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Sharon Plans Sept. Visit to Florida

August 21, 2002

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MIAMI (AP) _ Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has 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’s planned visit on Sept. 9 will come just days before the Democratic primary in which voters will choose a gubernatorial candidate to go up against Bush in his bid for re-election in November.

Democrats say the visit reflects the influence President Bush wields over the governor’s race, arguing it would help the governor in November and enhance the prime minister’s standing with the White House at a time when the administration is torn by conflicting demands from Israeli and Arab leaders.

Bob Poe, the Florida Democratic chairman, described the visit as a ``shameless attempt at politics by the White House″ and said it was an attempt to distract from the final days of the Democratic campaign.

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.

``There’s been more stuff that has happened in Florida to help Jeb Bush, and this is just one more thing,″ Poe told The New York Times in Wednesday editions. ``Fortunately, I think people are going to see right through this.″

Israeli consular officials told the Times that visit has nothing to do with politics. Sharon will follow his Miami visit up with a trip to Los Angeles _ his stay falling in the week between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

``It may be bad timing in terms of national politics, but it’s very good timing in terms of the Jewish High Holy Days and meeting the Jewish community, where they are assembled because of the Holy Days,″ Miki Arbel, the Israeli consul general in Miami, told the newspaper.