Congressional races to watch


The following are descriptions of eight congressional races of particular Jewish interest, plus four others featuring potentially viable Jewish contenders.

Top eight congressional races to watch:

U.S. Senate:

Hawaii — Mazie Hirono (D) vs. Linda Lingle (R)

Hawaii

Linda Lingle, the former Hawaii governor now running for the U.S. Senate, attending the United Chinese Society Banquet in Honolulu, July 2012. Photo courtesy of Linda Lingle Campaign

Strongly Democratic Hawaii is tough turf for Republicans, but picking up a Senate seat in President Barack Obama’s birth state would be a real coup. And the GOP found a strong candidate in the state’s Jewish former governor, Linda Lingle. Still, Lingle has an uphill fight against Rep. Mazie Hirono in the race to replace retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Democrat.

Nevada — Shelley Berkley (D) vs. Dean Heller (R)

With control of the Senate on the line, both parties are betting on Nevada. Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is Jewish, has been trailing incumbent Dean Heller in the polls, but only by a few points, and the race is considered a toss-up. Heller, a former congressman, was appointed to fill the seat last year following the scandal-induced resignation of Sen. John Ensign, a Republican. Berkley, who has strong union ties and is known as an Israel hawk, is a political nemesis (and former employee) of casino mogul and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Berkley’s Senate campaign faced a setback this summer when the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into allegations that she had used her office to benefit her husband’s business interests.

Ohio — Sherrod Brown (D) vs. Josh Mandel (R)

Ohio is the frontline in the fight for the White House, and it’s also a battleground in the struggle for the Senate. Republicans tapped state Treasurer Josh Mandel, a boyish-looking Jewish former Marine and Iraq War vet, to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown, a champion of organized labor and a favorite of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. Brown has been ahead in the polls, usually by single digits.


U.S. House of Representatives:

California, 30th District — Howard Berman (D) vs. Brad Sherman (D)

Sherman v. Berman

Reps. Brad Sherman, left, and Howard Berman, both Democrats, are pro-Israel congressmen vying for the seat in California’s 30th District.

This is the race that Democrats and supporters of Israel wish weren’t happening. The fierce redistricting-fueled fight in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley pits two veteran pro-Israel incumbents against each other. Rep. Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a key player on immigration and intellectual property issues, enjoys the strong support of California’s Democratic congressional delegation, elected officials and Hollywood machers. But Sherman is an aggressive retail politician and has represented much more of the new district than Berman. Sherman beat Berman by 10 points in the nonpartisan primary that sent the two Jewish Democrats to their general election face-off and enjoys a 13-point lead in a newly released poll.

Florida, 22nd District — Lois Frankel (D) vs. Adam Hasner (R)

Elections

Democrat Lois Frankel and Republican Adam Hasner, both Jewish, are squaring off in Florida’s 22nd District, which has been redrawn to make it substantially more Democratic.

The race in this South Florida district, stretching along the coast of Broward and Palm Beach counties, pits two Jewish politicians against each other. Lois Frankel, who previously served as mayor of West Palm Beach and in the state legislature, is stressing health care issues and trying to tie her opponent to past Republican Medicare overhaul proposals. The district, which had been represented by Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West, a Republican, was redrawn to make it substantially more Democratic. Adam Hasner, a former majority leader in the state’s House of Representatives, abandoned a foundering campaign for the GOP Senate nomination and entered the congressional race after West decided to run in a neighboring district. Hasner, who ran for Senate as a staunch conservative and is an abortion-rights opponent, is stressing the importance of working across the aisle in his congressional campaign. Frankel is regarded as having the edge in the race.

Illinois, 10th District — Robert Dold (R) vs. Brad Schneider (D)

First-term Rep. Robert Dold has been active on Middle East issues, but he had some big shoes to fill. He won the congressional seat vacated by fellow Republican and now-Sen. Mark Kirk, who had been a leader in efforts to support Israel and sanction Iran. Dold now faces a two-pronged challenge with a redrawn suburban Chicago district that is more Democratic and a strong opponent who has a long history of involvement in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities. Brad Schneider, a management consultant, has been involved with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Chicago’s Jewish Federation and the American Jewish Committee. Dold is stressing his support for abortion rights, some gun control measures, stem cell research and civil unions for gay couples. Observers see the race as leaning toward Schneider.

New Jersey, 9th District — Bill Pascrell (D) vs. Shmuley Boteach (R)

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach may be a serious long-shot to unseat incumbent Rep. Bill Pascrell in this heavily Democratic northern New Jersey district, but he’s also one of the GOP’s more colorful candidates. Boteach, who bills himself as “America’s rabbi,” kept himself in the spotlight for years by starring in a reality TV show, befriending celebrities such as Michael Jackson and writing books with such titles as “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery” and “Kosher Jesus.” Pascrell had handily won a redistricting-induced intra-party primary against stalwart pro-Israel Rep. Steve Rothman. The primary featured some ethnic tensions when an Arab Pascrell supporter questioned the loyalties of local Orthodox synagogue presidents who had urged Jewish Republicans to change party registrations so they could vote for Rothman. In the general election, Boteach has tried to paint Pascrell not only as insufficiently pro-Israel but also as insufficiently supportive of Arab aspirations for freedom.

New York, 1st District — Tim Bishop (D) vs. Randy Altschuler (R)

Randy Altschuler is considered to be the best bet to add a second Jewish Republican to join Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the GOP’s House caucus. He is facing a rematch with Rep. Tim Bishop, who beat him narrowly in 2010 in the Long Island district. Bishop has attacked Altschuler for being the co-CEO of a firm that helped companies outsource office work overseas. Altschuler’s campaign has emphasized his candidate’s more recent work as chairman of an electronics recycling firm as an example of creating green jobs in the United States. Political observers see the race as tilted toward Bishop but consider it competitive.


Other House races of note with Jewish contenders:

California, 47th District:

Alan Lowenthal, a Democratic state senator, is favored to win in this new congressional district spanning parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Florida, 9th District:

Former Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat, is a verbally combative liberal who was defeated in 2010 and looks set to return to Congress in a strongly Democratic Orlando-area district.

New Jersey, 3rd District:

Democrat Shelley Adler is running against incumbent Rep. Jon Runyan, a Republican and a former pro football player who in 2010 unseated her now late husband, John Adler.

Rhode Island, 1st District:

First-term Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat, is in a tough fight to hold on in a solidly Democratic district after embarrassing revelations about severe budget problems in Providence, where he had previously served as mayor.

Congressional hearing tackles anti-Semitism in social media


Social networking sites present a new and dangerous medium for spreading anti-Semitism, panelists told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee.

The April 14 hearing, titled “Combating Anti-Semitism: Protecting Human Rights,” looked at the proliferation of hate speech through social media alongside such concerns as anti-Semitism being masked as anti-Israelism or anti-Westernism.

Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s special envoy to combat and monitor anti-Semitism, favored “positive talk” as a means of combating the hate, while some Jewish groups said using legal means to remove the incitement was the better way to go.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) asked Rosenthal about how to combat the reappearance of the blood libel—the falsehood that Jews use gentile blood to make matzah—popping up in the Middle East through television and the Internet.

“The answer to bad and hateful speech is good speech,” Rosenthal replied. “There are examples where there is incitement to violence and we raise it with the television stations and with the NGOs on the ground.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that rather than countering hate speech with positive speech, companies should enforce their policies on hate speech.

“We all click a gray button that says ‘I agree.’ Have you ever taken the time to read what you are agreeing to?” Cooper asked. “It’s a contract and it does not allow for hate speech.”

Working with companies to remove sites that violate the terms of agreement has been successful, he said, noting a positive relationship with Facebook, which has 400 million users.

Cooper showed the panel anti-religion and anti-Semitic Web sites, including a Facebook page called “Zionism Terminator,” and spoke of suicide bomber games and others in which the player commits atrocities such as gunning down Haitian survivors.

The concept of the lone wolf is also alarming, he said, referring to James von Brunn, who last June gunned down a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Von Brunn, who died in January, maintained a Web site blaming Jews and African-Americans for an earlier jail sentence.

Other panelists included Elisa Massimino, president and CEO of Human Rights First; Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs; and Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Massimino, whose written testimony included a 10-point plan for combating hate crimes, urged the Congress members to press the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe “to live up to the commitments they have already made” to effectively track and combat hate crimes and for the U.S. to make its presence known on the issue.

Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Ron Klein (D-Fla.) also attended at the hearing, which was convened by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations.

Briefs: Muslim Congressman joins anti-Semitism panel; Kol tov at Kol Tikvah; Married rabbi and canto


The only Muslim member of Congress has joined its anti-Semitism task force, founded earlier this summer by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I am honored to join the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force because it embodies the ideals and principles that have guided and shaped my life,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

Congressional task forces, which conduct informational hearings, have no legislative role. The anti-Semitism task force is co-chaired by Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Ron Klein (D-Fla.)

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

SUV — Not Terrorists — Caused Hole at Kol Tikvah

A large hole in the sanctuary wall of Temple Kol Tikvah was not the result of a terrorist attack, as some members of the Woodland Hills congregation feared after the damage appeared last Thursday night.

It occurred when an SUV jumped the curb while heading east on Ventura Boulevard and careened into the northeast corner of the Reform synagogue sanctuary at 6:50 p.m. on Aug. 23.

“Our choir practice was starting at 7 p.m., but no one was in the sanctuary at the time,” Rabbi Jan Offel said.

The driver was taken to the hospital with unconfirmed injuries; the passenger exhibited minor wounds, was treated on scene and released.

Kol Tikvah is now working with Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine’s office to mitigate speeding on that portion of Ventura Boulevard (between De Soto Avenue and Winnetka Avenue), which has a posted limit of 40 mph.

Services will be held during the next few weeks, starting Friday night at 7 p.m., in the temple’s social hall. Offel expects the sanctuary to be repaired in time for High Holy Days, when Congregation Shir Ami meets there.

“We’re just really thankful that no one was killed or badly injured and that our insurance will be able to take care of things so that the sanctuary will look better than it was before,” Offel said.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Israeli Children Heal at Camp Ramah

Nearly 100 Israeli children who have lost parents or siblings in the Israeli army spent two weeks at Camp Ramah this summer through Moreshet, a program piloted last year by the local chapter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Last summer, 30 kids spent time at Camp Ramah in Ojai, and this summer 48 kids came to Ojai, and another 50 spent time at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

The program offers bar/bat mitzvah-aged kids from bereaved families a respite from the trauma at home by giving them a trip to remember. The California group bonded with their American peers at Ramah, and took a few days off from camp to go to Universal Studios, the Santa Monica Pier, the Third Street Promenade and Hollywood.

“These children and their families have paid the ultimate price for Eretz Yisrael,” said Marci Spitzer, Moreshet chair.

More than $400,000 was donated to support the program, including large donations from Nessah Synagogue of Beverly Hills and the Lodzer Organization, as well as single sponsorships from bar or bat mitzvah kids. Cheryl and Haim Saban fully sponsored the group in the Berkshires.

Spitzer says that more than 100 kids from bereaved military families have already approached FIDF about participating next year.

For more information, call (310) 305-4063, or visit http://www.fidf.org or http://www.ramah.org.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Schools Plan Kindergarten Fair

A kindergarten fair will introduce families to more than 40 private elementary schools in the Los Angeles area. Several Jewish schools will be among those represented: Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, Brawerman Elementary School of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Emanuel Academy of Beverly Hills, Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am, Sinai Akiba Academy and Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School.

The fair will be held Wednesday, Sept. 19, from 6:30 — 8:30 p.m. at Oakwood School, 11230 Moorpark St., North Hollywood.

For more information, call (818) 752-4444.

— Derek Schlom, Contributing Writer

Federation Funds Increase Shul Safety

While Jews flock en masse to the gates of prayer during the High Holy Days, security personnel will be guarding the physical gates to many area synagogues. On Aug. 14, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles announced it will disburse $150,000 in grants to small synagogues (those with up to 250 member families) in order to help them ensure the safety of their congregants.

For more information on applying for a grant, call The Federation’s Planning and Allocations Department at (323) 761-8320.

— Danielle Berrin, Contributing Writer

Husband and Wife to Be Installed as Rabbi and Cantor

It’s rare that a synagogue needs both a rabbi and cantor at the same time. It’s even more rare that two people who share the same bed would fill the two positions.

Enter Ira Rosenfeld and his wife, Beth Wasserman Rosenfeld, who on Friday night will be installed as rabbi and cantor, respectively, at Congregation Beth Shalom of Santa Clarita Valley.

“We have a good chemistry,” Ira said. “It’s like in the ‘Rocky’ movie when Paulie asks Rocky why he likes his sister. ‘I don’t know. We fill in gaps.’ I’m a little more of the improv person, and she’s a little more organized.”

Before their calling to ministry, both dreamed of being entertainers. He tried his hand at acting; she at singing. They have served in Jewish ministry and education for the past 10 and 15 years, and they started their new jobs July 1 at the Conservative synagogue, which has about 220 families.

— BG

Blocking Moderates


Political analysts agree on one thing: The Nov. 2, 2004, California congressional and state legislative elections were the most anti-demo-cratic and frightening results yet of the so-called “safe seats” scheme, in which the winners are known long before Election Day.

Thanks to the “safe seats” scheme, none of California’s 53 congressional seats changed from Republican to Democrat or vice versa on Nov. 2. Nor did any of the 100 Sacramento legislative seats up for grabs. In fact, the outcomes were almost all known months earlier because voters have become irrelevant.

That’s not choice or democracy, it’s tyranny. But the “safe seats” scheme has festered because the media fails to explain what “gerrymandering” is and how it hurts democracy.

Simply put, leaders of the Democratic Party and Republican Party in California cut a deal between themselves, behind closed doors, in which they agreed to carefully separate voters into blocs of Democrats and blocs of Republicans. After separating voters block by block, they drew lines around us on a map and called the crazy resulting shapes “voting districts.”

Once herded into “voting districts,” we were then spoon-fed a pre-selected insider from either the Democratic or Republican Party who had absolutely no chance of losing — no chance — on Nov. 2. This ensured that the politicians didn’t have to compete on ideas, vision or policy in order to win our votes.

If you live in the Los Angeles coastal strip, when you went to your polling place Nov. 2, you saw very, very few Republicans voting. And not just because fewer Republicans live among the coastal types. Republicans have been ghettoized into specially drawn “voting districts” so their pesky votes won’t disrupt the preset plan by a pre-anointed Democrat to grab the political office in your area.

On the other hand, if you live in the Inland Empire, when you walked into your polling place you rarely brushed past a Democrat. Sure, Democrats live among the inlander types. But they’ve been ghettoized into specially drawn “voting districts” so that their pesky votes don’t disrupt the preset plan by a pre-anointed Republican to grab the political office in your area.

It’s pure corruption, although no money changes hands. A civic figure in Los Angeles once uttered this Orwellian truism: “Voters no longer pick the candidate.” Instead, candidates wielding block-by-block computer modeling “pick their voters.” It almost makes your skin crawl.

Horrified by the Orwellian state legislative and congressional results on Nov. 2, Ted Costa of the People’s Advocate, who launched the Gray Davis recall, is linking up with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others to stop politicians from divvying us up. They will fight to pass a ballot measure that hands this job of “redistricting” to a panel of nonpartisan judges.

Republican consultant Arnold Steinberg says past reform efforts have been stopped at the ballot box by huge Democratic spending campaigns. “In theory, a new measure for safe seats does have potential but it has to be well-drafted and with a competent campaign this time,” says Steinberg. “My optimism is guarded.”

If it does succeed, political moderates who have long been absent from California politics will run for office in the resulting “mixed” voting districts based on natural geography.

Why should you care? For one thing, a nascent movement of pro-business, pro-choice, moderate Republican Jews in California political life is likely to take off like a rocket.

In 2002, Robert Levy, a pro-choice Jewish Republican, ran for the House of Representatives in the 27th District in the San Fernando Valley. One of four moderate Republican Jews who ran in Los Angeles that year, Levy lost to Jewish Democratic incumbent Brad Sherman.

Levy, a longtime lawyer who volunteered as a judge pro tempore in the Superior Court of Los Angeles, boasted an impressive resume, years of service, fresh ideas and an engaging personality. And not a prayer of winning.

Levy couldn’t get serious press coverage. The Los Angeles media correctly prejudged that, despite Levy’s obvious appeal, a Republican could not possibly win the “safe” Democrat-gerrymandered 27th District.

Sherman, Levy’s rival, told me in 2002 that he was “scared at first” by Levy’s credentials. But after the media marginalized Levy, Sherman raised $450,000 to Levy’s $20,000 in campaign funds. Sherman won long before voters ever voted.

Connie Friedman and Michael J. Wissot were other moderate Jewish Republicans who ran in the San Fernando Valley and got shut out, beat by partisan liberal Democrats Lloyd Levine and Fran Pavley. But remember, safe seats also keep moderate Democrats from having any chance to win in carefully gerrymandered Republican areas, such as in the San Joaquin Valley.

Safe seats have created a terrible divide. Most members of the House of Representatives from California, as well as the 120 members of the Sacramento state Legislature, grew increasingly hard left and hard right. They were handpicked for office by the uncompromising special-interest groups who drew up the mapping lines that herded voters into our separate worlds.

It’s a pretty neat setup.

Because Jews play a much larger role in California politics than their modest population would suggest, if voters agree with Schwarzenegger and Costa to halt the gerrymandering, California will see moderate Jewish Republicans increasingly hankering for their place in the sun.

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

Are Jews Becoming Republican?


The debate over whether American Jews are turning to the Republican Party is not likely to be settled when the votes are counted on Nov. 5.

With midterm congressional elections just days away, Republicans cite a variety of reasons why this year’s polls may not show the political shift they have been predicting for the past year. But Democrats say the election will be the best sign yet of where Jews stand on the political spectrum.

It’s hardly a new debate. For years, Republican Jewish leaders have touted increasing support from the Jewish community, while exit polls continue to show that most Jews vote Democratic. Still, with a Republican president who is strongly pro-Israel and Republican voices in Congress taking the lead in support of Israel and the U.S. war on terrorism, the issue has garnered notice in mainstream media. While several indicators hint at a trend, little information exists to make a definitive assessment. That makes Election Day an important test for both sides of the argument. Any Jewish movement toward the GOP would strike at one of the Democrats’ strongest voting blocs at a time when Congress is almost evenly divided.

Jews make up only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, but they are valuable in elections because of their high voter turnout and their geographical disbursement, said Norman Ornstein, an election analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

“You have a lot of Jewish votes in a number of pivotal states and ones that are contentious,” Ornstein said. Plus, Jews often are political leaders and key fundraisers.

The habits of Jewish voters have been a curiosity for years.

“It’s a puzzle,” said Ken Goldstein, assistant professor of political science and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin. “Given their education levels, income levels and color of skin, Jews should look like Republican voters” — but, historically, they haven’t. During the 1990s, for example, Democrats won at least 73 percent of the Jewish vote in House races. Within the last two decades, Jewish support for Democratic congressional candidates peaked at 82 percent in 1982, according to The New York Times. The high point for the GOP was the 32 percent of the Jewish vote in House races in 1988.

But Matthew Brooks, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) executive director, points to an RJC survey, showing that 48 percent of Jews surveyed said they would consider voting for President Bush for reelection in 2004. The poll also found that Bush’s performance moved 27 percent to say they were more likely to vote for Republicans for other offices.

Despite such figures and articles describing a GOP tilt among Jews, Jewish Democratic leaders say the perception is wrong.

In the past, Jewish voters have feared that voting Republican would mean embracing a conservative domestic agenda, such as opposition to abortion and support for school prayer. Now, some say, closer ties between the Jewish community and right-wing Christian supporters of Israel has opened some doors.

Ira Forman, National Jewish Democratic Council executive director, says that especially during times of Mideast crisis, Jewish voting patterns reflect concern for Israel more than domestic agendas.

Given strong Israel support by Bush and congressional Republicans, it has created a perception of a Jewish-GOP embrace.

But, Forman contends, Jewish voters most often don’t have to make that choice. More often, he says, they’re deciding between pro-Israel Democrats and pro-Israel or neutral Republicans. When both candidates are either pro-Israel or neutral, Jews lean toward the Democrats because of domestic issues.

Forman also says that Jewish votes for GOP candidates don’t necessarily reflect a shift rightward.

A Gallup Organization study found that the partisan slant of the Jewish vote has remained stable over the past decade.

No poll has enough Jewish respondents to mark a trend. But, extrapolating from its polls in the past 18 months, Gallup found that some 50 percent of Jewish voters are Democrats, 32 percent are independent and 18 percent are Republicans. That mirrors Gallup polls taken between 1992 and 2001.

Frank Newport of Gallup said patterns of party identification are very stable.

Goldstein says this Election Day may not resolve the question of Jewish voting habits, since many of key races are in states with small Jewish populations. He believes the presidential race in 2004 will be a more important indicator.

But Democrats counter that even that won’t be a fair judge, because Bush’s Mideast policy and his handling of the war against terrorism have made him popular with Jewish voters. Jews may vote for other Republicans because they support Bush, not because they’ve had a real change of heart, Forman says.

All of which means that the debate is likely to go on after November, come what may at the polls.

Commemorating the Holocaust


The mud being slung in the San Fernando Valley’s most closely watched congressional race has a distinctive blue-and-white tinge. Their positions on issues from abortion to Social Security having failed to ignite much interest, the candidates for the 24th District seat have instead turned to scuffling over Israel.

Democratic incumbent Brad Sherman successfully hit a nerve with his accusation that challenger Randy Hoffman’s Magellan Systems has somehow endangered Israeli security by selling navigational equipment to Saudi Arabia.

Hoffman, the Republican candidate, was both a founder and the president of Magellan Systems Corporation, which manufacturers hand-held satellite communications equipment. During Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. military used a product known as the Magellan GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) to help coordinate maneuvers. Gen. Colin Powell, in a letter written to Hoffman in August (more than seven years after the Gulf War), lauded GPS receivers as “one of the most important pieces of equipment in the war.”

But Sherman, a member of the House International Relations Committee, contends that Magellan’s sale of its equipment (including nonmilitary GPS) to Saudi Arabia does nothing to prevent the Saudis from turning around and selling that same equipment to the terrorists who threaten Israel.

“I guess they’re relying on the Zionists in Saudi Arabia to resist that,” Sherman sarcastically remarked.

Hoffman’s camp has, in turn, accused the congressman of essentially playing the race card in this heavily Jewish district. Hoffman and his campaign manager, Todd Slosek, note that there is a significant difference between the military GPS made available to U.S. servicemen and the commercial GPS sold in Saudi Arabia — the United States has full control over the military satellite.

“He’s trying to scare the Jewish community with these outlandish, unsubstantiated allegations,” said Slosek. “Magellan could not sell to Sudan or Syria; they’re terrorist nations. Do you think [Israeli Internal Security Minister] Avigdor Kahalani would have met with Randy if he thought Randy’s company was selling to Israel’s enemies?”

The meeting between Kahalani and Hoffman took place during the latter’s June “fact-finding mission” to Israel.

The two congressional candidates, who are vying to represent a district that encompasses an area from Thousand Oaks to Sherman Oaks, began sparring in an almost friendly manner back in June. Hoffman entered the race with serious credentials: a Harvard MBA, a CEO of his own high-tech company at 30, he won the endorsements of Mayor Richard Riordan and Sheriff Sherman Block.

But their war of words has continued to escalate as the election neared.

On reproductive rights, both candidates say they are pro-choice. Hoffman, however, sets certain limits: no late-term abortions unless the mother’s life is at risk; no public funding for family-planning programs overseas that include funding abortions; no funding of abortions for military women or even for the poor unless the mother’s health is at risk and she is truly destitute.

These exemptions prompted Sherman to label his opponent as “not pro-choice but multiple choice.” Sherman voted against the recent congressional bill that prohibits late-term abortions, because the bill contained no exceptions for women whose lives or reproductive health were at risk.

On another hot-button issue, Social Security, the candidates differ radically. Sherman believes that maintaining a strong economy will bolster the present system over the long run. He also spoke of having a national dialogue on the subject, enlisting the help of the American Association of Retired Persons and the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan balanced-budget group, as well as giving trustees more leeway to properly invest Social Security funds.

Hoffman, on the other hand, wants to allow private citizens to set aside 10 percent of their earnings in tax-exempt passbook savings accounts. He bristles when asked if that is not the same thing as “privatizing” Social Security, an unpopular idea among seniors.

“Privatizing has become a term for investing Social Security funds in the stock market and putting those funds at risk,” Hoffman said. “Why would I want to risk money that people like my mother and 33 million others rely on?”

As for education, Hoffman said that he favors allowing parents to set up “educational savings accounts,” which could help those with children in any type of school, public or private. However, Sherman’s campaign manager, Peter Loge, said that ESAs are no more than another term for vouchers, which Sherman opposes because it would decimate funding for already beleaguered public schools.

But beyond these issues, Sherman believes it is the Monica Lewinsky matter that will influence voters on election day.

“It’s made this election center on whether to drag [the impeachment process] out for another year or whether to wrap it up,” he said. “If the Republican Party can pick up 20 seats around the country like mine, they will view it as a mandate to destroy the president slowly.

“I want to emphasize that it’s nobody’s fault but his – both the behavior he engaged in and how he dissembled about it. But just when we in Congress start to get angry, we remember he’s done some very good things for this country.”