McCain Campaign Takes Up ZOA Refrain on Kurtzer

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

James Besser in Washington

The John McCain campaign is starting to sound a lot like the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) in its efforts to win over Jewish voters.

This week the campaign reprised a favorite ZOA them when it went after former diplomat Dan Kurtzer,  a Barack Obama foreign policy adviser who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, the vanquished GOP contender who is now a McCain surrogate, and senior foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann held a special news teleconference to attack Kurtzer for visiting Syria last month and urging its leader, Bashar Assad, to move forward with peace talks with Israel.

According to Giuliani, last month’s trip represented a “playing-out of (Obama’s) negotiating with dictators and people like that without preconditions.”

This week the Politico Web site


that when JTA’s Ron Kampeas asked an uncomfortable question about Scheunemann’s recently reported lobbying on behalf of Georgia and the Giuliani law firm’s ties to the Saudi government, he was apparently cut off in mid-sentence.

The Kurtzer-in-Syria story was first revealed by the

New York Sun

, which reported that Kurtzer was there as part of the American Bar Association’s “Rule of Law Initiative,” not as an Obama representative, and that the group of legal experts offered some tough talk to the Syrians about the need for an independent judiciary, something pretty much unknown under Assad’s dictatorial regime.

But never mind; in a campaign in which every word and every event is studied under a microscope to determine its value in the fight for Jewish votes, Kurtzer’s visit was deemed worthy of its own conference call by top McCain surrogates.

Kurtzer was a favorite target of ZOA’s Mort Klein, who waged several campaigns against the former diplomat for what the group called his “long, documented record of history to and severe pressure upon Israel.”

A ZOA press release in April reached all the way back to Kurtzer’s 1976 PhD dissertation at Columbia University as proof of his unfriendly views.

But Kurtzer, with close personal and family ties to the Jewish state and heavy involvement in Jewish life here, has always enjoyed good relations with major Jewish groups and leaders.

And when he was ambassador to Israel, he was carrying out the policies of a Republican administration whose foreign policy the McCain campaign is generally promising to continue.

So the question: will Giuliani’s criticism fly with your average Jewish voters – who, polls show, support most of the things Kurtzer advocated when he was working for the State Department, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

J Street

, the new pro-peace process lobby and political action committee, doesn’t think so.

“It’s not clear what John McCain gains by attacking both stated Israeli government policy and a leading American Jewish diplomat,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s executive director.  “Is it really John McCain’s policy to oppose Israel’s efforts to end its conflicts with its neighbors diplomatically?”

But maybe the McCain campaign isn’t worried about rank and file Jewish voters; instead, they are just hoping to move an extra few percentage points of “Israel focused” voters into the Republican column in November – a small change that could have a big impact in a handful of key states, if the vote is close enough.

ZOA president Mort Klein was happy with the McCain campaign move.

“I am pleased John McCain recognizes the hostility toward Israel and pressure toward Israel that Kurtzer has exhibited over the years,” he said.

Klein added that he has had several “private meetings” with McCain during the campaign – and that he provided the candidate with ZOA press releases about Obama’s advisers.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.