- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 12, 2002

President Bush's deepening involvement in the Middle East debacle may anger conservative Republicans and worry liberal Democrats, but middle America overwhelmingly approves.
So do a growing number of American Jews, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc that could give the Republican Party an edge in states such as Florida, where a mere 537 votes effectively decided the 2000 presidential election.
The latest Gallup poll shows that 72 percent of Americans approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling the Middle East situation, while 23 percent disapprove. That is up from 67 percent approval on April 2, just before the president gave a major speech that dramatically escalated his involvement in the dispute.
Even conservative commentators such as William Kristol, who has assailed the president's stance on the Middle East, acknowledged that most Americans are more supportive.
"Bush has been a little wobbly in terms of sticking to the Bush doctrine and not being quite tough enough on Arafat, but on the other hand, he's been better than the Democrats," Mr. Kristol said.
"For all the people like me, who have been somewhat critical of him on the Middle East, there are no Democrats running to his right," he explained. "So Bush certainly holds all the conservatives and picks up some Jewish votes."
He added: "I think right now Bush would double the percentage of the Jewish vote he got in 2000, from about 20 [percent] to about 40 percent."
Dick Morris, a former strategist for President Clinton, echoed the sentiments of Mr. Kristol, former chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle.
"Jews generally vote Democratic and reject the Republican right, but perhaps it's time for a revision in that basic calculation," Mr. Morris wrote in the New York Post last week.
This reassessment is a direct result of differences in the handling of the Middle East crisis.
"The Democratic left is keeping largely silent," Mr. Morris wrote. "The right has been Israel's steadfast backer. It's time for Jewish voters to realize who their true friends are."
Mort Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said that realization is well under way.
"The Republicans have become just as intense and strong in their support of Israel, if not more so, than the Democrats," said Mr. Zuckerman, editor in chief of U.S. News and World Report. "It's really quite a remarkable change, and quite broad."
While the vast majority of Democrats strongly support the president's policy, a few liberals, such as Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, Georgia Democrat, have attacked Mr. Bush for being too pro-Israel. At the other end of the political spectrum, conservative Republicans have criticized Mr. Bush for being too tolerant of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.


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