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Former Bush press secretary draws hundreds

by Cathy Polakoff

Special to DJW

Ari Fleischer may have left his post as White House press secretary last summer, but he's still praising the president.

"Israel has never had a stronger, better friend in the Oval Office," Fleischer said last week during the Jewish Federation's 2004 Men's Event.

The gathering drew 725 men, and raised $1.137 million, according to federation circles, topping last year's event, which drew 900 and raised $1 million for the federation's annual campaign. Jeff Phillips, Michael Glazer and Barry Rothschild co-chaired the event.

In his remarks, Fleischer noted that while there are numerous places where Israel draws support in the United States, many American Jews often have trouble with those sources.

Referring specifically to the Christian right, Fleischer acknowledged that for many, if not most, American Jews, this was "not the alliance of our traditions."

But, he said, that in a largely hostile world, any support for Israel should be welcome. "Whatever the reasons are, it is terribly important for Israel to have throughout American political parties strong support, in the most liberal wings of the Democratic Party and the most conservative wings of the Republican Party. This is good for Israel," he declared.

Fleischer, who is president of his own firm, Ari Fleischer Communications, also discussed America's role on the world stage.

"It's a wonderful thing to know that, wherever we may be, folks look to America first for their hopes, for their opportunity, and for their freedom, and may it always be that way," he said.

The former press secretary also brought self-deprecating humor to his comments, recalling his Democratic parents' reaction to his decision to become a Republican and his adjustment to the ways of Texans the year that he worked on George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Austin.

He drew laughs with his recollections of Texans who thought Fleischer's first name was "R.E.," Bush's nickname for him (Ari Bob), and his parents' thoughts on his political affiliation -- his mother once told the press she had hoped "it was a passing phase."

Recalling the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, he remembered wondering what he should do on Rosh Hashanah, which came just a week later.

He said he had consulted with his rabbi and been assured that, because there was still a danger to the country and therefore lives could be at stake, it was absolutely permissible for him to attend synagogue in the morning, then go to work in the afternoon.

At that afternoon's press briefing, Fleischer was asked about a meeting that had taken place earlier in the day.

"Knowing that Jews might be watching the briefing, wondering why I was there, I took advantage of that question to explain that I was in synagogue that morning. I didn't know what happened, I wasn't there" during the meeting, Fleischer said he responded.

Last week, he noted that he had felt a need that day to explain his presence at work to his fellow Jews, and was glad of the opportunity to do so.

"As the spokesman for the president, it felt so right to do what I had never done before; to put on my own hat, or my own yarmulke, and say those beautiful words, 'I was in synagogue this morning'."

Fleisher concluded his remarks last week stating how fortunate Jews are to live in this country, free to practice their faith as they see fit.

He also spoke of America's unwavering support for Israel, thanks in part to the willingness of Jews in the United States to speak out on behalf of Israel.

"No matter what," said Fleischer, "no matter where we are, no matter where we go, we remember that we are Jews."

This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Thursday, January 22, 2004








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