing process of education" regarding being a Jew. This visit to Israel, he said, is an important step in that education process.

Kerry said he is looking forward to coming back to Israel with his two teenage daughters, who have not yet visited the country.

Kerry is slated to tour the Golan on Friday, and return to the US on Saturday. He was brought to Israel by an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, The American Israel Education Fund, which sponsors trips to Israel for key policy and opinion makers.

In addition to his wife, Kerry was accompanied by Jay Footlik, who is the Kerry campaign's senior adviser on Middle East and Jewish affairs. 

 

 



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