Sununu Denies He is Blaming Jews for Controversy over His Travel

White House Chief of Staff John Sununu has denied that he blames Jews and other supporters of Israel for the controversy raging over his travel practices.

Sununu telephoned the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Wednesday after The Washington Post reported that Jews were among those he blames for his recent troubles.

Sununu’s use of government jets and limousines for personal travel has sparked widespread calls for his resignation and has prompted President Bush to order strict controls on his travel.

The Post quoted sources saying that Sununu believes Jews are after him “because he is Lebanese-American” and because they “don’t like my call for evenhandedness” in U.S. policy in the Middle East.

In a telephone call to the Conference of Presidents, Sununu said he never made the allegations quoted in the press and does not believe them, said Malcolm Hoenlein, the conferences executive director.

Sununu’s call was a reply to a letter Hoenlein and Shoshana Cardin, the conference’s chairman, sent after an earlier report said Sununu was blaming Jews for stirring up the controversy. The earlier report was contained in a piece by conservative syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak.

But Sununu also denied the statements attributed to him in Wednesday’s Washington Post article, Hoenlein said.

UNEASINESS IN JEWISH COMMUNITY

The Post said that Sununu did not blame the Jews as much as the liberal media, and liberals in general, because he is considered the leading conservative conduit in the administration.

He also was quoted as blaming Republicans close to Bush, such as Robert Teeter, one of Bush’s senior advisers; Peter Teeley, a former Bush aide; and Craig Fuller, Bush’s chief of staff when he was vice president. All three are expected to play a crucial role in Bush’s re-election campaign and may be viewed as rivals by Sununu.

while Jewish leaders are privately outraged that Sununu may have sought, despite his denials, to blame Jews for some of his problems, they have been uneasy about him since Bush named him as his chief of staff.

In 1986, as governor of New Hampshire, he was the only one of the 50 governors to refuse to sign a proclamation condemning the 1975 U.N. General Assembly resolution denigrating Zionism as a form of racism.

Sununu was active in the National Association of Arab Americans, a group that has been sharply critical of Israel. The Post noted that in a 1984 speech to the group, Sununu urged a more “evenhanded approach” to the Middle East.

“Others with perspectives very different from us have influenced the decision-making process” to the “detriment of this nation’s foreign policy,” Sununu said at the time.

But, as he did Wednesday, Sununu has sought since coming to the White House to try to reassure American Jews that he is not anti-Israel. He apparently has never completely allayed these suspicions.

At the same time, most believe that Sununu is not a major player in the administration’s Middle East policymaking. His chief influence appears to be over domestic policy and relations with Congress.

CONCERN ABOUT WHITE HOUSE CEREMONY

Concern about Sununu’s position became public again earlier this month when he presided over a White House ceremony honoring surviving members of the USS Liberty, a Navy intelligence ship bombed by Israeli aircraft during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement expressing concern about the motivation for the ceremony, which was also attended by Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser.

“ADL hopes that he reason for the White House reception was simply to honor the Liberty crew members, not to give a stamp of approval to those seeking to malign Israel,” the statement said.

The group pointed out that while governor, Sununu signed a 1988 proclamation that called the attack on the Liberty “belligerent aircraft and torpedo boats.”

There has been astonishment in some government circles that Sununu, who is credited with having a genius IQ, has refused to accept that his own behavior many be responsible for his present difficulties.

The controversy began when it was revealed that Sununu used military panes for private trips, including one to see his dentist in Boston.

He then was also faulted for seeking private planes from corporations for his trips. This was capped when he had his government limousine take him to a stamp exhibition in New York.

Throughout the controversy, Sununu has maintained that he cannot use regular transportation since he must keep in cannot use regular transportation since he must keep in constant contact with the White House.

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