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America Decides 2004 Key Jewish Figure in Dean Campaign Looks Toward Supporting Likely Nominee

February 17, 2004
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In the beginning, he was the link to respectability, the known entity in a campaign touting its outsider status.

When times got tough, he was the one doing damage control, using his clout in the Jewish community to calm fears and reassure the hesitant.

And now, with the end in sight, he is one of the first to go, the first to read the handwriting on the wall.

Throughout the primary process, Steve Grossman has maintained his image as an influential leader of the Democratic Party, shepherding Howard Dean, a little-known candidate, to the top of the polls, and suffering little damage when the same candidate failed to win a single primary.

At the same time, he has shown his influence within the Jewish community. At Grossman’s urging, leaders of several prominent Jewish organizations came to Dean’s defense as he was being pegged as anti-Israel in an anonymous e-mail campaign.

Later in the day, afer the story became public, Dean announced that Grossman was no longer with the campaign, telling reporters in Wisconsin on Monday, “I absolutely don’t feel betrayed by Grossman. I consider him to be a friend.”

Grossman and Kerry have been friends for more than 30 years, and Grossman chaired Kerry’s 1996 re-election campaign for the Senate.

However, the relationship has been strained since Kerry did not back Grossman’s bid for Massachusetts governor in 2002.

Insiders say Grossman’s announcement had little to do with his personal views and more to do with his role as a leader of the Democratic Party.

Alan Solomont, a key Kerry fund-raiser with ties to the Jewish community, said he had been in consultation with his friend for several weeks about moving to back Kerry.

“Steve wants to beat George W. Bush as much as anyone,” Solomont said. In taking this step, Grossman was “thinking about his own role in electing a Democrat as president.”

Others said that the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee was trying to send a signal that no matter what Dean decides to do after Wisconsin, Grossman and others want to differentiate between a viable campaign and one that is being prolonged to send a message to the party establishment.

Dean has suggested that he may continue his campaign beyond the Wisconsin primary, in part out of loyalty to those who have backed his candidacy.

Grossman and others worry that Dean will be a distraction, and will hurt efforts of the Democratic Party to rally around Kerry.

Because Dean, the early front-runner in polls, had amassed a number of significant endorsement from Democratic leaders, including former Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley, his continued candidacy would likely stand in the way of party unity.

Grossman was crafting a path for other Democratic luminaries to back out of their endorsements while saving face, insiders say.

“Grossman threw himself in front of the train to make it easier for others to follow,” said one knowledgeable source.

Grossman is well-known in American Jewish and Democratic circles for being able to “take one for the team” from time to time, putting aside, for instance, his own political aspirations in 1992 to become president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

He left that post to chair the DNC in 1997, at a time when ethics investigations hung like a cloud over the Democratic Party. He resigned 22 months later, saying he needed to spend more time with his family.

Grossman, whose 58th birthday was on Tuesday, is the president of the Massachusetts Envelope Company, a family business started by his grandfather.

Grossman surprised many in 2002 when he announced he would serve as Dean’s co-chair, even though Kerry was going to run as well.

Grossman was one of the first prominent Democrats to back Dean, then a little-known Vermont governor seen as too much of an outsider to amass any momentum in the Democratic primaries.

But through grass-roots organization and Internet-based fund raising, Dean’s campaign took off.

And at nearly the same time, Dean needed to do damage control in the Jewish community.

Dean was quoted in September as calling for an “even-handed” policy toward the Middle East, a comment taken by many in the Jewish community as a call against current U.S. policies toward Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians.

The antidote to the problem was showcasing Grossman.

“There are certain organizations that we all turn to to know where candidates of all stripes stand,” said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “AIPAC is one of those and he wears the AIPAC hat.”

He was quickly dispatched to meet with Jewish leaders and assure them that Dean supported the U.S.-Israeli relationship. He also tutored the candidate on what could and could not be said on the Middle East.

In the middle of a key foreign policy speech in California last December, Dean joked: “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.”

Later that year, anonymous e-mails highlighted and exaggerated Dean’s remarks about Israel, and Grossman stepped up his Jewish outreach.

“It took a great deal of time, but I was willing to put that time and effort into it because I believed in him and I still believe in him,” Grossman told JTA on Monday.

“Steve was in a unique position because of his longstanding activist work on behalf of Israel his entire life to make the case that the e-mails weren’t true,” said Matthew Dorf, the Dean campaign liaison to the Jewish community, who accompanied Grossman on his trips to visit Jewish leaders.

Campaign officials would use Grossman, his ties to AIPAC and other Jewish causes, as the key piece of evidence in making their case that Dean was not anti-Israel. If the e-mails and rumors were true, Dean advisers would say, Grossman wouldn’t be there.

“When Dean had his problems with the Jewish community, Steve was the key guy,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “He gave the Dean campaign all the credibility they could get.”

Grossman was able to get the Anti-Defamation League to officially rebuke the anonymous e-mails on its Web site, and many other Jewish leaders lauded Dean for his views on the Middle East after meetings with Grossman and Dorf.

Despite Grossman’s presence, Dean’s campaign was not a hit with many Jewish organizational officials. Some suggested he was out of touch on other domestic issues, like gun control, and his fierce opposition to the U.S. war against Iraq was not in step with an organized Jewish community that supported the ouster of a leader that could potentially threaten Israel.

But Grossman and other Dean backers often noted that the candidate had received strong support from ordinary Jews around the country, even if they were not the Jews who were leading major American Jewish organizations.

Grossman said he believed that if Dean had gotten the nomination, he would have gotten 70 percent of the Jewish vote.

Meanwhile, for Grossman, his latest move will likely once again endear him to establishment members of the Democratic Party for being one of the first to move away from Dean.

For his part, Grossman said, “I’ve always felt comfortable being an activist in the Jewish community, bringing my values as a Jewish leader into the Democratic Party.”

“I don’t see it as being two distinct parts of my life. I see them as merging into a totality.”

And Jewish officials say that having such a strong player on the national political scene as a key member of their community can only help, no matter who winds up in the White House.

“It reminds the activists at large how involved we are on all different issues,” Rosenthal said.

Jewish group stepping in

to help mend U.S.-Europe rift BRUSSELS, Feb. 16 (JTA) — On many issues, the Bush administration and European governments do not speak the same language.

Now, an American Jewish group is offering to translate between the two sides.

Last week, the American Jewish Committee launched its Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute to strengthen bilateral relations between the powers — and benefit Jews in the process.

The creation of the institute, the first think tank of its kind run by a non-governmental organization in Brussels, comes as the European Union is set to expand to 25 countries later this year.

But the institute’s creation also underscores the sentiment that the European Union and the United States increasingly are acting as competitors.

Soured relations peaked during the lead-up to the war in Iraq, when many European governments, notably France and Germany, opposed U.S. military intervention.

As mass demonstrations across the continent against the war have shown, those differences have mirrored other differences over U.S. policy toward the Middle East in general, and toward Israel in particular.

At the same time, anti-Semitism in Europe has increased noticeably since the start of the Palestinian intifada in the fall of 2000.

According to the AJCommittee’s international relations director, Jason Isaacson, the group “recognizes that a long- distance relationship between the organization and European government institutions is not in the best interests of Jewish concerns.”

“We have to be on the ground where European decisions are being made,” Isaacson told JTA.

Some of those decisions — particularly where they concern Israel and anti-Semitism — mirror similar views expressed by leading U.S. diplomats in Europe.

Speaking at the institute’s inaugural dinner last week in Brussels, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, said, “Europeans need to resist creating a united Europe in competition or as a counterweight to the United States.”

His remark reflects U.S. concerns that the European Union represents a threat to NATO in formulating and implementing global security and foreign policy.

The AJCommittee, too, is worried by any threats to NATO control over defense policy in Europe, particularly since NATO’s line is dominated by the United States, which is more pro-Israel than Europe.

David Harris, AJCommittee’s executive director, said, “NATO must remain a vital collective security post.”

Explaining the importance of the new Transatlantic organization, Harris said the AJCommittee had for “decades been a trailblazer in building bridges between the United States and Europe.” Therefore, “when cracks in the foundation have been revealed and younger people in particular question the ties that bind us, the work of bridge-building becomes more important.”

Indeed, as many Jewish leaders in Europe note, the AJCommittee generally has avoided the kind of public spats that have become almost the norm between leading U.S.-based Jewish organizations and the European Union.

Those relations hit a new low last month when the leaders of the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress accused the European Commission of anti-Semitism.

The Transatlantic Institute’s inaugural meeting, which included senior politicians and diplomats from both the United States and Europe, showed that the AJCommittee has its work cut out for it.

“There is one issue that we can work on together,” U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Rockwell Schnabel, told the gathering, pointing to anti-Semitism in Europe, which he said is reaching levels not seen since the 1930s.

E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana agreed that anti-Semitism in Europe was a very real problem, saying, “The burning of synagogues and the physical and verbal abuse of Jews in the street are absolutely unacceptable.”

But Solana said it is wrong to blame the institutions of the European Union for anti-Semitism.

“Acts and expressions of anti-Semitism within the European Union are not acts of anti-Semitism by the European Union,” Solana said. “The policies of the European Union are neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israeli.”

Schnabel also pointed out differences between the European Union and the U.S. administration over policy toward Israel. He said the United States would maintain its policy of boycotting Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and “encourage the E.U. to do the same.”

However, Schnabel said he believes relations between the European Union and the United States are improving.

Solana said the shared values of democracy and freedom would continue to provide the basis of transatlantic cooperation — and that they also are the bonds that link America, Europe and Israel.

It is therefore natural that AJCommittee is becoming involved in the E.U.-U.S. relationship.

“U.S. Jewish ideals bind Europe and the U.S. in a daily conversation, and we need to be in that conversation,” Isaacson said.

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