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Danforth, a Former Senator, Has a Tough Act to Follow at the U.N.

June 30, 2004
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One of the most pro-Israel U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations might seem like a tough act to follow, at least to supporters of the Jewish state. But U.S. Jewish officials are lauding John Danforth, an attorney, Episcopal priest and former Republican senator from Missouri, who will be sworn in Thursday to succeed John Negroponte.

Praised for his integrity, focus on human and civil rights, and friendship for Israel, Danforth is expected to stand up for the Jewish state — and the moral calling of the United Nations.

A June 16 cartoon in the St. Louis Jewish Light drives home the point by showing Danforth overlooking a U.N. roundtable entitled “Anti-Israel majority.”

“Let’s get back to the ideals and goals on which the U.N. was founded!” Danforth says in the cartoon. “Uh-oh! Here comes trouble!” one anti-Israel delegate says.

Supporters of Israel hope the cartoon proves prophetic.

“Mr. Danforth as a senator had an impec! cable record on Israeli issues,” said Arye Mekel, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. “The fact that he is very close to President Bush is a very good thing.” Mekel called Bush’s level of backing for Israel “unprecedented.”

While agreeing that Negroponte was a bulwark against attacks on Israel, Mekel said the famed “Negroponte doctrine” merely reflected Bush administration policy.

Formulated in 2002 when Israel’s anti-terrorist operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were coming under sharp international criticism, the Negroponte doctrine set stiff conditions for U.S. approval of U.N. Security Council resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Supporters of Israel saw the doctrine as a landmark step in helping to stave off constant one-sided diplomatic attacks by the Arab bloc against the Jewish state.

Danforth’s appointment comes as the United Nations is making an effort to address anti-Semitism within its corridors and! around the world. The international body held its first-ever conferen ce on anti-Jewish prejudice June 21.

“Let us acknowledge that the United Nations’ record on anti-Semitism has at times fallen short of our ideals,” U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told the conference. “The fight against anti-Semitism must be our fight. And Jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home.”

Annan called for a General Assembly resolution blasting anti-Semitism and for U.N. human rights advisers to “actively explore ways of combating anti-Semitism more effectively in the future.”

On Monday, a group of some 40 Jewish non-governmental organizations issued a “call to action” urging the adoption of the proposed resolution, U.N. condemnation of “attempts to demonize or delegitimize Israel,” promotion of Holocaust remembrance and education, and the appointment of a special U.N. adviser on anti-Semitism.

Elan Steinberg, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, said he hoped Danforth’s appointment would be a “fortuitous” step ! in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Danforth did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Heir to the Ralston Purina pet food fortune, Danforth, 67, received joint graduate degrees from Yale University’s law and divinity schools.

After practicing law in New York and serving for seven years as Missouri’s attorney general, Danforth represented Missouri from 1976 to 1995 in the U.S. Senate, where he was highly regarded as a moderate and bridgebuilder.

Danforth was appointed by President Clinton to lead an inquiry into the 1993 federal siege on Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. The inquiry cleared the government of blame.

Since 2001, Danforth has served as Bush’s envoy to Sudan.

A partner in a St. Louis law firm, Danforth has participated in a few controversial acts, like voting against sanctions on apartheid South Africa, voting to cut funds for U.N. peacekeeping and limit U.S. support for international planning, according to the Washington Post.

He also ! led the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, who w as a legislative assistant to Danforth when he was senator.

But Democrats seem to view the Thomas hearings as a blip in Danforth’s career.

“It would be hard to imagine a more moderate appointment that could come out of this White House, so Danforth is as good as it gets in this administration,” Democratic media consultant Steve Rabinowitz said. “It’s a good thing.”

David Goldstein, who directed the Jewish Community Relations Bureau of Kansas City during Danforth’s Senate tenure, used to brief Danforth on Israel issues. Goldstein recalled listing the geopolitical reasons for U.S. support of the Jewish state.

Danforth agreed but added, “the real reason we ought to support Israel is it’s our moral responsibility. They’re our friends,” Goldstein related.

Indeed, Danforth’s record indicates solid support for foreign and military aid to Israel, solidarity with the Jewish state and support for Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its undivided capital.

Jewish officials! speak of him in glowing terms.

“A staunch advocate of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” Danforth has “deep ties” to the local and national Jewish community, said Josh Block, spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Throughout his career, when it came to the critical issues affecting the U.S.-Israel relationship, Sen. Danforth was always there in strong support,” Block said.

“On domestic issues and on issues relating to Israel, I just can’t think of any times when we’ve had differences,” said Michael Newmark, past president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and one of Danforth’s law partners.

According to Robert Cohn, longtime editor of the Jewish Light, Danforth “enjoyed a considerable amount of support within the Jewish community because of his integrity and his principles and his record.”

With his eulogy for President Reagan, Danforth, who presided over the June 11 funeral service at Washington’s National Cathedral, seemed to presage! his own upcoming challenge at the United Nations.

Reagan envisione d an America that “could not hide its light under a bushel. It could not turn in on itself and hunker down,” he said.

“Isolationism was not an option; neither was protectionism,” Danforth continued. “We must champion freedom everywhere. We must be the beacon for the world.”

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