Defending and promoting the views of their favored presidential candidates, two political operatives debated the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Tuesday.

The debaters were Greg Menken, who has worked in public policy for various Republican congressmen in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, and Todd Richman, a national trustee for the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry ’66. The debate, sponsored by the Yale Friends of Israel, in conjunction with the Yale College Democrats and the Yale College Republicans, took place at the Slifka Center before an audience of 35. Debaters answered questions written by the Yale Friends of Israel.

Debaters were initially asked to comment on Kerry’s intentions to cooperate with the international community toward the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Richman said while Kerry favors the involvement of international community, he does not wish to leave Israel’s fate entirely at the discretion of the United Nations.

Richman said Kerry intends to promote the engagement of Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the process, unlike President George W. Bush ’68.

Menken, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he was concerned about Kerry’s choice of Martin Indyk — the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs from 1997 to 2000 and ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997 and again from 2000 to 2001 — as one of his advisors. Indyk’s opposition to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip contrasts the views of the Israeli community, Menken said. Richman said Indyk has no official role in Kerry’s campaign.

Richman and Menken said both candidates support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policies for withdrawing Israel troops from the Gaza Strip.

When asked whether Bush will cooperate with any Palestinian leaders to help resolve the conflict, Menken said despite the president’s efforts to find such a leader, none has come forward.

“We are waiting for such a leader to emerge, but until he emerges, things can’t go forward,” Menken said.

Menken criticized the Clinton administration’s attempts to negotiate with Yassar Arafat, whom he characterized as “simply a terrorist.” He said that Kerry had referred to Arafat as a “statesman and role model” in 1997.

Richman said Kerry’s statement was part of larger Democratic support for the Clinton administration’s efforts to broker a peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He said Kerry is currently, like Bush, in favor of Arafat’s isolation.

On the subject of Israeli borders, Richman said Kerry supports the separation fence Israel built in the West Bank. Menken said Kerry has no clear-cut position on the issue, but only agrees with the positions adopted by Bush.

“Kerry says ‘me too,’ but that’s not leadership,” Menken said.

Richman called nuclear buildup in Iran “the number one threat” and said Bush’s war in Iraq distracted from this more serious problem. Menken said the president’s efforts to take radical steps to deal with nuclear buildup in Iran were opposed by the United Nations.

Stephanie Kissel ’05 said she was pleased with the quality of the debate.

“I find it very interesting that the representatives touched on hot topics,” she said. “This debate was more substantial than televised debates.”

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