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White House Booklet Lauds Bush’s Ties with Jews — and Unsettles Them

August 11, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A White House booklet called “President George W. Bush: A Friend of the American Jewish Community” has some of the Jews quoted and pictured inside feeling less than friendly. Several of those quoted represent non-partisan organizations and are concerned the booklet implies an endorsement from them or their group.

Others believe the material crosses the line into overt campaigning for Jewish support by the White House less than four months ahead of the election.

The booklet raised a stir among Jewish officials in Washington this week. Several Jewish leaders said they were not contacted before their names appeared, and that it does not accurately reflect their group’s sentiment on the administration’s track record.

“I hate to be used,” said one Jewish leader quoted in the book, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of angering the White House. “The president selectively chose a statement where we praised him. There ! have been several comments that have had an opposite point of view expressed.”

Other Jewish leaders quoted said it was a fair use of their statements and the political overtones were to be anticipated in an election year.

The Bush administration and re-election campaign have been overtly courting Jewish voters for more than a year now, portraying Bush as a strong defender of Israel and a fighter against terrorism.

Those qualities have drawn praise from a diverse array of Jewish leaders for Bush’s international leadership — but many Jewish community leaders remain opposed to his domestic policy and other decisions he has made since taking office.

Jewish leaders privately said the booklet, which includes praise from leaders of several Jewish organizations that frequently have challenged the Bush administration, could be misconstrued to reflect endorsements from a wide gamut of influential Jews.

Mailed Monday to Jewish leaders, the booklet touts Bush’s ef! forts against anti-Semitism and terrorism, and his work supporting Isr ael and providing mechanisms for federal funding for Jewish sites and organizations.

It includes commentary taken from numerous Jewish officials and political leaders, as well as a timeline of significant events in the administration of interest to the Jewish community.

The White House says the document is a follow-up to a similar, all-text pamphlet produced two years ago. The latest booklet also was e-mailed to Jewish leaders in a PDF file.

Of note, the booklet includes comments from several Jewish leaders in battleground states for the 2004 presidential election, including a rabbi in Iowa, the Democratic mayor of Miami Beach, and rabbis from St. Petersburg, Fla. and Seattle.

Photos show Bush meeting with rabbis, touring Jewish sites in Europe and lighting Chanukah candles with children at the White House.

White House spokeswoman Maria Tambouri defended the booklet as part of the responsibilities of the Office of White House Public Liaison.

“This ! is an official document and it catalogues the president’s achievement on issues of importance to the Jewish community,” Tambouri said.

She said all the quotes used were taken from the public record.

Among the Jewish organizational leaders quoted are Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism; Hannah Rosenthal and Michael Bohnen, the executive director and former chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League; and Howard Kohr and Amy Friedkin, executive director and former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Most striking was the use of quotations by several leading Jewish organizational leaders that the White House has at times circumvented — choosing other Jewish officials seen as more in keeping with Bush administration views — for meetings and receptions with the president.

Some Jewish leaders have complained about a lack of a! ccess and influence in this administration, and have said they were to ld by White House officials that more frequent praise for the president would win them greater access.

Now those compliments have been compiled in a booklet some see as an attempt to court Jewish voters.

Saperstein is quoted in the report praising Bush’s statements against former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, who told Islamist heads of state last year that Jews “rule the world by proxy.”

Saperstein has been highly critical of administration policy on faith-based initiatives, civil liberties and other domestic policy issues, but said he believed the White House had the right to use the praise it receives from Jewish leaders on other issues.

“I do not think that a reasonable reading of this thing suggests that anyone whose quotes they use necessarily endorses or opposes the president,” Saperstein said.

Orthodox Union president Harvey Blitz said the use of a quote from a 2002 Orthodox Union letter praising Bush’s commitment to religious libe! rty was par for the course.

“That letter was not an endorsement of the president — we do not endorse candidates — but it’s a political season,” Blitz said. “While clearly what we wrote wasn’t written with a political aim in mind, we put it in the public domain, and it’s fair game for this kind of usage.”

Foxman said comments from him and other non-partisan community leaders are used for political purposes every election season. He said he wished the White House had sought permission from the Jewish leaders, noting that many of them likely would not have agreed.

Amy Schwartzman, senior rabbi of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va., was critical of Bush’s stances on poverty and health care when she met him with other rabbis last fall. Nonetheless, she appears in a picture with Bush from that meeting.

She noted that her photo appears above quotes from Rosenthal, Bohnen and Saperstein about the former Malaysian leader, even though that was never broache! d in the meeting.

“Clearly, it’s just a compilation of little quo tes and pictures and there’s no relation between them,” she said. “It seems to be a political opportunity to draw the Jewish community closer.”

Several Jewish officials quoted in the publication seemed pleased to be included.

“It’s completely appropriate, coming from the White House, because it’s the truth,” said Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer, who has endorsed Bush. “This president’s record on Israel is unparalleled. That message needs to get out.”

Dermer said he hoped Jews in Florida — perhaps the most crucial battleground state in November — would heed the booklet’s message.

“There are a number of people within the Florida Jewish community who from a cultural standpoint are tied to the Democratic Party and will not look outside that partisan world,” he said. “But frankly we’ve been lucky to have this president in office now.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council argued that publication of the booklet was “the height of politicization of the Whit! e House.” The document compares Bush favorably with President Clinton, noting that Bush refused to meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Ira Forman, the NJDC’s executive director, said he was angered the White House included Bush’s rebuke of the Malaysian prime minister, noting that it came only after several days of silence, was made in private and that Mahathir denied Bush ever delivered the rebuke.

JTA Washington Bureau Chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.

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