- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

President Bush continues to maintain strong support among Jewish Americans for the way he is handling the Middle East crisis, Jewish leaders say.
Overall, a new nationwide poll of 800 registered, likely voters conducted last week by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm gave Mr. Bush a hefty 72 percent job approval rating on his "handling of the situation in the Middle East."
But among Jewish Americans specifically, interviews with several Jewish lobbying groups here showed that they continued to believe that Mr. Bush remained a strong defender of Israel against Palestinian terrorism and that they were willing to give the administration some maneuvering room to negotiate a way out of the unending conflict.
"I think the mainstream of the community is supportive of the president and appreciates the steps he has taken. He has been consistent from day one of his administration and demonstrates that he understands Israel's security dilemma," said Jason Isaacson, director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
"Clearly there has been some concerns expressed by some in the Jewish community, which is not monolithic. But the overwhelming majority of American Jews, I am convinced, know Bush to be rock-solid in his support of Israel," Mr. Isaacson said.
The zigs and zags in the administration's diplomatic tactics have unsettled some Jewish leaders here, though most insist that has not undermined their support for what Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell are trying to accomplish in the region.
"Powell's trying to find a path out of the crisis, hoping he can find a diplomatic solution that can lead us back to a political process. That's an honorable objective and the Jewish community overwhelmingly supports that," Mr. Isaacson said.
However, an official at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said many Jews were not happy when Mr. Powell urged Israel to pull out of the Palestinian town of Ramallah in the West Bank during his recent diplomatic trip.
"It was not as bad as it could be, but it was a shift in the rhetorical attitude coming from the White House and that merited criticism," the official said.
Nevertheless, that shift has not eroded Jewish support for the administration's handling of the situation the Middle East, the official said. "If you look at our Web site, you'll see dozens of statements; everyone is praising the Bush administration for his comments, his support of Israel," he said.
"It is not lost on this community that President [Ariel] Sharon has visited the White House more than any other leader outside of [Mexican President] Vicente Fox," he said.
As for Mr. Powell's trip, this official considered it much more successful than the news media reports that portrayed it largely as a failure.
"The fighting has gone down between the two sides. There is the idea that talks are on the political horizon. This regional meeting is likely going to take place. In a lot of ways there is success in this trip," he said.
While hesitant to criticize Mr. Bush, the American Jewish Congress has some misgivings about the administration's recent diplomatic moves, fearing that the White House was equating the Palestinian suicide bombers with the fierce military counteroffensive by the Israelis.
"There is always a dual loyalty and the community wants to be overwhelmingly supportive of the president," said Charles Brooks, the AJC's Washington representative.
"There is no moral equivalence. That's what Bush said in his Rose Garden speech, but the administration does not seem to be applying it in its handling of the situation with Israel," Mr. Brooks said.
"We are hesitant to criticize the president because he's got so many good policies such as his views on Iraq," he said.
Another prominent Jewish leader, who did not wish to be identified, believed that some of the administration's diplomatic tilting tactics were calculated "Kabuki theater" to elicit Arab support in its efforts to end the violence.
"This little bit of Kabuki theater allows the administration, at no cost to Israel, to bring key Arab states on board to deal in a much more effective way with [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat and move us to a much more stable situation," he said.
"There is no real erosion in Bush's support. These are tactics and disagreements that friends can have. Jews are willing to give him much more latitude in finding a way out of this," he said.
But Republican pollster Frank Luntz said he has seen "a lot more concern among the Jewish community over the last couple of weeks. I'm speaking to Jewish groups all the time. They are wondering whether Bush's support is wavering and whether the administration is trying too hard with Arafat."
In December, polls showed Jewish Americans supporting Mr. Bush's policy toward Israel by 80 percent, but now, Mr. Luntz says, "I sense a creeping doubt."

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