Fred Thompson, Israel and the Spencer Abraham factor

Rosner’s Domain, Haaretz

1. Here are some facts about Spencer Abraham:

    He was Energy Secretary for Bush and Senator from Michigan.

    He was generally acceptable to Jewish groups when Bush picked him to be a member of his cabinet.

    He is the new campaign manager for Fred Thompson, soon to be an official Republican candidate for the Presidency.

    He is of Lebanese decent.

    He was one of only a handful of Senators refusing to sign a letter calling on President Bill Clinton to condemn Palestinian terrorism and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, an Arab friendly (and some will say anti-Israel) publication, ranked him fairly high in its evaluation of American Senators. In 2000, it has stated that Abraham was instrumental in getting earmarked aid for Lebanon increased from $12 million to $15 million, and getting $860,000 specified for the “Seeds of Peace” program.

2. The anger against Abraham’s appointment by Thompson is starting to build in conservative circles, some of it relates to Israel.

“I don’t know anybody who isn’t at least a little bit worried about this”, a Thompson supporter told the NY Post. And those worried are talking about a wide variety of reasons. Not just Israel and Israel related issues, but also because of his stance of issues like borders and terror. One example: “Don’t believe Thompson’s claim that he understands the Islamist jihadist threat to America. His announcement, yesterday, of his choice of Spencer Abraham as campaign manager, told us everything we need to know. Although Abraham, of Lebanese descent, is a Christian, he is a career water carrier for Islamists of the most extremist stripe and made that the cornerstone of his failed, one-term Senate career and equally lousy tenure as Energy Secretary”.

3. A couple of weeks ago, when Rudy Giuliani assembled his team he was praised by some pro-Israel advocates (of certain political tendencies) for choosing, among others, Norman Podhoretz, the former Commentary editor and a hard-liner on Iran, and Martin Kramer, a controversial Israeli-American expert on Islam. But with Giuliani it was quite obvious even without those appointments that he is pro-Israel.

This is not the case with Thompson. “Thompson”, I wrote for The Israel Factor project, “was as friendly as one could ask toward Israel in his short career as a senator”. However, he has yet to make his more specific views known. That’s why our panel wasn’t quick to rank him as high as some of his peers.

4. How significant is such appointment in revealing ones policy is debatable. The group Giuliani assembles is his foreign policy team. Thompson hired Abraham for other purposes, and didn?t mince any words regarding his own true feelings about Israel: “Let me ask you a hypothetical question,” Thompson wrote in defending Israel’s response during the Palestinian second Intifada. “What do you think America would do if Canadian soldiers were firing dozens of missiles every day into Buffalo, N.Y.? I can tell you, our response would look nothing like Israel’s restrained and pinpoint reactions to daily missile attacks from Gaza.”

Does the hiring of Abraham overshadow Thompson’s rhetorical support?

5. That’s basically the question Thompson needs to answer: how do you reconcile a candidate perceived as strongly pro-Israel with a campaign manager suspicious of being much more, well, reluctant?

6. And maybe this is all a big mistake? I’ve been spending the day searching for proof that Abraham is really biased against Israel and came up almost empty handed.

Yes, there was this letter to Clinton that he avoided, and the questionable aid to Southern Lebanon, but not much more to be found. Abraham, and this should not be forgotten, was representing Michigan, not the most Israel-friendly of states. One might claim that his record as an active anti-Israeli politician in less than convincing.

September 8, 2007 | 5 Comments »

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