Social issues keep Jews from supporting the GOP


In the midst of the never-ending debate about whether this will be the election that moves Jews to the right, an intriguing new poll is just out from the Public Religion

Research Institute. Titled “Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012,” it found that 62 percent of Jews want to see President Barack Obama re-elected, compared to 30 percent who favor a Republican candidate.

Around 58 percent of American Jews approve of the president’s job performance, quite a bit higher than the electorate as a whole. Not so long ago, Jewish support for Obama had been falling, as the economy languished. Now, with the shoots of recovery growing, Jews are returning to where they were before the 2008 election.

A closer look at the poll highlights the wide divisions among white voters. On one end, you find Jewish voters leaning Democratic and supporting the president. At the other end are white Evangelicals leaning Republican and opposing the president. The biggest gaps between the two groups are not on the standard economic issues that have divided Democrats and Republicans. The gaps shown here are on the social issues, such as abortion and gay rights.

And therein lies the biggest problem for the Republican Party in reaching out to Jewish voters today. While Jews are somewhat to the left of Republicans on economic matters, they are far, far from the Republicans on the social issues that animate the party’s base. On economic issues, the gap is not quite as stark.

Put simply, to the extent that Republican candidates reflect the most socially conservative elements of the party, their prospects of winning Jewish support are dim to nonexistent. The real giveaway is on two issues: abortion and gay rights. On both of those, Jews are, by a large margin, the most liberal group in America.

A majority of Jews (51 percent) strongly support gay marriage, by far the largest support among religious groups. Only 24 percent of all Americans take the same position. Another 30 percent of Jews somewhat favor gay marriage, leading to 81 percent support overall, compared to 48 percent of the nation. Among white Evangelicals, by contrast, only 6 percent strongly and 14 percent somewhat favor gay marriage.

On abortion, nearly half of Jews (49 percent) support abortion being legal in all cases, compared to 21 percent of all Americans. Another 44 percent of Jews favor abortion rights in most cases, for a total of 93 percent support. Among all Americans, support for legal abortion is at 53 percent. Among white Evangelicals, only 11 percent think that abortion should be legal in all cases, and 21 percent in most cases.

The recent debates about contraception have driven the gender gap to a yawning chasm, particularly among well-educated middle-class women. Other polls have long shown Jewish women in particular to be pro-choice at very high levels. Laws being passed in a number of states to make abortion nearly impossible to obtain, as well as debates over the availability of contraception or funding for Planned Parenthood, are likely to alarm Jewish voters.

And yet these vast differences on social issues are not replicated to the same degree on traditional economic issues. While 24 percent of Jews strongly favor tougher environmental laws, so do 17 percent of all Americans and 11 percent of white Evangelicals. While 58 percent of Jews strongly favor raising taxes on those earning a million dollars or more, so do 43 percent of all Americans and 36 percent of white Evangelicals. While 43 percent of white Evangelicals strongly believe that poor people have become too dependent on government programs, so do 21 percent of Jews.

Put another way, in a political system that contrasted pro-government Democrats against free-market Republicans, moderate Republicans could do rather well with Jewish voters. Conversely, Democrats could do much better with white Evangelicals on strictly economic populist issues if the social issues were out of the way. But of course the social issues do not go away so easily. Each party derives some short-term benefits from keeping them alive. For Republicans, the social issues cause their party base to oppose economic policies that might benefit them, because they are proposed by the same party that is pro-choice and favors gay rights. For Democrats, the social issues prevent desertions by upscale liberals who might be drawn to a centrist Republican economic alternative.

The link between the Republican Party and its socially conservative base will be difficult to change. The energy of social conservatism is critical to the party’s competitiveness. Mitt Romney can only reach across the aisle to Jewish voters by moderating his positions on, for example, Planned Parenthood, or the availability of abortion. But suspicious social conservatives will be closely watching him for any signs of waffling. House Republicans are likely to put a lot of pressure on Romney to toe the party line. In fact, Romney’s image of moderation that might appeal to Jewish voters is the reason that conservatives are particularly watchful for any deviation.

Republicans continue to believe that Jewish voters will be in play because of concerns among Jews about the Obama administration and Israel. Polls have never shown this to be a winning strategy. Among Jews, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is certainly seen as a good representative of Jewish values (73 percent), but so is Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (appointed by Obama, with 66 percent), and “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart checks in at 63 percent.

There are really only two ways that Republicans can break their contemporary isolation from Jewish voters. One is for the economy to drop back into recession. The other is for the Republicans to move to the center on social issues. The first would be a stroke of fortune politically for Republicans, while the second would require an internal battle that would cost them dearly but might be worth it nonetheless.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Florida primary is first big showdown for the Jewish vote


With Newt Gingrich gaining ground on frontrunner Mitt Romney, the stage is set for a crucial Jan. 31 Republican presidential primary in Florida. By playing a significant role in that day’s outcome, the state’s large Jewish population might set the tone for the rest of the GOP race.

About 638,000 Jews call Florida home, according to the December 2011 figures from the Jewish Virtual Library—in stark contrast to the relatively small Jewish communities in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states that have held primaries and caucuses so far.

Up until 2004, Florida held its presidential primaries in March. Now, with an earlier contest—open only to Republican voters—an active Jewish electorate should wield significant influence, said Dr. Terri Susan Fine, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida.

If a primary is early in the calendar, Fine explained in an interview with JointMedia News Service, that means voters still have a choice of candidates—which is the case in Florida despite the dropouts of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain. Fine said voters in early primaries “end up impacting the choice for the rest of the nation, because if [a candidate] drops out because they don’t do well in your state, or if they do very well in your state … the media presents you as if you’re the winner.” With a later primary in previous election years, some names on the Florida ballot were those of candidates who had already dropped out, meaning “the whole tenor of the campaign changed by the time it got to Florida,” Fine said.

The fact that Florida’s primary is closed to voters outside the Republican party means a low voter turnout is likely, which Fine said magnifies the importance of the Jewish population.

“High-turnout groups within a low-turnout electoral environment are going to be very impactful, and Jews demonstrate not only the highest voter turnout compared with any other religion, but at the same time you’re also talking about the fact that the candidates’ recognize this,” Fine said. “So, we see some ways in which the candidates are differentiating themselves from one another, and also distinguishing themselves from President Obama in order to secure that vote from among Jewish voters, particularly in Florida.”

Herb Swarzman, vice president of Tampa Jewish Federation and area chairman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), told JointMedia News Service that there is a “great deal” of local interest in Florida regarding the presidential election “because of a general feeling amongst those who do contribute to political campaigns that Israel has not been treated well by this administration.” Jews for whom Israel is an important issue “want to participate to whatever extent they can in the Republican primaries so that they can defeat Barack Obama.”

Swarzman added that “there also is great concern amongst those who are actively involved, for those who read about the issues every day, for those who really care about the possible terrorist threat both in Israel and America, that the United States government is not dealing properly with Iran … and they are looking for a candidate who will be much more aggressive towards the Iranian attempts to create nuclear power.”

However, besides for voters concerned with Obama’s Israel policies, Rabbi David Steinhardt—leader of B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton and Jewish Community Relations Council chair for the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County—told JointMedia News Service that he sees a “growing realization among many in the Jewish community that the early portrayal of President Obama not being a friend of Israel has been changing.”

Following Gingrich’s surprise 12-point victory over Romney in South Carolina, a new Rasmussen Report poll shows the former Speaker of the House garnering 41 percent support among likely Florida GOP primary voters, with 32 percent backing Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and winner of the New Hampshire primary. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who edged Romney in the Iowa caucus, and Texas congressman Ron Paul also remain in the race.

Swarzman said he is supporting Gingrich because he “was the most pro-Israel Speaker in the history of this country and I think that he will declare Jerusalem as the undivided capitol of Israel no matter what the State Department or the Arab countries say, if he becomes the president.”

Steinhardt said his “subjective reading” of the perception of the Republican primary in Florida “is one of disappointment.”

“By in large, I sense that the community feels that the Republican candidates don’t reflect the stature or the vision that they’re looking for in a president of the United States,” he said.

Steinhardt also believes “that the press has sold the Jewish community short, in that the Jewish community is not just a one-issue voting bloc anymore, and I don’t know if it ever was, but maybe we tend to think of it that way.”

“Jews are very concerned about healthcare, and very concerned about social policy, and very concerned about issues of war and peace and national defense and Israel,” he said. “Those are all on the agenda of engaged Jews who are politically aware and somewhat active in the process—certainly active in the conversation.”

With the highest percentage of elderly residents compared to any other state, issues such as Medicare, Social Security and healthcare are critical for Jewish voters in Florida, Swarzman and Steinhardt agreed.

The older nature of Florida’s Jewish voter base has another political impact, according to Fine. She said scholars have found that members of Congress born after 1950 take a different position on Israel than those born before 1950. This is attributed to memories of the Holocaust and World War II, and memories relating to the formation of the state of Israel, Fine explained.

“So, if you didn’t have that experience in your lifetime, or if you had the experience but don’t remember it, then that has an impact on your overall political socialization and that impacts how you function in Congress,” Fine said. “We found, for example, that older members of Congress had to be far more for one state of Israel, pro-Israel, but the other members of Congress are more likely to be more liberal when it comes to the notion of Palestinian rights and the right or return of Palestinians and those kinds of things.”

Looking ahead to the general election, one can easily remember 2000, when George W. Bush’s historically narrow victory over Al Gore in Florida—amid a recount of the vote and a Supreme Court ruling in his favor—essentially decided the presidency. Fine said Florida could have an even greater impact on the 2012 election because the state’s number of electoral votes has increased from 27 to 29, exceeding 10 percent of the total electoral votes a candidate needs to win.

With Florida’s “winner take all” system within the Electoral College, all a candidate needs is one more vote than the closest competitor to gain all 29 electoral votes—and that’s why the Jewish vote matters, said Dr. Ira Sheskin, director of the Jewish Demography Project of the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Jewish Studies at the University of Miami.

In close presidential elections, which are usually won by a margin of about 52 percent to 48 percent, candidates are fighting for small percentages and need to appeal to every vote they can get, Sheskin told JointMedia News Service. Although Florida’s Jews amount to 3.7 percent of the state’s total population, well over 90 percent of Jews are registered to vote—meaning they represent a more statistically significant 6-8 percent of Florida’s electorate, Sheskin said, adding that Jews are more likely to vote than other groups.

“[Florida is] very significant because the Jewish population is large here, and Florida is a significant state because of the Electoral College,” said Steinhardt, “so obviously there’s great importance to the Jewish vote here.”

Three winners in Iowa and three takeaways for Jews


There were three winners in the Iowa Republic caucus: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and, not far behind them, Ron Paul.

There were also (at least) three takeaways for Jewish observers: Foreign policy matters, evangelicals matter—and Ron Paul matters.

The importance of foreign policy in the 2012 presidential race, even in a farm state once known better for the pledges for ethanol subsidies it extracts from candidates, was evident in the speeches following voting.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and nominative winner—he bested Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania by just eight votes—launched his speech with a broadside against Obama’s Iran policy.

“Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry just down the road,” Romney told his followers. “He said he’d have a policy of engagement, how’s that worked out?”

Santorum’s strong showing—he and Romney split 50 percent of the vote evenly—was credited mostly to his months-long dedication to the state, working every county and making more than 300 appearances.

But Santorum’s strong foreign policy performance in the debates, in which he showed a command of detail stemming from his 12 years in the Senate, was also likely a factor.

In a New York Times profile on Wednesday, Santorum advisers said the candidate started to stress his own hard line on Iran after seeing how it elicited positive responses during his Iowa campaign.

Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker who placed fourth with 13 percent, said in his speech he would make his foreign policy differences with Paul, the third-place winner with 21 percent of the vote, a campaign issue in New Hampshire, which has its vote on Jan. 10.

“I have no doubt about the survival of Israel as a moral cause which we have to recognize as central to our future,” Gingrich said in his speech, targeting Paul who has downplayed Iran’s potential nuclear threat and pledged to end aid to Israel if elected.

Aside from Gingrich, candidates faring less well in Iowa included Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who got 5 percent of the vote, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who got 10 percent. Perry said he would “reassess” his campaign, and Bachmann ended her campaign on Wednesday.

“I have decided to stand aside,” she said at a press conference.

All three had at various times during 2011 experienced surges in the polls, a signal of the difficulties faced by Romney, who has struggled to break away from the pack and establish himself as the clear front-runner.

Romney’s albatross has been his reputation as a moderate in a party that has moved sharply to the right since the 2010 congressional election, when the conservative Tea Party helped Republicans regain the House.

That was another factor explaining Santorum’s last-minute surge; he performed especially well in rural Iowa counties where evangelicals predominate. Santorum is a Roman Catholic, but his take-no-prisoners stance on abortion, gay marriage and his defense of religious expression in the public square has appealed to the evangelical base.

“There is still an ‘anybody but Mitt’ camp, and it’s winnowed down by two today,” Fred Zeidman, a major fundraiser for Romney, said in an interview.

Santorum was already reaching out to pro-Israel fundraisers in the wake of his strong showing, insiders said. Those givers had mostly ignored him until now because of his back-of-the-pack showings in the polls until very recently.

Pro-Israel insiders said Santorum would likely get a more receptive hearing in the wake of Iowa, although whether it would be enough to assist him going into New Hampshire was another question. With voting i nthe first primary state just days away, Santorum has a minimal ground operation in the state.

As a senator, Santorum had a strongly pro-Israel record, but Zeidman said his social stances would ultimately alienate Jewish givers.

“They would be anathema to the community,” he said.

Paul’s showing kept him in the race. Jewish Republicans had attempted to discount his support as mostly coming from supporters who took advantage of Iowa’s relatively loose caucus rules; voters are allowed to register with the party up to the day of voting.

But his 21 percent support—and his dominance among young and independent caucus-goers—have left him as a force to be reckoned with.

A rebuttal to Mitch Paradise


Ed. Note: This is a rebuttal to an opinion piece by Mitch Paradise: “Obama haters beware…The facts

Mitch Paradise accused me of misstating the date of the beginning of what would become known as the First Intifada. He ridiculed me for stating that the beginning of the Intifada was December 8, 1987.

Mr. Paradise claimed to provide three separate sources (Palestinefacts.org, MidEastWeb.org, and Wikipedia) to back up his assertion that the Intifada began on the 9th, not the 8th. In fact, all three of his “sources” repeat nearly identical text – text which had obviously been cut-and-pasted by the respective authors with only slight modifications:

From Palestinefacts.org: Rumors spread that the four had been killed by Israelis as a deliberate act of revenge. Mass rioting broke out in Jabalya on the morning of December 9, during which a 17-year-old threw a Molotov cocktail at an army patrol and was killed by an IDF soldier. His death became the trigger for large-scale riots that engulfed the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.

From MidEastWeb.org: Rumors spread that the four had been killed by Israelis as a deliberate act of revenge. Mass rioting broke out in Jabalya on the morning of December 9.  A 17-year-old threw a Molotov cocktail at an army patrol and was killed by an IDF soldier. His death supposedly became the trigger for large-scale riots that engulfed the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.

From Wikipedia: Rumors circulated that the accident was, in fact, a deliberate act of revenge for the stabbing of the Jewish businessman. Mass rioting broke out on December 9 after a Palestinian teen was shot dead by an Israeli soldier after having thrown a Molotov cocktail at an army patrol.

My primary source for the claim that the beginning of the Intifada was December 8 is an in-depth examination in The Jerusalem Post, which meticulously chronicled the beginning of the Intifada: “The accident that sparked an Intifada,” by Michael Omer-Man, December 4, 2011 (http://www.jpost.com/Features/InThespotlight/Article.aspx?id=248036). I believe this Jerusalem Post article carries as much if not more weight than Mr. Paradise’s uncredited cut-and-paste blurbs:

Coming at a time of increased tensions and resentment, many Palestinians believed the deadly collision was no accident, instead assuming it came as retaliation for the stabbing of an Israeli man in Gaza two days earlier. Twenty years after Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip, quick and constantly sprouting settlements in the territories, economic disparity and dependence, daily friction with the IDF and its military administration, and lingering hostility and resentment toward the establishment of the Jewish state all came together as a cacophony of justifications used by the Palestinians for their first post-1948 wide-spread uprising.

Almost immediately after the first riots broke out in the Jabalya refugee camp on

December 8

, angry popular protests spread through the coastal strip and to the West Bank, fueled in part by Israel’s iron-fisted response. Internationally broadcast images of IDF soldiers using live fire against Palestinian stone-throwers and over 15 resultant deaths in those first weeks also quickly led to world condemnation, and soon thereafter, a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel.

I linked to the above article in the post on my site that Mr. Paradise attacked. Had he thoroughly read the post, he would have seen it. The riots that began the Intifada started on December 8, not 9.

Mr. Paradise is free to make good sport of my conclusions, my political beliefs, and my organization’s tongue-in-cheek name. But I do not believe he should be allowed to call me a liar (or ignorant), when the date he accuses me of misstating is, in fact, correct.

At RJC forum, Republican hopefuls preview their lines of attack


Iran’s nuclear program appears to be racing ahead. The Middle East peace process is in shambles. And a series of recent flare-ups have highlighted ongoing tensions between the Obama administration and elements of the pro-Israel community.

It was against this backdrop that six Republican candidates took the stage Dec. 7 at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential candidates forum. The hopefuls took turns laying out their lines of attack against President Obama, offering a preview of how Middle East issues might play out in a general election battle.

The daylong event attracted hundreds of Republican Jews to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here. They heard from the top GOP contenders with the exception of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who was not invited. (The RJC’s executive director, Matthew Brooks, cited the congressman’s “misguided and extreme views” as the reason for his exclusion.)

With less than a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, the current leaders of the GOP pack, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, appeared to cement their status as favorites of Jewish Republicans, both receiving warm receptions and ample applause.

While the candidates touched on economic issues, most avoided addressing the social issues, such as abortion and religion, that tend to push Jewish voters away from Republicans.

Instead, their comments focused heavily on foreign policy, with each assailing the Obama administration for its policies toward Israel and Iran, and vowing that they would be better friends to the Jewish state and tougher foes for the Islamic Republic.

The ‘appeasement’ accusation

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum led off the forum by introducing a theme that the front-runners would echo.

“The president, for every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, has had nothing but appeasement,” Santorum said.

Later in the day, Romney accused Obama of an “appeasement strategy” toward America’s rivals and enemies, while Gingrich said he was “very, very worried about our entire relationship with radical Islam,” saying it is based on self-deception and appeasement.

In response to a reporter’s question, Obama fired back the next day.

“Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” the president said.

Obama and Israel

Gingrich and Romney both placed their criticisms of Obama’s Israel policies within the context of broader foreign policy critiques.

Gingrich said the U.S. needs “a dramatically rethought strategy for the Middle East” and that the country is engaged in a “long struggle with radical Islamists.” The former House speaker took aim at recent remarks by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who urged Israel to “mend fences” with its neighbors.

“This one-sided continuing pressure that says it’s always Israel’s fault no matter how bad the other side is has to stop,” Gingrich said.

Romney accused the president of having “rushed to apologize for America, but he has hesitated to speak up for democracy and freedom.” The former Massachusetts governor depicted Israel as a case in point.

Obama “has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East,” Romney said, and his administration’s policies have only “emboldened Palestinian hard-liners” who feel that “they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that Obama “has insisted on previously unheard-of preconditions for Israel, such as an immediate stop to all settlement activity.” Perry said he supports “the goal of a Palestinian state, but it should be the Palestinians who meet certain pre-conditions.”

First, Perry said, a Palestinian state must be “directly negotiated between Israeli and the Palestinian leaders.” Second, he demanded “Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.” Finally, he said Palestinian leaders must “renounce the terrorist activities of Hamas.”

Perry’s pre-conditions closely resemble positions previously articulated by Obama. The president has condemned Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood outside of the context of negotiations, called previous Hamas-Fatah unity efforts “an enormous obstacle to peace” and said Israel should be “a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people.”

The Iranian threat

The candidates talked tough on Iran—and had some tough words for the Obama administration.

“On Iran, the only rational long-term policy is regime replacement,” Gingrich said in response to a question from an audience member. He called for covert action to sabotage Iran’s gasoline supply and said the U.S. should fund Iranian dissident groups.

Regarding the country’s nuclear program, Gingrich said, “It’s better to stop them early than to stop them late.”

Perry warned that Obama’s “failed policy of outreach to Tehran” has left the U.S. “with only two options: a military strike or a nuclear Iran.”

Romney called for keeping the threat of military action on the table while pursuing sanctions.

“We should make it very clear that we are developing, and have developed, military options,” Romney said in response to a question. “Nothing concentrates the mind like suffering from sanctions and seeing a military option. It is unacceptable for the U.S. to endure an Iran with a nuclear weapon.”

Moving the embassy

Presidential candidates regularly promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Back in 1999, then-candidate George W. Bush told an RJC gathering that he would move the embassy, but he never followed through as president.

At the RJC forum, Gingrich reiterated his pledge—made in a June speech to the RJC—to move the embassy to Jerusalem. But it was Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota who took that promise into uncharted territory with her unconventional proposal to help finance the move.

“I already have secured from a donor who said they will personally pay for the ambassador’s home to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Bachmann said.

Gingrich’s State man

Gingrich offered some red meat to the foreign policy hawks in the house and made the only real news of the night when he said that he would offer the job of secretary of state to former American diplomat John Bolton.

Bolton served for less than a year as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the second Bush administration as a recess appointment. Known for his confrontational style, Bolton is a favorite of conservatives who take a dim view of multilateral institutions such as the U.N. but a pariah to liberals who see him as an undiplomatic diplomat.

Bolton, who has not yet endorsed a candidate, later called the offer “very flattering” but did not say whether he would accept the job in a Gingrich administration.

Aid to Israel

One issue mostly missing from the RJC forum was aid to Israel.

The issue became a campaign flash point after Perry said at a debate that all U.S. aid allotments to foreign countries should start at zero and be considered anew each year, and Gingrich and Romney immediately agreed.

Asked at the debate whether his framework also would apply to Israel, Perry answered that it would, though he stressed that Israel would likely continue to receive funding at a “high level.”

Even the RJC had expressed concern over Perry’s formulation, warning in a Twitter post that it contradicts a previous memorandum of understanding between the two countries.

For weeks, leading Jewish Democrats have been highlighting the issue, accusing the Republican contenders of lacking commitment to American aid to Israel.

In an interview in advance of the forum, Brooks, the RJC’s executive director, expressed confidence that the candidates would “put to bed the political smears” from Democrats “that the leading Republicans want to cut aid to Israel.”

At the forum, Perry did address the issue head on, saying that “I am adamant that any discussion of foreign aid should start at zero. But let me be clear: Israel is our strategic ally. America long ago ended traditional foreign aid to Israel. Strategic defense aid to Israel will increase under a Perry administration.”

Yet the issue of aid was not mentioned by front-runners Gingrich and Romney—and Democrats pounced.

“I am deeply disappointed that Governor Romney refused to state whether he supports the [Memorandum of Understanding] between the U.S. and Israel in his address this morning to the Republican Jewish Coalition,” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) said in a statement. “If Governor Romney isn’t willing to support Israel’s military and foreign aid package before an audience of pro-Israel, Republican Jews, many of us believe he simply doesn’t support it!”

However, in a follow-up interview, Brooks dismissed the controversy surrounding aid to Israel as nonsense.

“The only one who had a perception problem on foreign aid was Perry as a result of his comments at the debate,” Brooks said. “He laid that to rest unequivocally as predicted.”

Post-forum headlines

While Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” labeled the RJC’s event a “tuchus kiss-off”—and Democrats used the opportunity to accuse the Republican candidates of politicizing the U.S.-Israel relationship—the forum’s organizers said they were pleased with how things went.

“All of the candidates used the opportunity to demonstrate their strong pro-Israel credentials, their visions for how they want to lead America and provided a strong contrast between their visions and that of the failed policies of Barack Obama,” Brooks said.

But while the RJC forum garnered plenty of media attention, it did not yield much news. Instead the headlines—and sparks—over the Israeli-Palestinian issue came later in the week with the release of an interview that Gingrich did with The Jewish Channel.

In the interview, Gingrich labeled Palestinians as “an invented” people. After coming under criticism—including from Romney, who called his opponent’s comments “incendiary”—Gingrich said that he stood by his characterization but reaffirmed his support for a negotiated settlement including a Palestinian state.

This article was produced in cooperation with The Washington Jewish Week.

City Voice: The perfect combination


An evening at Shomrei Torah Synagogue got me thinking about Barack Obama and how much the San Fernando Valley has changed since I first roamed there in 1970.

It’s an odd combination of thoughts, I know. Or, perhaps not. The more I thought about it, the combination made perfect sense to me.

I had gone to the synagogue on March 10 to moderate a forum featuring four candidates for the Democratic nomination for the 40th Assembly district, which extends from Van Nuys to West Hills, where Shomrei Torah is located.

The current assemblyman, Democrat Lloyd Levine, is on his way out because of term limits. Four of the candidates seeking the seat were at the forum: Bob Blumenfield, district representative for Rep. Howard Berman (D-Sherman Oaks); Laurette Healey, a former deputy state controller; Dan McCrory, a Communication Workers of America leader and a veteran phone company worker; and Stuart Waldman, who has served as a top staff member for Levine and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg.

I had some questions, and more came from the audience. I thought the candidates all did well. One exchange in particular stuck in my mind.

I had asked the candidates what they thought about gangs. I knew that an Assemblymember couldn’t do much about gangs. But gang warfare, exacerbated by conflict between African Americans and Latinos, is a huge problem, and I thought the answers might give the audience insight into how the candidates felt about big social issues.

Blumenfield’s answer made me think. He is white, Jewish and chair of the Valley Anti-Defamation League. His wife is African American. As the husband of an African American woman and the father of an African American daughter, Blumenfield said he worries about their safety.

His wife was in the audience. They live across the street from his parents. When I first began reporting in the San Fernando Valley, such integrated living would have been unimaginable. But the Valley has changed much since then, and the Assembly district, itself, is a great example of that. Once heavily white, it is now 42 percent white, 39 percent Latino, 12 percent Asian and 5 percent black.

I thought of the forum and the changing Valley a few days later. I was working on a column on the Obama presidential campaign for another of my employers, Truthdig, a political Web site.

Controversy was raging over Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Chicago, who, in one of his inflammatory and racist sermons, had said, “No, no, no, not God Bless America — God damn America.”

Reaction to the revelation of this was swift and severe, especially in the Jewish community, already suspicious of Obama for Wright’s praise of Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader.

Obama, son of a black father and a white mother, had to answer for being one of the Rev. Wright’s congregants. And he did, in an eloquent speech. His story, he said, is one “that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one.”

Political pundits were saying that the association would destroy Obama’s campaign. But I took the opposite view, thinking that Obama, in using the opportunity to highlight his own mixed-rate heritage as emblematic of our changed demographics, might be on to something.

I looked at population studies and public opinion polling, and they convinced me American attitudes toward race have been changing. Racial intermarriage has increased. Polling showed that a majority of blacks, Latinos and whites would accept a grandchild marrying someone of a different race

Then there was the Valley, home of a substantial number of the Los Angeles area’s 550,000-plus Jews, and no doubt a number of them are in interracial marriages or relationships. There are no precise statistics on this, but the Institute for ” target=”_blank”>demographic changes in a 2002 report for Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy and the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley.

“Back in the ’70s, the region was perceived — and rightly so — as a bastion of predominantly Anglo middle-class residents…. The Valley today is not a bland homogenized middle- class suburb; it is an increasingly cosmopolitan, diverse and racially intermixed region united by a common geography, economy and, to a large extent, middle class aspirations,” the report says.

Jews, of course, are part of this.

Many commentators and politicians don’t understand the change. They see race relations through the prism of the ’70s. That is why they almost automatically wrote off Obama after the controversy over his minister. That is why a lot of activist Jews, especially those who focus only on Israel, are dismissing him.

So far he has survived. His speech was important. But his survival can also be explained by demographics and changing attitudes toward interracial marriage and relationships — in the Jewish community, the San Fernando Valley and in much of the rest of the country.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

God, race, and politics


“I am a proud Christian.”
Candidate for President during Jan. 21 debate

If you guess Mike Huckabee said that, you’re wrong.

It was the South Carolina debate among Democrats: Barack Obama was trying to establish his solid religious credentials in that state, which he went on to win handily last Saturday.

It’s wrong for Americans to vote against or for someone based on religion, gender or race. But the hyphenation of America is the modus operandi of Democrats. On a good day, the best that we can expect from them is class warfare. And, now, just as they have campaigned against Republicans, they relentlessly play the gender and race cards, against each other.

I agree with Dick Morris, one-time Bill Clinton adviser and confidante, now admitted Clinton-basher. Morris says the former president spun in advance Obama’s South Carolina win. Morris agrees Bill Clinton is no racist. But Bill Clinton wanted, in effect, to belittle the foreseeable Obama victory in South Carolina as racial bloc voting. He predicted Obama would do well because Jesse Jackson carried the state. Imagine if a Republican said that. What do Jackson and Obama have in common, except race? Even when Obama won the state last Saturday in a seismic landslide, Clinton supporter Susan Estrich (The Case for Hillary Clinton), in a hoped-for self-fulfilling prophecy, spoke of race, saying that Obama would “be in trouble Super Tuesday” if he were seen as the black candidate.

Obama engages us with his personality and charm. He appeals in part because his mixed racial heritage eloquently refutes the relevance of race. But Bill Clinton finds it convenient to plant this implied thought: Obama’s appeal is racial. At a time when race is itself a suspect classification, what is Obama’s race? Mitt Romney’s father was more involved in the civil rights movement than Barrack Obama’s father.

With Obama’s 2-to-1 victory in South Carolina, Bill Clinton’s strategy appears to have backfired. But the former president, undignified as ever, will not relent, but reiterate. He wants to challenge the Obama persona. Clinton’s tactics implicitly argue that Obama cannot unify the country. Yet, Obama still manages to be all things to all people.

Obama appeals as a Christian humanist who offers Reagan-style optimism from the Left and JFK rhetoric (“a common purpose…a higher purpose”). He has little in common with JFK, who cut income taxes, especially for the highest earning Americans, and who challenged the Soviets. Reporter-groupies do not probe Obama’s nebulous “change” — which is little more than eloquent oratory to obscure warmed-over liberal bromides.

In his South Carolina victory speech, Obama celebrated “diversity” — a word that really means tokenism, quotas, blocs. That’s because you don’t really have to mention it, anymore. In that speech, Obama condemned using religion as a “wedge,” but spoke about an elderly woman who sent him a money order for $3.01 with “scripture.” Obama is the quintessential cynic — an eloquent Huey Long — who promises good schools, decent wages, college educations, health care, and demagogically blames our troubles on tax breaks for companies that export American jobs. If only life were so simple.

But Obama and Mike Huckabee get a free pass, for entirely different reasons. Liberal reporters feel that in a general election, Huckabee would be weak, and Obama strong. Not since Jimmy Carter, have we seen a Democrat pitch the religious vote as Obama does, but with subtle precision. The reality is that neither Huckabee nor Obama have the visceral contempt for Israel that Jimmy Carter has. Obama has no apparent Arabist agenda. And Huckabee has been nine times to Israel, which he considers an ally. But Huckabee peaked in Iowa, and Obama could yet be his party’s nominee.

Years ago, I consulted for Pepperdine University, where I learned much about one particular Christian denomination, the university’s sponsor, the Church of Christ. On politics, I found two factions. One was conservative, which used religious doctrine to define how a Christian should live. One was liberal, which used religious doctrine to define how Christians should govern. Obama implies Christian values in public policy, and this gambit, he shrewdly perceives, could get Democrats more votes than the Church of Liberalism.

Huckabee also favors Christian-activist government, but Huckabee adds Christian social issues like abortion and homosexuality. But in the South Carolina Republican primary, Huckabee, no racist, expediently played to the local infatuation with the Confederate flag. And the media, once again, gave him a pass. To many of us, the flag is more than history. It symbolizes a system of slavery. It fell to John McCain to suggest that the flag’s place is in a museum, not in flying in South Carolina’s State Capitol.

We do see a double standard on religion in politics. When religious Christians who are conservative back a candidate, that’s the suspect Christian right. But if liberals like the “Reverend” Jesse Jackson or “Reverend” Al Sharpton back candidates or even run for office, that’s fine. We know that churches in the African-American community are deeply involved in the political process. They are rarely criticized. But we see outrage when evangelical Christian ministers express support for Republican candidates.

It’s no better on gender and race. In all the early pre-acrimonious debates, Sen. Hillary Clinton referred to her opponent as “Sen. Obama.” In contrast, he kept calling her “Hillary.” Imagine in a Republican debate, if the male candidate repeatedly used the woman’s first name. That would be, well, “sexist.” And President Clinton has said he might like to vote for Obama “someday” as he pretty much telegraphed that he thinks Obama is a boy.

How can Sen. Clinton still win California? Long-time Latino-bloc specialist Sergio Bendixen usually demonizes Republicans. But, first things first. “The Hispanic voter — and I want to say this carefully,” says Bendixen, who handles ‘Latino voters’ for Billary, “has not shown a lot of willingness to support black candidates.” Here in Los Angeles, who will receive the most telephone calls and make the finals for the new Democrat American Idol? Will it be Hillary Clinton, the choice of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his political machine in the Latino community? Or Barack Obama, the darling of preachers in the African-American community?

And now the ‘Jewish primary’ begins . . .


When California moved its presidential primary to Feb. 5, and other big states followed suit, the strategic role of Jewish voters in the nominating process was greatly enhanced.

Inadvertently, the states created a “Jewish primary.” New York, California, Florida, Illinois, Connecticut and Massachusetts will vote on or just before Feb. 5. (Florida’s primary was held on Jan. 29.)

In the more than 20 states that hold primaries or caucuses in that one-week span live 5,111,685 Jews, according to the American Jewish Committee’s (AJCommittee) 2006 American Jewish Year Book, representing nearly 80 percent of all American Jews.

Contrast this to the hugely watched Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary. Jews represent two-tenths of a percent of Iowa’s population and eight-tenths of a percent of New Hampshire’s.

The Jewish impact will be seen this week in both parties. The Democrats will feel it directly because the great majority of Jewish voters are registered as Democrats. While California’s Jews are 3.3 percent of the population, the Field Poll shows them to be 5 percent of Democratic voters. In New York, Jews are 8.4 percent of the population, but represent a much larger share of the Democratic electorate. In Florida, Jews are a key element of the Democratic vote, and the ties of many Florida Jews to roots in New York may have impacted a race with New York candidates centrally involved.

But Republicans will also be keeping a close eye on the Jewish vote. Even a relatively small bloc of Jewish Republicans can affect a highly contested Republican primary given the high turnout of Jewish voters. In the long run, Republicans hope to attract crossover Jewish voters and campaign donations in the general election. A Republican nominee who appeals to Jewish voters will be highly competitive in the fall.

When the primary season loomed on the horizon in late 2007, Jewish voters registered their preferences quite clearly. In an American Jewish Committee poll, Jewish Democrats strongly favored Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Jewish Republicans most preferred former N.Y.
Mayor Rudy Guiliani. These two New Yorkers towered over the other candidates. Sen. Clinton had overcome the suspicions of many in the New York Jewish community to prove her strong support of Israel, and as a known quantity had an edge over the other Democratic candidates. As mayor, Guiliani had been extremely popular among Jews in New York City, winning the great majority of Jewish voters in both of his victories. This popularity was expected to help him not only in his own state but also in Florida, with its many Jewish ex-New Yorkers.

Since that time, the paths of the two frontrunners have diverged. Clinton fell badly in Iowa but has since recovered to maintain a consistent if smaller lead over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Guiliani’s support deteriorated and he depended on a strong showing in Florida to stay in the race. Popular among Florida’s thousands of ex-New Yorkers and also with anti-Castro Cuban Americans, Guiliani had poured funds into the state. (It hurt him that most Florida Jews will vote in the Democratic primary.) When Guiliani finished a disappointing third in the primary, his campaign was finished. He withdrew the next day and threw his support to McCain. Evidence from the Nevada caucuses held on Jan. 19 suggests that Clinton is holding her Jewish support against Obama’s dynamic campaign. An NBC exit poll found that Jews represented a remarkable 5 percent of caucus-goers and were Clinton’s strongest single bloc of support. Jews backed her over Obama, by 67 percent to 25 percent. The only group comparable in its support for Clinton was the Latino vote, at 64 percent. In California, Jews also represent an estimated 5 percent of the Democratic electorate. If Jews and Latinos break the same way there as in Nevada, Obama will have a tough road ahead.

Why is Obama having trouble winning Jewish votes? To many Jewish voters he is an unknown on matters of vital interest to Jews. As a result, he has been placed on the defensive by viral e-mails claiming he is a Muslim, by a leaked memo from the American Jewish Committee that raised doubts about his position on the Middle East, and in general by the tendency to fill in the blanks about Israel and the Jewish community when it comes to a “new” African American candidate, especially one who is more inspirational than detailed and concrete on policy.

Obama’s campaign began as one that was above the racial divide, but the increasingly racialized debate (spurred on by the Clinton campaign) has suddenly placed new tests on him that are familiar to other black candidates seeking Jewish (and Latino) votes. Republicans Richard Riordan in Los Angeles and Guiliani in New York put together winning coalitions of white, Jewish and Latino voters against black or black-supported opponents, and that is not an easy combination to overcome. Obama has aggressively fought back against the shadowy e-mails, and major Jewish organizations and leaders have spoken out publicly against the attacks. The hawkish New York Sun ran an editorial that defended Obama’s record on Israel and the Jewish community.

But time is short. Obama is probably where Hillary Clinton was in 2000 with New York’s Jews, before she took the time to reintroduce herself slowly and quietly to the Jewish community. Obama has a week to do the same thing in the limelight. If he is the party’s nominee, he will have that time. But to become the nominee, it’s going to be very tight. If he can draw on the history of Black-Jewish-Latino coalitions that powered a number of winning campaigns, he may yet pull it off. He may also benefit from a backlash among Democrats against the effort by the Clinton campaign to isolate Obama on racial grounds in the same way that Clinton benefited from women voters’ anger at the media dismissal of her campaign after the Iowa caucuses.

On the Republican side, the pitch to Jewish voters has intensified. With Guiliani out, Jewish Republicans (and crossover voters in the fall) are back in play for McCain and Gov. Mitt Romney. (It is hard to imagine Gov. Mike Huckabee doing well with Jewish voters in either party.) McCain’s favorite “Democrat,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), stumped with him in Florida, an alliance that has fostered talk of Lieberman running as vice president with his friend. While McCain lacks the intense connection that Guiliani has had with Jewish voters, his appeal to moderate and independent voters give him a real chance to win support from Jews. If California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is popular with Jews, weighs in on McCain’s behalf at some point, that would be another positive signal. Guiliani’s departure eases the path for the governor to move to McCain’s side, since he had previously spoken positively of both men’s campaigns.

Why I support Hillary


Last year, Senator Clinton voted to label the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

Barack Obama attacked her vote ferociously.

Hillary stood her ground.

As a strong Democrat, I was drawn to Senator Clinton’s unparalleled and tenacious stands on domestic issues:

  • Separation of church and state (a 100% rating from Americans United for Separation of Church and State)
  • A woman’s right to choose
  • Universal health care
  • Co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act
  • Courageous support for the LGBT community
  • A detailed and ambitious plan to end our dependence on imported oil and combat global climate change.

The security of the U.S. and Israel are critical to me. Before endorsing, I discussed foreign policy with both Senators Clinton and Obama, and then conducted multiple hours-long discussions with each of their top foreign policy advisors. I endorsed Hillary Clinton after proving to myself that she is the strongest friend of Israel running, and has the clearest view of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

The following sentences are taken word for word from Senator Clinton’s official position paper:

Cover stories Brad A. Greenberg:
Raphael J. Sonenshein:
Tom Tugend:
Arnold Steinberg:
Candidate profiles
Why I back ______________ Hillary Clinton
Barack Obama
“>By Rep. Robert Wexler
John Edwards
Rudy Giuliani
John McCain
Mitt Romney

Israelis keep a close eye on U.S. elections


Hillary Clinton is the favorite U.S. presidential candidate at Itzik Nir’s tiny juice stand, a veritable neighborhood listening post where opinions pile up as quickly as the signature orange-banana-passion fruit blends are served.

Customers giggle trying to pronounce Mike Huckabee’s name and see Barack Obama as an unknown. They’d rather stick to Clinton, who they see as a sure thing for Israel, Nir said.

“We are so closely influenced by what happens in the United States, so people think it’s in their own self-interest to support Hillary, assuming she will do more for Israel,” he said.

With a mix of concern for their future and amusement at the marching bands and baby-kissing style of U.S. electoral politics, Israelis are tuning in to see who might be the next U.S. president.

“Of course we are all following the elections: This is going to be our president, too,” said actor Michael Koresh, speaking only slightly tongue in cheek. He, too, is rooting for Clinton.

Israeli media had been giving top billing to stories about the U.S. campaign until President Bush arrived in the country Wednesday and the focus shifted to the current American president.

In the lead-up to the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, Israeli TV reporters breathlessly reported on the suspense and twists of the campaigns in live reports from the primaries’ battle grounds.

Just like American reporters, they also speculate on the effect of Clinton’s tears, McCain’s comeback and Obama’s charisma, and they salivate at the signs of a real race.

Israeli reporters also betray some amusement at the festive style of the campaigns, with their requisite balloons, cheerleaders and apple-pie-style applauding crowds.

“Listen to the crowd. Hear their cheers!” one Channel 10 reporter shouted over the din this week at Clinton’s campaign headquarters in New Hampshire.

Israeli media are covering the Republican candidates less closely than the Democrats. One reporter even had to be prompted by his anchor in Israel to discuss the subject.

“And there are, after all, Republicans. What about them?” the anchor asked.

Danny Horvitz leaves on the TV set in his corner grocery so customers can watch the latest news, including the results from the U.S. primaries.

“People are watching what is going on because this is about our future, too,” he said.

Israelis seem relatively unfazed by the prospect of a black man or a woman in the White House for the first time.

“It’s more exciting for the Americans than it is for us,” Nir said at the juice stand. “We’ve already had a woman prime minister.”

Robert Grosz and his wife, Eden, have been arguing about Obama’s electability. She says Obama has momentum, but he thinks America is not yet ready for a black president. He’s backing Clinton.

Clinton’s famous husband seems to be her primary advantage in a country that fondly recalls Bill Clinton as a close friend with not only a political but also an emotional attachment to Israel. When Bill Clinton left the presidency in 2000, Israeli polls showed an overwhelming majority would vote for him to lead Israel if only they had the chance.

“I like Clinton because she’s the next closest thing to her husband,” Robert Grosz said.

Representatives of both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad in Israel said they have seen a surge of interest in the elections by Israelis and American Israelis.

Both groups have been flooded by requests by U.S. citizens for information about voting in the primaries — something that did not happen in the same numbers during the last election, they said.

Israelis are catching election fever, said Kory Bardsash, the chair of Republicans Abroad in Israel.

“They are beginning to get wind of it. There is lots of news on Clinton and ‘Who is this Obama guy?’ and ‘Who is the best person?’ ” he said. “I think they are beginning to recognize something is going on here.”

Whoever wins the general election in November, the Israelis interviewed did not seem too concerned that the next president would be anything but pro-Israel.

Shmuel Rosner, Ha’aretz’s U.S. correspondent reporting from New Hampshire, wrote in his blog that the U.S. elections and the changes it might bring are “a strange riddle for the Israeli decision-maker.”

He said the mix of familiar faces like Clinton and Rudy Giuliani and lesser-known quantities like Obama and Huckabee makes the election stage a bewildering place.

“The winds of sweeping change raise some questions: What will the approach of the elected officials be toward Iran? How will they want to advance the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue?” Rosner wrote.

Grosz said he and his wife find the American campaign style both hokey and a waste of money.

But Grosz said he does wish Israel would take one lesson from America’s political system of representation: “I wish I could have a senator — someone I could speak to and feel represented by,” he lamented. “There is lots to learn from Americans.”

Playing a frayed and faded ‘race card’


Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is making a truly impressive run for the White House, and in doing so is being considered by many as America’s first mainstream “black” candidate — in other words a “black” candidate not running on a near-exclusive agenda of identity politics.

In fact, Obama’s soaring stump rhetoric often speaks about the nation needing to transcend racial divisions, arguing that “we are one nation” as he did in his victory speech after the Iowa caucuses. In doing so Obama, the product of a white mother from Kansas and an African father from Kenya, became the nation’s first “black” presidential candidate who was not appealing directly to the politics of racial identity.

However, it didn’t take long for this race-transcendent rhetoric to become mired in the same old tired politics of blame and guilt that have for too long been the un-natural state of America’s racial affairs. As the race has became increasingly heated between Obama and his chief rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), the gloves have come off and race has emerged as an issue that has dominated all discussions of the Democrats’ run for the White House.

The series of comments began back in December, when the chair of the Clinton campaign in Michigan speculated whether Obama has ever dealt drugs. Just prior to the New Hampshire vote, Bill Clinton referred to the increasingly successful Obama campaign as a “fairy tale.” Then Sen. Clinton told an audience of supporters that it took the work of then-president Lyndon Johnson to begin realizing the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — which seemed to some sensitive ears to diminish the importance of the great civil rights leader. Candice Tolliver, a Obama spokesperson, said that “a cross section of voters are alarmed at the tenor of these statements.”

Predictably, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the Clintons, his old friends and allies, “Regrettably … have resorted to distasteful and condescending language….”

Democratic Rep. Jim Clayburn, a critical voice in black South Carolina politics, said he’d now consider endorsing Obama due to what he termed a lack of respect in the Clinton campaign’s approach to Obama.

Bill Clinton went on Al Sharpton’s radio show to explain his comments, and Sen. Clinton appeared on numerous news shows engaging in damage control. But the racial silliness seemed to have a momentum all its own. While campaigning with Sen. Clinton in South Carolina, Bob Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, again raised the specter of Obama’s drug use while a teenager. Clinton refused to repudiate the comments, even though she was standing on the stage as the over-the-top statements were made.

It is impossible to know, at this point, whether the Clintons, stung by the strength of the Obama campaign, decided to reach back for the race card as a device to weaken the cross-race appeal of Obama’s message. The Clintons’ electoral machine is known to “take no prisoners” and to do so with a fair amount of ruthlessness. That said, it is also a stretch to attempt to portray the Clintons as racially bigoted — having been devoted to liberal racial politics their entire lives.

On the other hand, why did it take Barack Obama more than a week to attempt to defuse the growing argument that somehow the Clintons are neo-racists? Only within the past few days has Obama spoken out, saying “Bill and Hillary Clinton have historically and consistently been on the right side of civil rights issues. I think they care about the African American community and that they care about all Americans and that they want to see equal rights and justice in this country.”

So will this issue go away now? Most likely it will not. Once unloosed, the beast of racial identity politics will be tamed only with great difficulty.

Speculation about racial motivations regarding elections is nothing new. A prime example are the views of folks like Michael Eric Dyson, a black Georgetown University professor — a guy who could turn a visit from Santa Claus into a racial issue — who recently made featured appearances on various 24-hour news channels, peddling the view that the so-called “Bradley effect” defeated Obama in New Hampshire. In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a black man, was defeated in his race for governor, even though polls indicated he’d win. The continuing claim is that whites lied to pollsters, then went into the voting booth to vote for the “white” candidate, George Deukmejian.

This is, of course, all rank speculation, but the view has become enshrined as reality among those with transparent racial agendas. No one knows what was in the minds and hearts of California’s voters in that 1982 Gubernatorial race — just as race-conscious pundits like Dyson now speculate wildly that New Hampshire’s mostly white voters were mindful of race when they handed Hillary Clinton a narrow three-point win over Barack Obama.

But wouldn’t a more thoughtful analysis have led to the conclusion that Clinton had a more effective New Hampshire ground operation? Or what about the fact that many uncommitted voters waited until the last moment (nearly 40 percent made up their minds in the last three days prior to the election), with women and older voters perhaps influenced by Clinton’s “humanizing” emotional moment in front of television cameras?

Why are some racial “traditionalists” so distraught by what Obama’s electoral successes represent? I think the obvious willingness of white voters to disregard the candidate’s skin color is a direct challenge to the argument that racism dominates the nation’s social, political and economic life. Already, Obama’s highly credible run for the highest office in the land has caused the country’s professional racial complainers to scramble in order to put their spin on things.

It is obvious that if Obama were to win the Oval Office not all racism would be eliminated by this feat. However, I have not heard anyone making that claim. Racism and bigotry will perhaps always exist in some form. There will always be those idiots and fools who define others exclusively by their skin color, ethnicity or religion. But so what? At least 10 percent of the American people believe that Elvis Presley is still alive.

Handicapping the 2008 Presidential Race


Just one year after the congressional elections, we are nearing the first caucuses and primaries. California votes on Feb. 5. While Jews are expected to vote for the Democratic nominee in large numbers, Republicans hope to cut into that margin, and also to compete for campaign donations.

For the Republican candidates, who must be conservative enough to win the nomination, the key to any chance of Jewish support will be to then “pivot” toward the center. Republicans are still loyal to their unpopular president and expect their potential nominees to support him. Democratic candidates, meanwhile, temper their opposition to the Iraq war with a hawkishness on Iran that provides some protection in a Jewish community attuned to Iran’s threat to Israel.

So let’s take a look at the top tier candidates in each party and how they might do with Jewish voters.

The Republicans

Rudy Guiliani

Former New York City mayor Guiliani has surprised everybody by his steady lead in national polls. He has built his campaign around his response to the Sept. 11 attacks. As mayor of New York, Guiliani did extremely well with mostly Democratic Jewish voters, who liked his law-and-order stance, his disdain for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and his liberalism on gay rights, immigration and abortion. Orthodox Jews were particularly pro-Guiliani. His refusal to disavow his pro-choice position on abortion can only help him with Jewish voters if he gets the nomination.

He has major liabilities, however. In addition to his personal life and the indictment of his friend and ally Bernard Kerik, Guiliani has had to go far right to gain absolution for his social liberalism. That has meant giving full-throated support to Bush and maximum sway to a blustery authoritarian streak a mile wide. But what wins the confidence of the religious right might hurt him with Jewish voters.

Mitt Romney

Unlike Guiliani, Romney announced a nicely timed conversion from pro-choice to pro-life. Romney would start at a disadvantage with the heavily pro-choice Jewish community.

Romney has embraced the simplistic foreign policy mantra that has now entrenched itself on the Right, that the United States is surrounded by a global “Islamofascism” movement more powerful than Nazi Germany. Religiously tolerant Jewish voters will probably not be much bothered by Romney’s Mormon religion. Romney has strongly tied himself both to Israel and to confronting Iran. He remains close to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Romney can gain some ground with the bipartisan health care plan that he helped pass as governor of Massachusetts. His plan presents a dilemma because it is much like Hillary Clinton’s plan. In the run-up to the nomination, Romney is distancing himself from his own plan and attacking Clinton’s as government-run health care. He is instead embracing the unpopular Republican position of health-care tax credits. But if became the nominee, he would be unique among Republicans in his ability to talk knowledgeably about health care, and could narrow the Democratic advantage on that issue. Once again, can he pivot?

John McCain

John McCain had great potential for support among Jewish voters. Stubbornly independent, willing to cross party lines in the Senate, an articulate voice on campaign finance reform (for which Jewish voters are a principal constituency) and an opponent of torture, McCain might have struck some gold with Jewish voters, despite his strong pro-life record. But McCain calculated that to win the nomination he had to embrace Bush. He has ended up the nowhere man of the campaign, tied to Bush’s most unpopular moves but not quite trusted by the right wing. He did not help himself with Jewish voters when he tried to appeal to the religious right by saying that the presidency should be held by a Christian.

Despite his support for the war, McCain remains the only foreign policy grownup in the Republican field. His friendship with Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has built some good will with moderate and conservative Jews. McCain remains an appealing candidate should he manage to emerge from a relatively weak field.

Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee

Thompson and Huckabee are running as the true social conservatives, hardly a position designed to appeal to Jews, and each is still a factor in the race. Thompson’s sluggish campaign and lack of policy sophistication can be unnerving, especially to Jewish voters who admire well-informed and articulate candidates. Huckabee is a highly appealing personality, with the kind of color that stands out in a drab field. He may emerge from the pack and could reach the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton

The first female candidate with a serious chance of winning the White House, Clinton was once the right wing’s symbol of the ’60s “counter culture.” Now she is the least liberal Democrat in the race.

Some Jewish voters still harbor doubts about her pro-Israel credentials. In 1999, she kissed the wife of Yasser Arafat who had just given a speech criticizing Israel (Clinton said that the speech had not been translated). The Clintons were both treated with suspicion by pro-Israel organizations when the president pushed for a peace settlement at the end of his presidency. When she ran for the senate in New York in 2000, she was taking on the nation’s toughest Jewish audience.

According to Kristen Lombardi, writing in the Village Voice, though: “Among Jewish leaders, you’d have to search far and wide to find anyone who claims Clinton isn’t a friend of Israel.” That’s a far cry from her first race in 2000. Her foreign policy hawkishness, especially on Iran, has helped.

Out here in California, she is more vulnerable from Jews on the left, on the issue of the Iraq war and whether she is too hawkish in foreign policy. However, she is probably safer with Jewish voters being a hawkish Democrat than in flirting too much with the antiwar constituency, which sometimes concerns Jews on the issue of Israel.

Barack Obama

Writing in the Los Angeles Times in October, Ronald Brownstein pointed out that Obama is running the typical “reform” campaign in the Democratic primaries while Clinton is running the more traditional working-class campaign. That analysis helps explain both why Obama is running so well and getting such good media coverage, but also why he is having difficulty cutting into Clinton’s lead.

Democrats have no beitzim


It’s not polite to say the English word for cojones in this paper, so I’ll use the Hebrew: beitzim.
 
Beitzim means eggs in Hebrew, but it is also slang for cojones.
 
And as the midterm election draws near, any clear-eyed assessment of the Democratic Party would have to conclude: the Democrats have no beitzim.
 
Plenty of them are gloating that the congressional page sex scandal will clinch a victory for them in November. But I doubt it. It wouldn’t shock me if, New York Yankees-like, the team that looks unbeatable in the playoffs gets sent packing.
 
This is the party that couldn’t unseat a president who chose to launch a disastrous war, and who waded against mainstream opinion on everything from stem cell research to energy policy to the environment to Terri Schiavo. At every turn, Democratic candidates have failed to offer an alternative voice that makes Americans feel not just sane, but safe.
 
I am sick of Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi and all the other so-called Democratic leaders. I’m all ears, and they’re still tone deaf. They are either smug or shrill, and for all their smarts, rarely inspiring.
 
The most engaging, hard-hitting liberals in this country right now are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher. But they’re not leaders, they’re jesters. They tell funny bedtime stories so that about 2 million New York Times readers can fall asleep believing the world hasn’t really gone to hell.
 
But last time I checked no president ever won on the Snarky ticket.
 
There are courageous, brilliant Democrats out there, including many Jewish ones. But they aren’t the party leaders, and with the exception of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), none of them have White House aspirations, and so far none of them seem to know how to inspire the masses from behind a microphone. Does Feingold? We shall see.
 
I can carbon date the age of the Democrats’ petrified beitzim precisely. If my generation will never forget where they were when Kennedy was shot, today’s young voters will always remember where they were when JFK’s party got neutered.
 
It happened on Jan. 26, 1998. On that day, President Bill Clinton lied to the public about his liaison with Monica Lewinsky. Instead of standing up to the Republicans and saying, “Hey, I was wrong, now get over it, because I’m not going anywhere,” he caved. The Democrats have been sorry ever since.
 
Contrast that to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). When revelations emerged last week that he bungled an investigation into the predatory conduct of Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). Hastert admitted he blew it, but held firm. He dissembled, he got caught, then he apologized, and now he is staring down the media and the nation, like Kim Jung Il and his nukes, refusing to budge, daring them to call his bluff. I never thought I’d write this sentence, but Bill Clinton is no Dennis Hastert.
 
“In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man,” the Pirke Avot says. The vacuum in Democratic leadership has allowed Republicans to launch headlong attacks on long-established liberal bulwarks. With the Democrats offering Titanic-quality leadership, Republicans understand that even the historic Democratic voters — Latinos, blacks, Jews — are in play. What seems impossibly ingrained can change in a generation, or an election. In his new book, “Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South,” Thomas Schaller points out that until Barry Goldwater came on the scene in the 1960s, “white Southerners … trailed only the Jews and African Americans in their degree of economic liberalism.”
 
The struggle over Jewish votes erupted in these pages in response not to an article, but to a series of ads. Smelling blood, the Republican Jewish Coalition bought full-page front-of-the-book placement in major Jewish papers across the country to make their claim that Democrats are weak on Israel and soft on terrorism. One particularly subtle ad featured a full-page photo of Britain’s pre-war Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, likening Dems to Nazi appeasers.
 
Others offered selected quotes from anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and former President Jimmy Carter, as a way to show an erosion of support for Israel within the party.
 
The Democratic response has been — surprise! — weak. They argue that Sheehan is not the Democratic Party — although the Democrats were happy to use her during the 2004 Presidential race — and that former President Carter is not the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Except that he was, um, president of the United States.
 
The Democrats need to acknowledge that support for Israel is showing signs of softening among the party’s left-leaning activist base, even as blind pro-Israel fervor marks the right-leaning evangelical base of the Republicans. The Democrats should acknowledge this, address it, find a way to repair it — and fight back.
 
They might want to point out that eight years ago every senior Israeli analyst identified Iran as Israel’s greatest strategic threat, and that under six years of President Bush, the Iranian threat — due to the fiasco in Iraq, and despite the president’s rhetoric — has increased multifold.
 
They might want to argue that the president’s failure to wean America from its dependence on oil — despite an ideal post-Sept. 11 environment in which to boldly do so — deeply cripples our ability to stand up to Arab regimes. In his new book, “State of Denial,” Bob Woodward reveals that the president received his foreign policy tutoring from the prince of Saudi Arabia. There’s no doubt President Bush loves Israel, but good for Israel: Hey, Democrats, stop defending Jimmy Carter and make an argument.
 
So who can save the Democrats? The Jews.

The Circuit


Sober and Proud

A cache of L.A. A-Listers joined attorney Robert Shapiro and his wife Linell to kick-off the first ever observance of Sober Day USA: A Day of Awareness poolside at the Standard Hotel.

“We want to show America that everyone can have fun without artificial enhancements such as alcohol and drugs and is a poignant way to honor my son, Brent,” Robert Shapiro said.

The Brent Shapiro Foundation, which embraces everyone struggling with addiction, was created in memory of the Shapiros’ son who died last October. At the event, the Shapiros introduced new Public Service Announcements that will enhance public awareness of this widespread problem and prove drugs and alcohol don’t have to play a part in celebration or everyday life.

Prove it they did with a night overflowing with delicious foods and a crowd of well-wishers on hand to support them including Diana (Call Me Miss) Ross, John Tesh and Connie Selleca, boxing’s first lady Jackie Kallan, Jacqueline Smith, uber-hairdresser Jose Eber and Paris Hilton were among the celebs that partied hardy in an alcohol-free, drug-free and goodie-laden environment.

Taste the Politics

Spring has sprung and that means politics is one again in the air. OK, so it doesn’t smell like roses, but the upcoming primary in June is a heated and important race for Angelenos. The last weekend in April saw Young Israel sponsoring a “meet the candidates” forum to prepare for decision-making time; and Chris and Jamie McGurk opened their Beverly Hills home to a debate between Abbe Land and Mike Feuer vying for Paul Koretz’s Assembly seat. The event, sponsored by the Society of Young Philanthropists, was filled with interested spectators who digested the political rhetoric with an ample supply of delicious snacks and goodies to make it all very palatable.

Candidates answered questions fielded by moderator and organizer Steven Fenton, who said,”It was a wonderful afternoon with a good turnout. It was nice that people wanted to support the schools and hear from the candidates. I was delighted to see so many students engaging in the political process. “

A fundraiser for Secretary of State candidate Debra Bowen was held at the home of Lillian and Stuart Raffels to fete Bowen and her supporters. Bowen spoke about the challenges of the office and her numerous qualifications to a packed house fressing, schmoozing and wishing her the best. I say good luck to all and watch your waistlines … it’s a dangerous time of year, they feed you into submission. Well it works for me.

Happy Birthday MAZON

It was a happy occasion when MAZON turned 20 years old and announced its new slate for the board of directors. Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue in Irvine assumed the position of chair of the board and Joel E. Jacob of West Bloomfield, Mich. was appointed to vice chair.

“For the last 20 years, MAZON’s staff and board members have been committed to the fight for those who are hungry,” Dr. H. Eric Schockman, president of MAZON said. “With continued support from our donors, MAZON will not stop working until hungry families are able to live a more nutritious life.”

MAZON was founded in 1985 as a national nonprofit organization to raise funding from the Jewish community allocating it to organizations that alleviate and prevent hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds.

For more information on MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, visit

Community Briefs


Jewish Candidate Drops Out of Insurance Chief Race

One of two Jewish candidates seeking the Republican nomination for California insurance commissioner has pulled out of the race.

Dr. Phil Kurzner, a Westside urologist, told supporters at a Feb. 21 fundraiser that he is withdrawing from the commissioner’s race, according to Dr. Joel Strom, a Santa Monica dentist who served as Kurzner’s campaign chair. The event took place at the Regency Club in Westwood and was attended by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who had come to help raise funds for Kurzner.

The likely front-runner for the Republican spot in the June 6 primary is Steve Poizner, who is also Jewish. Poizner is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has made millions creating global positioning technology. Los Angeles businessman Gary Mendoza is the only other Republican in the race.

“The Republican establishment was lining up behind our opponent, Steve Poizner, and we felt that for the party and for party unity, we would withdraw from the race,” said Strom, former president of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Los Angeles.

In a campaign statement after Kurzner’s withdrawal, Poizner praised him, saying, “I am grateful that we will not have to face him in this primary.”

Strom said Kurzner’s campaign had raised more than $400,000 and Kurzner had made 200 campaign appearances over the past two years. At a Jan. 25 fundraiser at the Pacific Palisades home of former gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, Kurzner told guests, “I’m not afraid to lose, and I’m not afraid to win.”

Poizner’s campaign funds are estimated to be at least $4.6 million, making him more financially potent than Kurzner might have been against Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the Democratic front-runner for insurance commissioner. John Garamendi, the current commissioner, is running for lieutenant governor this year.

“The larger purpose is to defeat Bustamante,” Strom said. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Two Officials Back Halted Jerusalem Museum Project

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has the full support of Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski to continue construction on its new Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem, despite Muslim concerns that the museum would be built atop a former Islamic cemetery, Gidi Schmerling, Jerusalem municipality spokesman, told The Jewish Journal Feb. 24.

Construction of the $200 million project was halted Feb. 15, when lawyers for two Muslim organizations sent a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice. The petition asserted that thousands of Muslims who died during the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries are buried at the site where the center is being built. They also argued that in the seventh century, associates of the Islamic prophet Mohammad were interred at the site.

Last week, the High Court appointed former Chief Justice Meir Shamgar as a mediator. Shamgar has a month to find a resolution.

Lupolianski, the spokesman said, recently sent a letter to the Wiesenthal Center applauding the building of the museum.

“For the past three decades, this land has been utilized as a public car park, and it is commendable that it will now serve as the site for this important museum,” the mayor wrote.

The office of acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also confirmed that Olmert has given his support for continued construction of the Wiesenthal museum at the current site. Olmert called the museum “an essential project for Jerusalem, a landmark that will change the face of Jerusalem forever.” — Yaakov Katz, Contributing Writer

 

Young at Heart Get a Turn at the Bimah


Rose Engel practiced her Torah and haftorah portions with an eager diligence. She studied with the rabbi and prepared an essay. Her passion and excitement matched that of most of the synagogue’s bat mitzvah candidates, but at 87, she is far from their peers.

Engel is the most senior member of the 31 women who became b’not mitzvah on June 13 at Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

Known as a matriarch in Adat Ari El’s community, Engel has been a synagogue member and major donor since 1947. She founded the shul’s nursery school 52 years ago. However, Engel was self-conscious of the gap in her Jewish education while she served as a board member for both the shul and its sisterhood.

“When I was young, girls were not bat mitzvahed,” said Engel, who was born in Ukraine.

When her family moved to Pittsburgh, an instructor taught a young Engel to read and write Yiddish, but it was her brother who got the formal Jewish education and the bar mitzvah.

“Boys got offered everything,” said Engel, whose lifelong love of music was ignited by a hand-me-down violin her brother gave up.

Engel is not alone in her quest for Jewish knowledge and inclusion. Many Jewish women, especially those who were raised when Jewish education was dominated by males, feel limited or inadequate when it comes to participating in Jewish rituals or services. To make up for the loss, many women are becoming adult b’not mitzvah, a practice that began in the late 1970s in mostly Reform, Reconstructionist or Conservative synagogues.

According to recent adult bat mitzvah studies, b’not mitzvah candidates hope to gain synagogue skills — mastering liturgy and feeling competent and authentic in shul settings. While adult b’nai mitzvah occur throughout the year, many Southland shuls hold their adult b’nai mitzvah ceremonies in conjunction with Shavuot, which celebrates the receiving of the Torah.

Meryl Russo, another recent bat mitzvah, simply accepted her “very, very Reform” upbringing and her partial Jewish education as a young woman.

“For me, it was never an option to be bat mitzvahed,” the Encino resident said. “The boys got the bar mitzvah and the girls got the wedding.”

When her oldest son received his bar mitzvah date two years ago, 45-year-old Russo began craving a deeper connection to Judaism.

“I felt like I could go [to the bar mitzvah] and be there in the audience as a proud mom and observe the experience, or I could have the opportunity to have the experience myself,” she said. “I really wanted to feel more included or more bonded.”

While becoming a bat mitzvah traditionally means coming-of-age Jewishly and committing to the religion, the ceremony can have an even deeper meaning for an adult candidate.

“I think that because these women have come to [the experience] as adults, it has greater significance to their lives because they’re really choosing to do this,” said Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard, the shul’s associate rabbi who teaches the class. “They’re making an entirely free choice and that can’t help but add a layer of meaning to it.”

While b’nai mitzvah curriculum can vary from shul to shul, most include a two-year course of study, which focuses on learning to read Hebrew and understanding liturgy. At Adat Ari El, candidates also learn Torah study, rabbinic text, mysticism, Jewish life issues, rituals, ethics and theology. Classes are usually held every few years and are taught by the rabbi and cantor. The shul was home to the first bat mitzvah on the West Coast more than 50 years ago.

While b’nai mitzvah classes across the country are open to both men and women, classes are primarily dominated by females.

“Women, by major proportions, outnumber men in all parts of adult learning,” said Diane Tickton Schuster, director of the Institute for Teaching Jewish Adults at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles.

B’nai mitzvah have become a regular part of adult Jewish learning programs.

“We saw a huge upsurge in the ’80s, and in the ’90s, it became more mainstream,” Schuster said.

She attributes the program’s success to the benefits of group learning. “The power of learning together is transformative,” Schuster said. “One is in dialogue with people who are grappling with the same questions and ways of understanding Judaism and themselves as Jews.”

In the Adat Ari El b’not mitzvah class, the women divided into groups of three to read their Torah and haftarah portions. Rose Engel took comfort in the fact that she was going to read Hebrew with two of her classmates. “We decided we’re not the best [readers]. We’re not the valedictorians,” Engel joked before the ceremony, “but we’re not the worst. We will survive this.”

Kathy Buchsbaum, another recent bat mitzvah, also enjoyed the group experience.

“Taking the class was a unique experience because it was [made up of] all women,” said Buchsbaum, who converted to Judaism four years ago before getting married.

At 30, Buchsbaum took pride in being among the youngest in the group. The Sherman Oaks resident, who plans to have a family some day, learned from her experienced classmates and now feels that her bat mitzvah will be helpful in relating Jewishly to her future children.

“Now that I went through it, it’s more important for my kids to go through it,” she said. “They can’t say, ‘Mom didn’t do it.’ A lot of women in the class wanted to impart that on their kids.”

While statistics say that the Jewish population is shrinking, the popularity of adult Jewish education makes some experts optimistic. In the United Jewish Communities National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, almost one-quarter (24 percent) of Jewish adults participated in adult Jewish education programs in

1999.

“My sense is that the more that people have positive adult Jewish learning experiences, the more it is going to strengthen Jewish identity,” said HUC-JIR’s Schuster, who feels hopeful about Jewish prosperity. “The more people are educated, the more they will have a connection to quality adult Jewish learning programs.”

Russo’s recent Jewish education has already changed her life.

“I enjoy services a lot more now,” she said. “There’s an actual structure to the services that I had no idea about. That’s how little that I knew.”

Moving slowly with the aid of a walker and taking care to protect the broken wrist she suffered from a recent fall, Engel is more determined that ever to close that gap by becoming a bat mitzvah.

While Engel’s classmates and teachers have offered to help her up and down from the bimah during the ceremony to compensate for her physical limitations, Engel is determined to complete the task on her own.

“[My bat mitzvah] confirms my love for Judaism,” she said. “No matter what, I’m going to make it.”

 

The Westside Vote


 

There were two “Jewish” debates earlier this month, one in the Valley and one on the Westside. While Mayor james Hahn did not attend the

Valley session at Temple Judea, all five major candidates came to the Westside debate at Temple Beth Am. My visit to the latter debate allowed me to look at one constituency: Westside Jews.

With 6 percent of the city’s population, Jews cast between 16 percent to 18 percent of all votes in mayoral elections. That makes them one of the four key blocs in the electorate, along with Latinos (22 percent or more), white Republicans (around 20 percent) and African Americans (around 10-14 percent).

Jews are an increasingly important share of the declining white vote. Today, one-third of the city’s white voters are Jewish, compared to one-fourth a decade ago.

But “bloc” may be too strong a word. Los Angeles Jews were a loyal, devoted, and united bloc for Tom Bradley, and vote as a bloc for Democrats at the state and national levels. But in 1993, about half of the Jewish voters backed Republican Richard Riordan against Bradley’s presumed heir, Michael Woo; more than 60 percent supported Riordan in his 1997 re-election against Tom Hayden.

Jewish voters are somewhat split by geography. While Westside Jews are still quite liberal and supported Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor in 2001, more moderate Valley Jews went with Hahn.

Jewish voters gave considerable support to Jewish primary candidates Joel Wachs and Richard Katz in 1993, and Wachs and Republican Steven Soboroff in 2001. None of these Jewish candidates made the runoff, so we don’t know yet how uniformly Jews might support a Jewish candidate in the general election.

While Westside Jews remain overwhelmingly Democratic, it is hard to predict where they will end up in a race contested by five Democrats. This makes it hard for candidates to know how to appeal to Westside Jewish voters this year: Are they liberals, cautious Democrats, ethnic loyalists, civic reformers or what? This bloc-within-a-bloc is a significant force, because of its extremely high level of political involvement, campaign contributions and voter turnout.

My first impression during the debate was that the candidates were articulate, friendly and effective. What also struck me, however, was that none of the candidates was truly “at home” on the Westside — although Bob Hertzberg did joke about working “24/6” and referred to “this bimah,” and Villaraigosa managed to mix Hebrew and liberalism by using the phrase tikkun olam.

In this race, there is no candidate whose base is on the Westside of Los Angeles. That hasn’t happened often in Los Angeles political history.

Bernard Parks’ candidacy starts in South Los Angeles, and Richard Alarcon’s foundation is the East Valley. Hahn is running as the incumbent who has general appeal without generating great enthusiasm in any single community. While he has historically done well on the Westside in his numerous citywide races, he does not have the deep base there that would assure him that area’s support against strong opposition.

Hertzberg and Villaraigosa are the closest to having a second home on the Westside, followed by Hahn. Villaraigosa did very well among Westside Jews in 2001, winning a majority of their votes.

He might do well there again, but he does not have Bradley’s lock on these neighborhoods. His core base is among Latinos, principally on the Eastside, with hopes of holding his core of white liberals and Jews.

With his overall appeal to Jewish voters, Hertzberg can contest heavily for the Westside as well, but his base is the Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley. Between them, Hertzberg and Villaraigosa may cut deeply into Hahn’s support on the Westside.

I could feel the absence of Bradley, for whom the Westside was a second political home. When he campaigned in Westside synagogues, he was greeted as a well-loved member of the family. Even Republican Riordan, whose votes came more from the Valley, was personally and socially a Westsider (like his friend Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Fighting crime, balancing the budget and filling potholes will win votes anywhere in Los Angeles and will certainly help on the Westside. And coalition politics with Jewish votes is not nearly the seamless, simple relationship that it was in the Bradley days. But one clue for any candidates who want to win the votes of Westside Jews is the importance of the reform and improvement of local government.

This highly attentive constituency, the least alienated of the city’s neighborhoods, fills the ranks of city commissions, closely observes the doings at City Hall and routinely votes in favor of measures to reform government. It was here that the 1999 City Charter won its largest margin of support, and where efforts to reform the Los Angeles Police Department generated the strongest backing among white voters.

A coherent, comprehensive agenda to prevent the sort of conflict-of-interest problems that have bedeviled the city government recently has yet to emerge in the campaign. The candidate who can offer more than a package of proposals and explain how the voters can be assured that both the commission system and the contracting process can be sensibly reformed may have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd seeking Westside votes.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is the author of “The City at Stake: Secession, Reform and the Battle for Los Angeles” (Princeton University Press, 2004).

 

Voting With an Open Mind


With a couple of weeks left before we choose our next president, I’ve been reflecting on how the process has affected me, both as a Jew and as an American.

The biggest thing I have learned is that certain emotions have the power to close my mind and make me intolerant. Because I’m crazy in love for Israel, I’m a blind supporter of President Bush. His evangelical, visceral connection to Israel is what I’ve been yearning for for as long as I can remember. No matter how hard other presidents tried, it just wasn’t the same.

Thus, it was not a great leap to convince myself that Iraq was the right war at the right place at the right time. If anything contradicted my view on this subject, I would easily dismiss it. Whatever confirmed my view, I just lapped up. Supporting Bush just felt good.

So when I was invited last week by the American Jewish Committee to speak on the U.S. election in the context of Jewish and Israeli interests, I figured it would be a no-brainer. I was introduced as the right-wing speaker who would “balance out” the left-wing speaker who came next. All I had to do was just give my spiel on why they should vote the way I would.

There was only one problem: I wasn’t so sure anymore. A day earlier, I got ambushed by a story in the Oct. 10 New York Times Sunday Magazine. Call me crazy, but I read something diametrically opposed to my beliefs, and it made sense. Too much sense. The possibility that I might have missed the boat on Iraq gave me this odd mixture of sick-to-my-stomach and utter fascination.

So there I was in front of a big crowd, all expecting a pro-Bush rant. What’s a shaken-up right-winger to do? I decided to jump and put myself at the mercy of my true feelings.

I shared my story. I told them that there was something more important on my mind than simply who to vote for on Nov. 2. I explained how my beliefs were shaken by a magazine article. My talk became not about the value of a vote but the Jewish value of keeping an open mind.

In a nutshell, the article, “Kerry’s Undeclared War,” which profiled Sen. John Kerry, made a compelling case that a loud, dramatic war on terrorism is more likely to backfire than a more subtle yet lethal approach. I was intrigued by the idea that high drama might feed the neurosis of a suicidal, pathological enemy. It didn’t necessarily change my mind — it still might — but it did something more important: it opened it. In a potent way, the challenge to my strong view made me feel more alive, more Jewish.

It also made me realize how I let my emotional connection to Israel and to Bush sucker me into the vortex of easy, simplified partisan battles; how I’ve let it close my mind.

Sometimes I think that our first goal in life is to look for things that make us feel good. With life and the world around us so often chaotic and dangerous, we prefer to look for whatever will assuage our insecurities, rather than anything that might challenge our views and force us to confront our inner doubts.

There is a theory in organizational behavior that says when you interview someone for a job, most people make their decision in the first few minutes and spend the rest of the time trying to confirm it. This is what seems to have happened to America in this election season.

The large majority of people quickly made up their minds and now look for confirmation that will make them feel good about being right. The national pastime has become to dig in our heels.

Keeping an open mind while still having strong views is uncomfortable. It’s not sexy or dramatic. It requires us to live with paradox, to accept being challenged, to push ourselves.

I was challenged by a magazine article and forced to dig deep and deal with my discomfort. But as a committed Jew, that was the point: What is the Jewish way if not to go deep?

Did our ancestors not dig deep when they debated for 600 years to interpret God’s message and give us the Talmud? Did they not show us that we can have a point of view without being dogmatic? That there is divinity itself in the difficult acts of engaging, exploring, challenging and, ultimately, connecting with each other?

The sages of the Talmud did not write to make us feel good. The arguments and counterarguments and counter-counterarguments that crowd its 40 volumes is what has kept Judaism alive until today. And if we follow its paradoxical example of principled open-mindedness, we will always feel alive as individuals and as one community.

The problem is that our need for easy comforts has trumped our deeper need to grow by gaining knowledge. The right-winger who only watches Fox TV is only getting her daily fix. The liberal who only reads Tikkun magazine is feasting on candy that will nourish his self-righteousness. We consume comforting opinions and then repitch them to each other like walking commercials.

We are left with a strident, superficial national debate that more closely resembles a boxing match. What matters most is not whether I gain new knowledge, but: Who won the debate? Who landed a knockout punch? Will my side win?

The most startling fact in the New York Times article was that Kerry could not go too public with his real view on fighting terror, because it might be unpopular and hurt his chances. Never mind that it would deepen the debate and show sincerity; the point is only to win.

Some of my ideological friends say that when the stakes are so high, we cannot afford to be too open-minded. For the Israeli settlers who adamantly oppose the evacuation of settlements, open-mindedness is not an option. For the Bush supporters who are adamant that his way is the best way to fight terrorism, being open to alternate views is simply showing weakness.

My view is the opposite: The higher the stakes, the deeper the debate must go. Ultimately, the danger of a dogmatic, simplified debate is that it leads to dogmatic, simplified solutions.

By digging in our heels and closing our minds, we only encourage our leaders to feed us lollipops. The more undecided, open-minded and probing voters are, the deeper the candidates will go; the deeper the solutions will be.

In the Jewish tradition, deep debate is integral to our survival. It leads not only to better ideas but also to a more vibrant religion and a healthier nation.

But the heart is a powerful drug. I’ve seen in the past year how my emotional connection to the Holy Land has turned me into someone I always try not to be: close-minded and intolerant of dissenting views.

There are certainly some things I will always feel strongly about, but I will not let those feelings turn off my mind.

I still don’t know who I’ll vote for, but I know now that I won’t let my heart do it alone. And I confess, that feels pretty good.

David Suissa is the founder and editor-in-chief of OLAM magazine and the founder of meals4israel.com. You can e-mail him at editor@olam.org.

 

GOP Shifts, Pursues Immigrant Votes


More Cover Stories:

border=0 alt=””>
” class=blacklink>Examining the Jewish Vote

border=0 alt=””>
” class=blacklink>Israeli Expats Solidly Back Bush

border=0 alt=”” >
” class=blacklink>Russian Jews Favor Bush

Sam Kermanian is one of many Jewish Republicans in Los Angeles reaching out to immigrants on behalf of President Bush, yet perhaps the biggest news of all is that such committed immigrant activists in the Republican Party are no longer red hot news.

Kermanian, an Iranian Jewish immigrant, is still rawly aware of how people’s lives in his native Iran are under the strict control of Islamist radicals.

“We understand what the president is doing, and we support him strongly,” said Kermanian, who stepped down as chairman of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles to join the Bush ’04 campaign team. “Immigrants look at how the world really is, so they no longer support just the Democrats.”

It was no surprise, then, when Bush spoke several words of Spanish during his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in New York City. The gesture went virtually unremarked by the media and caused nary a ripple of discernible backlash in his party.

Ten years ago, veering outside the English language to appeal to a special group of mostly Democratic voters would have been front-page news across the land, but today the imagery of the Republican leadership reaching out to heavily Democratic immigrants is not only commonplace, it’s indicative of a major shift in views and strategy.

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told his up-by-his-bootstraps tale at the RNC, it was not merely a personal story from the Republican Party’s most famous moderate. It was also a direct appeal to immigrants, using the GOP’s message of personal responsibility and eventual triumph.

These two RNC moments are indicative of an almost imperceptible change inside the Republican Party to not only reach out to immigrants but to target the message and explain the GOP philosophy as never before. There may be only minor dividends to show for it this November, but Republicans are energized about their chance to make inroads with traditionally Democratic immigrant voters.

Going after the potentially huge vote among Latino immigrants, a heterogeneous group with many contradictory and nuanced views on both policy and values, has become a key focus of the GOP in California. But even among Jewish immigrants, who form only a tiny percentage of voters in California, the GOP has become energized.

Hector Barajas, director of grass-roots development at the California Republican Party’s Burbank headquarters, has been building an outreach program to Latinos, who were largely ignored by Republicans for decades. Barajas noted that today, he oversees a massive computerized list of experts and speakers who spread the party’s message far beyond Latinos, to niche immigrants of every persuasion.

“We’re not saying you’ve got to become a Republican today, but it’s just: ‘Please listen to the message we are bringing forth,'” he said of the outreach strategy. “Of course we seek the major group, which is Latinos, but now we outreach to Asians, Filipinos and all the various language groups.”

“We have a group that only goes out to Middle Eastern immigrants, including Jewish immigrants,” he continued. “We have a spreadsheet of people who speak all the various languages, so if I need to find an Asian American woman teacher who speaks Cantonese, because somebody wants to hear a speech from such a person, I can find somebody right here.”

Barajas, who grew up in heavily Mexican-American Echo Park, said, “We no longer use this one-size-fits-all method, sending out the Caucasian face or the English speaker to a group who doesn’t relate to that.”

One of the strongest volunteers to reach out to Jewish immigrants is attorney Paul Weisman, who oversees 350 precinct walkers who are familiar with heavily Jewish areas in Hancock Park and on the Westside.

Noted Barajas, “Paul has put his law practice aside, basically, to do this, and his energy level is being replayed in many other urban areas where Jewish Republicans are now a force.”

Nobody believes the Republicans will score huge gains among immigrant groups this year. But there are signs that immigrant interest in the Democratic Party is not what it once was. If Republicans can shift even a modest percentage of immigrants to their side, the Democrats could face trouble in coming years — even in California.

The voter registration gap between Democrats and Republicans in California is the narrowest it has been since the 1930s, with Democrats holding only an 8 percentage point lead over Republicans. Last October’s election of Austrian immigrant Schwarzenegger as governor has not only helped pour millions of extra fund-raising dollars into Republican coffers, it has also made voter signup easier.

Now it’s the Democrats who are sweating, not the once-divided Republicans. Lately, noted Republican pollster Stephen Kinney, large numbers of Latinos — especially Latinas — have begun registering as “decline-to-state” voters and rejecting the Democratic Party.

Kinney and many others believe the Democrats have taken immigrants for granted for too long. Nobody knows if the move by Latinos toward “decline to state” is a harbinger of a sea change in immigrant voter sympathies in other immigrant groups, but Kinney noted, “It’s definitely not good news for the Democrats.”

With immigrant interest in the Democrats waning somewhat, some GOP groups and activists are using the opening to interest immigrants in voting for and contributing money to Bush. Although Latinos get much of the attention, because they represent a potentially vast voting bloc, the Iraq War has enlivened Middle Eastern immigrant groups as well, and some are clearly siding with the GOP.

Kermanian typifies the Republican Jewish immigrants who are speaking out for Bush in 2004. He noted that no polls have been conducted that break out the Iranian Jewish vote for president. However, a poll by the American Jewish Committee shows Jewish support for Bush has jumped from less than 20 percent during the 2000 election to 24 percent now, a roughly 25 percent gain, laid in part to support from Jewish immigrants.

Iranian Jews make up about 30,000 to 35,000 of the half million Iranians in California, Kermanian said, and he estimated 75 percent back Bush.

“Our group takes the threat of terror and the militant Islamist ideology a lot more seriously than average Americans and average Jewish Americans,” he said. “We had to live with it for generations.”

Despite working so high up in the GOP effort for Bush in California, however, he does not yet see a fully engaged outreach to Middle Eastern and other immigrant groups, largely because they make up too small a percentage of voters. However, he said, the Republicans now see immigrants as up for grabs, while the Democrats appear to be assuming that they have a lock on the majority of immigrant voters.

Change could come if Republicans effectively spread the Bush message of “keeping more of your own money and giving less of it to government, and achieving your aims and your children’s aims with the very values that made you immigrate to the United States,” he said.

Si Frumkin is a well-known journalist for Panorama newspaper and political activist in the Russian Jewish community, whose column also runs in three papers in Israel and two in the former Soviet Union. Frumkin is among the growing number of voices urging Jewish immigrants to get involved in politics — through the GOP.

Frumkin noted that at a recent Bush-Cheney organizing event at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in the San Fernando Valley, within the group of about 50 volunteer activists who attended, several were immigrants — and six were Jews from the former Soviet Union.

“People keep getting in touch with me to register and to get the forms so they can sign up voters,” Frumkin said. He said that decades ago, when he arrived in the United States, he and other Russian Jewish immigrants were shocked by the left-leaning views of American Jews.

But today’s Russian Jewish immigrants, who he said lean heavily Republican, “have gotten over the surprise and are much more eager to speak out than before. American Jews were shocked and horrified at [Ronald] Reagan for calling the former Soviet Union an evil empire, but immigrant Jews knew it was an evil empire. When you go to a party now where the vodka flows, people stand up for America and love America and are real flag wavers.”

While there are probably fewer than 100,000 Russian Jews in Southern California, Frumkin noted that “they are often very successful in business. What they lack in voting numbers, they make up for in financial contributions to George Bush.”

Frumkin, a Holocaust survivor who has lectured at the Wiesenthal Center, said the GOP has also lightened up somewhat, loosening its tie so to speak, in reaching out to immigrants who didn’t relate as well to the old, more formal version of the party.

“We like to enjoy the campaign fight and say what’s on our mind,” he said. “I like to say, ‘My God, I cannot see Teresa Heinz as the first lady.'”

The California Republican Party is indeed no longer in the hands of a hard-right faction that dominated its voter registration effort and platform throughout the 1990s. That far-right wing became the tail that wagged the dog of a party that probably has fewer than 20 percent “very conservative” voters. The hard right drove many voters away from California’s GOP, handing the Democrats their biggest statewide voting victories in 40 years in 2000.

Schwarzenegger’s election has helped marginalize the far right in California. But even before Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy in the summer of 2003, the California Republican Party elected two moderates, Duf Sundheim and Mario Rodriguez, as its chairman and vice chairman, in the spring of 2003.

Five years ago, Rodriguez, a hip, bilingual, former military brat who owns a successful printing business, had little chance of being elected to such a post in the GOP. Now, he’s in such demand as a public speaker for the Republicans at Latino and other immigrant events, that it can take weeks to book him.

Rodriguez’s popularity has not gone unnoticed by outreach czar Barajas, who is making Republican immigrants available as speakers in dozens of different languages, no longer ceding even the high school crowd to the Democrats.

“The GOP used to be invited into the high school government classes to give their version of politics and government, and the GOP would not even bother, while the Democrats spoke to all the kids,” Barajas said. “Now we are there, and we don’t shrink from explaining the tough stuff, like why we oppose driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. These kids are the future voters.”

Among a dozen top public and private pollsters in California, none believes Bush can win the state. But with a Republican president who’s as comfortable in a monied group of Middle Eastern business leaders as with Latinos at a rally in the Southwest, it may be only a matter of time before Democrats have to fight back in order to hang on to immigrants. n

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist. She can be reached at www.jillstewart.net.

Racist Repeats Election Stratagem


The Republican primary victory on Aug. 5 of white supremacist James Hart in Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District is eerily familiar to Southern Californians.

It seems like a page out of the 1980 playbook of Tom Metzger, the Ku Klux Klan grand dragon who won the Democratic nomination for Congress in San Diego County against the then-entrenched Republican incumbent, Rep. Clair W. Burgener.

Because the popular Burgener, a soft-spoken conservative, was considered such a shoo-in for a fifth term, no well-known Democrat wanted to oppose him. Why be a sacrificial lamb? So the campaign for the Democratic nomination started as a contest for the party privileges that go with becoming an official, albeit losing, Democratic nominee.

Insider party privileges, such as winning an automatic seat on the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee and having the right to appoint members to the Democratic State Central Committee, drew party worker Edward Skagen into the race. Bud Higgins, another political unknown, similarly was eligible for these low-profile prizes.

Metzger, better known and not yet well understood, changed the dynamics of the primary election. He received 33,071 votes, or 37.1 percent of those cast in northern San Diego County, southern Riverside County and all of Imperial County. That was enough to come in ahead of Skagen by 392 votes and to win the Democratic nomination in what was then California’s 43rd Congressional District.

Well-known Republicans in Tennessee similarly believed it pointless to challenge Democrat John Tanner in this election cycle. He is in his eighth term, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and is a leader of the so-called "blue dog" Democrats — moderates who joke that they’ve been squeezed so hard by the left and right wings of the party, they fear turning blue.

Although write-in candidate Dennis Bertrand sought to stop Hart in the primary election, Hart triumphed with more than 80 percent of the vote in a district that covers 19 counties in northwest Tennessee.

The political parties were reversed in the California and Tennessee scenarios, but the cynicism is the same.

What motivated Metzger and what now drives Hart were opportunities to get media for their message of white supremacy. The fact that we read in newspapers across the nation about the Tennessee candidate proves the publicity value of the congressional nomination.

Metzger probably didn’t expect to beat Burgener, any more than Hart really anticipates unseating Tanner. For Hart, the reward will be all the attention he can stir up for the discredited Nazi theory of eugenics — that some racial groups are genetically superior to others.

I became press secretary to Burgener’s campaign in 1980, after Metzger won the Democratic nomination. It quickly became apparent that there were two major problems with which we had to contend. The first was that news reporters thought that it was unusual, offbeat, even a matter of human interest, that a real live Ku Klux Klansman was running for office in California. It was sort of a "man bites dog" story, interesting because it was different, without much thought given to what that difference was all about.

The second problem was that Burgener didn’t want to say anything about Metzger. The congressman’s first instinct was to ignore Metzger, so as not to build a tent for his opponent.

That strategy might have worked against an unknown, but Metzger already knew how to command media attention. The task for Burgener was to define Metzger and white supremacy for San Diegans. Tanner will have a similar responsibility in Tennessee’s general election campaign.

Ultimately, Burgener came to understand that Metzger was a symbol who needed to be confronted and not simply a political opponent. The campaign got hold of a documentary film about the faces of hate, in which Metzger’s group was pictured, and in which Metzger said some intolerant things. Burgener’s campaign held a screening for the media, and Metzger and some followers thought they could make light of it by showing up uninvited in Nixon masks.

After the media heard on film the kind of hatred that Metzger and his followers spewed about African Americans, Mexican Americans and Jews, suddenly having a Ku Klux Klansman as an official Democratic nominee from San Diego didn’t seem like a human interest story anymore. Reporters demanded of Metzger whether he really believed in the hard-core hate he had been filmed spouting in the documentary, or did he believe the softer line he had been taking in the campaign?

Metzger was unmasked, and from that day until Election Day, stories focused not on how unusual Metzger’s philosophy was but on how un-American it was.

To illustrate that Metzger was outside the mainstream of American politics, the Burgener campaign adopted what it called the "Hatfield and McCoy" strategy. It found rival Democratic and Republican candidates, some of whom were long-time political enemies, and had them stand together at the same lectern to endorse Burgener.

A typical formulation was, "We never agree on anything else, but when it comes to this election, we can agree — enthusiastically. We urge everyone to reject the hatred of the Ku Klux Klan and vote for Clair."

To their credit, Democrats were willing to put aside partisan differences and urge the reelection of the Republican incumbent. In Tennessee, the test will be whether Republicans will be willing to return the compliment.

Burgener won the contest with more than 86 percent of the vote — the outcome no surprise. The Ku Klux Klan and the racist doctrine of white supremacy were dealt a resounding rejection at the polls.

After the election, Metzger went on to become the leader of the White Aryan Resistance, eventually losing millions of dollars in a court suit brought against him for instigating the beating death of an Ethiopian student in Oregon.

The leadership of our mainstream political parties meanwhile vowed that in the future, they would prevent the hijacking of their congressional nominations by extremists. For a quarter of a century, they were mostly able to keep that vow — up until now.


Donald H. Harrison is editor of the San Diego Jewish Press Heritage.

Mayoral Evolution


With former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg’s entry into the 2005 mayoral race, the odds of a competitive battle for the city’s top political job have increased.

The combination of Hertzberg, former Police Chief Bernard Parks (considered extremely likely to run), state Sen. Richard Alarcón, and possibly L.A. City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa means that incumbent Mayor James K. Hahn may be forced into a runoff election. He would have to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary to avoid a runoff, a high bar with several strong candidates on the ballot.

Jewish voters will be crucial to the outcome. While white voters are declining as a percentage of the Los Angeles electorate, Jews are not. According to Los Angeles Times exit polls, in 1993, whites cast 72 percent of all votes, including 18 percent cast by Jews. In 2001, whites cast only 52 percent of all votes, including 18 percent cast by Jews. In other words, Jews are holding their share of the vote while non-Jewish whites are declining. The gap created by the decline of white non-Jewish voters is being filled by Latinos, whose share of the vote increased from 10 percent in 1993 to 22 percent in 2001.

The politics of the new Los Angeles make it harder than in the past to predict how Jews will vote. Los Angeles Jewish voters tend to be Democrats, and these days so are most mayoral candidates. When Los Angeles was a more conservative city, Jews were critical players in the rise of the Tom Bradley coalition. Bradley brought Democrats, liberals, minorities and Jews into city politics. He harvested awesome percentages of the Jewish vote. But Bradley’s very success in building a progressive, biracial Democratic coalition in Los Angeles has meant that each of the mayoral candidates, all Democrats, can claim to inherit a piece of Bradley’s mantle and thereby some Jewish support.

As the incumbent pro-labor mayor with a strong record on public safety, Hahn will get a positive hearing in the Jewish community. He won a majority of Jewish voters in the 2001 runoff election against Villaraigosa, after a middling performance among Jews in the primary. Overall, he did better among Valley Jews than on the Westside. But he will have competition for Jewish voters.

Hertzberg will benefit from his Valley base and from the tendency of Jewish voters, all other things being equal, to provide extra support for Jewish candidates. In both the 1993 and 2001 primary elections, Jewish candidates who did not make the runoff won significant Jewish support in the primaries. Alarcón and Parks will also appeal to Jewish voters by connecting their campaigns to the cross-racial alliances of the Bradley era. If Villaraigosa runs, he can challenge Hahn on the liberal Westside, looking for Jewish voters who backed him in 2001.

Because Jewish voters have so many strong candidates from whom to choose in the primary, including the mayor, the impact of the Jewish vote may be greater in a possible runoff election. The multileveled competition of mayoral candidates will then give way to a clear choice between two. For many Jewish voters, Bradley’s coalition is a distant memory, and the final candidates will be unlikely to break down in the simple pattern of liberal vs. conservative that marked the Bradley years.

Candidates who wish to win Jewish votes will find an alert, connected community that is very concerned about such issues as ethics in government, public safety, racial harmony, and moderate progressive change. Valley Jews have many of these concerns but also vote on the issues that characterize Valley residents as whole — concerns about neighborhood development and land use, and a desire for a responsive city hall.

In 2001, we saw the first real post-Bradley election with new competing coalitions: Hahn’s alliance of African Americans, moderate Jews, and white Republicans, and Villaraigosa’s coalition of Latinos and liberal Jews. But Los Angeles politics is still evolving.

If there is a runoff, the final two candidates will be competing to create yet another Los Angeles coalition out of the now scattered pieces of the Los Angeles politics that characterized the Bradley years: African Americans, Jews, Republicans, Latinos, Asian Americans. Whoever can bind Jews to their coalition will have a great advantage in winning the race to the majority.


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 U. Press, 1993).

Coalition Lesson


Community activist Karen Bass’ victory in the 47th Assembly District’s Democratic primary provides a valuable opening for coalition efforts between the Jewish community and a new generation of African American and Latino activists.

Los Angeles has a long and distinguished history of biracial coalitions. Rooted in the 10th City Council District, then divided among African Americans, Jews and Asian Americans, the coalition behind Tom Bradley stormed the gates of City Hall.

Bradley was first elected to the City Council in 1963 and then to the mayoralty in 1973, a position he held for 20 years. The Los Angeles black-Jewish coalition became a national model for interracial politics and governance.

But the Bradley coalition has largely fallen by the wayside as the city’s politics have fragmented and as the leadership ties that sustained the coalition have atrophied. While promising efforts to build bridges between Jews and Latinos are beginning to bear fruit, they are still young.

The open 47th Assembly seat seemed likely to hurt rather than help intergroup coalitions. The 2001 redistricting had reshaped the district represented by former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson from a surefire black seat to one potentially contested between African Americans and whites.

The district was moved westward and northward and now includes such white liberal — and significantly Jewish — areas as Westwood, Cheviot Hills and Beverlywood. Whites represent 37.8 percent of the population; African Americans, 40.1 percent; Hispanics, 22.6 percent; and Asian Americans, 8.5 percent. The voting population, however, is more skewed toward blacks and whites.

With three strong black candidates — Bass, Rickey Ivie and Nate Holden — fragmentation of the black vote and intergroup conflict with whites seemed possible. A white candidate could have potentially won the race but without broad-based support in the district.

Bass took the creative way out of the box: She reached out to Latinos, organized labor and white voters, including Jews. The three black candidates received a combined 88 percent of the vote, with Bass drawing a near-majority 48 percent. Clearly, Bass received strong support both from African Americans and white voters. Out of possible conflict came something much more promising — potential bridges among African Americans, Latinos and Jews.

I was less surprised than I might otherwise have been, because of my knowledge of Bass’ previous work. I first met Bass about a decade ago. A federal agency had contracted with me to study how a particular organization in South Central Los Angeles managed to impact the alarming dispersion of liquor stores.

I visited the offices of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Training — later shortened, thankfully, to the Community Coalition — where I met Bass, the organization’s energetic director. She was working to prevent the rebuilding of some liquor stores that had been burned down during the violence of 1992. The office was brimming with energy, with young staff and volunteers, African American and Latino.

There was a serious conflict of interest between those who wanted the stores reduced in number and those whose livelihood depended on the stores staying open. In New York City, a similar conflict became highly racialized, as calls arose to "kick Koreans out" of inner-city communities.

By contrast, Bass’ dedication to keeping the conflict nonracial helped Los Angeles to keep the focus on the behavior of individual liquor stores and not on the ethnicity of the owners. Bass insisted that it did not matter who owned the stores, only how the stores were operated.

Because she and her organization stuck to that philosophy with such consistency, no traction could be created for an anti-Korean campaign.

I spoke with leaders of Korean American organizations who saw themselves under attack on the liquor store issue. Those I interviewed were very unhappy and resentful about the coalition’s pressure but recognized and appreciated that Bass kept the racial aspect to a minimum. Bass was also adamant about reaching out to Latinos in South Central Los Angeles and actively incorporated them in her organization’s activities.

Bass’ victory in the 47th Assembly District marks another new turn for the politics of urban Los Angeles. New participants — organized labor, Latinos, young minority activists — are reshaping the city’s traditional politics of black and white.

While African American candidates are likely to keep dominating the offices in Central, Mid-city and South Los Angeles for some time to come, their constituencies are shifting. The Jewish community should keep its eyes and ears open to these developments and look for new ways to connect to a promising, exciting and boundary-crossing politics of the next Los Angeles.


Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton, is the author of “Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles” (Princeton University Press, 1993). His article, “The Battle Over Liquor Stores in South Central Los Angeles: The Management of an Interminority Conflict,” appeared in the July 1996 issue of the Urban Affairs Quarterly.

First Election Round Goes to Jews


While most Jewish politicians easily won Tuesday’s primary election, four out of six Jewish candidates in Los Angeles County Superior Court judge races survived the primaries, with two Jewish women competing this fall in a tough judge’s race.

California’s Jewish legislators who retained their seats Tuesday against token or zero opposition included Sen. Barbara Boxer, who had no Democratic opposition and now faces Republican challenger Bill Jones. Los Angeles County’s five Jewish members of Congress — Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood), Jane Harman (D-Venice). Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) — all won, although Sherman faces Republican attorney Robert Levy in November.

In the vacant Superior Court Office 69 judge’s race, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Judith Levey Meyer garnered 32.55 percent of Tuesday’s vote and runner-up and Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Donna Groman earned 29.09 percent of ballots cast. The two square off in November as neither took the majority needed (51 percent) of the vote.

In other Superior Court races, Jewish candidates either lost to or still are up against Latino opponents.

Deputy District Attorneys Daniel Feldstern (Superior Court Office 18) and Jeffrey Gootman (Superior Court Office 29) both came in third in their separate court races, with Feldstern getting 26.1 percent and Gootman 22.3 percent; the top vote-getters in both races respectively were Latino candidates Mildred Escobedo, a Superior Court referee, and attorney Gus Gomez.

Deputy District Attorney Laura Priver came in second with 38.2 percent, and in November faces administrative law judge John Gutierrez for the Superior Court Office 52 seat.

Superior Court referee Daniel Zeke Zeidler, a dependency referee at Edelman Children’s Court, came in first in the Superior Court Office 69 race with 28.08 percent against his November opponent, Deputy District Attorney David Lopez, who earned 21.5 percent.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Catholic, faces no fall election since he retained his seat with 59.27 percent of the vote. Jewish challenger Deputy District Attorney Denise Moehlman came in third with 9 percent.

In state races, Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills) won his primary unopposed, as did Assembly incumbents Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), with Levine battling Republican schoolteacher Mark Isler this fall. Similarly, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) had no primary opposition and won.

In the 47th District’s open Assembly seat, including Jewish neighborhoods in Pico-Roberston, Westwood and Cheviot Hills, African American Democrats Karen Bass and Nate Holden square off in November, with political science professor Richard Groper coming in fourth with 10 percent of the vote.

Republican political consultant Arnold Steinberg said the Jewish community took little interest in Orange County’s onetime Republican congressman Bob Dornan and his late, underfunded attempt to unseat incumbent Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) in the 46th District; Rohrabacher has become more sympathetic to Arab perspectives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The Jewish community has to be more interested in some of these races," Steinberg said. "The Jewish community simply was not involved in the race. [Dornan] brings a lot of baggage into the race and, as such, there wasn’t any substantive press coverage of the foreign policy issues, instead a focus on personality."

Susan Pinkus, director of the Los Angeles Times exit poll, said of Tuesday’s California turnout of Jews, "For all voters, it was 7 percent Jewish; for the Democratic primary voters, it was 11 percent and 71 percent of them voted for Kerry, 18 percent for Edwards."

Another 4 percent voted for Kucinich, she noted.

On the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger-fueled Proposition 57 state bond initiative and Proposition 58 balanced budget initiative, "For 57 [Jews] voted for it, 59 percent to 41 percent. On 58, again, they voted for it, 69 percent to 31 percent," Pinkus said.

Proposition 55, the state school bond initiative, had 69 percent to 39 percent Jewish support, Pinkus said, while Jewish voters in a 47 percent to 53 percent margin opposed the state budget initiative Proposition 56, "they voted against it as everybody else did," she said. "They voted as did the rest of the electorate."

Jewish Candidates Fill County Ballot


Jewish candidates will be well represented in the March 2 election, with incumbents in Los Angeles County expected to sail through with no — or token — opposition in the Democratic and Republican primaries.

At the top of the ballot — after the presidential candidates, among whom the departed Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is still listed — is U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has no competition on the Democratic side.

There also is no Democratic competition facing the county’s five Jewish Congress members, Brad Sherman (Sherman Oaks), Howard Berman (North Hollywood), Adam B. Schiff (Burbank), Henry A. Waxman (Los Angeles) and Jane Harman (Venice).

These five, who make up 28 percent of Los Angeles County’s 18 House members, represent the largest congressional Jewish contingent of any county in the United States, according to political expert Howard Welinsky. While New York City may have a larger overall Jewish total, each of its boroughs counts as a separate county.

In the November general election, Sherman will face attorney Robert M. Levy, who is unopposed in the Republican primary.

Running for an open state Senate seat is Assemblyman Alan S. Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).

One of the liveliest Assembly races is shaping up for the open seat in the 47th District. After the last reapportionment, the predominant African American population lost some demographic ground to mainly Jewish concentrations in Cheviot Hills, Pico-Robertson and Westwood.

The three black front-runners, Karen Bass, Nate Holden and Ricky Ivie, have been courting the Jewish vote, which is likely to determine the outcome in the Democratic primary, Welinsky said. Also competing in the same district is Democrat Richard Groper, a California State University political science professor and active member of Congregation Mogen David.

Among other Assembly races, Democratic incumbents Paul Koretz (West Hollywood), Lloyd Levine (Van Nuys) and Jackie Goldberg (Los Angeles), as well as Republican Keith Richman (Granada Hills), are unopposed in their respective primaries. In November, Levine will face Republican Mark Isler, a public school teacher, who faces no opponent in his primary, noted Michael Richman of the local Republican Jewish Coalition.

In additional Assembly contests, Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner is a Republican contender in the 61st District, while in Orange County, Republican Todd Spitzer (Orange) is up for reelection.

Twelve members of Democrats for Israel are in the race for seats on the Los Angeles County Democratic Party Central Committee, and about an equal number are vying to serve as delegates to the Democratic National Convention, said Welinsky, who chairs the organization.

In a contest that is drawing some national interest in the Bay Area, Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos (San Mateo), the only Holocaust survivor serving in Congress and a champion of Israel, is again opposed by Palestinian American attorney Maad Abu-Ghazalah.

Pols Face Israel Litmus Test


What is the proper pro-Israel litmus test for presidential candidates? And who gets to decide?

That recurring question has already had special relevance for former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, the surprise frontrunner in the 2004 Democratic presidential contest — the kind of relevance you get with a punch in the solar plexus.

Dean’s Democratic rivals are all acutely aware that their turn could come next if they bobble questions about Mideast policy. Not even Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), an Orthodox Jew and avowed Zionist, gets a pass.

President George W. Bush gets a slightly more forgiving test, thanks to the reluctance of lobbyists to criticize an incumbent and the rightward tilt of the pro-Israel leadership.

Litmus test politics are this country’s latest gift to the democratic world, and pro-Israel groups are at the head of the class.

To a degree, the exercise is a legitimate and important one that ensures candidates support the major pillars of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Rigid litmus tests — and vehement reactions against those who don’t score top grades — are ways of preventing drift from the overwhelming pro-Israel consensus in Washington.

But there are risks when individuals and groups with a stake in the ideological wars over Mideast policy succeed in changing the baseline. When litmus tests are used to score ideological points for positions that fall outside the American Jewish mainstream, it can undercut that hard-won support for the Jewish state.

Consider the case of Dean, who touched off a feeding frenzy last month when he said he would favor a more "evenhanded" U.S. approach to the Mideast crisis and that this country should not "take sides" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That triggered a tidal wave of criticism. Even after multiple mea culpas and weeks of damage control, some Jewish politicos say Dean could have a hard time making amends with Jewish voters and contributors.

But did Dean really suggest a fundamental shift in U.S. Mideast policy, as several of his Democratic rivals, including Lieberman, suggested?

Or was it, as Dean explained, a simple verbal gaffe, the result of his lack of experience — worthy of a slapped wrist, maybe, but not a public flogging?

And who gets to decide what constitutes a failing grade? Is it groups that represent the Jewish majority that continue to support a strong U.S. mediation role in peace negotiations, Palestinian statehood and an eventual return of Gaza and the West Bank?

Or is it that vocal Jewish minority that believes land-for-peace negotiations are sure suicide for Israel, that the settlers are the truest Zionists and who worry that Ariel Sharon is a closet appeaser? The ongoing reaction to Dean suggests it was the latter.

In today’s political climate, the pro-Israel litmus test increasingly reflects the views of those pro-Israel leaders who are partisan partners of the Sharon government or even further to the right. That means the political standards are shaped by those with very different views than most American Jews.

The bitter litmus test process hurts Israel in another way: it guarantees that the democratic system, which Americans view as the best answer to any vexing problem, will not contribute to a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Candidates aren’t pressed to understand the issue and propose creative new solutions, but to parrot back slogans and keep their mouths shut about everything else.

Every candidate who wishes to get a passing grade must speak about maintaining Israel’s "qualitative" military edge, and promise to instantly move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as President Bush did, even though everybody knows it won’t happen.

Any candidate who seems at all critical of the Israeli government is treated as the next George McGovern if a Democrat, the next George H.W. Bush if a Republican. And, especially for challengers, a little slip is treated as harshly as recommending Yasser Arafat for a second Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobody expects Howard Dean to come up with creative new ideas for bringing an end to Arab-Israeli violence. Indeed, he would be severely punished by the cadre of pro-Israel opinion leaders if he were to do so.

If he is elected, it will be without any detailed information about what his Mideast policies are likely to be, because the pro-Israel community has put such a strong disincentive on speaking openly about the region. Ditto all his Democratic rivals.

It’s also true that litmus tests are applied differently for challengers and incumbents.

Bush was the first president to openly campaign for Palestinian statehood, and he quickly violated his campaign promise to move the embassy. He has called for removing settlements and threatened to cut loan guarantees to Israel.

But only the far right labels him anti-Israel. Dean’s comparatively mild comments, on the other hand, fatally tainted him in the eyes of some important Jewish politicos.

Pro-Israel leaders routinely give incumbents more latitude for violating pro-Israel dogma than challengers. But the disparity also reflects a pro-Israel leadership cadre that has been gradually moving into the Republican orbit, even as most Jewish voters stay resolutely Democratic.

The pro-Israel lobby has done a great job of building and maintaining wall-to-wall support for the Jewish state. But that effort is jeopardized when harsh, unforgiving litmus tests with an unrepresentative ideological charge become the norm.

Against the Tide — Again


Can California’s new Republican governor make inroads among traditionally Democratic Jews? Jewish voters aren’t likely to abandon the Democratic party anytime soon, but will likely give Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to prove that he can govern in a bipartisan, moderate manner.

Every election, Republicans dream that Jewish voters will abandon their long-standing Democratic loyalty and vote their pocketbooks. Nothing is more maddening to Republicans than Milton Himmelfarb’s epigram, “Jews live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”

Republicans had high hopes that the recall would break the back of Jewish Democratic loyalty. The Los Angeles Times exit poll, conducted regularly in statewide elections, can tell us what actually happened with Jewish voters on election day.

The Jewish vote is taking on increasing importance in California elections. With 3 percent of the population, Jews cast anywhere between 4 and 6 percent of the statewide vote. Democrats need Jewish voters more than ever to close the disturbing gap in minority participation since Gray Davis’s first election as governor in 1998.

As the state’s population becomes more diverse, the voters are becoming more white. In 1998, whites cast 64 percent of all votes, but 73 percent in the 2000 presidential race. In Davis’ 2002 reelection, whites cast 76 percent of all votes, and in the recall 72 percent. These figures reflect declining minority turnout, from a high of 26 percent (13 percent black and 13 percent Latino) in 1998 to 17 percent in the recall (6 percent black and 11 percent Latino).

So what happened to Jewish voters in the recall? According to the Los Angeles Times exit poll, Jews once again swam against the largely white tide, voting heavily (69 percent) against the recall and by a majority for Democratic replacement candidate Cruz Bustamante (52 percent). Whites in general (including Jews) supported the recall with 59 percent of their votes, and gave Schwarzenegger 53 percent and Bustamante only 27 percent.

Jews were 28 percentage points more likely than whites in general to oppose the recall. (Since Jews are included in the white category, the difference is probably even greater.) Only African Americans (79 percent) were more opposed to the recall than Jews. Latinos were divided; only 55 percent voted against the recall, and 55 percent for Bustamante.

Jewish opposition to the recall was not enough to overcome Latino ambivalence and low African American participation. White preferences carried the day.

While Republicans lost Jews on the recall, they could take some comfort in the 31 percent of Jews who voted for Schwarzenegger (equal to the 31 percent of Latino votes Arnold received). This is somewhat higher than Jewish voting for Republican statewide candidates in the last several elections, but still far short of a realignment of Jewish voting. Jewish voters obviously focused most heavily on defeating the recall.

Clearly, though, Schwarzenegger made some inroads among Jews. Jews were more familiar with Schwarzenegger than any other candidate on the ballot other than Davis. He is a Westsider married to prominent Democrat Maria Shriver, a huge figure in the entertainment industry, and close to Richard Riordan, who is well-known and liked among Jews. When charges emerged that Arnold had spoken well of Hitler, leaders of the Wiesenthal Center rushed forward to offer support. He is apparently pro-choice on abortion, a critical voting test for Jews.

Despite Jewish opposition to the recall, Schwarzenegger might have done better with Jewish voters had his campaign not been so adolescent and anti-intellectual in tone, marked by assertions that the people don’t care about numbers, and by the avoidance of serious debates. Jewish voters, probably the best-informed in the electorate, were unlikely to be impressed with smart-alecky one-liners from the movies. Arnold’s AM radio campaign was unlikely to appeal to FM radio Jewish voters.

Despite much resentment about the whole recall process, Jewish voters will likely give Arnold a chance. In the first several days after his election victory, Schwarzenegger showed signs of being an elected official who might expand his Jewish beachhead. Such expansion would not be the result of making Jewish voters into Republicans, but rather making Republican leadership seem less alienating and threatening to Jews.

Selecting a transition team with a few active Democrats was a move that might reassure Jewish voters that he would not seek to impose the sort of harsh, us-against-them partisan edge that George W. Bush brought to Washington, D.C., after another disputed election. Arnold has seemed more interested in being a grown-up as governor than he was as a gubernatorial candidate.

Schwarzenegger will have trouble with Jewish voters if he seeks to use these symbols of bipartisanship as a cover for a budget agenda that hurts public services and education. Avoiding questions about the sexual groping charges (“it’s old news,” now says the governor-elect) after promising to clear the air after his election will not do wonders for his credibility. Jewish voters are highly attentive to political news, and are unlikely to overlook such a clear contradiction.

But if Schwarzenegger truly seeks to solve the state’s problems without being a tool of right-wing forces, and with an open-minded, progressive approach, he may find a surprising number of friends among California’s Democratic-leaning Jewish voters.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton. His column appears monthly.

JCC Director to Leave Before Project Finish


Part of the team readying O.C.’s Jewish Community Center for its planned relocation and expansion next year in Irvine is not staying to see the result.

Gerry Buncher, 53, the JCC’s executive director since 1999, is resigning at the end of his current contract, effective Dec. 31.

“I decided it’s time to be closer to everybody,” said Buncher, who intends to relocate east in closer proximity to his two adult children and 88-year-old mother, hospitalized twice in the last year. He intends to seek a similar center job in the New York area.

Orange County and Long Beach are among seven communities currently recruiting top executives among the nation’s 275 centers, which have 1 million members, according to the Web site of the Jewish Community Center Association, the group’s national office.

Buncher’s successor will inherit a significantly larger job in a facility described as state-of-the-art. The JCC’s current $2.8 million annual budget is forecast to grow by more than 50 percent in its new location, predicted to open in September 2004, said Maryann Malkoff, the center’s president. The new director will also be responsible for expanding the center’s senior staff, such as new positions that will supervise programs in aquatics and cultural arts.

Future staffing levels will depend on programming, Malkoff said. “We’re still six months away,” she said, from needing to hire middle managers.

JCC membership of 1,200 units, which could be singles, families or couples, has remained stable for at least five years, said Jeanette Lewin, the center’s finance director. In September, the center will employ 38 people in full- and part-time positions. That includes 25 who work in the preschool, which has about 150 students. Staffing doubles in summer to 70 because of teen councilors hired for a day camp, she said.

Initially, the JCC board will consider prospective candidates exclusively from those recruited through the JCCA. “Why not exhaust the best resource first?” Malkoff asked. With a new facility, she predicted little trouble attracting potential job seekers.

Instead of the Jewish Federation, which currently manages the Costa Mesa campus, the JCC and its top executive will also assume day-to-day management responsibilities of the 120,000-square-foot Irvine campus, including its pool and gymnasium. Other Jewish agencies, such as the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Federation and Jewish Family Services, are to be tenants of the Orange County Jewish Campus, a recently incorporated nonprofit entity.

Between Pittsburgh, Columbus, Houston and Costa Mesa, Buncher has spent 26 years in center jobs. The new facility will be improved aesthetically because of insights he’s gleaned on how members use centers, such as eliminating fixed tables in work rooms rearranged for different uses.

“I would feel more guilty about leaving if this was the first year,” he said. “But they’re ready.”

Reality Recall


The summer television season’s newest reality show, "The California Gubernatorial Race," kicked off last week with almost enough twists and turns to make regular viewers of reality TV pay attention to politics.

"It’s beginning to look like ‘Last Comic Standing,’" a Jewish community leader said. And that was before she knew that the astute and hilarious comedian D.L. Hughley had officially entered the race, upping the punch-line quota even more.

I could list the candidates here, but I only have 850 words, and in any case, the race has been all over the national media, proving the axiom that if you ignore a problem long enough — California state politics — it will eventually take over your life.

Jewish voters, as Raphael Sonnenshein writes in the first of his regular monthly columns for us (see page 9), will play an important part in this race, far out of proportion to their numbers in the state. Just shy of 3 percent of California’s population, we represent an estimated 5 percent of the state’s registered voters. In a race that analysts predict will hinge on a minority of votes, a minority’s voting bloc will be crucial.

Our political contributions will wield influence as well. Nationally, American Jews account for more than half of the large individual contributors to the Democratic Party, and between 20 to 30 percent of the contributors to the Republican Party in recent years. That is why supporters of Republican governors past and Democratic governor present could all argue that their man was responsive to Jewish concerns, however narrowly or broadly those are defined.

In fact, the mainstream moderate candidates have a bipartisan Jewish appeal. That goes for columnist Arianna Huffington, running as an independent.

"Jews may not have an opinion on her, but some of her biggest supporters happen to be Jews," said a close acquaintance of Huffington. It was telling that when Huffington’s called on supporters to attend her press conference at A Place Called Home in South Los Angeles, her e-mail included only two sets of driving directions: from the South Bay and from the Westside.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger has long-standing connections to the activist Jewish community through the Simon Wiesenthal Center. His moderate politics and pro-entertainment industry stance will certainly appeal to moderate, pro-industry Jews. His challenge for educated voters: talk substance.

On the Democratic side, the buzz among L.A. Jewry’s largely Democratic voters is that many, if not a majority, would have swung happily toward (Republican) Richard Riordan. Sen. Dianne Feinstein would have come in a winner, too — she’d get more votes for president among L.A. Jews than any of the current crop of candidates.

But with Feinstein and Riordan out of the race, loyal Democratic Jews face the same hold-your-nose choice that all Democrats do. When The Jewish Journal published a cover story several weeks ago whose headline was, "Why Jews Won’t Dump Davis," we received hundreds of angry letters, e-mails and phone calls from Jews, many of them Democrats, who were eager to do just that. Someone from the Davis camp asked me why we didn’t publish any pro-Davis letters, and I told him the truth: We didn’t get any.

The thrust of the article (whose headline, mea culpa, was a tad misleading) was that as unhappy as Jews are with Davis’ performance as a governor, they found the recall and the people behind it even more off-putting. Reporter Marc Ballon found that even so, many Jews would vote for the recall if Riordan’s or Feinstein’s names appeared on the ballot.

An important lesson is that Jews are more centrist and moderate than just plain old liberal. A nonpartisan Ipsos/Cook Political Report Poll completed last March indicates American Jews remain strongly Democratic, with 64 percent of those surveyed describing themselves as Democrats and 26 percent describing themselves as Republicans. (While 46 percent of all Americans would definitely vote for Bush, for instance, only 25 percent of American Jews would do so.)

But large Jewish turnouts for Ronald Reagan and Riordan are evidence that, at voting time, Jews are more Prag-mocrat than Democrat. While the Republican Party is attracting increasing numbers of true believers among Jews, the Jews who remain Democrat don’t want to sacrifice their sense of independence and pragmatism to a party label. That’s why a Riordan scores well among Jews and why a Davis, a standard issue Dem, rates so poorly.

What about the loyal Democrats? "My strategy for Oct. 7?" said a ferociously liberal Jew about the date of the recall. "Hold on to the statehouse, hold on to the statehouse, hold on to the statehouse."

As sickened as they are by the recall, they don’t want to see Republicans, any Republican, use it to wrest control of the governor’s office. So this man also said he’d abandon Davis if a stronger candidate — Feinstein or Leon Panetta, for instance — came around.

At this point, in other words, winning is all that matters. And that’s a sentiment too many of his prior supporters believe Davis understands all too well.

No Major Names for Jerusalem Mayor


Next week’s vote for mayor of Jerusalem will be unprecedented: For the first time since the reunification of the city in 1967, no major national figure is running.

The front-runners are three candidates who, until now, were little known: a high-tech multimillionaire, a ultra-Orthodox provider of auxiliary medical equipment and a loyal Likud Party functionary.

Likud leaders wanted former Finance Minister Dan Meridor, the man Menachem Begin predicted one day would be prime minister, to take the job. He politely declined.

Labor heavyweights Avraham Burg, Matan Vilnai, Dahlia Itzik and Ophir Pines-Paz all briefly toyed with the idea of running, but chose not to.

That left the field open to Nir Barkat, 43, director of BRM, a venture-capital firm worth an estimated $250 million; acting mayor Uri Lupoliansky, 51, founder of Yad Sarah, the biggest volunteer organization in the country; and deputy mayor Yigal Amedi, 47, a Likud activist who has been involved in local party politics since his teens.

The June 3 election comes just four days after Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the reunification of the capital under Jewish rule in the 1967 Six-Day War. But it also comes as the city’s future is more uncertain than ever: As momentum builds for new peace talks under the "road map" plan, Jerusalem’s fate is sure to be reopened as the Palestinians demand the eastern part of the city for the capital of their expected state.

The reason for this year’s election partly explains why major national players aren’t lining up for the race.

Former Mayor Ehud Olmert was forced to resign after being elected to the Knesset on the Likud ticket in January, because of a new law prohibiting Knesset members or Cabinet ministers from serving as mayors at the same time. Had Meridor, Burg or any of the other national politicians run, they would have had to leave behind the Knesset — and their national leadership aspirations — at least for the foreseeable future.

Olmert’s critics argue that he used the mayoral office to resurrect his national political career so blatantly that no one else would feel comfortable doing the same. All three front-runners feel obligated to stress that they would be "full-time" mayors in a way politicians with national aspirations never could. Each is convinced he has a special contribution to make to the development of the capital in the 21st century.

Amedi, a self-made man from the poor Nahlaot neighborhood, claims to have an innate understanding of the city’s residents and their needs.

"There is not a stone in the city I don’t know," he boasted, adding that he wants to be "the people’s mayor." If elected, he would be the first Jerusalem-born incumbent.

Barkat is convinced he can revolutionize the way the city operates by applying the same standards of excellence that made him rich. He sees running the city in terms of a customer-driven service market: The people — the customers — must be empowered to let the service provider, the city, know what they want, and the city must then provide those services with maximum efficiency. In Barkat’s view, the mayor’s job is to monitor all municipal services, from garbage collection to education, in terms of customer satisfaction and to demand constant improvement.

"We will put a mirror up to each and every department in the municipality, and I will demand that they keep raising their standards," he said.

For example, schools that aren’t up to the mark will be closed, and their buildings handed over to successful schools that will be encouraged to expand and open new branches.

If he wins, Barkat would be the first mayor elected on a nonparty ticket.

Lupoliansky’s flagship is Yad Sarah, which loans medical equipment to the sick and infirm, religious or secular, Jew or Arab, virtually free of charge. He claims its success is evidence of his ability to run large organizations, and that he will run the city in the same nondiscriminatory way.

Lupoliansky — who became the city’s first ultra-Orthodox mayor when he took over from Olmert in February — said he hopes to create a more caring community in which people from all sectors live in harmony.

"What burns in my bones is to build a city that will be a joy to live in, where everyone can dance to his own tune in his own place without stepping on anyone else’s toes," he said.

But running a city holy to three religions, at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with more than 3,000 years of history — and a population of 670,000 that is the largest, poorest and most ethnically diverse in the country — will take more than sloganeering.

For years young, mainly secular Israelis have been leaving the city in droves because of a perception of growing Orthodox influence on its lifestyle and because of a dearth of housing and job opportunities.

For example, 220,000 people work in Jerusalem every day; in Tel Aviv, with a population half as large, the figure is 340,000. Clearly, anyone who wants to keep young people in Jerusalem will have to bring in more businesses that provide jobs.

There are other pressing problems, too: the run-down state of the city center; the ongoing threat of Palestinian terrorism that keeps tourists away; light-rail infrastructure clogging up the roads; keeping the peace between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews, while allowing secular entertainment and travel on the Sabbath; dealing with social problems in poor neighborhoods; equalizing educational opportunities; restoring Jerusalem’s status as a great international city; and providing an acceptable level of services to Palestinians in the eastern part of the city.

With less than a week to go, polls show Barkat and Lupoliansky running neck and neck at around 40 percent, with Amedi winning 10 percent to 15 percent. If no candidate wins 40 percent on the first ballot, there will be a run-off between the top two finishers. If that happens, Barkat, who would be expected to pick up most of the rest of the secular vote, would be the favorite.

Still, many secular Jerusalemites complain they have no one to vote for: Barkat’s critics fear he may try too much too soon and end up being a mayor for the rich, while Amedi’s critics say he is a good No. 2 but doesn’t have what it takes to be No. 1.

As for Lupoliansky, critics say that as talented and personable as he is, the ultra-Orthodox establishment will force him to divert huge budgets to yeshivot and Orthodox schools.

The big question is whether the new mayor will be able to grow in stature and restore the city to its former glory. That could depend on events outside his control — particularly on whether the "road map" ends terrorism, brings back tourists and investors and re-establishes Jerusalem, the holy pilgrim city, as a symbol of peace and spirituality.


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Labor Sinks to New Low as Mitzna Quits


Amram Mitzna’s decision to abdicate the leadership of the Labor Party after just months on the job seems to signal the lowest ebb for a party that dominated Israeli life for decades. But it might just herald a dramatic realignment of Israel’s political map.

After months of rebellion by party officials, who never grew accustomed to his leadership style, Mitzna threw the Israeli political establishment into turmoil by announcing his resignation May 4. The announcement opened what could be yet another a bitter battle for the leadership of Labor, which has been rudderless since party leader Ehud Barak retired after losing the premiership to Ariel Sharon in February 2001.

It also raised the possibility that centrist Labor politicians, who chafed at Mitzna’s decision not to join a national unity government after Sharon was reelected by a landslide in January, might take the party back into Sharon’s embrace.

If that happens, the more dovish wings of the party could split, leaving Labor for an alliance that former Labor legislator Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, head of the left-wing Meretz Party, have been talking about building for months. Beilin even said Mitzna could lead the alliance.

Beilin pointed out that if just six other Labor members of Knesset joined Mitzna, the leftist group would have 13 Knesset members to Labor’s 12 and would constitute the largest opposition faction in the Knesset. Ironically, in that case, Mitzna no longer would be Labor’s leader, but he would still be leader of the opposition.

Such a move could lead to a major realignment of political forces in Israel — and it is quite conceivable if the new Labor leadership decides to join Sharon’s government. First, though, Labor will have some hard choices to make about its leadership and direction.

Mitzna was hailed as a potential savior when at age 57, he burst onto the national political stage eight months ago after serving as mayor of Haifa for a decade. The Palestinian intifada was at its height and Labor, which had been the junior partner in Sharon’s unity government until leaving on a budgetary pretext, was struggling.

Mitzna promised to discard Sharon’s policies, immediately sit down with any Palestinian leaders and, if all else failed, unilaterally withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip within a year.

Many Israelis hoped that Mitzna, soft-spoken and highly principled, would give Labor a new sense of purpose and help the country address its most pressing problems. However, his resignation dashed those hopes and left the party worse off than at any time in its long and checkered history.

Some pundits are predicting the demise of the once-dominant, 70-year-old party. Others foresee a split in the ranks. Even if none of that happens, Labor, which has fallen to just 19 seats in the 120-member Knesset, faces a long and difficult process of rehabilitation.

The circumstances and manner of Mitzna’s resignation made an already tough situation infinitely worse. In his resignation speech, he claimed leading figures in the party had never accepted his leadership, hadn’t given him a moment’s grace and had done all they could to undermine him.

"I am ashamed of the fact that since my election, before and after the elections to the Knesset, many in the party leadership focused on me and the struggle against me rather than on the struggle for peace and justice," he declared.

Mitzna said he had been confronted by a group of manipulative Machiavellians, who put personal ambition above the general good.

"I regret this," he said. "But I do not regret the fact that I am cut from different cloth."

Although he didn’t mention names, Mitzna’s barbs were aimed, first and foremost, at the man he replaced as party leader, former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

Mitzna’s main problem as leader was that — although he had been elected by an overwhelming majority of the party membership — Ben-Eliezer’s people still controlled Labor’s decision-making institutions. Time and again, Ben-Eliezer used this to embarrass and humiliate the politically inexperienced Mitzna.

Just two weeks after Sharon’s new government was sworn in in late February and Mitzna had become opposition leader, Ben-Eliezer issued a public challenge: He insisted that a peace plan he had drafted, which was different from Mitzna’s, be adopted as party policy.

Only 126 of the 2,400 Central Committee members turned up for the debate, and though Mitzna pleaded that no vote be taken, Ben-Eliezer was adamant. By a vote of 78-46, with two abstentions, the Ben-Eliezer plan became Labor Party policy, a major slap in the face to the new party leader. The final straw came two and half months later, when Mitzna, after a string of similar defeats, failed to get his way on candidates for the Haifa municipal election in June.

At his news conference, Mitzna said he was prepared to fight for his dovish views, but not to fight daily to prove his legitimacy as party leader.

The press was deeply divided over Mitzna’s decision to resign. Some argued that he was too good for his political colleagues; others said that he had feet of clay.

"Maybe Mitzna failed. Maybe he is not the stuff of which leaders are made," Yediot Achronot’s Sima Kadmon wrote. "True, he has little political savvy. And you would need more than the fingers of two hands to count his mistakes. But even if all that is true, only a pathetic party like Labor could reject a man of such quality."

But Doron Rosenblum of Ha’aretz argued that "like others on the Israeli left," Mitzna was too finicky and fragile.

"He is touchy, spoiled and refined," Rosenblum wrote. "A weakling and a crybaby. Suited only to aesthetically pleasing situations. He deserves better. And if not he walks out."

It’s difficult to gauge how much Mitzna’s departure will cost Labor in terms of public support. A weekend public opinion poll, however, gives some indication: 60 percent of the those polled thought Mitzna most suited to lead Labor, followed by Ben-Eliezer with a mere 10 percent.

Labor voters liked Mitzna’s promise of cleaner politics, and his unmitigated condemnation of his party peers will repel many potential supporters. To steady the ship, most Labor leaders are now talking about appointing a temporary party leader, rather than going straight into another strength-sapping leadership race.

The lone candidate for interim leader is veteran Shimon Peres, whose task would be to put things back on an even keel and smooth the way for a leadership race in about a year’s time. There also is talk of a "collective leadership" working in unison around Peres. Labor’s secretary-general, Ophir Pines, said sadly that maybe now, after the shock of Mitzna’s resignation, the others "will get their act together."

Many names are being bandied about as prospective candidates to eventually take over as party leader, among them former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, former ministers Matan Vilnai and Ben-Eliezer and perhaps even Barak. A lot will depend on when the race takes place and whether Peres is installed first as temporary leader.

The key question is whether Sharon will be able to attract the new, temporary leadership to join his coalition. Peres, Ben-Eliezer and Barak are known to be in favor.

Mitzna, too, had said recently that he would consider joining Sharon’s government if it accepted the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, which calls for an end to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, after being rebuffed by Mitzna for months, Sharon was in no hurry to embrace him when Mitzna’s hold on Labor clearly was becoming precarious.

If Mitzna’s successors do lead Labor back into government — and if Mitzna in turn leads a sizable contingent out of Labor — the consequences for the Israeli political spectrum could be far-reaching.

+