Kerry recasts Mideast stance to woo back Jewish voters
Bryan Bender NYT
Saturday, July 03, 2004
WASHINGTON Senator John Kerry strikes a decidedly stronger pro-Israel position in a new policy paper than he did a few months ago, as he attempts to enlist the support of Jewish voters who have been gravitating to President George W. Bush and away from their tradition of voting Democratic in presidential elections.
In the policy paper, which has not been made public, Kerry outlines clear, strongly worded positions on several issues important to the American Jewish community.
He calls for more forceful action to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, fully backs Israel's construction of a barrier between Israel and the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and pledges to work to push for a new Palestinian political class to replace Yasser Arafat, who is called a "failed leader."
Kerry got off to a shaky start with some Jewish groups, including his reference last October to the barrier as a "barrier to peace." The structure, which is to stretch 680 kilometers, or 425 miles, is formed mostly of electronic fencing with razor wire but has some sections that are concrete.
The new paper calls it "a security fence" and says building it is "a legitimate right of self-defense" and "not a matter" to be taken up by the International Court of Justice, which has criticized the construction.
Also, Kerry earlier remarked that, if elected president on the Democratic ticket, he might appoint James Baker 3rd, secretary of state in the first Bush administration, as a special peace negotiator. Jewish groups quickly attacked the proposal and accused Baker of making anti-Israel statements.
The new paper, drafted by policy and political advisers, does not say whom Kerry would pick for that role should he be elected. Part of Kerry's efforts have included reaching out to Jewish groups; senior members of his staff met with the American Jewish Committee in Washington on Wednesday.
With the paper, "Strengthening Israel's Security and Bolstering the U.S.-Israel Special Relationship," Kerry is attempting to reintroduce himself to Jewish voters. "John Kerry has been at the forefront of the fight for Israel's security during his 19 years in the U.S. Senate," it says. "His pro-Israel voting record is second to none."
Republicans suggested some political desperation was behind the document.
"There is a key battle for the Jewish vote under way," said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, based in Washington. "Democrats are particularly scared."
Traditionally, the overwhelming majority of Jewish voters have backed the Democratic nominee; in 2000, just 19 percent went for Bush.
The Bush campaign is hoping to capitalize on the president's historically strong support for the government of Israel, the military removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the pursuit of the war on Islamic terrorism to increase that support to 30 percent or more in the November vote. In a closely contested election, those voters could prove critical in swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The paper attempts to portray Kerry's pro-Israel credentials as being as strong as Bush's, if not stronger. The document says, for instance, "Israel's cause must be America's cause."
It chides the Bush administration for failing to take stronger action to prevent Iran, a primary supporter of anti-Israel terrorist groups, from developing nuclear weapons.
It also notes that Kerry was a sponsor of the Syria Accountability Act, which banned certain American exports in an effort to punish the Arab nation for supporting anti-Israel terror groups.
The Boston Globe