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President Bush nominated an Orthodox Jew to be U.S. attorney general. Michael Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, is a conservative who has criticized Bush administration policies that have kept detainees from consulting with lawyers. Democrats have praised Mukasey, and his selection represents a shift from Bush’s combative defense of the most recent attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, who resigned last month. Mukasey’s Jewishness became an issue when a defendant in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing filed a motion to remove the judge, arguing that his allegiances to fellow Jews and Israel would create a bias against Muslim defendants. The motion was dismissed as “utterly irrelevant.” Mukasey’s wife, Susan, is a former headmistress of the Ramaz Lower School, an Orthodox Jewish school in New York City.

If confirmed, Mukasey would be the second Jewish attorney general. The first, Ed Levi, served under President Ford.

Ehud Olmert voiced respect for Bashar Assad and reiterated Israel’s desire for peace with Syria.

In his first public comments since an alleged Israeli air raid on Syria this month, the Israeli prime minister said Monday that Jerusalem’s desire for diplomatic contacts with Damascus has not changed.

“I have a good deal of respect for the Syrian leader and for Syrian policy,” Olmert told reporters. “They have internal problems, but we have no reason to rule out dialogue with Syria. If conditions ripen, we are ready to make peace with Syria, with no preconditions and no ultimate demands.”

Olmert made no comment on Syria’s allegations that Israeli warplanes bombed its territory on Sept. 6. U.S. officials have speculated that the raid targeted suspected nuclear facilities.

Political analysts said that despite threats of retaliation from Damascus, the regime of President Assad has suffered a major blow to its prestige that may work in Israel’s favor should there be negotiations. Syria has demanded a full return of the Golan Heights under any new talks, a precondition rejected by Israel.

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