May 4, 2005

American Jews mostly support Bolton, but stay on the sidelines


President George W. Bush's nomination of John R. Bolton as the next US representative to the United Nations has Democrats concerned, Republicans supportive and Jews mostly pleased.

That doesn't mean, however, that the Jews are willing to expend too much political capital to save a nominee whose confirmation has fallen into jeopardy over questions of temperament.

Testimony about Bolton's performance and treatment of underlings as US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, combined with Democrats' objections to Bolton's record, has held up his nomination in the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The committee must approve the nomination before it can come to a vote in the Senate, where Bolton likely will have the support of the Republican majority necessary for confirmation.

The feeling among many Jewish groups is that any concerns over Bolton's temperament should take a back seat to his politics, which have been strongly and boldly supportive of Israel. Bolton was instrumental in getting the infamous 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism repealed.

"I think overriding [concern about Bolton's temperament] is his ability to argue America's position in support of Israeli positions," said Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress. "The UN, I think, needs a strong voice and presence, in the tradition of Moynihan and Kirkpatrick."

The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, and Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served at the UN for four years under Ronald Reagan, both were unabashed advocates for Israel during their tenures as US ambassadors to the UN. Moynihan called the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism an "obscene act" and frequently said the UN was a dangerous place-sometimes from the floor of the UN General Assembly. Kirkpatrick once told the Jerusalem Post that, after coming to the UN, "I felt for the first time in my life that I could understand how the Holocaust happened."

Now, some of the same things that have Democrats troubled about Bolton's politics have won plaudits from many Jews, such as Bolton's now-famous declaration a decade ago that "it wouldn't make a bit of a difference" if 10 of the 38 stories at the UN building in New York suddenly disappeared.

The support among Jewish groups for Bolton-including praise from the major pro-Israel lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-demonstrate the degree to which this White House has won Jewish support for its foreign policy positions. While the vast majority of Jewish voters vote Democrat, and the battle over Bolton's nomination has split roughly along partisan lines, in this case the Jews are coming down mostly on the side of the Republicans, not the Democrats.

With the sense that the UN has been tilted against Israel for much of the last four decades, Jewish groups and Israel advocates tend to favor UN-bashers like Bolton. Israel's last ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, published a book after he stepped down from his post at the world body denigrating the UN as immoral, ineffective and problematic. The book, called "Tower of Babble: How the United Nations has Fueled Global Chaos," argues that anti-American and antidemocratic forces have hijacked the UN and put America and its allies at risk.

That's why when the Senate committee questioned Bolton about his remark in a speech several years ago that "There's no such thing as the United Nations," Jews were not much troubled.

"Tough love is fine with me," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "I think [the UN] needs someone who cares enough not to roll over."

Despite such sentiments, however, Jewish groups are doing very little in the way of lobbying for Bolton's nomination now that questions about Bolton's temperament and record have been raised on Capitol Hill. In other cases, Jewish groups have lobbied for nominees by making phone calls to key members of Congress, writing letters of support and making public statements. This time, they mostly have been silent.

The trouble is that many people who have worked with or under Bolton said he bullies subordinates and is intolerant of those who disagree with him on policy and intelligence matters. Carl W. Ford Jr., the former director of intelligence and research at the State Department, described Bolton to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy."

Bolton's intelligence record has been of special concerning in the wake of the US intelligence failures on Iraq in the lead-up to the 2003 war, when intelligence reports said Saddam Hussein was hiding stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found.

Those issues were enough to prompt Sen. George V. Voinovich, a Republican from Ohio, to cross party lines and delay unexpectedly the April 19 vote on Bolton in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which would have sent the nomination for confirmation to the Senate. By all appearances, Voinovich's change of heart was genuine, and a spokeswoman for the senator said he is studying Bolton's record closely.

The executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, represents one of the Jewish groups that is against Bolton's nomination.

"The strong consensus among our members is that Bolton is real problematic, both his eschewing of any diplomatic American foreign policy-essentially, 'We can do it alone'-as well as the increasing stories of his being abusive to staff and apparently being able to cook intelligence reports," Forman said.

Bolton may be a supporter of Israel, but there are plenty of other people who would do just as good a job at the UN who don't have Bolton's other, glaring liabilities, Forman said. "The characterization that this guy is a Daniel Patrick Moynihan is laughable," Forman remarked.

Democratic political consultant Henry Sheinkopf says it's politics, not problems of temperament, that have held up Bolton's nomination. As the minority party in both houses of Congress, Democrats have few ways of demonstrating their power other than holding up nominations, he said.

"The Democrats have to show that they're living," Sheinkopf said. "They're not in control of the House, they're not in control of the Senate. Bolton's more conservative, and that makes a difference. He's not their guy."

Democrats also have been using filibuster tactics to hold up votes on many of Bush's judicial nominees to federal courts, but that battle is more ideological than political, Sheinkopf said. In those cases, the stakes are judicial nominees' stances on such issues as abortion rights, church-state separation and environmental regulations, not power politics.