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January 20, 1989 - Image 30

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-01-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I INSIDE WASHINGTON

Malek

Continued from preceding page

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"If he had actually provid-
ed a list of Jews, if he had ac-
tively been part of a purge, I
don't think there would be
any question of developing a
relationship with him," said
one Jewish activist who re
mains wary of Malek. "But I
don't see a pattern of bias; all
I see is a guy who made a
dumb mistake. So it would be
foolish not to hear him out, to
see if there is a possibility of
a relationship."
Jewish leaders who have
dealt with Fred Malek admit
that there is no way to know
what is inside the man's
heart. But the weight of
evidence, they suggest, points
to a lack of any pattern of
anti-Semitism in Malek's
past.
And the fact that he is try-
ing so hard to make amends
with Jews, some insist,
speaks well for his basic
decency; there is speculation
that he could easily win a
White House staff assign-
ment without bothering to
heal his breach with the
Jewish community. George
Bush, after all, handily
weathered the storm over-the
choice of John Sununu as his
chief of staff.
And on the political balance
sheets, Bush owes very little
to a Jewish community that
remained loyal to the
Democrats.

"I think it's clear that what
he wants to do is say that peo-
ple in the Jewish community
understand who he is, and
that he regrets what he did in
the past," says Hyman
Bookbinder, former Washing-
ton representative for the
American Jewish Committee
and chief Jewish liaison for
the Dukakis campaign. Book-
binder was one of the Jewish
leaders who has spoken to
Malek in recent months. "It
seems to me that he's doing
an effective job of that,
although I don't endorse him
or anything. There should be
a willingness to listen to him,
to talk to him."

Malek's case is also argued
effectively by one of his cur-
rent business associates,
David Rubinstein.
"Look, I'm a liberal
Democrat and a Jew," says
Rubinstein, partner in a large
merchant banking firm in
Washington. "When I met
him, I had the traditional
Democratic view of Fred
Malek. I had worked in the
Carter campaign in 1976; a
lot of the campaign was
directed at the excesses of the
Nixon administration. I

thought everyone connected
with Nixon was persona non
grata."
Rubinstein, who served in
the Carter White House as
assistant to chief domestic ad-
viser Stuart Eizenstat, sug-
gests that some of his em-
pathy for .Malek comes from
his own experiences as a
young, enthusiastic White
House staffer.

.

"I was 27 years old when I
was at the White House," he
recalls. "When you're 27 and
the president of the United
States tells you to do
something, and you want to
keep working for the presi-
dent, you don't tell him
what's appropriate. You tend
to say, 'this is the man 40
million people voted for, and
I'm just a kid from Baltimore,
what do I know?' Putting
myself in his place, I can
understand what happened.
Fred may have gone further
than I would have gone — but
it takes a lot of courage to go
back to the president and tell
him you won't do something."
Rubinstein, like many
Washingtonians, is convinced
Fred Malek will find his way
into the inner sanctums of the
Bush administration. Malek
himself does not try to con-
ceal his desire to take another
crack at the White House.

"These are the
facts: I did make
that report, and I
felt a little uneasy,
but I felt that the
president was
demanding it. I did
not think this was
anything that
would go any
further."

"I'm 52 years old," Malek
says. "I've had some unique
opportunities. I've had the
trauma of being part of an ad-
ministration that was torn
apart; I've had the opportuni-
ty to participate in a great
corporate adventure, and to
help in the election of a presi-
dent I admire and respect. I'm
comfortable financially; I en-
joy business, but I really, in
my heart, I want to serve."

He agrees that his effort to
soothe Jewish suspicions is
part of that quest. "I think it
would be very difficult to have
a meaningful role in public
service if any important
group in this country ques-
tioned your morals or your
ethics, or your attitudes
towards them," he says.

But not everyone believes
the Jewish community should
forgive and forget Malek's ac-
tions during his years in the
Nixon administration. In a
recent Washington Post col-
umn, Richard Cohen
challenged Malek to say in
public the things he has been
saying to Jewish leaders.
"His would be a bracing
testimony — not only a
chance for the Senate to ex-
amine his character (it's the
issue, isn't it?) but for the na-
tion to be instructed in the
perils of considering the presi-
dent above the law."
In fact Malek's consistent
but soft-spoken arguments do
not jibe with the images from
the Watergate days. But
sometimes, hints of the
toughness come through.
This is a man who wants to
apologize; it's impossible to
tell how much of this is
because of the moral offen-
siveness of the acts of which
he was accused, how much of
it is related to his desire to
have a second shot at serving
in the White House.
In any case, his desire to
seek forgiveness seems genu-
ine. But just as clearly, he has
no intention of begging.

Each question about Fred
Malek leads to twenty more.
lb what degree was his recent
fall the result of the normal
hysterics of any campaign?
How much of what happened
in September was related to
Malek's inextricable connec-
tions to the presidency of
Richard Nixon, a man who
left a pall of anti-Semitism
over the oval office?
At what point should Jews
forgive a person who sins
against them? Some Jewish
activists here point to what
they see as a double standard.
Fred Malek, who admits he
obeyed a president who wor-
ried about a "Jewish cabal" in
a federal department, is
already winning Jewish
leaders to his side; Jesse
Jackson, whose sins were en-
tirely verbal, seems unable to
penetrate a wall of Jewish
hostility.

Jewish activists are wrest-
ling with these kinds of dif-
ficult questions as Fred
Malek's rehabilitation con-
tinues. Malek himself seems
satisfied with the progress of
his quest.
"I'm not interested in a
quick score," he says. "It takes
time to create impressions. I
know how I feel in my heart,
and I know that over time the
truth and the reality of my
feelings will come across. I
don't expect it to happen over-
night. ❑

4

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