Map or Trap?

Memphis becomes the scene of resistance to President Bush's Middle East proposals.

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Israel's minister of tourism launched a round of stops in the United States last week and made it clear he had no room in his itinerary for President Bush's "road map" for peace.

With Prime Minister Ariel Sharon under pressure to accept American mediation leading by stages to a Palestinian state, "I can be the bad guy," said Benny Elon, adding, "The road map is a road trap." Elon confided his opposition to the plan to a small group of clerics, religious conservatives, and media representatives after addressing a larger group at the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.

Elon, who acceded to the tourism ministry last year after the assassination of his predecessor, presumably by Palestinian terrorists, told both the larger and the smaller assemblies that the challenge for both Israelis and the country's sympathizers among American Jews and Christians was "not to forget who gave us the power" to inhabit contested territories in the historic Holy Land.

"We are not going to agree to let down our borders, to be without a state, just to have sympathy," Elon said. Brandishing a Bible, he told the assembly in the seminary auditorium, "This is behind the conflict -- not politics." He said there was "no difference" between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and likened the supportive evangelicals in his audience to "Christian Zionists."

Elon said that complications ranging from the ongoing second intifada in Palestine to the after-effects of the September 11th attacks in this country had cut tourism in Israel to almost a third of its former volume but that visits to his country were back on the upswing. He assured his hosts that they would have "absolute safety" as visitors to Israel.

One of Elon's hosts, Religious Roundtable leader Ed McAteer, announced that his group was paying for several billboards in the Memphis area and elsewhere, all urging President Bush to support Israel's claim to the Holy Land on biblical grounds.

Elon, who was scheduled to visit several major American cities during his visit, was welcomed to Memphis by Shelby County commissioner Marilyn Loeffel and city councilman Rickey Peete.

* Ordinarily, August would have been the lull before the storm politically, but -- well, we had the storm first this year, didn't we? Then the lull.

In any case, local campaigns have struggled of late to be blips on the radar screen. During the immediate aftermath of the storm, some campaigns even had to discontinue telephone polling because of the negative vibes they were getting to the process.

All that is about to change. With two months to go, door-to-door operations are back under way, ad campaigns are about to be sprung upon us. Among recent developments:

Two District 5 City Council contenders busied themselves with headquarters openings, while a third decided to marshal his resources elsewhere.

State representative Carol Chumney braved the torrid heat to open her headquarters at the Chickasaw Crossing shopping center on Poplar Saturday, with such eminences as Marguerite Piazza and Bob James on hand to lend support. Opponent George Flinn, the physician/broadcast magnate who has the local Republican endorsement, will be holding his headquarters opening this Saturday at Park Place Mall.

Lawyer Jim Strickland, on the other hand, has decided to do without a headquarters and focus instead on electronic advertising and direct mail. Strickland, who began his campaign with a goal of raising $100,000, says he now has $91,000 on hand.

The race for city court clerk has sailed into its first major controversy, with incumbent Thomas Long angrily denying allegations from the campaign of challenger Janis Fullilove that he is a Republican. Long cited a long string of involvements in major Democratic campaigns in an appearance recently before the Shelby County Democratic Women.

A third contender in the clerk's race, Betty Boyette, hopes to benefit from the internecine warfare of Long and Fullilove.

The Long-Fullilove contest, like that between Democrats Strickland and Chumney, has local Democrats moving in different directions. The party executive committee, which was evenly divided in last spring's chairmanship race between state representative Kathryn Bowers, the eventual winner, and former chairman Gale Jones Carson, reflected the same split in this month's key vote on whether to follow the Republicans' lead and endorse candidates in city-election races.

The committee voted 20-16 against endorsements, with the Bowers faction once again in the ascendancy.

* Sometime Memphian Chip Saltzman, who was state GOP chairman during the 2000 campaign year, held his annual "Young Guns" retreat this past weekend on the Ocoee River in Polk County.

Some 45 sub-40-year-old Republicans from across the state were invited for the weekend -- including Memphians Kemp Conrad, the current Shelby County Republican chairman, and David Kustoff.

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