Sharon to Meet With Jeb Bush

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon scheduled a visit to Miami next month to rally American support for his nation and meet with Gov. Jeb Bush, drawing the ire of Democrats who question the political motivation behind the trip.

Sharon plans to visit Sept. 9, the day before Democrats choose a candidate to challenge Bush's re-election bid in November.

State Democratic Chairman Bob Poe said Wednesday the visit appears to be an attempt by Sharon to gain favor with President Bush at a time when the administration is torn by conflicting demands from Israeli and Arab leaders.

"The prime minister of a foreign country shouldn't be used as a political pawn for the president's brother,'' Poe said.

Raanan Gissin, Sharon's spokesman, said Wednesday the prime minister plans to meet with Democrats as well as Republicans, and the purpose of the trip was to rally support for Israel.

"This is a tour that was planned for a very long time and unfortunately has been postponed several times because of the fact that previous visits had to be interrupted because of suicide bombings,'' Gissin said. "This is clearly a bipartisan tour, and all the events are with the full participation of both Democrats and Republicans, with one common denominator — solidarity with the state of Israel.''

South Florida has the third-largest Jewish population in the United States, after New York and Los Angeles, and Jewish voters tend to lean Democratic.

Poe said he hoped Democratic members of Congress would be invited to meet with Sharon and express their support for Israel. He said they have been trying to get invitations from the Israeli Consulate.

"Democrats also stand in solidarity with Israel. Support of Israel doesn't end with the Bush family,'' Democratic Party spokesman Ryan Banfill said.