For a presidential campaign eager to dispel questions about a candidate’s commitment to Israel, hiring Leon Fuerth could be just what the doctor ordered.
Last week, Howard Dean’s campaign named Fuerth chairman of Dean’s foreign policy team.
Fuerth, who served as Al Gore’s national security adviser both when Gore was a senator and when he was vice president, was a leading architect of Gore’s policy positions on Middle Eastern issues, including his vote for the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Fuerth’s appointment is expected to go a long way toward counterbalancing the negative reception Dean has had among some Jews because of his missteps.
“Those in the pro-Israel community who know Leon Fuerth and the role he played with Vice President Gore will be pleased,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “He has a long record of involvement and there have been any number of encounters that demonstrate his understanding of the region and his support for a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.”
The primary value of the new hire is the foreign policy gravitas Fuerth brings to a campaign trying to quiet concerns about the international-affairs savvy of a physician who became governor of Vermont, the nation’s second-smallest state.
Fuerth has eight years of experience as a principal in White House planning meetings with Cabinet officials during the Clinton administration. He would have been the leading candidate to become national security adviser had Gore won the presidency in 2000.
Fuerth, a Jew with a pro-Israel record, could help dispel some Jews’ concerns about Dean.
During the campaign, Dean has suggested that the United States should take a more “even-handed” approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called Hamas terrorists “soldiers” and said that former President Jimmy Carter — whom many supporters of Israel consider biased toward the Palestinians — would make a good Middle East envoy.
Dean’s campaign has said the “even-handed” comment was a clumsy attempt to call for increased U.S. involvement in the peace process, that by calling Hamas members soldiers he was bolstering Israel’s right to make them military targets, and that some of the other Democratic candidates also have touted Carter as a possible envoy.
Last week, Dean sought to quiet another potential storm by repudiating newly resurfaced 1998 remarks some critics suggested were conciliatory toward Hamas.
NBC News aired segments from a 1998 Canadian television appearance in which Dean said that if Hamas took power, it might “actually have to be more responsible and start negotiations” with Israel.
Last Friday, Dean said that in the years since he gave the interview, “it has become crystal clear that Hamas is an unrepentant terrorist organization and the Palestinian Authority must live up to its obligations to the United States and Israel and dismantle Hamas and other terrorist groups.”
Dean’s gaffes have been exacerbated by an unsigned Internet campaign calling Dean anti-Israel.
The Dean campaign’s hiring of Clyde Prestowitz as a foreign policy adviser was a further cause for concern among many Jews. Prestowitz, who advises Dean on international economics and globalization, recently wrote a book in which he said U.S. aid to Israel should be contingent on Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, a freeze on settlement development and the uprooting of most settlements.
The Dean campaign said Prestowitz would not advise Dean on the Middle East. Fuerth’s hire reinforces that point.
“Leon Fuerth’s appointment helps send a very strong message to the foreign-policy world and the American Jewish community that Howard Dean’s values and policies related to the Middle East should be ones they should be comfortable with,” said Steve Grossman, national co-chair of Dean for America and a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Before Fuerth, Grossman was doing much of the heavy lifting for Dean on Israel, using his own reputation and experience to pacify skeptics in the Jewish community. AIPAC welcomed Fuerth’s appointment Jan. 7.
Fuerth has worked very closely with pro-Israel activists on arms-control and non-proliferation issues. In the Clinton administration, he led the opposition to waiving sanctions in 1998 against foreign companies investing in Iran’s energy sector.
In 1988, he prepped Gore to oppose the Reagan administration’s call for Israel to accept a peace deal that would have meant withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Fuerth told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 2000 that the U.S. relationship with Israel was “not based on economics but on shared values and principles.”
“We accepted as an axiom that the security of this state said something about our own definition about who we are, in addition to any reasoning that we can make about how it affected our material interests in the world,” he said. “And we have acted on that, and we can be counted upon to continue to act upon it.”
While many Democrats lauded Dean’s Fuerth appointment, they nonetheless predicted that some Jews would never be assuaged.
“This is a first-class appointment and very indicative of where Dean’s Middle East policy will be heading,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “But, for some small group in the Jewish community, Dean’s appointment of David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon to his foreign policy team would still be met with scorn.”
Morris Amitay, a pro-Israel activist and former AIPAC executive director, said Fuerth is “well respected as a foreign policy professional, but he has never distinguished himself on Israel-related issues.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.