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TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2005
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EDITORIAL

First lady's courageous Israel trip was bad idea

First lady Laura Bush is brave and classy, but her visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in east Jerusalem last week was a bad idea.

The first problem was historical. Tensions between Muslims and Jews have always run high in this region because of the close proximity of Judaic and Islamic holy sites, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock. One of the triggers of the Intifada was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to this site in September 2000. Mrs. Bush's visit needlessly imperiled the already tense relations between the United States and the governments of Islamic states.

Another problem with the visit was its potential to disrupt relations with Israel. That nation is one of our strongest allies, but a chill has crept into that alliance. As the throngs of Israeli protesters made clear during her visit, many Israelis fault the United States for imprisoning Israeli spy Jonathon Pollard. Those protests are particularly annoying to the many U.S. leaders who viewed the Pollard affair as a betrayal of our generous support of Israel.

Worse yet, Mrs. Bush's visit to the holy site coincided with an investigation into whether a major Israeli lobbying group continued spying on the United States even after Mr. Pollard's imprisonment.

Finally, the visit to East Jerusalem was a mistake because it was dangerous. While we respect Mrs. Bush for her courage, placing her in Jerusalem was an unnecessary risk. Too many radical Muslims are looking for a symbolic attack on either Israel or America. An attack on Mrs. Bush in Jerusalem would hurt both countries.

Our concern for Mrs. Bush's safety is in part a concern for how the United States would react if she were injured or killed by Islamic terrorists. The United States could not refrain from responding with violence. A war now concentrated in Iraq and Afghanistan would quickly become a war against the Arab world.

We have the greatest respect for Mrs. Bush, but we hope she stays closer to home in the future.

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