Bob Kerrey Brings His Campaign to Jewish Organizational Leaders
Menu JTA Search

Bob Kerrey Brings His Campaign to Jewish Organizational Leaders

Download PDF for this date

Bringing his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination to Jewish organizational leaders here, Sen. Bob Kerrey described a flight over Israel as the guest of Benjamin Netanyahu.

He recalled traversing the distance between Tel Aviv and Israel’s 1967 border in barely three minutes.

“The old political buzzwords of national security took on new meaning for me,” the former Nebraska governor told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Wednesday.

He did not tell the Conference of Presidents whether or not he was persuaded to adopt the views of his guide who, as a deputy minister to Yitzhak Shamir, believes Israel should not relinquish control over the administered territories.

But in his talk, Kerry repeatedly criticized the Bush administration for not sufficiently supporting Israel, and offered pro-Israel positions on a broad range of questions, including support for $10 billion in U.S.-guaranteed loans for the Jewish state.

Opening with his domestic agenda, Kerrey likened unemployment to a natural disaster calling for an emergency response.

He also called for a cut in social security taxes; an industrial policy; investment in roads, communication systems and cities; and national health insurance.

But warning that the “safe little isolationist cocoon” spun in the 1930s led to world war, Kerrey returned to his August visit to Israel, devoting the final 11 pages of his 14-page prepared speech to his positions and record on the Middle East and Jewish issues.

He recalled confronting the anti-Semites who were taking advantage of the farm crisis, and his support for Holocaust commemoration.

SCUDS FELL ‘BECAUSE WE WENT TO WAR’

He cited his support for non-binding resolutions declaring united Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and for repeal of the U.N. resolution linking Zionism with racism.

As for the senator’s most controversial vote — that opposing the use of force against Iraq — Kerrey said:

“I believed the Persian Gulf War was an avoidable war. I believed that the president had insufficiently identified the interests that would justify a war. I believed that instead of proving our manhood by rushing headlong into battle we could have proved our humanity by moving patiently into diplomacy.”

Like staunch Israel allies Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), he said he was worried what effect the war would have on Israel’s safety.

“Remember, we did not go to war last January because Scuds were falling on Tel Aviv; Scuds fell on Tel Aviv because we went to war,” he said.

“Nor did we think through at the time what the consequence for American foreign policy would be of leaving Saddam Hussein in power and Saudi Arabia as the new strategic linchpin of American Mideast policy.”

While crediting Bush and Secretary of State James Baker for the present peace talks, he attacked the president for his attitude toward Israel, for allowing his relationship with Prime Minister Shamir “to deteriorate into personal pique and acrimony,” for supporting “one-sided U.N. resolutions against Israel,” for not extracting concessions from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait regarding the Arab boycott and for practicing the “racial politics” that resulted in David Duke.

After treating Iraq with kid gloves, the administration “now treats Syria as a special case — immune from criticism for its intervention in Lebanon, its arms build-up, its brutal treatment of its own Jewish population, its evident involvement in drug trafficking and the Pan Am 103 bombing and now its tough and destructive stance in the peace talks.

“It is never in the interest of the United States of America to ingratiate itself with a foreign dictator to the detriment of democratic nations,” he said.

SETTLEMENT-BUILDING NOT PRODUCTIVE

Condemning the proposed sale of advanced F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia, he demanded a moratorium on the sale of high technology weapons to the Middle East.

He said he believed Israel’s request for U.S. guarantees covering $10 billion in loans needed to help resettle Jews from the former Soviet Union is justified, and should not come with political strings.

“This is humanitarian aid we are talking about,” he said, adding that U.S. foreign policy does not link humanitarian aid with political disputes, citing in particular U.S. aid to Bangladesh and Ethiopia.

In the furthest he ventured to dissent from Israeli government policies, he called Israeli construction on the West Bank “counterproductive, making it more difficult for those of us backing Israel’s request to win support for that assistance among our colleagues and the American public.

“But the settlements are not the heart of the issue,” he added.

“I have not come here to say that as president I will always agree with you,” he said in conclusion.

But he promised, referring to Bush’s outburst to the lobbying for loan guarantees organized by the Conference of Presidents in September, that “I’ll never pound my fist in anger against our only democratically in the Middle East.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund