Al Gore and George W. Bush at the first debate of the 2000 presidential campaign
Al Gore and George W. Bush at the first debate of the 2000 presidential campaign

AIPAC, 18 years ago: Bush vs. Gore

From an article first published May 26, 2000

Whoever the next president of the United States might be, the pro-Israel community seems to like what he has to say.

Then again, the messages Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore conveyed to delegates at this week’s annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee seemed indistinguishable.

It will be up to pro-Israel Americans to make further distinctions as the presidential campaign intensifies — or to determine whether the candidate’s position on Israel is the defining issue that it once was for many Jews.

Both candidates reiterated a strong relationship and commitment to Israel. They condemned Iran for its trial of 13 Jews accused of espionage. Each expressed support for the Middle East peace process.

Bush received a standing ovation as he promised conference participants in Washington that he would move the U.S. ambassador in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Bush campaign reportedly said the governor meant to say the embassy as well.

The move has been legislated by Congress, but the Clinton administration has said the change would be counterproductive to the Israeli-Palestinian talks if it occurred now.

Gore did not address the issue.

Bush also repeated the Republican stance that the United States must not interfere with Israel’s democratic process, intimating that the Clinton administration pushes Israel too much on various issues.

“In recent times, Washington has tried to make Israel conform to its own plans and timetables,” Bush told more than 1,700 conference attendees. “But that is not the path to peace.”

Gore touched on similar issues and defended the administration’s involvement in Middle East peace negotiations. He said the United States “facilitates but does not force” peace.

He also chided Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders for not quelling the recent violence in the West Bank. It is their responsibility to prevent violence, Gore said.

“This is a test for them,” he told the packed hotel ballroom.

Bush said 13 Jews facing espionage charges in Iran are unjustly imprisoned.

“The leaders of Iran should know that America will judge them by their conduct and treatment of those 13,” he said.

Bush also said the special relationship between the United States and Israel would continue no matter what the outcome of the peace process, and that economic cooperation between the two countries strengthens the relationship.

Gore used the occasion to punctuate his longstanding relationship to Israel and his foreign policy expertise.

“Commitment to Israel is not new to me,” Gore said in an implicit swipe at Bush’s lack of experience.

This year was the first time AIPAC hosted both presidential candidates at its policy gathering.

Despite welcoming receptions for both candidates, judging by the applause and reaction of the audience, Bush is still No. 2 to Gore.


Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.