WASHINGTON (Dec. 16)
Howard Dean is smarting from e-mails that distort his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he has suggested that President Bush’s right-hand man is behind the e-mail campaign.
Speaking Monday to the Pacific Council on International Policy, a leadership forum in Los Angeles, Dean said he believed Karl Rove, the White House’s senior political adviser, is behind an e-mail campaign that has flooded inboxes of American Jews across the country.
The White House referred calls about Rove’s alleged involvement in the e-mail campaign to the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign. Scott Stanzel, a campaign spokesman, said the campaign does not respond to comments by the Democratic contenders.
The message in the e-mails is that Dean wants an “even-handed” policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many Jews consider that a way of saying that the United States should be less supportive of Israel.
“I’ve discovered that ‘even-handedly’ is a code word to certain people who think that is being unfair, and I don’t want to ever repeat that word again,” Dean said in the question-and-answer session after the speech in which he outlined his vision for foreign affairs and national security. “It is now making its way around the Internet in an unsigned piece of literature, undoubtedly from one of my worthy opponents, perhaps Karl Rove.”
The campaign later said Dean made the comments in a light-hearted exchange with a questioner, who wanted to know how he would deal more even-handedly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Matthew Dorf, Dean’s liaison to the Jewish community, noted that the audience broke into laughter after Dean said it. However, Dorf reiterated Dean’s comment that the e-mails are politically motivated.
“It’s clearly the work of political opponents and not true friends of Israel,” he said.
The comments came as Dean announced a slew of foreign policy advisers, including one who has drawn some criticism from the American Jewish community.
Claude Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute, will advise Dean on globalization and international economics.
Prestowitz is the author of “Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions,” in which he says that U.S. aid to Israel should be made conditional on Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a freeze on settlement development and the uprooting of most settlements.
Prestowitz told JTA on Tuesday that he has not discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or U.S. support for Israel with the Dean campaign, and that he has assisted several campaigns, though he refused to say which ones.
He said he would not offer his views on Israel “unless I’m asked.”
Steve Grossman, national co-chairman of Dean for America and a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said Prestowitz is one of a number of advisers with whom Dean has consulted, and that Dean does not believe aid to Israel should be conditional on Israeli action.
Prestowitz’s views on Israel are “180 degrees opposite Howard Dean’s own beliefs,” Grossman said.
But, he added, “If we dismissed any potential adviser because their writing did not conform 100 percent to the candidate’s views, we wouldn’t have many advisers.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said people will be looking at the advisers Dean surrounds himself with since the candidate himself lacks foreign policy experience — and people are concerned about Prestowitz.
“His views certainly seem to be problematic,” Hoenlein said. “It certainly doesn’t send a positive signal.”
Meanwhile, the e-mails, which have been widely circulated in the past few weeks, highlight comments Dean made in September, when he said it was not in America’s interest to “take sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Howard Dean promised that if he is elected president, the United States will no longer support Israel the way it has in the past under both Democratic and Republican presidents,” one of the e-mails says. “In his own words, he will insist that the United States be ‘even handed.’ “
The e-mail also makes reference to other Dean comments and says, “I urge you that if you have any love for America and Israel you should not and cannot vote for Howard Dean for the office of president.”
Dean has since spent a great deal of time and energy clarifying his views. He has said that he meant that Bush, by downgrading U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict early on in his administration, had abandoned the role of honest broker.
Dean also has emphasized his support for Israel. He said in his speech Monday that he believed the U.S. alliance with Israel “will always be and must remain unshakeable, and so will be my commitment, every day of my administration, to work with the parties for a solution that ends decades of blood and tears.”
Other Democratic candidates have chastised Dean for being insensitive, at the very least, for using a term like “taking sides.”
The Internet campaign against Dean has made waves in the American Jewish community, and it remains unclear how prominently the e-mails and Dean’s initial comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will affect Jewish support for the former Vermont governor.
On its Web site, the Anti-Defamation League called the e-mail campaign against Dean “malicious, misleading and factually inaccurate.”
“In response to concerns about his September speech, Gov. Dean has assured the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations of his support for the State of Israel and his belief in the importance of strong U.S.- Israeli relations,” the Web site reads. It includes a letter to Dean from the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, and Dean’s reply.
The Dean campaign says it has been responding aggressively to the e-mail campaign. People who contact Dean about the e-mails receive an e-mail from Dorf providing information on Dean’s positions on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The jab at Rove was not the first time Dean has put out unsubstantiated rumor and then insisted he was speaking facetiously.
Earlier this month, Dean suggested that the Bush administration had advance notice from Saudi Arabia of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Conspiracy charges against Rove play well to Dean’s base in the Democratic Party, which regards Rove as unscrupulous.
Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the charge against Rove was ridiculous and that he was sure the e-mail was not coming from Republicans.
“If it makes Howard Dean feel better to blame others for holding him accountable to his own on-the-record statement and views, then so be it,” Brooks said. “However, to blame the Bush campaign, and specifically Karl Rove, is both untrue and unfair.”