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February 2001

Are Jews A Thorn In Bush's Side?

By Karen Nakamura

Now that the dust is settling on the Bush administration, one thing is becoming clear. The new kids in town have little more use for Jews than they do for any other minority. Unable to deliver a large voting block to the Republican Party, both because of decreasing numbers and strong Democrat affiliations, G.W. seems to be forsaking the strong Jewish presence felt in the Clinton Administration.

This should come as no surprise to those who closely watched the Presidential election. Not only did Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the Republican legislature deny moneys to replace ancient voting machines in predominantly black districts, they also denied funds to replace machines in those dominated by Jews. That included retirement homes where numerous holocaust victims live. No, to the Anglo-Saxon mentality so predominant within the Republican Party, Jews will always be a minority and treated in like manner, politely but don't let them into the Country Club.

For example, not one Jew was brought in as a member of the Bush Cabinet. Five served in Clinton's cabinet, although no Jews were included in the Reagan or Bush Senior's cabinet. There were four in Carter's and others in each of Ford's, Nixon's, Johnson's and Kennedy's administrations.

Some Jewish leaders have played down the significance saying there doesn't have to be a scoreboard with every appointment. An editorial in the Jewish Bulletin, January 5, however, states, "It is a cabinet that, largely conservative, is ethnically diverse... With the selection of a Lebanese-American, outgoing Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mich), it makes it that much harder to accept the absence of a Jew."

As reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, is quoted as saying, "Either their circle of friends doesn't include Jews or Jews just didn't get picked. I think it is the former."

There are some high level positions filled with Jewish-Americans, among them, Ari Fleischer in the press secretary's position. Paul Wolfowitz, who was undersecretary of defense for Bush senior and a foreign policy adviser for Republicans during the campaign, was passed over as Defense Secretary but chosen as designee Donald Rumsfeld's top deputy.

What are the reasons the Bush Administration should forsake a great ally? The power of oil seems to have a lot to do with it. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who made his name bombing the Road to Bashra to smithereens and thousands of retreating soldiers with it, spent considerable time cozening up to the Saudi-Arabians and making deals to station troops on Saudi soil, an anathema to traditional Arab sovereignty in the area.

Along this line is the speech Gen. Powell made at Tufts University five days before the election for which he is reported to have received $200,000. The sponsor of the series is a foundation funded by newly appointed Lebanese Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares, a billionaire with close ties to Syria. Bush toured the Persian gulf on Fares private jet a few years back. Fares also entertained former secretary of state James Baker in Beirut and Damascus.

The Jerusalem Post Service reports that the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper, stated in an editorial published just before the elections that "...Fares has connections that would make most people blush with envy", and urged Arab countries to "build bridges" with the next administration.

All of this might bode well with Arab nations but to what degree are discussions centered on the interests of oil and not the interests of the people? Rumors from the Bush Administration say closer relations with moderate Arab nations will be a priority. Again, for close Middle-East watchers, the term "moderate" is key. While the Syrian/Arab connection may be frightening to many Jews, it's the billionaire that alerts WTO opponents. Yasser Arafat doesn't seem likely to be seen as anything but the ineffectual terrorist most Republicans try to make him out to be.

If Ariel Sharon is elected to office as expected, Israel may well get a boost from the Bush Administration, at least, superficially. Sharon has a long and violent history of trying to suppress Palestinians. He also represents hard right-wing values and fits into the military bent of the new administration. The conservative Likud Party developed strong ties with Republicans when former Prime Minister Netanyahu and Newt Gingrich bonded in the mid-1990s. Israel, however, lacks oil reserves. The Arabs have the oil.

Dan Schnur, former communications director for Senator John McCain and former California Governor Pete Wilson, wrote in an op-ed piece published in the San Francisco Chronicle January 19, that, "By returning to a pre-Clinton approach of US-Israel solidarity, Bush can send word... the United States will no longer pretend that unilateral Israeli appeasement [fulfilling the agreements of the Oslo Accords]..is a prerequisite to peace." He also stated, "[Bush's] call for the development of a missile defense system can be presented as a means by which Israel can defend itself against aggression from its neighbors."

Whether Bush will retain close ties with Israel, or if Israel will become a thorn in his side, depends largely on the dictates of the power of oil. Surely, it will have little to do with civil rights.

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