At AIPAC parley, Bush receives heros welcome

washington | Don Shein disagrees with President Bush on the environment. He disagrees with Bush on stem-cell research. And he disagrees with Bush on abortion.

But he’s voting for Bush anyway.

For Shein, a financial adviser from Baltimore, the 2004 presidential election is about only one thing: Israel. The loyal Democrat said he has been impressed by Bush’s support for the Jewish state and even donated $500 to Bush’s re-election campaign, despite his opposition to the president on many domestic issues.

“My sense is that Bush would stand up for Israel when no Democrat would,” Shein said Sunday, May 16, at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Bush is something of a messiah to those attending the conference in Washington, many of whom traditionally vote Democratic. They are willing to overlook what they don’t like about the president because of what they do like.

His address to the conference Tuesday, May 18, turned into a Bush rally.

Outgoing AIPAC President Amy Friedkin of San Francisco likened the president to Ruth, the non-Jewish biblical figure who told Naomi, “Your people is my people.”

She commended Bush for his “moral authority” in isolating Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“You have walked the walk with our friend and ally Israel,” Friedkin said. “Thank you, Mr. President.”

The crowd of about 5,000 crowding the cavernous Washington Convention Center launched into the first of what would be 23 standing ovations. A smattering of attendees shouted “Four more years!” and raised four fingers in the air.

Bush clearly understood the relationship between his support for Israel and the adulation he was earning in a week that his approval ratings were dipping dangerously.

“It’s good to be with so many friends — friends of mine and friends of Israel,” he said.

Even before Bush’s appearance, the very mention of his name or the sight of his image on video screens prompted thunderous applause and standing ovations.

But the AIPAC crowd isn’t necessarily representative of the American Jewish community at large. Many here consider themselves single-issue voters — choosing a chief executive solely on the basis of support for Israel — while most Jews consider a wider range of issues.

And loud applause for a pro-Israel president at a pro-Israel conference is no guarantee of a vote on Nov. 2. Among those standing up for ovations were top Democratic donors and organizers; one enthusiastic applauder for Bush even sported a “Throw Bush out of the White House” button.

Many people say they have not heard enough from Kerry about Israel and international terrorism, or don’t trust what he has said.

AIPAC has touted this election as a “win-win” proposition, noting Bush’s strong support for Israel and Kerry’s 100 percent pro-Israel voting record in the Senate.

“Whatever the outcome of the elections in November, on Jan. 20 of next year Israel will have a friend in the Oval Office of the White House,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) told the AIPAC conference Sunday, May 16.

JTA Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this story.