Jewish content takes a back seat during VP debate

WASHINGTON — U.S. vice presidential candidates, during their only debate last week, briefly talked about the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians but neither candidate made their positions on the peace process a major issue.

As with other issues discussed throughout the evening on Oct. 5, Democrat Joseph Lieberman and Republican Dick Cheney agreed not to disagree too much on the Middle East.

The question on the appropriateness of current U.S. policy in the Middle East was not used as a jumping-off point by either candidate to discuss positions on Israel in general.

Lieberman said he was "pained" by the recent unrest, but hoped he could help bring the parties back to the negotiating table.

"I hope I might, through my friendships in Israel and throughout the Arab world, play a unique role in bringing peace to this sacred region of the world," he said.

Playing the part of loyal running mate, Lieberman credited Vice President Al Gore for some of the advances made in the Mideast peace process.

"America has a national strategic interest, and a principled interest in peace in the Middle East," Lieberman said. "And Al Gore has played a critical role in advancing that process over the last eight years."

However, Republicans have criticized the Clinton administration's policy as too intrusive into Israel's decision-making process.

Cheney, meanwhile, did not go down that road, preferring to tout the Bush administration's involvement in Middle East. In fact, after giving a quick overview of the region's history, he said that following the Soviet Union's collapse, America was able to "reassure both Arabs and Israelis that the United States would play a major role there, that we had the ability and the will to deploy forces to the region if we had to."

As far as any changes to U.S. policy should the Republican ticket win, Cheney indicated only that the next administration would be likely to "come to grips with the current state of affairs" in the region and that the president must have "firm leadership."

The ongoing violence in Israel was not discussed during the vice presidential debate.

On the question of gay and lesbian rights, an issue being watched by the organized Jewish community, neither candidate would say outright whether he supported homosexual marriage.

Lieberman said he supported the traditional notion of marriage as being limited to a heterosexual couple, but added, "my mind is open to taking some action that will address those elements of unfairness, while respecting the traditional, religious and civil institution of marriage."

Lieberman has supported legislation that banned workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Cheney suggested that official sanctioning of homosexual unions is not a federal issue but a "tougher problem" for the states to regulate.

On the question of abortion, both candidates showed their differences and echoed the positions of their running mates. Cheney said there needs to be more of an effort to reduce the number of abortions, though he was not as forcefully against abortion rights as Bush had been during his first debate with Gore.

Lieberman tried to make the stark differences between the tickets on the issue of abortion as clear as possible — just as Gore had a few days before in the presidential debates.

"Al Gore and I respect and will protect a woman's right to choose. And our opponents will not," Lieberman said.

A number of sensitive topics never got a chance to be discussed.

While much has been made over Lieberman's insistence on talking about God and faith, there was no specific question regarding religion in politics.

Lieberman did, however, make several references to God, prayer and faith during the debate.

The senator also received much criticism recently for his willingness to meet with controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, but he was not asked about it.

Cheney has come under fire by some Jewish organizations for his position on lifting sanctions on Iran but no mention of that was made either.

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