NEW YORK – In a War on Terror (search) that extends far beyond U.S. borders, Israel could have no better friend in the White House than President Bush (search), the president's supporters told a Jewish-American crowd attending a Republican National Convention kick-off party Sunday in New York City.
"When it comes to standing up for Israel — which to me is standing up for America, I can't separate the two — George W. Bush has been there," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "There's one issue that matters and I think that George Bush is on the right side of that issue, and he's going to get my vote and I hope he's going to get yours."
About 1,500 supporters of Israel attended the posh event hosted by United Jewish Communities (search), the Republican Jewish Coalition (search) and the American-Israel Political Action Committee (search). The event, held at Pier 60 in Manhattan, was attended by dozens of congressional members, governors and administration officials, and featured Bloomberg, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman.
"We have a very clear choice on Nov. 2. We have a very clear choice between a president who says you must treat terrorism as a war to be won by taking on the enemy where they gather versus Senator John Kerry (search), who would have us return to the dangerous pre-9/11 illusion that to we can win this war with just law enforcement and just intelligence," Mehlman said. "We have a president who from day one understood that Yasser Arafat (search) is a failed leader versus John Kerry, who wrote a book where he called Yasser Arafat a modern statesman."
Even with overwhelming support from legislative members who say that Israel's struggle against terrorism looks eerily similar to that of the United States, a disturbing murmur could be heard throughout the room on Sunday, as many could be heard comparing recent stories of alleged espionage in the Defense Department to convicted spy Jonathan Pollard (search).
Reports out late last week revealed that the FBI is investigating whether a Pentagon analyst in the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy fed to Israel secret materials about White House deliberations on Iran (search).
No arrests have been made, and Israel has said the allegations will prove false. AIPAC, which has also been accused of funneling the information from Pentagon employee Larry Franklin (search) to the Israeli government, also denies the charges.
Still, many Jewish-Americans drew parallels between Franklin and Pollard, the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst sentenced to life in prison in 1986 for selling secrets to Israel. Israel gave Pollard citizenship in 1996, essentially acknowledging the confessed spy's value to the Israeli government.
Guests at Sunday's gathering, however, were skeptical the Jewish state would try to infiltrate the Pentagon again.
"I don't think anything has been proven yet, and the media has jumped on it and they are jumping to conclusions just to give a bad rap on Israel ... I don't think the Israeli government needs to do that. If they were going to do it, it would be so careless, and I just think it's something that has been blown out of proportion, and I think in the end it will be proven untrue," said Elaine Hedaya, a member of he Republican Jewish Coalition of New York who is not attending the convention.
"I don't know why Israel would have to spy against the United States. I mean we're on the same page here. If the Iraqis or the Iranians or the Saudi Arabians or the Palestinians wanted to spy against the United States, I could understand that, but I don't know you need people inside this government, we're already there ... we're all friends," said Rep. Steve King (search), R-Iowa.
But one Republican senator who was not in attendance took a more cautious approach to the charges.
"I think there's an understanding in the intelligence community that almost anything goes," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. "I think their Mossad (search) (spy agency) is so sophisticated that they need to have access to all the information they can."
But Grassley also told FOX News that he expects even allies to spy on allies and Israel's intelligence-gathering capabilities have proven useful to the entire world.
"They have a right to be very concerned about Iran, and when Iran gets the capability to get a nuclear weapon they would be in the target the same way they would be the target if Iraq did ...
Israel saved the world from a lot of Iraq harassment" when it located and bombed a nuclear reactor Saddam Hussein was developing in 1981.
While guests at the reception put the spy game into perspective, speakers continued to promote Bush as the best choice for a secure Israel, and spoke to hardcore Israel supporters in a language they understand. Though Frist described the Middle East peace solution as one that should be built on two states, he said it's not currently possible to compare the actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"As we look for a way forward we must never put elected leaders of a free people on the same moral plane as terrorists who use violence to get their power. President Bush hasn't, and in his second term he will never allow it," Frist said.
Sunday's event was similar to one that was held last month in Boston for the Democratic National Convention (search), and AIPAC officials said the organization is nonpartisan in that its American membership seeks to work with Congress to build and strengthen the U.S.-Israeli relationship. While Jews comprise only about 2.5 percent of the entire U.S. population, the Jewish community generally turns out to vote in greater proportion than other demographic groups and is seen as influential in deciding the presidency. Republicans have tried to pursue the Jewish vote, which has overwhelmingly aligned with Democrats over the years.
King, who called himself among the staunchest supporters of Israel among anyone in the room, said he doesn't understand why more Jews don't vote Republican.
"Conservatives, especially the evangelical Christian conservatives, stand as strong and as tight with the Jewish community in America as any element. I wonder why there happens to be such a large number of Democrats who happen to also be Jewish. I don't understand that equation, and I don't understand how the entire Jewish population in America and the world is not pro-life ... Why would a nation who had that kind of persecution not be 100 percent pro-life?" King said.