On the Campaign Trail: Dole Pledges Smooth Relations with Israel in a Speech to Jews

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole spent part of his Labor Day weekend attempting to deflect criticism that U.S.-Israel relations would suffer if he wins the race for the White House.

In a Sunday address to the B’nai B’rith International convention here, Dole told more than 800 delegates from 29 countries that vice presidential nominee “Jack Kemp and I will work more smoothly with Israel than would a second-term Clinton administration.”

“Why? We would not pre-empt Israel’s sovereign right to devise its own national security policies” and “we would not push Israel to give the Golan Heights to Syria,” he added.

Pledging warm relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Dole said, “We actually believe in peace through strength.”

Jewish Democrats have attacked Dole for what is widely described as a mixed record on Israel throughout his 35-year career in Congress.

Dole went on the offensive during his speech this week to attack the Clinton administration’s policy toward Syria.

“The diplomatic solicitude shown by the Clinton administration” to Syrian President Hafez Assad sends “a dangerous message that terrorism pays,” the former senator said.

Delegates gave Dole polite applause and a partial ovation during his 40-minute speech, but reserved their loudest support for his remarks about Jerusalem.

“It doesn’t serve U.S. interests or promote peace for the United States to signal that its support for Israeli claims in Jerusalem is an open question,” Dole said of President Clinton’s decision to delay moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Dole sponsored legislation that passed the Senate to require that move by 1999.

While Dole pledged to “forswear personal criticisms” of the Clintons during the campaign, he made one dig at Hillary Rodham Clinton in remarks not included in his prepared text.

Referring to wife Elizabeth Dole’s address to the Republican National Convention last month, Dole said: “She is so talented that Eleanor Roosevelt is trying to reach her.”

Dole was playing off reports that Hillary Clinton had imaginary conversations with Roosevelt earlier this year.

Dole steered clear of domestic policy issues on which he and B’nai B’rith have clashed in recent years, including federal budget cuts, welfare reform and immigration policy.

Instead, Dole focused on his recent stump critique of the sharp increase in teen-age drug use on Clinton’s watch.

“That is not a record I would care to defend. It is one that I intend to undo,” he said.

During election years since 1976, both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates and incumbents have addressed B’nai B’rith conventions.

But Clinton did not speak to the four-day convention this year. White House officials said Clinton returned from his post-convention bus tour Monday and has been focusing on the Iraqi crisis, officials said.

Officials added that Clinton had addressed three B’nai B’rith audiences since 1992.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also addressed the delegates during their convention, which ended Tuesday.

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