Ariel Sharon is scheduled to meet with the president's brother during a short trip to Miami in September, two months before elections are to be held in the state that is home to the third largest American Jewish community. His arrival was reportedly slated for September 9, one day before the Democratic gubernatorial primaries. Following harsh criticism from Democrats who demanded Sharon also meet with their party's candidates, Israeli officials said Tuesday that Sharon would invite the Democratic candidates, as well as Bush, to an Israel solidarity rally.
FORWARD - New York - August 16, 2002
Floridians Say Sharon Visit a Sop To Bushes Plans Coincide With Gov's Race
By NACHA CATTAN
High-profile Jewish Demo-crats are fuming over a decision by Prime Minister Sharon to make a rare visit to the Sunshine State in the heat of a gubernatorial election involving Republican Governor Jeb Bush.
Sharon is scheduled to meet with the president's brother during a short trip to Miami in September, two months before elections are to be held in the state that is home to the third largest American Jewish community. His arrival was reportedly slated for September 9, one day before the Democratic gubernatorial primaries.
Following harsh criticism from Democrats who demanded Sharon also meet with their party's candidates, Israeli officials said Tuesday that Sharon would invite the Democratic candidates, as well as Bush, to an Israel solidarity rally.
But Democratic elected officials and party activists continued to balk this week when they heard Bush is to be the only candidate to meet separately with Sharon and to be called to the podium to speak at the rally.
"If it's a solidarity rally and [Bush] is on the stage, the other gubernatorial candidates should be on the stage as well," said Florida state Rep. Nan Rich, a former president of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Stressing the risks should Israel appear to take sides in an American election, Democrats with backgrounds in Jewish organizational life are demanding that Sharon give equal treatment to all gubernatorial candidates.
"He should do everything to make this as non-political as possible," Rich said.
Other activists, from across party lines, said a Sharon-Bush meeting, public or private, is appropriate because it would occur well before Election Day and because Jewish voters are not so easily swayed.
"It's altogether appropriate," said the Republican mayor of Boca Raton, Steven Abrams, about the planned meeting. "It's the day before primary elections, but Governor Bush is not on the ballot for the primaries. People are not going to be focused on the governor until the Democrats have chosen their nominee. I suspect this is being made into an issue by the Democrats."
Bush's leading Democratic challenger is former attorney general Janet Reno.
The pro-Israel rally is expected to take place at a hotel to which 1,500 to 2,000 Jewish community leaders and members from across the state will be invited, Israel's consul general in Miami, Miki Arbel, told the Forward.
Critics of the Sharon visit include Monte Friedkin, chairman of Palm Beach County's Democratic party and former vice president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Mitchell Ceasar, chairman of Broward County's Democratic party and former member of the Anti-Defamation League's civil rights committee.
Those who said they were not opposed include the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, and the chairman of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, Sam Dubbin.
"Frankly, it would be better if [Sharon] weren't here at all," Friedkin said. "If he is meeting with the governor it would be a good move to reach out to the Democratic candidates and be willing to meet privately with them as a group."
Ceasar said he had no problem with Bush meeting separately with Sharon, but he said that in order to remove the taint of politics from the visit, "no candidates from either side should be present at the rally."
Before Israeli officials announced Democratic candidates would be invited to the rally, Rich had accused Sharon of making the trip to boost Bush's electoral chances. "It's politically motivated," Rich told the Forward last week. "It is inappropriate for the prime minister to be weighing in on the Florida gubernatorial race."
Rich had claimed Sharon meant to lend a hand toward the governor's re-election in order to show the Jewish state's appreciation for the pro-Israel stance taken by the president. "This is a way he can show support," Rich said.
Since then Rich has toned down her criticism. "Well, we've made some progress," she said Tuesday. "Now we need to make one more stand and that is that the governor and candidates get equal billing."
Israeli officials, who dismissed accusations that a Sharon visit would be political, said no sitting prime minister had visited Florida in over a decade. Arbel said he could not remember when the last trip had occurred.
Defending the rally, Arbel said inviting each candidate to the podium would "politicize the event." He said Sharon would take pains not to favor any candidate. "We will do whatever we can to minimize this feeling. But I'm sure we cannot completely destroy it" because it is a matter of perception, he said.
Declining to specify the date of Sharon's visit, Arbel said it would fall between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. He said that Sharon had planned to visit Florida in May but postponed the trip because of a terrorist attack.
"The intention was just to pay a visit with the great Jewish community of Florida which is highly supportive of the state of Israel," he said.
Forman said he trusted that Jewish voters, who historically vote Democratic, would not be swayed by a meeting between Sharon and Bush.