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Terror victims´ relatives feel ignored


President Bush condemns the Hebrew University attack and sends sympathy to the victims´ families during a Cabinet meeting July 31. (White House Photo)

President Bush condemns the Hebrew University attack and sends sympathy to the victims´ families during a Cabinet meeting July 31. (White House Photo)

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (JTA) — Relatives and friends of the Americans killed in the July 31 terror attack at Hebrew University are disappointed that President Bush hasn´t sent personal condolences. The White House, they say, should have made more of an effort to reach out to the families of the five Americans who died in the attack, which killed a total of nine people. Lisa Magnas, president of the university´s American alumni association and a friend of victim Janis Coulter, called the Bush administration´s inaction "unfortunate and tactless." "These are American families who deserve to hear from their president," she said. Coulter was the assistant director of admissions for overseas students at Hebrew University´s Rothberg International School. Based in New York, she had just arrived in Israel to accompany 19 graduate students beginning intensive Hebrew language classes when the bomb went off in a crowded university cafeteria. Marla Bennett, another victim, was doing joint graduate work at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies and the Hebrew University. She had planned to take a leave from Pardes to attend a friend´s wedding and a Bar Mitzvah in the United States, and to spend the High Holidays with her family. "My cousin was murdered, and you didn´t even make a phone call or write a letter to her family," Stephen Bennett, a cousin, wrote Bush, according to The Washington Post. Bennett´s family, as well as relatives of Coulter and Benjamin Blutstein, a friend and Pardes colleague of Bennett´s, said they had received calls from congressmen. The president did make public remarks following the terror attack, saying he was "furious" about the attack. "This country condemns that kind of killing, and we send our deepest sympathy to the students and their families," Bush said. White House spokesperson Mercy Viana noted that the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, attended a memorial service in Israel. The White House plans to respond to any private correspondence from victims´ families, one White House official said. Nevertheless, families and friends feel ignored, seeing the White House´s response as tepid and insensitive. Norman Greene, a Bennett family friend, lamented the lack of human touch. "A mother and father sitting shiva didn´t hear a public statement," he said. "Some human, compassionate act would have been really welcome." The administration gives the impression that it doesn´t care, he added. Richard Blutstein, Benjamin´s father, is taking another tack, saying he is not focused on political protocol but on what he could do to catch the killers of his son. "I don´t care whether or not Bush should have taken time off from his golf game," he told JTA. "What I do care is what he´s going to do." Blutstein is trying to drum up support in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pa., to pressure Congress to pass the Koby Mandell Act, legislation named after a U.S.-born teen-ager who was murdered in a terrorist attack in the West Bank last year. The bill calls for an office in the Department of Justice to monitor Palestinian terrorist attacks and offer rewards for information on the perpetrators. Blutstein and Sherri Mandell, Koby´s mother, are asking the State Department to publicize the rewards programs beyond the department´s Web site and place notices in Arab-language newspapers in order to publicize the information out to the Arab world. The Zionist Organization of America has been pressing the issue for years, arguing that the U.S. government makes far fewer efforts to track down the perpetrators when Americans are killed abroad by Palestinians than when they are killed by people of other nationalities.