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Bush & the Jews Groups with Access to Bush Say Key is to Move Delicately

June 24, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

While several Jewish groups say their access in the Bush administration has been poor, others are reveling in their newfound popularity.

Some groups, like the American Jewish Committee and the Orthodox Union, have received more attention from the Bush White House than from previous administrations. Jewish leaders who have received increased access say their success has come from a mix of good policy and good politics.

Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs for the AJCommittee, says his group has tried to give the White House a heads-up when it has put out a statement against administration policies.

“We’ve played it straight with them,” he said. “We have not shied away from being critical if criticism was warranted.”

But they have done it respectfully, Isaacson says, and it has paid off: The only speech Bush has given to a Jewish audience was at the AJCommittee’s 2001 annual dinner.

Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card addressed the group the following two years.

Similarly, Washington insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has played the Bush administration delicately.

Though it has expressed concerns about the “road map” peace plan and launched a congressional campaign to set conditions on its implementation, the organization publicly welcomed the announcement of the plan.

Several senior Bush administration officials — including Rice, Card and Secretary of State Colin Powell — have addressed AIPAC.

Most other Jewish groups have had to settle for lesser administration figures, if any. Many of those organizations have criticized large parts of the president’s domestic policy.

Orthodox groups have also been successful in catching the eye of the Bush administration. While many Reform and Conservative leaders agreed with much of the Clinton administration’s domestic policy agenda, the Orthodox community has publicly sided with the Bush administration on such hot-button issues as school vouchers and faith- based initiatives — programs that many other Jewish groups oppose. This has made Orthodox leaders a cornerstone of Bush’s efforts to garner more Jewish support for his re-election.

Nathan Diament, director of the O.U.’s Institute for Public Affairs, says his organization has had very good access to the White House, but is unsure how much of that is because the O.U. generally agrees with Bush administration policies.

“To the degree that the White House sees an opportunity to make inroads into the Jewish community, they perceive that the open door is through the Orthodox wing,” he said.

David Frum, a former Bush speech writer who authored the president’s address to the AJCommittee, claimed many of the out-of-favor Jewish groups have done a poor job in prioritizing their agendas — which Frum terms bad politics.

At a time when most people are concerned about terrorism and Israel, the Jewish community should be focusing on the issues that matter most to them, not criticizing the White House over every issue on which they disagree, he said.

He says the Jewish community’s targeting of Attorney General John Ashcroft for his views on the separation of church and state, for example, has hurt its reputation.

“Your friends show respect for your values; you show respect for their values,” he said. “It cannot be a presentation of a list of non-negotiable demands.”

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