Bush hits hot-button Jewish issues

WASHINGTON, May 22 (JTA) — Receiving a standing ovation from a Jewish audience while giving a talk about Israel should make a Republican presidential candidate often criticized for his lack of foreign policy experience feel pretty good.

Indeed, Texas Gov. George W. Bush looked pleased as he promised participants at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington that he would move the U.S. ambassador in Israel to Jerusalem. The Bush campaign reportedly said the governor meant to say the embassy as well.

Bush also reiterated the Republican stance that the United States must not interfere with Israel’s democratic process, intimating that the Clinton administration pushes Israel too much on various issues.

“In recent times, Washington has tried to make Israel conform to its own plans and timetables,” Bush told more than 1,700 conference attendees. “But that is not the path to peace.”

In a rare foreign policy address, Bush touched on a number of hot-button topics for the American Jewish community.

Bush said 13 Jews facing espionage charges in Iran are unjustly imprisoned.

“The leaders of Iran should know that America will judge them by their conduct and treatment of those 13,” he said.

Bush also said the special relationship between the United States and Israel would continue no matter what the outcome of the peace process, and that economic cooperation between the two countries strengthens the relationship.

Conference participant Stephen Tanner of West Virginia said Bush sounded pro-Israel, but most politicians do.

“If he does what he says, then we’re OK,” Tanner said. He said that either Vice President Al Gore or Bush would be a good president, as far as their policies on Israel are concerned, but Tanner still prefers Bush.

Tanner is not worried about Bush’s lack of foreign policy experience because, he said, every president is led around by advisers.

But Ariel Rubin, a 19-year-old Dartmouth student, is concerned about the governor’s foreign policy inexperience.

“It’s easy to make promises,” Rubin said, but Bush should be more “realistic.”

This year is the first time AIPAC will host both presidential candidates at the policy gathering. Gore is scheduled to speak Tuesday morning.

Bush failed to win over everyone in the audience.

Elaine Levine of Delray Beach, Fla., said she found Bush’s speech to be “poor.” A Gore supporter, Levine believes Bush is not very smart and she would not like to trust him as president. “He would not be good on Israel,” Levine said.

Eyal Raviv said he was open to what Bush had to say but was disappointed by his speech. An avid Gore supporter who proudly says he has a Gore poster in his room, Raviv said Bush’s promise to move the ambassador to Jerusalem is just symbolic.

“But I don’t get the feeling that his ideas are his own,” said the 24-year-old student at Teacher’s College of Columbia University.

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