Giuliani bolsters Olmert ahead of Winograd

Giuliani tells 'Post': Pressure must be stepped up on Iran but military option also be maintained.

us special 2 224 (photo credit: )
us special 2 224
(photo credit: )
Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani offered words of support to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday, three days before publication of the politically perilous Winograd Report, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "I wish him well. He is a good friend," said Giuliani, who was mayor of New York when Olmert presided over the Jerusalem municipality. "I have a lot of empathy for the difficult decisions he has to make day-in and day-out in Israel." Giuliani is also looking for support as voters in Florida decide whom to back in the crucial primary here Tuesday. He is campaigning heavily among Jewish Republicans - among whom he's the favorite candidate - to make sure they stay loyal to him as his poll numbers slip. Though the findings of the Winograd Committee on the management of the Second Lebanon War threaten Olmert's hold on office, that hasn't kept Giuliani from using his ties to the Israeli leader to boost his standing among Jewish voters. Giuliani's campaign has circulated fliers with quotes of praise from Olmert, and the candidate himself mentioned the prime minister during an appearance at the Boca Raton Synagogue earlier Sunday. "As mayor of New York City, I used to tell Ehud Olmert, who was mayor of Jerusalem at the time, that I had more Jewish citizens than he did," the candidate recounted while wearing a kippa. The line received an appreciative laugh from the 1,000-member audience, which warmly greeted Giuliani and his statements focusing on Israeli security and the importance of the War on Terror. In addition to making sure he doesn't hemorrhage Jewish votes before Tuesday, Giuliani came to the synagogue because he wanted to stress some of his strongest credentials - as the man who shepherded New York through September 11 and as one who holds a hawkish view on foreign policy - to the committed Republicans who tend to turn out for the primaries. Giuliani has watched his once considerable lead in the polls disappear as he skipped smaller states in favor of an all-out offensive in Florida, the largest state to vote before many of the biggest ones - including New York - go to the polls on February 5. Now he's trying to keep up with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who's touting his finance background as the US economy teeters, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, a war hero who has also appealed to voters based on his national security stances. Giuliani emphasized security and foreign policy issues when speaking to the Post, strongly defending Israel's actions against Gaza. "Israel has to do what it believes is necessary for its safety and security," he said when asked about Israel's response to the rocket attacks that have been launched from the Gaza Strip. "Those are decisions where I think you give a great deal of discretion to the Israeli government." Speaking more broadly about the Bush administration's desire to create a Palestinian state by 2008, Giuliani said, "I don't think you can force it." The United States, he offered, should have strategic goals instead of timelines. He said the goals to be met to create regional peace were Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, a demonstrated end to Palestinian terrorism and reformed governance of the Palestinian Authority. He also reiterated his insistence that "Iran will not be allowed to become a nuclear-armed power" under a Giuliani administration and that the military option should be kept on the table. Giuliani called the Jewish vote an "important" one while speaking of his decision to visit the Boca Raton Synagogue just two days before Tuesday's balloting. Though the majority of Jews vote Democratic, many more Orthodox Jews vote Republican than their progressive brethren. Boca Raton Synagogue describes itself as the largest Orthodox synagogue in the southeastern United States, with 700 families. It was the home of Rabbi Yehoshua Fass before he joined with member Tony Gelbart, a Jewish philanthropist and major Giuliani supporter, to launch Nefesh B'Nefesh to encourage North Americans to immigrate to Israel. The congregation invited the other candidates to speak, but none accepted. Other constituencies have shifted allegiances throughout the campaign, which has seen Giuliani lose a 20-point advantage in Florida surveys to now stand at more than 10 percent behind Romney and McCain, who are currently tied for the lead. Many in the Jewish community remain among Giuliani's strongest supporters, and he is particularly popular among the many former New Yorkers who now live in Florida. One such transplant is Fay Greene, who said she signed up "the moment he said he would run." Greene was in New York City on September 11, 2001, and called Giuliani "the best and most reassuring voice" following the attacks. She so strongly favors the former mayor over the rest of the field that she intends to vote Democrat come November should Giuliani fail to be the Republican nominee. Giuliani's campaign staff are targeting people like Greene - nontraditional Republican voters who aren't turn off by the liberal social positions that have hurt the candidate among strongly conservative voters. And they say the Jewish community is the perfect group for that message. They are backed up by an American Jewish Committee poll, which showed Giuliani second in favorability among Jews - who usually favor Democrats. But despite Giuliani's crossover appeal he is being challenged by McCain, who has steadily picked up steam as his rival's standing has declined. Some Jewish voters who didn't decide early on have been swayed by McCain, who has a reputation as a "maverick" willing to work across the partisan divide. "If [Giuliani] was stronger in the polls, I would be more comfortable voting for him," said Bob Cirulnick, who like Greene attended the event at the Boca Raton Synagogue. "I want to put my vote where it counts," Cirulnick said, noting that he supports Giuliani and McCain more than either of their competitors, and wants to help the cause of the one most likely to prevail. Romney's economic background has also appealed to Jewish Republicans concerned about the economy and fiscal policy. Arlene Herson, who did not hear Giuliani speak in Boca Raton, said she preferred Romney's ideas and experience. She said, though, that she knows many Giuliani supporters in the Jewish community. "The Giuliani supporters did feel disappointed that he wasn't as visible" during the earlier primaries, she said, "but they're not looking for another candidate." Joel Hoppenstein said he, for one, was still supporting Giuliani. "I have to rely on his strategy and his determination that this is going to work," he said. Jeff Herman is certainly counting on it. "First and foremost, he's a good friend of Israel," Herman said of his support for Giuliani. He has backed Giuliani since the beginning of the campaign and has no intention of changing his vote, despite the candidate's weakened position heading into the vote. "We don't put a whole lot of credence in the polls - they've been wrong." But if they are correct this time, said the Boca Raton Synagogue member, "in that case we might just have to make aliya." His wife disagreed. If Giuliani loses, Margie Herman said, "We would take a close look at the other candidates."