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Embassy Row: Israel and Democrats

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren found himself thrust into Democratic Party politics this week when he denied that he had ever told the party chairwoman that Republican policies are "dangerous for Israel."

"I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel," he said in a statement released by the Israeli Embassy. "Bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle."

His comment was highly unusual for a foreign diplomat, especially coming during the Democratic National Convention. Foreign ambassadors routinely decline to comment on domestic U.S. political issues, but Mr. Oren found himself pressed to respond after Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she had heard him personally denounce Republican policies toward Israel.

"We know, and I've heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel. They are using Israel as a political football," the Florida Democrat said, according to an article Tuesday in the Washington Examiner.

A spokesman for Mrs. Wasserman Schultz later accused the Examiner of a "blatant misrepresentation" of her comments at a meeting of Jewish Democrats on Monday in Charlotte, N.C., the day before the convention opened.

The Jewish Democrats were discussing ways to counter Republican inroads among traditionally Jewish Democratic voters. Jewish support for President Obama has slipped to 64 percent from a high of 78 percent in the 2008 election, according to recent polls.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has made strong support for Israel a cornerstone of his campaign, has referred to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while the Democratic Party platform dropped any reference to the Israeli capital, which also is claimed by Palestinians as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Four years ago, the Democratic platform said, "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel." The party restored the language on Wednesday after days of criticism from Mr. Romney and even some Democrats.

The dispute between Mr. Oren and Mrs. Wasserman Schultz followed diplomatic tensions in Israel last week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly exploded in anger over Mr. Obama's policies toward Iran during a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro and Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Split over Colombia

Congressional foreign-affairs leaders disagree over the prospects of peace talks between the government of Colombia, a key U.S. ally in South America, and narco-terrorist rebels, who conscript child soldiers, kidnap civilians and smuggle weapons and cocaine.

Sen. John F. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his hopes for the outcome of talks between negotiators appointed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC in Spanish.

"Colombians have suffered for far too long from the violence and insecurity associated with its decades-long internal conflict," the Massachusetts Democrat said of the insurrection that erupted in the 1960s.

He called the peace talks "an important and welcome sign."

However, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned of the dangers of negotiating with the FARC rebels and expressed suspicion over the role played by the communist government in Cuba, which hosted six months of secret exploratory talks.

The Florida Republican, a Cuban-born refugee from Fidel Castro's regime, warned that "peace by any means or at any cost is no true peace."

"Even more disturbing is the fact that the Castro regime, a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism and longtime supporter of FARC, has been given a leadership role in ongoing discussions with FARC operatives," she said.

ThetalksareduetoopeninOctoberinOsloandthenreconveneinHavana.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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