Sources close to John Kerry say they’re becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s attitude toward the Democratic presidential candidate, while many in the Israeli government are privately voicing concerns that some of Kerry’s policies may be harmful to the Jewish state.
Kerry’s Mideast advisers, many of whom are Jewish, are complaining that Sharon is playing favorites with Bush and making it difficult for the Democrats to lure Jewish voters.
They say Sharon is going out of his way to praise Bush to the American media, and expressed disappointment Sharon wasn’t able to meet Kerry during his last trip to Washington in April. In fact, the two men have never spoken.
Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose statements are considered closely aligned with Sharon’s policy, even recently told a meeting of prominent American Jews that he prefers Bush over Kerry.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and a close Kerry confidante Martin Indyk told Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom this week that he expects a change in Israel’s attitude toward Kerry once he is officially nominated this week.
The prime minister’s office says it has no plans to interfere with U.S. elections, just as America should not be involved in Israeli elections.
But a growing number of Israeli politicians are privately expressing concern over Kerry’s statements of coordinating American foreign policy with the Europeans, and of his appointing several former Clinton Mideast policy directors as advisers.
Many blame Clinton’s failed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which sought Israeli territorial concessions for promises of peace by Arafat and ignored indications of growing Palestinian militancy and violations of security reform agreements, for partially causing the current intifada.
“We cannot afford another Clinton era in the Mideast, not at this dangerous time,” said an Israeli Likud member.
“We hear speaker after speaker at the Democratic convention talk about joint efforts with the EU and the U.N. Is Kerry going to advocate for releasing Arafat from isolation, like France wants? Will Kerry take a soft approach to Iran, like some in Europe want? Clinton was soft on North Korea and now they have the nuke. What about the security fence? Is Kerry going to tow the U.N. line that we don’t have the right to protect ourselves from suicide bombers?” he said.
Some in Israel were particularly upset that Kerry allowed former President Jimmy Carter, who many Jews feel has taken a consistently pro-Palestinian line since being voted out of office in 1980, to speak at the convention, where he linked the Bush administration’s policy toward Israel to anti-American sentiment.
“Violence has gripped the Holy Land, with the region increasingly swept by anti-American passions,” Carter told the convention in a prime-time speech many Democrats said marked his revival as a central figure in the party.
Senior Democrats say Kerry’s message has more to do with alleviating pressure on America in Iraq, and not specifically with Israel. They point to Kerry’s record, which they say supports the isolation of Arafat and a nuclear shutdown in Iran.
And Kerry campaigners claim he has done more than Bush to fight anti-Semitism, even using an expletive in a meeting three years ago with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when the Egyptian president insisted he couldn’t control the phenomenon.
Israel says it is strategizing for whomever wins the election, assuming U.S. foreign policy will change after November.
Sources in the prime minister’s office say if Kerry travels to Israel before the U.S. elections, he will be given a meeting with Sharon.
“Here’s the real question,” says one Israeli politician. “If he becomes president, how will Kerry treat Israel in light of his lust for the good will of [France’s] Chirac and [Spain’s] Solana?”