BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER: War Criminal Sharon will support Jeb Bush is Florida election
- Sharon, Bush to share stage
Visit comes amid governor's race
BY PETER WALLSTEN
TALLAHASSEE - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is planning to headline
a rally in Miami next month to boost U.S. public support for his embattled
But, with his visit coming just two months before Election Day in Florida
and possibly within a day of the Democratic primary for governor, Sharon
is also stepping into the middle of one of the United States' most
important political campaigns.
Although they insist politics is not Sharon's purpose, Israeli officials
expect Gov. Jeb Bush to stand with the prime minister at the rally -- an
image that political strategists in both parties say can only help the
governor in his reelection campaign.
Some Democrats said Tuesday that the prime minister would have good
reasons to lend a hand to the president's brother as Sharon forges his
relationship with the White House amid complex times in the Middle East.
For the governor, who frequently reminds voters of his family ties and his
support for his brother's war on terrorism, appearing with Sharon will
further nurture his relationship with the state's traditionally
Democratic-leaning Jewish voters. And it could boost his standing with
moderate and conservative Christians who are sympathetic with Israel.
''It would be very hard for any leader to be in Florida from September to
November and it not be interpreted as political,'' said Robin Rorapaugh,
campaign manager for Democrat Bill McBride, who is running against former
U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and state Sen. Daryl Jones for the
nomination to challenge Bush in November.
State Rep. Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat and former president of the
National Council of Jewish Women, said: ``The president has supported
Israel. This could easily be payback. I would like to think that the prime
minister of Israel would stay out of gubernatorial politics in Florida.''
Israeli government sources in Jerusalem and Florida confirmed Tuesday that
Sharon is planning to appear in Miami in early September, around the
Jewish High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is Sept. 6 and 7 and Yom Kippur is
Sept. 15 and 16.
They would not specify the date or place, citing security needs. Officials
would not say whether Sharon would be in the United States on Sept. 11,
the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
They cautioned that plans could change if the conflict with the
Palestinians continues to grow more violent and the prime minister is
forced to stay home.
Sharon would speak at a major ''solidarity rally'' designed to bolster
ties between Israel and American Jews. South Florida is home to the
country's third-largest Jewish community, behind New York and Los Angeles.
Sharon may also visit New York and California during his trip, officials
Israel's consul general in Miami, Miki Arbel, declined to say what day
Sharon will arrive. A spokeswoman for Bush said Tuesday that the prime
minister's office has requested a time slot on the governor's schedule for
Sept. 9 -- one day before Florida Democrats are to choose their nominee to
challenge the governor in November's general election.
Despite the auspicious timing, Israeli officials were adamant that they
have no interest in the reelection of the president's brother.
''It just so happens that this is an election year, but for a prime
minister visiting Miami and visiting Florida, meeting with a governor is
just a matter of protocol,'' Arbel said. ``We want to be far away form any
intervention in any election, locally or nationwide.''
Still, asked how often the Israeli leader appears publicly with governors,
Arbel said: ``If the governor was the brother of the president? I don't
Bush spokeswoman Lisa Gates said that nothing had been confirmed for a
meeting between the governor and Sharon. She said the governor's office
would try to find time for the prime minister but that the meeting would
not necessarily coincide with a public rally.
''Obviously a governor would always make time for a sitting head of a
country,'' Gates said.
VALUE TO BUSH
Even so, political strategists said Tuesday that Bush is not just any
governor and Sharon is not the leader of just any country. Sharon's visit
could hold special significance for a Republican who has tried in the past
to woo Jewish voters, the strategists said.
Recent national opinion polls suggest that Jews, traditionally staunch
Democrats, are feeling ''cross pressured'' by the strong support expressed
by the president and other Republican political leaders for Israel in its
struggle against the Palestinians.
The president's approval rating among Jews, averaged over time, is about
56 percent, according to a survey by Gallup.
In Florida, the most visible sign of Jewish Democratic strength is South
Florida's array of retirement communities, renowned for their voluminous
turnout in every election.
A visit by Sharon designed to tap into the pro-Israel emotions of South
Florida Jews could pressure the Democratic nominee to spend valuable time
and money reminding a usually loyal voting bloc that he or she, too,
The governor made some inroads among Jewish voters in 1998, winning the
endorsement of the Deerfield Beach-based Jewish Journal, which referred to
him in an editorial as a ''mensch,'' a Yiddish word for a man of good
Bush has traveled to Israel once since taking office, and has gone out of
his way to court Jewish voters this year. In May, Sharon's special envoy,
Moshe Arens, met with the governor in his office.
During a daylong campaign swing through Broward County last month, he
attended a reception at the Tamarac home of Harold Wishna, a Jewish
activist and Democrat. Bush's impassioned remarks in support of Israel won
over several of the Jewish leaders, Wishna said.
''I feel that Jewish voters are coming closer to Jeb because of his true
feelings for the people of Israel,'' Wishna said.
But Democrats said Tuesday that Bush would not succeed in winning Jewish
voters to his side.
''The governor doesn't have anything to do with foreign policy, and I
don't think people vote on a single issue,'' said Rich, the state
representative. ``They want to know about public schools and prescription
Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.
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