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Behind the Headlines: Democratic Presidential Contenders Mostly Have Solid Pro-israel Records

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Most of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1992 have strong pro-Israel records.

But there is still a question mark about Sen. Robert Kerrey of Nebraska, whom pundits are already calling the Democratic front-runner.

While Kerrey has supported Israel in the Senate, the former Nebraska governor is not considered in the forefront of the pro-Israel lawmakers. And he is not among the majority of senators who co-sponsored legislation that would provide Israel with guarantees for $10 billion loans for immigrant resettlement.

Former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, until recently the only announced Democratic candidate, has accused President Bush of turning Israel’s request for guarantees into a personal fight with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

“What I don’t understand is why he has gone out of his way to pick this fight,” Tsongas was quoted by the Atlanta Journal as saying after he met with former President Jimmy Carter in Georgia on Sept. 16. “No Arab state has made this a major issue,” he said.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa had been critical of Bush’s treatment of Israel even before he announced his candidacy Sept. 8.

Harkin has argued that before the United States agreed to lead the military coalition to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, Washington should have gotten a promise from the Arab countries that after the war they would recognize Israel, end their economic boycott and begin negotiations with the Jewish state.

SETTLEMENTS NO OBSTACLE TO PEACE

He has said that it is the Arab refusal to take these steps that is the obstacle to peace and not, as the Bush administration has said, Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He has also repeatedly said that the United States should support Israel and not try to be even-handed in the Middle East.

The two governors in the race, Douglas Wilder of Virginia, who announced earlier this month, and Bill Clinton of Arkansas, who officially entered the race Oct. 3, have records of reaching out to the Jewish communities in their states.

Wilder, the first black to be elected governor since Reconstruction, has particularly sought to contrast himself with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is not considered supportive of Israel. Jackson has not yet ruled out making a third effort at the Democratic nomination.

Both Wilder and Clinton have supported aid for Israel. Clinton was critical of Bush’s request for delaying the loan guarantees until next year.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown of California, who has said he will enter the race, was considered a supporter of Israel while governor and during his unsuccessful attempt at the presidency in 1976.

Another announced candidate is Larry Agran, the former mayor of Irvine, Calif, who is Jewish. Agran entered the race when his first choice, former Sen. George McGovern, who lost to Richard Nixon in 1972, said he would not make another try. Agran said he wants to stress in his campaign the problems faced by the cities and towns.

The positions of the candidates on Israel will be made clearer as the race gets under way. But the candidates, facing a president who has high marks on foreign policy, are expected to stress domestic issues, which the Democrats charge have been neglected during the 11 years of the Reagan and Bush administrations.

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