Anti-Israel voters cant sway me, U.S. senator tells S.F. Jews

While Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has maintained a pro-Israel stance since she was elected in 1992, her ties to the Jewish community were born during her early political years as a school district activist.

As a school board trustee in the Seattle area during the 1980s, Murray, who is not Jewish, discovered common ground with members of the Jewish community.

"We had got into a number of separation-of-church-and-state issues," she said. "They saw the issues the same way I did."

Those shared issues have multiplied over the years, Murray told a group of Bay Area Jews, who last week met the senator at two fund-raising events hosted by Northern Californians for Good Government.

NCGG is a non-partisan, single-issue political action committee devoted to forging U.S.-Israel ties.

Murray affirms a heartfelt connection to Israel and Jewish interests. She began to understand the importance of supporting Israel during a Washington AIPAC-sponsored trip to the Holy Land, she said in an interview.

"How can I ever describe the overwhelming feeling of seeing the Mount of Olives, the Western Wall, a crammed Arabic market and the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus?

"The monks, the Orthodox Jews, the shopkeepers, women in shawls, a man kissing the tomb of Jesus, [are] images jumbled together, ancient history in the midst of modern-day responsibilities," the senator from Seattle wrote in her travel diary.

Murray was struck by the vulnerability of the tiny country wedged between hostile neighbors and harboring terrorists from within.

That every newborn is sent home from the hospital with a gas mask, she said, is tragic.

A champion of women and children, the senator marveled at Israel's extensive social welfare programs designed to absorb immigrants and ameliorate domestic violence and child abuse.

"I came to Washington [D.C.] at a time when we were really casting people aside," Murray said.

Yet in Israel, "I saw a country that had tremendous security issues helping to absorb immigrants, worrying about kids in centers and training women from Third World countries to build up their own communities when they return."

Such circumstances made her realize "how important it was to protect this little democracy from a humanitarian and security standpoint."

Murray exercises her political stance as a member of the Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittee and writes the president urging U.S. involvement in Mideast peace negotiations and international Jewish issues.

The senator's Israel ties have not won the admiration of all her constituents. Some write letters of protest to Washington state newspapers, she said.

But she still is immensely popular with many state residents, who admired her chutzpah for successfully leading a grassroots campaign to reinstate a state parent-child education program that had been axed. She is Washington's first female U.S. senator.

At the local fund-raisers, Murray also revealed her intentions to bolster high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. She has fought the Clipper Chip, government software that would block encryption on the Internet, and called for an encryption reform policy.

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.