The Reagan Library was the setting when more than 500 Jewish Republicans gathered to pay tribute to U.S. and Israeli armed forces.RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) set a powerful model of the necessity for firm resolve at this time of international crises.

Guests also heard from California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, Jewish Republican statewide candidate for insurance commissioner, and Tony Strickland, statewide candidate for controller.

After touring the library and taking photos on the impressive Air Force One at the musuem, guests enjoyed a kosher cocktail party and dinner.

Larry Greenfield, Republican Jewish Coalition’s California regional director, says what is motivating their membership is the quality of the conversation.”RJC members and guests consistently value an honest appraisal of the international situation and a realistic approach to a dangerous world that the Jewish community respects,” he said. “Support for a beleaguered Israel, concern about a UN that has broken its promises, and moral clarity about Islamo-Fascism all resonate with American Jews today.”

According to Greenfield, under RJC CA Chairman Joel Geiderman, the RJC would continue to focus on supporting Jewish college students and the need for “fair play.” The RJC has been working with other Jewish groups to confront anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism at universities.

“We have begun to mature as a Jewish political community. Those in attendance included current White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, past and present Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke; and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

“Many thoughtful Jewish Republicans are making a strong contribution rooted in Jewish values, both as, and with senior access to, American policymakers,” Greenfield said.

The Great Statesmen

Van Nuys High School American government students enjoyed an informative Q-and-A with Stanley Sheinbaum and Mike Farrell on June 8. The event, titled “14th Amendment Equal Protection Under the Law,” was the first in a series of discussions produced by California Safe Schools.

The two celebrated statesmen in the social justice community have been recognized for their humanitarian efforts: Sheinbaum for the protection of constitutional rights, education, public justice, human rights and international peace efforts; Farrell for his opposition to the death penalty and children’s rights. Farrell is also well-known for his portrayals of B.J. Hunnicutt on the long-running series “M*A*S*H” and as veterinarian Dr. James Hansen on the NBC drama “Providence.”

“It was inspiring to see the students so well versed in national, international and environmental issues. We look forward to replicating these programs for other students throughout the State and Country,” said Robina Suwol, executive director of California Safe Schools.

Both men were honored at the event with the California Safe Schools Humanitarian Award for their decades of service. The office of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) joined in the celebration presenting additional awards to each. The event as moderated by David Allgood, Southern California director of the state’s League of Conservation Voters.

Fond of the New Rabbi

Native Angeleno Rabbi Devora Fond became the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia in July, following her recent ordination by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ). Fond received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Santa Cruz in 1991, and a master’s degree in rabbinic studies from the UJ in 2002. She has served in a variety of capacities, including hospital chaplain at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, rabbinic intern at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley and educator and rabbinic intern at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.

Fond feels called to serve God by helping Jews connect with themselves, others, God and Torah, and through working with people of all faiths to make this world a better place. Fond says she is enthusiastic about having the opportunity to build relationships with the people in her community: to touch other people’s lives and be touched by others. She is committed to reaching out to new members, leading spiritually meaningful and innovative services, and making Judaism come alive through creative programming and thought-provoking teaching.

All About Ethics

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo nominated Helen Zukin, a lawyer in private practice and an active member of the State Bar of California, to the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

“Helen’s skill as a lawyer and commitment to the highest ethical standards will be tremendous assets to the Ethics Commission,” Delgadillo said. “Her counsel and insight will serve the Commission well as it takes up the challenge of interpreting and implementing changes to our campaign finance laws, as well as maintain its critical role as city watchdog.”

Zukin, who also serves as a temporary judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, served on the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for nearly a decade. She has a long history of community and professional involvement, including membership on the Board of Governors for the Consumer Attorney’s Association of Los Angeles and as a trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation.

A civil litigator, Zukin’s practice has an emphasis on toxic torts, product liability and environmental property damage.

In addition to the city attorney, the mayor, controller, city council president and council president pro-tem each nominate one member to the five-member Ethics Commission. Commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, and are subject to review by the City Council’s Rules and Elections Committee, and to confirmation by the full L.A. City Council.

The commission was established in 1990 as part of a comprehensive package of local government ethics and campaign finance laws.

Political Centrism Stirring Up Interest

Political centrism is in the air these days. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, under fire from Likud for the withdrawal from Gaza, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, defeated in his bid to remain as leader of Labor, have joined forces to form a new centrist party. Suddenly, the long-forgotten center in Israeli politics boasts the two biggest names in the country, and Labor and Likud have lost their duopoly.

In the United States, Republican senators are frustrating the White House by fighting extreme conservative policies. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the first Jewish candidate nominated for a national major-party presidential ticket, has been aligning himself closely with the Bush administration on the Iraq War to the consternation of his fellow Democrats. If John McCain’s attempts to get on the good side of the Bush administration (by, among other things, criticizing Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) fail to win him the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, one could imagine that he and Lieberman might run as a centrist third-party ticket.

Even here in California, centrism is back in fashion. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, crushed in his special election, has outraged his Republican allies by choosing a Democratic activist as chief of staff. Suddenly, Democrats (including many Jews) may find themselves back on the radar of the governor’s office.

Something is happening that is making purple a viable color again, after years of red and blue. Triangulation, Bill Clinton’s strategy for navigating between right and left, may be back in style, at least for a while. Republican consultant Dan Schnur even suggested in a Los Angeles Times column that Schwarzenegger should run for re-election in 2006 as an independent.

Centrism seems to have its moment in the sun when there is a problem to be solved that the main parties cannot address and when one or more of the leading parties is rife with extremism. H. Ross Perot’s moment of glory came in 1992, when he made an issue out of the federal budget deficit. Theodore Roosevelt emerged in 1912 when his successor, President William Howard Taft, moved the Republican Party far to the right of where Roosevelt had led it during his presidency.

While Jewish voters have a close affinity for the Democratic Party, centrism has a special appeal for them. Extremism in either party is always a threat to Jews; moderation is usually a safer environment for the Jewish community.

When the Democrats pull to the left, and Republicans offer moderation, Jews are tempted. That’s why Republican moderates have often done well with Jewish voters. When the Republicans pull to the right, Jewish voters cling even more closely to the Democrats. That’s why the rightist Bush administration has been such a dismal failure with Jewish voters.

So in a year when some Democrats are increasingly antiwar in ways that might make Jews concerned about Israel’s security, and when Republicans conservatives are inventing a phony “War on Christmas” with anti-Semitic overtones, centrism might spell temporary relief.

In Israel, the issue that cannot be resolved in the two-party system is peace with the Palestinians. Undercut by Yasser Arafat’s deviousness, Labor long ago lost the credibility to negotiate peace.

Arafat’s refusal to accept the deal that he was offered by Labor at Oslo ensured that only the right could make peace, preferably Sharon. But Sharon could not bring Likud along with him. And so the centrist solution in Israel is essentially a personalistic politics of Sharon, eventually in alliance with Labor after the next election.

Compared to that alliance, the moderate Schwarzenegger and his moderate chief of staff are hardly an odd couple at all.

Even though centrism seems to be the preferred choice of most voters, there are nearly insurmountable obstacles to long-term centrist politics. While the voters don’t care that much about politics, those who keep politics running have a passion for the enterprise. And party politics will eventually prevail again.

The success of third-party politics usually contains the seeds of its own demise. Theodore Roosevelt’s progressivism became the mantra of Woodrow Wilson’s Democratic Party. Once Perot put the deficit on the agenda, Clinton drove it home for a Democratic victory.

If Sharon and Peres can conclude a peace deal that really works, then normal party politics can resume in Israel with the biggest issue taken off the table. Whichever party then harnesses the forces of the center will build a majority.

A period of centrism, even if brief, can be a useful tonic for the political system. With three forces in the battle, the main parties have to improve their own games. They have to reexamine whether their positions have become ossified. They have to compete for unaffiliated voters and not just their bases.

The result is usually a new type of majority coalition. But history suggests that it will be one of the main parties, not an ad hoc centrist coalition, that creates that new coalition.

The ruling Republican majority in American politics is in serious trouble. If Democrats can find a way to maintain their unity in opposition and head off a centrist movement by creating a new center-left coalition, they will be highly successful. And the response of the Jewish community to their efforts will be the canary in the mine that tells whether it is likely to work.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at California State University Fullerton.


Recall Quandaries

How will California’s Jews vote in the Gray Davis recall? Will this long-standing Democratic community stay with the incumbent, support a Democratic alternative or be drawn to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger? What are the political orientations of California’s Jews?

The Jewish political stance in America has long been distinctive. Jews are significantly more Democratic and liberal than other whites. Two recent polls, by Ipsos/Cook and Gallup, confirmed this long-standing situation, showing a very large edge for Democrats over Republicans among Jews. Jews have also had an outsized impact on politics through remarkably high levels of participation. With 6 percent of the Los Angeles city population, for example, Jews cast 18 percent of the vote in mayoral elections. With 3 percent of California’s population, Jews represent an estimated 5 percent of the state’s registered voters.

The foundation of Jewish political participation was laid in New York City a century ago. New York’s Jewish precincts generated a left-of-center politics that flowed easily into the mayoralty of Fiorello LaGuardia and the New Deal presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1930, nearly half of all American Jews lived in New York state. New York City was the cultural and political center of the American Jewish community. It was here that American liberalism was born, and almost died in the interracial conflicts of the 1960s.

During and after World War II, Jews began to migrate in significant numbers to the growing Sunbelt. Florida and California were the most favored destinations, as the Jewish population of New York steadily fell. According to the American Jewish Yearbook, there were only 123,000 Jews in all of California in 1930; by 2002, there were 999,000. In 1930, only 13,402 Jews lived in Florida; by 2002, there were 620,000. By 2002, there were almost as many Jews in Florida and California combined as in New York state.

Now, instead of occupying one corner of America, Jewish voters have become a major bloc in three critical states with large numbers of electoral votes. In the 2000 election, these three states cast 112 electoral votes; in 2004, they will have 113. Only 270 electoral votes are required to win the White House. Bill Clinton won all three states in 1996. In 2000, Jewish voters in Palm Beach County essentially elected Al Gore president, only to find their votes recorded for Patrick Buchanan because of the notorious "butterfly ballot."

In California, most Jews have retained their Democratic loyalty. Los Angeles Jews became a critical element of the Tom Bradley biracial coalition, and majorities of California’s Jewish voters supported Democratic candidates at city, county, state, and national levels. With pro-Israel centrists Bill Clinton and Gore at the top of the Democratic ticket, this connection blossomed into massive support. Today, no Democratic presidential candidate can afford to ignore the fundraising base of Los Angeles Jews.

But this loyalty is not absolute. There are plenty of Jewish Republicans and even some Democrats who are drawn to what they see as George W. Bush’s pro-Israel stance. Jewish voters, East and West, have always been willing to support truly moderate and socially liberal Republicans (not the pretend, rhetorical moderation of Bush) against specific Democrat candidates who are more to the left and whose affinity for Israel’s survival and opposition to anti-Semitism is not firm and clear.

When times are tough, when there are threats like street crime or terrorism, and when the Democrats are seen as moving too far out of the mainstream, the party can lose too many Jews to be seriously competitive. Or, as Earl Raab, co-author of "Jews and the New American Scene" (Harvard University Press, 1995), once put it, "If you scratch an American Jew, you will find a Democratic voter. The complicating news today is that if you scratch somewhat deeper, you will not always find a liberal."

Democrats cannot take Jewish voters for granted.

What does this mean for the recall of the beleaguered Davis? If Davis cannot hold Jewish voters, he will have a hard time staying in office. Based on his ideological centrism, and the right-wing roots of the recall, Davis should have a chance to hold the support of many Jewish voters. The two potential candidates who could threaten Davis among Jews, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, have stayed out of the race. But Davis has the complex task of dealing with a growing Democratic leadership shift toward Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as the Democratic alternative if the recall passes. And then there is Schwarzenegger. If he captures the hearts and minds of Jewish voters, he will be formidable.

Riordan, though, would have been more likely than Schwarzenegger to win over Jews. Riordan won half of Jewish votes when he ran against liberal Democrat Mike Woo for mayor in 1993 in a time of post-riot despair and economic downturn. In 1997, running against the even more liberal Tom Hayden, Riordan won more than 60 percent of Jewish voters. Riordan is a resident of the Westside, pro-choice on abortion, the sort of "Rockefeller Republican" with whom Jews have been comfortable.

Arnold has some of that Riordan appeal. Jewish voters are not immune to the huge unpopularity of Governor Davis. Like Riordan, Schwarzenegger is a comfortable, socially active Westsider. Both are married to strong and active Democratic women. Schwarzenegger appears to be a social liberal, although many of his views remain to be clarified.

But the same persona that appeals to many alienated voters — the glamorous outsider with vague ideas and catchy phrases — is not particularly well suited for reaching highly attentive, extraordinarily well-informed Jewish voters. Schwarzenegger’s cavalier mistreatment of Riordan in the announcement of his own candidacy may not go unnoticed among active Jews. If Schwarzenegger’s media buzz begins to trail off in coming weeks because of an inability or unwillingness by the candidate to address tough policy issues, watch for it to happen first among Jewish voters.

Getting Jewish voters to support a shift in party control of the governor’s office less than a year after an election will be no easy task. Schwarzenegger may have all the excitement right now, but if he relies on his celebrity status to make his case, Jewish voters may ultimately stick with Davis, vote for a Democratic alternative, or both.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is the author of “Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles” (Princeton University Press, 1993). His column for The Journal will appear monthly in this space.

Jewish, Republican and Proud

Aiming for a more potent voice in local politics, Los Angeles Jewish Republicans met with state party leaders last week to forge closer ties.

As President Bush made his rounds through the state, GOP leaders were seeking to make the “Left Coast” a more comfortable place for Republicans — 1 million of whom stayed away from the polls in November, according to Shawn Steel, California Republican party chairman.

For the Republican Jewish Coalition’s 7-month-old Los Angeles chapter (RJC-LA), the meeting, which took place May 29 at the Skirball Cultural Center, signaled a major step toward making inroads into heavily Democratic Los Angeles. Since its inception in December, the L.A. branch, now numbering 300, has become the “fastest-growing [RJC] chapter in the country,” said Matt Brooks, the coalition’s national executive director. The group hopes to have 1,000 members by the end of the year, he said.

Bruce Bialosky, RJC-LA president, outlined some of the measures underway to bring the two Republican groups closer, including finding a rabbi to advise the party on issues important to the community. Also, state political conventions will feature Shabbat services, he said. Jews should be Republicans, Bialosky said, because “individual choices and responsibilities are the core values of the Republican party, and those are Jewish values.”

Brooks said Jewish involvement in the Republican party could help influence international affairs. “I found a lot of skepticism about Bush when he said he’d be a friend to Israel,” he told the group. The RJC took the Texas governor on his first trip to Israel in 1988. While there, Bush toured the country with fellow conservative Ariel Sharon, developing a close rapport that continues today. “Bush understands the vital security issues of the State of Israel,” Brooks said.

But if Republicans want to increase their influence in the Jewish community, they have their work cut out for them. Though polls showed that among Jewish voters, almost half supported moderate Republican Richard Riordan for mayor in 1993, other GOP candidates have not fared nearly so well. In 2000, 81 percent of Jewish voters helped reelect California’s Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, according to Voter News Service. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer enjoyed the same percentage in 1998, while Democratic Gov. Gray Davis garnered 83 percent of Jewish votes.

Shannon Reeves, state GOP party board secretary, said numbers like these only make the RJC’s role more vital. Reeves, who is president of Oakland’s NAACP, urged the Jewish audience not to be deterred: “We may not have 80 percent of the Jewish vote; there may not be many Republicans in your neighborhoods, but we’ve got to fight on anyhow. Make this a party that reflects what you believe in.”

For some, the fact of a gathering of Jewish Republicans was already a victory. As he outlined upcoming events, Reed Wilson, RJC-LA activity chairman, jokingly confessed that previously, “I’ve always said this in my closet, at 3 in the morning: ‘I’m Jewish, and I’m a Republican.'”