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Sharon Plans to Meet Fla. Gov. Bush

August 21, 2002

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MIAMI (AP) _ Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon 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 plans to visit Sept. 9, the day before Democrats choose a candidate to challenge Bush’s re-election bid in November.

Israeli officials say the date was chosen because it was close to the Jewish High Holy Days. State Democratic Chairman Bob Poe said Wednesday the visit appears to be an attempt by Sharon to gain favor with President Bush at a time when the administration is torn by conflicting demands from Israeli and Arab leaders.

``The prime minister of a foreign country shouldn’t be used as a political pawn for the president’s brother,″ Poe said.

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.

Poe said he hoped Democratic members of Congress would be invited to meet with Sharon and express their support for Israel. He said they have been trying to get invitations from the Israeli Consulate.

``Democrats also stand in solidarity with Israel. Support of Israel doesn’t end with the Bush family,″ Democratic Party spokesman Ryan Banfill said.

Officials at the Israeli Consulate in Miami weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday, but earlier told The New York Times that the 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.