What a difference a two-front war makes. John Bolton’s tough pro-Israel rhetoric at the United Nations during Israel’s recent crisis has galvanized Jewish support for the once-embattled nominee — and may have helped secure his nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a key Jewish opponent of Bolton a year ago, said he now is undecided, principally because of the Israel issue.
“I’m assessing it,” Schumer said on CNN last weekend. “A lot of Democrats are deciding, weighing the positive of Bolton that he’s been for Israel and negative that he has almost an antagonistic, ‘go at it alone’ attitude to the nations of the world, which we need with us to fight a war on terror.”
Bolton has been steadfast in supporting Israel in its crisis in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
“The current conflict is a direct result of the terrorist acts of Hezbollah and Hamas and their state sponsors in Iran and Syria,” Bolton said July 27 during his latest nomination hearings in the U.S. Senate. “Lopsided resolutions, such as the one the United States vetoed this month, would do nothing to promote a long-term solution and would only prolong the suffering of innocent civilian populations in the region.”
Bolton also is credited with shepherding through this week’s Security Council a resolution setting an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to come clean about its nuclear capabilities or face sanctions. He also was instrumental in dismantling the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, which often singled Israel out for disproportionate criticism.
President Bush resubmitted Bolton’s nomination to the Senate last month. Bush appointed Bolton during the congressional recess after last year’s nomination failed; such appointments are good only for the life of the Congress, which will expire Dec. 31.
After two days of U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony last week, the committee decided Monday to delay consideration of Bolton’s nomination until the Senate returns from its summer break after Labor Day.
Last year, Democrats had the minimum 41 votes in the Senate to block Bolton. This year, Schumer said on CNN, he doubts his party has the numbers for a similar filibuster.
That could be due partly to enthusiastic Jewish lobbying this time around.
The American Jewish Committee reversed its policy of not weighing in on nominations, and sent a letter to all 100 U.S. senators urging them to vote yes.
“As a general rule, AJC, with a proud history of nonpartisanship, does not endorse nominees for government offices,” the letter said. “But Ambassador Bolton, with whom we have worked over the course of two decades in his various federal posts, is a rare exception.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which held back last year, also weighed in.
“John Bolton is an important and very effective representative of the United States at the United Nations and has consistently been a strong advocate for the U.S. on issues that matter to the pro-Israel community,” AIPAC spokesman Josh Block said.
Similar endorsements have rolled in from the Anti-Defamation League, Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel, Zionist Organization of America and Republican Jewish Coalition.
More substantially, Jewish leaders have agreed to make clear to senators that they would like to see Bolton approved. When the matter came up at a recent meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, there was immediate unanimity, one participant said.
“It was like there were two issues we didn’t need even to debate — Israel’s crisis and John Bolton,” the participant said.
Such sentiments were notably lacking last year, when White House officials expressed frustration with Jewish community leaders for not explicitly backing the nominee.
The officials wondered why Bolton — who was credited, as an assistant secretary of state in 1991, with overturning a 1975 U.N. resolution denigrating Zionism as racism — could garner open support only from diehard supporters of Bush administration foreign policy such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
The perception among Republicans was that the Jewish establishment was beholden to the Democrats.
The senators who blocked Bolton’s nomination last year “were given the clear impression by the pro-Israel community that it was okay to use the Bolton vote as a partisan weapon against the president,” said Noam Neusner, a former White House liaison to the Jewish community.
At the time, Jewish groups said that was unfair, and that they were preserving a tradition of keeping out of the nomination process.
This year, however, when Jay Zeidman, the current liaison to the community, started making calls, he found endorsement letters ready to go.
David Harris, the AJCommittee’s executive director, said there was “overwhelming” support on his executive committee for an endorsement of Bolton.
Jess Hordes, who heads the ADL’s Washington office, said Bolton was a “hero” to the Jewish community for sticking to his principles.
It helped that Bolton’s most prominent 2005 detractor, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), reversed position and is ready to vote for him.
Voinovich is known for his distaste for bullies, and expressed concerns about reports that Bolton intimidated subordinates and backstabbed colleagues during his State Department career. In a Washington Post opinion piece last month, Voinovich wrote that Bolton has shown an ability to work with others at the United Nations.
Harris, whose organization maintains close ties with a host of U.N. envoys, said concerns that Bolton would bully U.S. allies were unfounded.
“In our interaction with John Bolton and with other U.N. diplomats, his personality has never been brought to our attention,” Harris said.
Bolton’s ability to reach out was especially evident in this week’s Iran sanctions vote, his Jewish admirers said; his hard work finally brought around Russia and China, two key holdouts.
Democrats still want the White House to release evidence pertaining to allegations that Bolton illegally used sensitive intelligence to build support for his agenda when he was undersecretary of state for arms control, a post he held from 2001-2005.
Bush had an array of ambassadors to choose from who would be pro-Israel, said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
That missed the point, Neusner said.
“Bolton, in the midst of an international crisis, personifies U.S.-Israel policy in the world’s eyes right now,” he said. “If he were to be repudiated again by a powerful minority of the U.S. Senate, it would send a message to the rest of the world — particularly Israel’s enemies.”
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.