Kerry's Brother Makes 'Personal Visit' To Israel

Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:30pm EDT
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Jerusalem ( - Cameron Kerry, the brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, is visiting Israel this week on what has been described as a "personal" trip. Nevertheless, Kerry is meeting with top Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Cameron Kerry, who converted to Judaism in the early 1980s before he married his wife Kathy Weinman, who is Jewish, is a close advisor to his brother John. His wife and John Kerry's senior campaign advisor on Middle East and Jewish Affairs, Jay Footlik, are accompanying Cameron on the six-day trip - his first ever to Israel.

Footlik was quoted as saying that the visit was intended for Cameron "to listen and learn, and to experience Israel close up."

Kerry is meeting with Sharon, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, National Security Council head Giora Eiland as well as opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres.

Kerry will be visiting Yad V'shem, the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance museum in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in northern Israel as well as other well-known tourist sites. He is also scheduled to tour Israel's controversial security barrier.

Kerry declined to be interviewed by in Jerusalem. A spokesman here said that it is a "short trip, very packed, and he's interested in keeping it as private as possible." At least one other international outlet was also declined an interview, the spokesman said.

But Kerry did agree to be interviewed by Israel television's Channel 2 on Wednesday. Calling his visit a "personal visit," he spoke mainly about his Jewish heritage and shied away from answering political questions.

Kerry said he and his wife had agreed early on that they would raise their children Jewish, he said. Only later did the Kerry family discover that it had Jewish roots in two grandparents.

Kerry said that they are engaged in "an intense campaign. It's hard work, and we're fighting for every vote."

Kerry was asked how John Kerry's campaign could top the "warm relations" between the Israeli government and Sharon and President Bush, who is considered to be a "good friend" of Israel.

"John has been a good friend of Israel through 19 years in the Senate, and he has shown that he is not going to walk away from Israel," Cameron Kerry said.

"The relationship between the United States and Israel is really...a relationship between states. It's not a relationship between any one party either Labor or Likud or Republicans and Democrats," he added.

According to the television report, Kerry spoke about Israel's security, hoping that no one would remember that his brother once opposed Israel's security barrier.

Israeli officials characteristically do not comment on internal American political affairs. But apart from any comparison, officials have in the past said that Bush is one of the best friends Israel has ever had in the White House.

On Sharon's last visit to Washington in April, the prime minister said he could not meet with John Kerry or his top aides due to a tight schedule and there are no plans for Sharon to visit the U.S. before the November elections.

When asked if John Kerry was insulted, Cameron mentioned the "scheduling difficulties" and said he would take the prime minister "at his word" that that was the reason for not holding the meeting.

Analysts have said Cameron Kerry's trip comes in lieu of a meeting between John Kerry and Sharon and is an attempt to persuade American Jews that Kerry would be good for them.

Kerry's trip is being sponsored by the American Israel Education Fund (AEIF), which is tied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Washington's largest pro-Israel lobby. The AEIF sponsors trips to Israel for congressmen and other officials regardless of party affiliation.

Kerry on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In the foreign Ppolicy section of John Kerry's website under "Working for Peace in the Middle East and Security for Israel," Israel is described as "the only true democracy in the Middle East...our most important ally, and a critical partner in the quest for peace and security."

"Americans' security depends on helping the people of the Middle East see and act on a legitimate vision of peace," Kerry is quoted as saying on his official campaign website.

It says that the Bush administration has been "ignoring or downplaying" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for "far too long," which it says is a "dangerous game."

While Kerry backs President Bush's road map peace plan as "an acceptable approach for reinvigorating the peace process," he indicates that he would have more direct American involvement in the process, the website says.

In a recent editorial in The Jerusalem Post, the editors question a pro-Israel position paper that Kerry's campaign distributed, which shows that he has signed on and supported almost every pro-Israel letter and resolution. He claims he "has been at the forefront of the fight for Israel's security during his 19 years in the US Senate."

But the paper questions the use of the word "forefront" when 80 percent of the senators could show the same voting record "unless the train is being driven from the caboose," it says.

"We cannot but welcome any pro-Israel manifesto, but Kerry's paper doth protest too much," the paper says.

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