Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Republican Jewish Coalition has passed along a message by Senate Majority Leader (R-TN) Bill Frist who is currently on a fact-finding mission in Israel. The above picture does not look particularly warm, and the message is far too politically correct for my liking (especially considering that it's probably exclusively for the RJC). Yes, I know, everything is public in the end but it seems like this statement bent over backwards to appease even the right-wing Muslims. He's clearly on the campaign trail three years early but this is not likely to excite the right-wing Christian base, the right-wing Jewish base, or many others.

Here's the text of his letter in full:

I've been in Jerusalem for the last two days participating in a series of meetings and have had the opportunity to see some of the rich history of this remarkable city. This is my second time to Israel, I was here in 1997, so I'm getting a chance to see the dramatic changes underway in the country.

I started my visit by exploring the Old City. As I'm sure you all know, this is truly the heart of Jerusalem - where the holiest sites for three of the world's great religions converge. We stopped at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, then visited the Temple Mount and later the Western Wall. I've been overwhelmed by the Old City's holiness and history. While difficult to express, from a distance the city seemingly gives off a golden glow. I am coming to appreciate the literalness of the lyrics in the song "Jerusalem of Gold."

I've already toured the Hadassah Hospital which is a Women's and Children's hospital supported by many in the U.S. Over the last 3 years they have treated victims from 32 suicide attacks. America can learn a great deal from them about preparing for and responding to the use of biological and chemical weapons.

I also had the opportunity to meet up with Kory Bardash, chairman of Republicans Abroad for Israel. Israel has the 4th largest expatriate community - 250,000 U.S. citizens. And of those that voted in 2004 - 70% supported President Bush.

Since arriving, I've also been privileged to meet with several Israeli political leaders. Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and I discussed regional politics and the Roadmap. I also talked with Knesset Speaker of Parliament Rivlin and Foreign Affairs/Defense Committee Minister Steinetz. They spoke of their views in opposition to disengagement from Gaza - and their concerns about the militarization of the Sinai.

Prior to meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, I was given a helicopter tour of the security fence. We took off from the grounds of the Knesset which are covered in what appeared to be hundreds of rose bushes - a beautiful site. The tour was lead by the architect of the fence and our route traced much of the fence line. In the end it will be over 400 miles long and have an estimated cost of $1.3 billion.

I was joined in my meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by Senator Lieberman (D-CT). The Prime Minister discussed his plans to disengage from Gaza he also shared his concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, arguing that they are a threat to Israel, the region, Europe, and consequently must be stopped.

I also spent time with Minister Natan Sharansky who also happened to announce his resignation on the same day of my visit. He's a very interesting individual with a unique history having spent years in a Soviet prison. He's also a gifted writer who has also written an influential book on the transformative power of democracy.

Our final meeting that day was with Benjamin Netanyahu who is the current Finance Minister. He spoke of his efforts to cut taxes to get his county's economy growing again. As a result, he said that Israel has had over 4 percent growth in GDP. He also praised President Bush's leadership in promoting democracy around the world.

Today I had opportunity to meet with Palestinian Authority President Abbas in Ramallah. It was a constructive meeting, and all parties appeared to appreciate the importance of establishing a long- lasting and meaningful dialogue on how to bring peace to the region. In particular, we discussed smuggling concerns from Egypt into Gaza, the need to improve economic and social services to prevent future violence and the need for a strong commitment to stop violence, dismantle terrorist organizations and follow the road map. I believe that a democratic Jewish state can live side by side a democratic Palestinian state.

Jerusalem is a beautiful city with a rich and complex history. I am humbled to be here in this holy land. The trip so far has combined political affairs with the affairs of the spirit - this land uniquely minds the delicate balance between both. In particular, I am deeply impressed by Israel's commitment to stable and sustainable democratic government - it is a beacon of hope in a region that is undergoing rapid transformation.

It's after midnight, and tomorrow is another busy day with meetings. All my best, and if you may forgive my modest and most basic Hebrew, laila tov.

Bill Frist


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