Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Aug. 6. Photo by Gali Tibbon/Reuters

Can the U.S. Congress Still Influence Israeli Policy?

Last week, a group of U.S. senators sent a stern letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The letter was signed by seven U.S. senators, among them Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“We fear actions like the conversion bill and the suspension of the Kotel agreement will strain the unique relationship between our two nations,” the senators warned, “particularly if the majority of American Jews see the movements to which they are committed denied equal rights in Israel.”

What was Netanyahu’s reaction? He politely ignored it. The conversion bill was shelved by Netanyahu months ago, and the Kotel agreement is unlikely to materialize.

How times have changed.

Seven years ago, in 2010, U.S. senators seemed to have more leverage over Israel. Back then, another piece of Israeli legislation — the conversion bill initiated by Knesset member David Rotem — irked Jewish Americans. They pressured the government and then used their ultimate weapon: members of Congress. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) drafted a letter to Netanyahu. Fellow Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Carl Levin of Michigan joined him. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) phoned the prime minister. The impact of their actions was clear: Netanyahu shelved the bill, never to be resurrected.

But now there is silence. Strange silence. The letters are similar; the argument similar; the prime minister is the same prime minister; all the U.S. legislators involved, still, are Jewish; and all are Democrats. And yet, we see no sign that Israel is about to change its policy. We see no sign that Netanyahu is feeling pressured by the letter.

Why? There are many reasons, but I’d like to address the reasons on the U.S. side. And they begin with the fact that the Democratic Party is not the same party it used to be. Senators such as Al Franken of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Brian Schatz of Hawaii do not carry the weight of a Lautenberg and a Levin. The current government of Israel does not see them as pillars of U.S.-Israel relations. It does not see how ignoring their letter is going to hurt Israel. What will they do? an Israeli senior official (who actually favors the Kotel agreement) asked me, sarcastically, “Will they vote for the Iran deal?”

The Jews of America might not realize it yet, but their tools for swaying Israel are not as compelling as they used to be. The recent senators’ letter, once the biggest stick over Israel’s head, only exposed that reality and made it public. Highly liberal Democratic senators, such as the ones who signed the letter, will not do the trick. The Democratic Party in general — being out of power and moving leftward — is less of a tool of pressure. And most Jews do not have allies other than liberal Jewish senators on these Israeli state-religion issues.

But something more significant has changed between 2010 and today. It is the U.S. — the great ally, the most important friend — that has lost some of its leverage over Israel. This should not come as a surprise. A U.S. that is less interested in world leadership; less involved in Middle East affairs; less dependable as a defender of Israel’s interests and security; more willing to let others, such as the Russians, call the shots; that was governed by a lead-from-behind President Barack Obama; and is now governed by a lead-by-Twitter President Donald Trump; will inescapably lose some of its leverage over Israel.

Usually, when we think about U.S. leverage over Israel, we think about the peace process (and how Obama failed to force concessions on Netanyahu), or about Iran (how Obama failed to deter Netanyahu from speaking before Congress, yet deterred him from attacking Iran). But U.S. leverage is also about the ability of U.S. Jews to make Israel accept their priorities and accommodate their wishes. It is about the usefulness of letters from senators concerning matters of lesser importance, such as the Kotel agreement.

In 2010, a letter proved to be useful. In 2017, another letter proved to be meaningless.

No, there are still two pro-Israel parties

Last week, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) head Matthew Brooks told The Hill, “We as a Jewish community have to take a long, hard step back and acknowledge the reality … that today there is one pro-Israel party and that is the Republican Party.”

What a boneheaded thing to say – both because it isn’t true, and because it’s a sure-fire way to hurt Israel. 

(Full disclosure: I’m a proud RJC member.)

Let’s look at some of the ways we know the Democrats continue to support Israel:

• In a survey last December (, nearly three times as many Democrats said they want US policy to lean toward Israel than those who want the country to support the Palestinians.

• CNN found that Democrats were more likely to feel that Israel’s actions in Gaza last summer were justified than unjustified.

• In fact, 40 out of 55 Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted for a resolution offering strong support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas. None of the rest voted against. 

• There are many powerful voices within the Democratic Party taking Israel’s side even on hot-button and mostly partisan issues, such as the four Senators who voted against the Iran nuclear deal. One of them is widely expected to lead the entire Democratic caucus after next year’s election – Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

• All of the Democratic presidential candidates are on the record supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and defend itself against attack. Each has visited Israel at least three times.

Granted, a lot of those numbers are better, even much better, when the statistics regarding Republican Party are examined. But the question is not which party is best for Israel. Brooks says the GOP is the only pro-Israel party, and his claim is plainly not true.

In fact, at least some of the Democratic drift from Israel can be fairly laid at our own party’s feet. Every time we have treated support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative policies as a litmus test for supporting Israel as a whole, it was entirely predictable that support for Israel among liberals would diminish. In the last few years, our party (mostly with an eye on pro-Israel Evangelicals) has sought to make Israel a partisan issue, such as when it invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress in a manner disrespectful to Democrats.

I would of course love all my fellow Jews to vote Republican (you should hear my conversations at various Shabbat tables and family events). But within today’s Jewish community, proclaiming the GOP the only pro-Israel Party is more likely to hurt Israel than to hurt the Democrats. The “social justice” mantra and irrational phobia about conservative Christians entrenched among American Jews means that given the choice, liberal Jewish Democrats will turn against a Likud-led Israel much more quickly than against a Clinton- and Obama-led Democratic Party.

Worse than being unwise, though, the triumphalist language is completely unnecessary. 

Let’s say Israel, God forbid, once again had to enter Gaza to stop rocket attacks, and prominent Democrats began to press Israel to withdraw. The RJC should put aside partisanship and say something like this:

“The Republican Jewish Coalition wishes to express its concern about the voices in the Democratic Party urging Israel to put the lives of its citizens in danger. We are glad to be allied with the seven Democratic Senators and 38 Democratic Congressmen who are on record against this move, and we encourage other Democrats to return to their party’s historic roots in supporting the only democracy in the Middle East, which is one of America’s greatest friends anywhere.”

Even if someday Democratic support for Israel really does dry up, Republicans still mustn’t trumpet that change, because Israel needs support from both parties. The fact is, sometimes the Democrats do control one or more branches of government, and when that happens, Israel supporters need to find an open door and a willingness to listen.

Certainly, if Matthew Brooks and the rest of the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition are more interested in GOP electoral success than the safety of Israel, they can continue declaring themselves the only pro-Israel party. But doing so shows American Jewry that they put political self-interest over defending Israel – which couldn’t be more off-message.

David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at

Why we lost the debate to kill the Iran deal, and how we could ultimately win

Early on in February of this year, as the President and his Secretary of State were starting to leak information on the  negotiations around the proposed deal with Iran, the world looked on and assumed like so many attempts before it, the prospects of success where slim – they would fail.  But the Israeli government took them seriously, they went into high gear, sending out messages through government operatives, generals and eventually the Prime Minister. This culminated in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s grand performance before congress. 

Mistake number #1.  No sitting president wants to be upstaged, nor embarrassed.   And no Democratic member of congress wanted to be part of a political maneuver that was staged not just by the Republican majority, but was blatantly used to manipulate the elections in Israel.  With that move, so began the slippery slope of alienating the key members of congress, the key democratic constituencies that could have turned the tide and killed what is arguably a “poor deal with Iran”.   

Then after the Netanyahu grandstanding, negotiations began to heat up as deadlines approached.  And Israel turned up the heat with its propaganda machine.  Leaking information on the Iranian nuclear program, placing editorials in newspapers, sending operatives from the Israeli lobby in the U.S. to media and events like congressional hearings. 

Mistake number #2 – Its not all about Israel — Its about the spread of terrorism and the importance of keeping sanctions.   As the elements of the deal leaked out in earnest in late April early May, the Israeli lobby began to attack the deal without any substance.  “We know this will be a bad deal for Israel.” stated a email from AIPAC.  “We cannot trust the Iranian's to keep their word” stated another one.  

Mistake number #3  While the Israeli lobby did the inside the beltway dance and shuffle, all the while the President and his people were out working the world stage putting pressure on our strongest allies to support a deal that they themselves had concerns about.  And setting in place U.S. based support with key Democratic constituencies.

Next up, the deal is getting done, the Iranians were close to walking away according to sources in the talks.  They did not want an extension.  We could have killed the deal right then and there.  But instead pro-Israel forces and members of the Israeli government chose a different path.  They focused their efforts on stirring up their base, sending out fundraising letters and attacking the wrong folks – the important Democrats that they were going to need in the coming months. 

Mistake number #4.  While the pro-Israel forces focused on attacking Democrats and let their Republican allies carry the message, the President and Secretary of State John Kerry were traveling the world, further pushing our allies into supporting the deal, and meeting regularly with the Democratic leadership to prepare for the eventual rollout of a flawed deal.  They knew it was flawed, yet they continued to think as they do today that this is the best deal we can get. 

Mistake number #5.  Already behind the eight-ball only weeks before the final announcement of the deal, finally the pro-Israel lobby meets in secret meetings in DC to plan what to do about a deal.    What do they do – they hire a Republican PR firm and Republican operatives to oversee the campaign, while leaking their strategy to the conservative media.   Not a great strategy, when you have to convince 30+ Democratic House members and a dozen or more Democratic Senators to oppose a flawed deal.   And in a typical inside baseball strategy they start running ads in national publications and doing TV advertising to an audience that has not been contacted in months as to their position, and has little connection to what is now become a partisan battle. 

Mistake number #6.  Panicked and playing catch up, they put into place a last minute attempt to lobby members of congress during the recess.  The big problem —  they have no base of support, the constituents that would make the most impact to members are already either neutral or are not going to go up against the President.  Having been worked for months by the administration, the supporters have convincingly framed the debate, and the Israeli government having counted the votes now knows they need to be careful for fear of a increased Obama backlash. 

Is it too late?

So where are we today, the pro-Israel groups for the last 40 days have been desperately trying to work constituencies that have no skin in the game, and are more concerned about the last two years of an Obama presidency and important members of Congress that will be critical to their issues in the coming years.  Throw on top of this members being lobbied by the leadership to tow the line or else they may end up in the smallest office, working on the subcommittee on Post Office operations. 

And so we have a misguided plan, late execution, a lost moral high ground, and many pro-Israel supporters like myself left confused and disappointed.

So can we win this? Probably not.  But we could inflict enough damage and pain that the administration and the world will listen- – implementation is still yet to be determined.    How can we achieve this.  We need to enlist the Obama coalition – go grassroots, and capture the debate by shifting the narrative away from Israel and back to terrorism and protecting the Homeland. 

We cannot re-write the history of the last 6 months.  We cannot undo the Netanyahu speech, or even bring together members of the Democratic caucus to rally behind their most trusted allies – the Jewish community.  Nor can you take back the millions wasted on national media campaigns and robo calls to staff members who have more to loose in bucking the leadership.  

Opportunity number #1.  What we could do and what we should have done is to reach out to the traditional Democratic base, the coalitions of minorities, women and seniors, labor and others that have stood side by side with the American Jewish community for decades.  Fighting for human rights, civil rights and personal freedoms.   We should have utilized this most powerful of coalitions to push back on our friends in the Democratic establishment to support what is right and what is important.   There is nothing more persuasive than a local constituent or large contributor calling or writing a member of congress to say.  “Please think before you cast this vote….”   Staff members catch on when calls come in from individuals that don't even know whom they are talking to – pushed through by eager political operatives that are making big bucks, while the President and his team count favorable votes.

Over and over again, our community falls into the same trap.  We take for granted that the communities we have been so closely aligned with, will be there when we need them. 

Opportunity number #2. So moving forward as a community, lets cast off the traditional playbook, put energy into local third-party Democratic and independent groups and focus on the importance of protecting the USA.    We as a Jewish community need to dig deep into our strong alliances with groups that have for decades relied on our support to achieve personal justice – we need them now, and they should be with us.  We need to ask them to reach key Democratic leaders and tell them its important that this deal not be implemented without the support of the community it will impact.  

That is where we should be, that is where we need to be – unfortunately, we are weeks away from approval of this deal, while continuing to  watch ads that point fingers and talk down to the same people that we need to support us.

With Biden opting out, partisan row over Netanyahu speech intensifies

In a blow to Israel’s efforts to contain the controversy over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress, Vice President Joe Biden announced that he would not attend the address.

Biden’s office informed the media on Friday that the vice president would be out of the country and would not fill his role as the president of the Senate during the joint meeting of Congress on March 3.

The announcement came as leading black and Hispanic Democrats indicated that they also would not attend. A Jewish lawmaker, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), told JTA that blacks in his district were asking him not to attend because they saw the speech as disrespecting President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in an interview with the Forward on Friday urged Netanyahu not to follow through with his plans to address Congress, saying the fracas had devolved into a “circus.” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, made the same call in an interview with the paper.

Administration officials had already said that the president and other senior officials would not meet with Netanyahu, ostensibly because the March 3 speech is just two weeks before the Israeli election. But until Friday it was not clear whether Biden would abjure his role of presiding over the Senate during the session.

Congressional Democrats say the speech is unacceptable because Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House of Representatives speaker, invited Netanyahu to rebut Obama’s continued backing of nuclear talks between the major powers and Iran. Netanyahu, like most Republicans, believes the talks are headed for a bad deal that will leave Iran on the threshold of a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu has phoned senior Democrats and Ambassador Ron Dermer has met with many of the rank-and-file in an effort to smooth over their differences. Netanyahu and Dermer have said the speech will emphasize bipartisan support for Israel and praise Obama for his backing of the country at critical times. They also said that Netanyahu is determined to keep the date because he believes he must urgently convey his warning about a nuclear Iran ahead of a March 24 deadline on achieving the outline of a deal.

Democrats, however, have grown more adamant in opposing the speech, with a growing number of prominent minority Democrats saying they will stay away. Party leaders in both chambers say they will attend but are warning that the speech might backfire.

Among the black lawmakers, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranked House Democrat, joined Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights hero, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in saying he will not attend. The Hill newspaper has also reported that Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a prominent Hispanic lawmaker and the chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will not attend.

Jewish lawmakers have met with Dermer and expressed their displeasure with the timing of the speech. Cohen, who is circulating a letter among colleagues urging Boehner to postpone the speech until after Israeli elections and congressional votes on an Iran sanctions bill, told Dermer on Thursday that African-American leaders in his Memphis district were asking him not to attend.

“It’s become less and less attractive” to attend, Cohen told JTA after the meeting. “My district is majority African-American and a lot of people see this as dismissive of the first African-American president.”

Cohen said Dermer told him that Netanyahu is determined to go ahead with the speech.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, suggested that Boehner misled the Israelis about the invitation, which Boehner said was made in the name of both parties. Within hours of Boehner announcing the invitation on Jan. 21, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, and the White House said they had been kept out of the loop.

“It appears that the speaker of Congress made a move in which we trusted, but which it ultimately became clear was a one-sided move and not a move by both sides,” Reuters quoted Hanegbi as saying Friday on an Israeli radio station.

A slate of 48 GOP House members signed on to a letter countering the one circulated by Cohen asking for a speech delay. The GOP letter, initiated by Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), thanked Boehner for organizing the speech, saying “it is necessary now for Congress to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu, and welcome his expertise on Iran’s regional designs.”

Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, suggested on Twitter that his party would use the issue against Democrats in elections.

“Dems have a choice — stand w/PM Netanyahu and the Jewish com against Iran or w/Pres Obama,” he said. The RJC “will make sure people know what they choose.”

Americans backing Israel in ever-growing numbers, poll shows

Americans' sympathies lean heavily toward Israel over the Palestinians in the highest level of support seen in 22 years.

According to data gleaned from Gallup's 2013 World Affairs poll, 64 percent of Americans support Israel over the Palestinians, with 12 percent backing the Palestinians over Israel. The last time Israel garnered as much support from Americans was in 1991 during the Gulf War.

Republicans are much likelier than Democrats to favor the Israelis, at 78 percent to 55 percent, with independents at 63 percent. But since 2001, independents have shown the greatest gain in support, up 21 percent. The support from Republicans has increased 18 percent during that time and Democrats' backing has grown 4 percent.

Older Americans backed Israel in the greatest numbers, with 71 percent among those 55 and older showing sympathy. The figure fell to 65 percent among 35- to 54-year-olds and 55 percent among 18- to 34-year-olds.

Among young adults, the percentage of those answering no opinion or does not favor either side has increased.

Each age group polled 12 percent in favor of the Palestinians. 

The poll was conducted Feb. 7-10, with a random sample of 1,015 adults aged 18 and older living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points.

‘All hands’ needed in September, Oren tells Jewish Dems

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren told Jewish Democrats that Israel needs “all hands on deck” ahead of a Palestinian push for statehood.

Oren, in a conference call Monday with the National Jewish Democratic Council leadership, also called for bipartisanship, saying it is in Israel’s strategic interest.

Oren said United Nations recognition of “Palestine” next month during the General Assembly “will not bring peace, it will bring more instability,” according to a readout provided by the embassy.

Such a resolution has no force without the backing of the U.N. Security Council, where the United States is certain to exercise its veto, but Israel fears that its introduction will nonetheless spur unrest in the West Bank.

The resolution likely has the support of a majority of nations, but Israel and pro-Israel groups hope to mitigate its effect by persuading the most influential nations – especially in Europe – not to vote for it.

“We hope the United States will use its influence to try and persuade other delegations to oppose the resolution,” Oren said.

David Harris, NJDC’s president, said rallying the Jewish community to oppose the resolution was Oren’s key message.

“He told us that what’s coming up in September is deeply troubling and it’s all hands on deck,” Harris said. “He stressed the need for us to echo this message loudly from the rooftops.”

On achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace Oren acknowledged “tactical” differences between the United States and Israel, according to the embassy readout, but “substantially we share the same goal: two states that can only be achieved negotiation mutual recognition and security guarantees.”

There was considerable diplomatic tension between Israel and the United States in May when Obama called for negotiations based on the 1967 lines, although Israel has reportedly now accepted the premise.

Oren criticized the use of Israel as a partisan wedge, saying support for Israel by both parties was in the Jewish state’s “strategic national interest.”

He thanked the Obama administration for funding Israel’s short-range anti-missile program, Iron Dome, a cooperation that officials of both countries have touted in recent days.

Senate Democrats to Jews: Help us on budget, defending Obama

When two-fifths of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate met this week in Washington with representatives of Jewish groups, the senators delivered a clear message: If you agree with us, it’s about time you spoke up.

The appeal, delivered at an annual meeting organized by the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee with the assistance of the National Jewish Democratic Council, was targeted at two disparate issues: Helping to pass a budget and defending President Obama from charges that he is selling Israel down the river.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), both of whom are Jewish, spoke most forcefully, participants reported, linking Jewish requests for funding to the need for Jews to lobby Republicans to help pass the budget.

In an interview after the meeting, Cardin told JTA that it’s not enough to advocate for spending; the Jewish community, he said, needs to help get a budget passed.

“The Jewish community has a direct interest not just with the debt ceiling but in the budget as we attempt to get the deficit under control. Will our priorities be preserved?” he said. “The Jewish community has been very effective in their involvement in the American political scene. My point was these are very consequential times, and they need to focus their efforts in a much more dramatic way. The consequences are much too great.”

The hourlong meeting Wednesday morning attracted 21 senators—a substantial turnout, considering how Congress is mired in negotiations to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 3 or else face a default and shortfall in government funding. There are 51 Democrats in the Senate, along with two independents who caucus with them.

Not all of the Jews attending the meeting were Democrats.

Josh Protas, the Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, said the takeaway was that Jewish groups need to be more proactive in resolving the budget crisis.

“The Jewish community can be actively talking to their members on both sides of the aisle about the importance of addressing this and not getting to the crisis point we’re close to approaching,” he said.

The remarks by Levin and Cardin were prompted by a presentation by the chairwoman of the Jewish Federations of North America’s board of trustees, Kathy Manning. Manning appealed to the senators to protect a number of funding programs in budget talks, including Medicaid, the program that funds the poor, and Homeland Security grants that help nonprofit institutions implement security precautions.

“We know firsthand the critical impact that the delivery of basic health- and long-term care made possible by Medicaid has made in people’s lives and the tragic consequences should this program be weakened by Congress,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of Jewish Federations of North America.

One of the Jews present who asked not to be identified because of an agreement at the meeting not to describe what others said, characterized the senators’ response as follows: “They basically said: ‘If you want these things, help us pass the budget.’”

While they will aggressively lobby to defend discrete budgetary items, Jewish groups are wary of taking sides in a bitter partisan budget fight. Particularly difficult for Jewish groups is the issue of tax increases to generate revenue.

Indeed, some of the major donors to Jewish organizations that lobby for increased social spending are wealthy Jewish Republicans who chafe at increasing taxes.

At the meeting with the senators, the budget crisis seemed to push Israel and Middle East issues aside for the first time in years. Usually, Israel takes up two-thirds of the meeting, one participant said; this time, most of the talk was about domestic issues.

When it came to Israel, Levin and Cardin said that misimpressions about Obama’s Middle East policies need to be corrected, according to meeting participants. It may be fine to criticize Obama for pressing Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the 1967 lines, they said, but it’s dishonest not to mention that he also called for mutually agreed land swaps and secure borders for Israel.

Levin thanked Howard Kohr, the president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for agreeing to his request to write to his constituents in Michigan earlier this year to quash an unfounded rumor that the Obama administration was funneling money to Hamas, participants reported. Levin said that such rumors, left unchecked, undercut Obama’s prospects of pushing back against a Palestinian effort to obtain U.N. recognition of statehood in September.

Susie Turnbull, a past vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who now heads Jewish Women International, said it was critical for the Jewish community to push back against misconceptions.

“We as Jews have a responsibility to take up this mantle,” said Turnbull, who had delivered a presentation on how budget cuts would adversely affect women’s health care. “You tamp down rumors and misstatements and misconceptions when they appear.”

Some of the Jews at the meeting resented the pressure from the Senate Democrats to take sides in the budget battle. “I’m not going to get deeper into the debt ceiling game of chicken,” one said.

But with the stakes high, some Jewish groups are wading into the battle.

JCPA’s president, Rabbi Steve Gutow, joined an interfaith appeal on Thursday to pass a budget, saying the two sides need to explore ways to increase revenue.

“We make up what is needed for Medicaid patients, but we can’t do it all,” he said in a conference call with other clergy. “There are other ways to balance our budget, there are other ways to close our debt” other than further cuts, he said.

In addition to representatives from the federations, AIPAC, JCPA and Jewish Women International, top staff and laypeople came from the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, NCSJ, American Friends of Lubavitch, and the Reform and Conservative movements.

Democratic hopefuls talk Israel in bid for Harman’s seat

For politicians today, making it to Washington often requires them to explain their views about what should happen to Jerusalem.

That was the case at the Hermosa Beach Community Center on April 20 when four of the 16 Democratic candidates running in a May 17 special election for the open seat in California’s 36th Congressional District met in a debate on U.S.-Israel and Middle East policy organized by Democrats for Israel (DFI).

Jane Harman, who was among the most ardent pro-Israel voices in the legislature and held the seat for 16 of the past 18 years, announced she would leave Congress to take an academic post in February, just three months after winning re-election in 2010.

For Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who have each raised and spent more than any of the other Democratic candidates, the DFI debate was a chance to tout their pro-Israel credentials.

Marcy Winograd, a teacher who took 41 percent of the vote when she faced off against Harman in the 2010 Democratic primary, used the opportunity to restate her own preferred solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, namely the establishment of a single non-sectarian state that would grant equal voting rights to Israelis and Palestinians. Many observers, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), have said that Winograd’s position would effectively mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

And for Dan Adler, a businessman who has never held political office and formalized his candidacy just before the filing deadline, the debate was a chance to introduce himself as a well-informed and passionate supporter of Israel, albeit one with an uphill fight on his hands, as he is running against better-known and (at least two) better-funded opponents.

Since none of the candidates at Wednesday’s forum has held an elective office with foreign policy responsibilities, the event was, for the 100 people who attended, a unique chance to hear how the candidates think about the issues.

“We thought that voters deserve as much information as possible about the candidates,” DFI President Leeor Alpern said, explaining the reason for holding the debate.

With the obvious exception of Winograd, it was occasionally hard to find differences between the candidates’ positions.

Moderator Conan Nolan of NBC 4 asked questions on a variety of subjects, covering Israeli settlements in the West Bank, sanctions against Iran and even one question about whether President Obama should have consulted with Congress before engaging American military personnel in the NATO-led strikes against the government forces in Libya.

In response to a question submitted in advance over the Internet, Hahn, Bowen and Adler all said that Israel had the right to defend itself against an attack from Iran. Winograd pointed out that Israel, unlike Iran, already has nuclear weapons, and that perhaps Israel was more likely to be the aggressor.

Asked what they would do if, as a member of Congress, a bill came before them attempting to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel — a strategy referred to as BDS — the trio of Israel supporters all said they stood against it. Winograd, for her part, said she supported BDS against “companies that profit from the Israeli occupation,” noting that she, as a teacher, supported the current effort to divest the funds that support California teachers’ pensions from such companies.

Some differences—in tone, if not in substance—did emerge between Adler, Bowen and Hahn over the course of the 90-minute debate.

Hahn said repeatedly that to resolve the conflict, Israeli and Palestinian leaders needed to come back to the negotiating table. She called the focus on settlements unhelpful, but also said that the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in March 2010 to announce the approval of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem “probably didn’t help the peace process.”

In response to the same question, Bowen sounded slightly more critical of Israel — but only slightly. “Support of Israel does not mean that we forego our right to critique her,” Bowen said.

Later in the debate, Bowen brought up the subject of settlements again. “Settlements are not conducive to the peace process,” Bowen said. “But neither are rockets.”

In talking about settlements, Adler, too, talked about the need for a negotiated peace and emphasized that, although West Bank settlements were a problem, they were not the problem.

“There are two different kinds of settlements,” Adler said in a comment that illustrated his nuanced understanding not just of the geography of the West Bank, but of Israeli internal politics. “There are the settlements of one person standing in the middle of a Palestinian community, requiring a ring of Israeli IDF soldiers to protect him or her, and then there are suburbs of Jerusalem and other places.”

“The settlements are not the problem,” Adler added, “although the settlements are mishandled by the Israeli government. The issue is how can direct negotiations happen when both parties—or possibly three necessary parties—are not all willing to sit at the same table. And pretending that settlements is the issue is naïve and ultimately detrimental to the process.”

For Bowen and Hahn, the similarities between their positions on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were not surprising in light of a position paper written by Hahn and co-signed by Bowen outlining five points of support for Israel.

The points included support for the peace process, the annual $3 billion of U.S. security assistance to Israel and sanctions against Iran. It also included opposition to a unilaterally declared Palestinian state and a lengthy condemnation of “anti-Israel political rhetoric” that was focused on statements made by Winograd, who was, at that time, not yet a candidate in the race.

Hahn sent the letter to Bowen on Feb. 18, and Bowen signed the letter that same day, the LA Weekly reported. One week later, Winograd formally declared her candidacy.

On Wednesday evening, Winograd told The Jewish Journal that her opponents’ joint pro-Israel pledge was part of why she chose to run. “It definitely played a role. I was also concerned because I wasn’t hearing from either candidate that they were committed to voting against future war supplementals,” Winograd said, referring to bills that must be passed by Congress to continue funding the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Speaking before Wednesday’s debate, Hahn said she sent the letter to Bowen “to take the issue [of support for Israel] off the table.”

But Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant, said most political observers saw it as a move by Hahn to cut into Bowen’s base. “Most people believe that the Hahn campaign sent the letter to really get Winograd in the race, so that there would be two Westside Democrats in the race,” Hoffenblum said.

Winograd came as close as she did to winning the Democratic nomination in 2010, Hoffenblum said, because she was running against Harman. In May’s special election, however, “the anti-Harman vote has many places to go,” he said.

At Wednesday’s debate, Nolan asked the candidates whether Harman, who supported the war in Iraq and defended the use of wiretapping without a warrant, was too moderate for her district, which stretches from Venice to San Pedro.

Adler, who called Harman’s work in defense and intelligence “very, very commendable,” couldn’t be said to be an anti-Harmanite. Bowen, however, took on Harman’s legacy when she said she didn’t think it was overly burdensome to require the federal government to get a warrant before tapping a person’s phones. Hahn distinguished herself from Harman by pointing to her opposition in the L.A. City Council to the war in Iraq.

“The question is does she [Winograd] play the spoiler, and does she take enough votes away from Bowen so that a Republican comes in second,” Hoffenblum said.

As for Adler, Hoffenblum said he was facing an uphill battle. “He’s unknown,” Hoffenblum said. “He’s going to have to raise a ton of money.”

With nothing else on the ballot, voter turnout is expected to be low for this special election. And with 16 candidates running, it’s hard to imagine a single candidate winning an outright majority. In that likely scenario, the top two vote-getters would face off in a second round of voting, to be held on July 12.

No matter who wins the special election, a brand-new Citizen’s Redistricting Commission is already working to redraw the lines of the congressional districts across the state.

“All of these people are running in a district that won’t exist in 2012,” Hoffenblum said.

Senate Dems press GOP on Paul’s call to cut aid

Senate Democrats urged Republicans to reject a colleague’s call for an end to foreign aid, including aid to Israel.

“Both Republicans and Democrats are committed to reining in the federal deficit, but assistance to Israel is not a matter of ‘pork barrel spending,’ ” said the letter sent Tuesday to the GOP chairmen of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations and Budget committees, respectively Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “Rather U.S. foreign aid to Israel demonstrates America’s rock-solid commitment to ensuring Israel’s right to exist.”

The letter, signed by seven Senate Democrats, comes in the wake of a call last week by newly elected Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to slash foreign spending, including all assistance to Israel.

“At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel,” the letter said.

In the wake of Paul’s remarks, the Republican Jewish Coalition said Paul was “misguided” for saying Israel funding should be cut, adding that he was likely alone among his colleagues in his proposal.

Signatories to Tuesday’s letter include Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)., Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Obama remark misinterpreted, Cantor spokesman says

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor’s promise that the new GOP majority will “serve as a check” on the Obama administration was “not in relation to U.S.-Israel relations,” his spokesman said.

Brad Dayspring told The Washington Post Monday that the comment last week by Cantor (R-Va.), the putative leader of the House of Representatives, to visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been misinterpreted to refer to Israel.

According to a statement released by Cantor’s office, the congressman told Netanyahu in a meeting that “the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the administration and what has been, up until this point, one-party rule in Washington. He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”

Cantor’s Republican Party swept midterm elections earlier this month for the House.

Such meetings with opposition leaders are unusual, and Cantor’s office at the time cast it as a get-together between two men with a longstanding relationship.

The Democrats won for the wrong reasons

The Republicans deserved to lose, but the Democrats did not deserve to win.

After McCain had the good luck to win the nomination early, he squandered valuable time, failing to use his advantage to define his campaign, or Obama. In contrast, the brilliance of Obama’s campaign implied Obama’s ability to govern. Once McCain impetuously took Obama’s chameleon moderation off the table, the unqualified Obama, who had more energy and seemed more coherent, gained credibility and endorsements, synergistically. Consequently, the late attacks, though legitimate, against Obama as a stealth candidate seemed like smears.

Yet, on election eve, even New York Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler, speaking for Obama at a Florida synagogue, implied his candidate knew what Rev. Wright stood for, but had lacked the “political courage” to repudiate his pastor. Earth to Nadler: If you’re Jewish and you feel your candidate lacks the guts to confront the bashing of America and Israel, why would you support him?

Generally, voters continue to want something for nothing: On Tuesday they rejected Republicans for their un-Republican policies of borrow-and-spend and embraced Democrats for their un-Republican policies of tax-and-spend. But, there’s more to this year’s political soap opera than economic bad times and the class warfare to which Democrats pander demagogically. Indeed, truly hardworking people properly blame a government that (under Clinton, as well) seemed to favor parasitic Wall Street bankers over them.

But what about people who had put nothing down on a home, then borrowed on it to live beyond their means, and believe their predicament is somehow everyone else’s fault? In Obama’s presumed cradle-to-grave nanny state they now have a savior. When candidate Obama said everyone has a “right” to be provided day care for their children and a college education for them and universal health care and …, how does one distinguish between Obama’s peculiar constitutional theory of civil rights and his pedestrian campaign rhetoric of bold promises? As one Obama voter interviewed on television said, “I owe money on a car loan. I helped him out, and now he can help me out.”

The more liberal Jews often speak of “tikkun olam” and the Jewish ethic of caring for the less fortunate. Yet, they favored Joe Biden, who gave almost nothing to charity. Instead, his concept is to tax others to enforce his concept of social justice. Why not have an honest dialogue?

Before his election, Obama said he wants “to fundamentally transform America.” Most of us believe his election itself testifies to the innate greatness and wonderful goodness of America, and we do not believe our country requires a fundamental transformation, and certainly not into the mold of European social democracy — secular and stagnant. Yet, as an American, I never thought I would say that I find a new French leader, the pro-opportunity, pro-defense Mr. Sarkozy, closer to the American ideal than our own president-elect. In giving President-elect Obama the benefit of the doubt, I hope sincerely that he can grow into the job, and I can revise that assessment.

Back to the campaign. Why did voters believe that Obama and his backers (examples: Finance Chairs Chris Dodd in the Senate and Barney Frank in the House of Representatives), who aggressively supported the massive program of sub-prime loans and stubbornly resisted critical reforms, were somehow better qualified and more likely to resolve the economic crisis than McCain, the maverick who had outspokenly opposed Fannie and Freddie excesses? The dysfunctional McCain campaign failed miserably to anticipate, and communicate, on the issue of the economy. Indeed, it is McCain, not Obama, who would more quickly get government out of the bailout business. Obama’s campaign words, “We’re seeing the final verdict on Bush’s failed economic policies,” cleverly evaded this unreported or underreported fact: Wall Street favored Obama. It did so because the wealthy, with their tax lawyers, do just fine under Democrats; it’s the middle class that disappears.

McCain was not a leader on the economic issue. His anemic, often irrelevant, campaign advanced silly proposals like a gas tax holiday. When he suspended his campaign, he had an opportunity to dominate the White House meeting, oppose the bailout and insist on oversight and taxpayer protections, and emerge as the leader. Instead, he fumbled, and Obama picked up the ball.

The blatantly biased media did not explain the origins of the economic crisis; instead, the media consistently boosted Obama, who never actually had taken on his party, as the candidate somehow for change, while resisting any serious investigative reporting of Obama’s myriad deficiencies and inconsistencies. For example, Obama, who once said gun ownership was not protected against the Second Amendment, reversed himself, just as he did on public funding of campaigns, offshore oil drilling and many more issues, with a free ride from reporters. But the media magnified every alleged error by Sarah Palin and at the same time barely publicized Joe Biden’s numerous, even egregious, blunders. In fact, more investigative reporting was directed at Palin than at Obama.

The media’s role should be considered in context. Bill Clinton inherited a world void of the Soviet threat, thanks mainly to the policies of Ronald Reagan; Clinton had little to do with the resulting calm. Further, Clinton was required to show fiscal restraint at home, thanks mainly to Republican control of Congress; Clinton had little to do with the cyclical economic recovery. But in the Clinton mythology, relative peace and prosperity were, perversely, his accomplishments. Now, we face this coming trajectory: lower oil prices, a recovering stock market, a turnaround economy, and stability in Iraq, no thanks to the emerging one-party rule of Barack Obama, who is likely to take credit.

Congressional Republicans are hardly blameless for their predicament or bad press: Under House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his successors, they not only failed to reform, but also acted more like the tyrannical Democrats they had replaced. And where these Republicans had resisted (to his benefit) the big government of President Bill Clinton, they then supported (to his detriment) the reckless expansionism of President George W. Bush. The Bush Administration acted like Democrats — giving rise to an even greater and more costly Federal role in our failing public education system and adding a dysfunctional prescription drug benefit to our troubled Medicare program. All this, and more anti-conservatism, yet they were glaringly incapable, even after Sept. 11, of even trying to secure our borders.

The turning point for many conservatives was when the Congressional Republican leadership abandoned Federalism to convene Congress in an emergency weekend session to consider a matter in the Florida judiciary — the Terry Schiavo case involving Schiavo’s terminal illness. As for the Administration, its handling of the Katrina case, complete with political cronies, demonstrated incompetence that embarrassed conservatives and further damaged the Republican brand.

Expect to see the Democrats, who under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, have controlled Congress for the last two years, use their one-party government to produce the same sort of failures, but on a much grander scale. The (Democratic) cure can be worse than the (Republican) disease.

The collapse of the credit markets is the main reason both for the Obama victory and for the Republican losses in the Senate and House. The national vote was largely punitive — punish the Republicans for economic uncertainty and despair. What of the political onslaught we now face? Congressman Howard Berman, almost alone among Democrats, has had the integrity to resist what his party wants to do: In the name of fairness, Democrats would trash the First Amendment and silence talk radio. But will other Democrats of conscience resist the cynical plan of Democrats to eliminate the secret ballot on whether workers want a union? What about appointing nominees to the Supreme Court who share Obama’s philosophy that the purpose of income taxes is not to raise revenue, but to redistribute wealth, and that such redistribution to the recipient is a civil right?

McCain made a gracious and moving concession speech. Obama, in turn, set a tone of unity and, for the first time, tried to lower messianic expectations. But time will tell whether he grows beyond his leftist background and ideological voting record and governs from the center, or yields to the extremists in his party who control Congress.

So, finally, what does this election in the United States mean to Israel? In recent years, the American left, like its counterparts elsewhere, has been hostile to the Jewish state, and the left now controls the U.S. Congress. As for the presidency, Israel can hardly rely on Jewish voices of dubious moral authority, like Congressman Nadler, who “know” that Obama really is a friend of Israel.

The people of Israel face an existential threat from Iran, while in Obama they see, at best, a work in progress — “a man not fully formed” — as Dennis Prager observed, hopefully, the day after the election. Thus, these election results make a compelling case for risk-averse Israelis to elect a man associated not only with national prosperity but also with national security — Bibi Netanyahu.

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst.

Jews looked past worries to embrace Obama

For some Jewish voters, the strangeness of Barack Obama was like a recurring dream: unsettling and then settling in, and then, suddenly, revelatory.

Ari Wallach described breaking through to elderly Jews in Florida who had resisted voting for the son of the man from Kenya, the tall black man with the middle name “Hussein.”

“It wasn’t only his policy on Israel and Iran, on health care,” said Wallach, whose ” target=”_blank”>Great Shlep,” an effort to prod young adults to get their Jewish grandparents in Florida to vote for Obama. “His biography feels so Jewish, it feels like an Ellis Island archetype. People felt more comfortable when I talked about where he came from, it resonated so deeply surprisingly among older Jews.”

For months, polls showed Obama languishing at about 60 percent of the Jewish vote, a critical chunk short of the 75 percent or so Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) garnered in 2004. But exit polls from the Tuesday election showed Obama matching those results, garnering about 78 percent of the Jewish vote against 22 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his Republican rival.

Wallach credited the campaign’s late-campaign blitz of Jewish communities, joined by groups like his own, for converting the candidate from stranger to standard bearer for a Jewish ethos.

It was an uphill battle, starting with rumors that Obama was a hidden Muslim, that he wasn’t a genuine, born American. The subterranean campaign soon burst through semi-legitimate and then legitimate forums; Obama was not a Muslim, these conservatives and Republicans said, but he might have been raised a Muslim and later had radical associations.

The ” target=”_blank”>reject the RJC ads, said it was vindicated.

“Tonight, American Jews resoundingly rejected the two-year, multimillion dollar campaign of baseless smears and fear waged against him by the right wing of our community,” J-Street’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in a statement. “Surrogates and right-wing political operatives in our community stopped at nothing in their efforts to sway Jewish voters against Obama. With exit polls showing Barack Obama’s share of the Jewish vote equal to 2004 levels, it is absolutely clear that their efforts failed.”

Some Democrats said McCain, once popular among Jews because of his willingness to reach across the aisle, hurt himself in the community by choosing the deeply conservative and relatively inexperienced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

An American Jewish Committee poll commissioned in September found that 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of the Palin pick, compared to just 15 percent who disapproved of Obama’s decision to tap Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

But Obama’s appeal to Jews might have been most deeply rooted in shared values, said Mik Moore, Wallach’s partner in

“Folks just wanted to be with us, with the more progressive candidate; it’s where their heart is,” he said.

Dems use speeches to hit GOP on Israel

DENVER (JTA)—President Bush and John McCain backed policies that have endangered Israel, Democrats argued during their convention speeches Wednesday night.

In a night dedicated largely to foreign policy and national security issues, several speakers at the Pepsi Center argued that Israel’s enemies have been emboldened by Republican mishaps. The strategy reflected an increased willingness of Democrats to go on the attack against the Bush administration over Israel, after years of simply insisting both sides of the aisle were equally supportive of the Jewish state.

Alan Solomont, a top fund raiser for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) this time around, told JTA that four years ago it was the “belief of the Kerry campaign that [Israel] was not a point of differentiation therefore the campaign did focus on other issues.”

Not this year. Among those who used their speeches to hammer home the new talking points were:

* Kerry: “George Bush, with John McCain at his side, promised to spread freedom but delivered the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. They misread the threat and misled the country. Instead of freedom, it’s Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and dictators everywhere that are on the march. North Korea has more bombs, and Iran is defiantly chasing one.”

* Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.): “Under George Bush, the Middle East has become more troubled. That hurts America and endangers our ally, Israel, which has been forced to confront a resurgent Hamas, an emboldened Hezbollah and an Iran determined to get nuclear weapons. That is not the change we need.”

* Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.): “We entered into an unnecessary war and remain bogged down in Iraq as Afghanistan backslides and the architects of Sept. 11 remain free. On Bush and McCain’s watch, we have witnessed the growing influence of a belligerent Iran that has destabilized the Middle East and threatens our ally, Israel.”

During their respective speeches, President Clinton and Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), focused on the harm done by what they described as the Bush administration’s failure to utilize diplomacy.

Clinton argued that America’s “position in the world has been weakened by,” among other things, a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Center and Eastern Europe.” As for Biden, he pointed to Iran as a hot spot where the United States has failed diplomatically.

“Should we trust John McCain’s judgment when he rejected talking with Iran and then asked: What is there to talk about? Or Barack Obama, who said we must talk and make it clear to Iran that its conduct must change,” Biden said. “Now, after seven years of denial, even the Bush administration recognizes that we should talk to Iran, because that’s the best way to advance our security. Again, John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right.”

Obama drew criticism from his onetime primary opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and from Republicans for his statement last year that he would be willing to meet with the president of Iran; he and Biden were two of just two dozen senators to oppose an amendment urging the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has since said that he supported the Bush administration’s ultimate decision to take such a step, but objected to the amendment out of fear that the Bush administration would unduly treat it as an approval for attacking Iran. In general, the Obama campaign has argued that its ticket would adopt a tougher and smarter approach to isolating Iran in an effort to short circuit its nuclear pursuits.

Republicans, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani earlier this week, have been painting Obama as naive and undependable when it comes to safeguarding Israel. And, in recent days, they have also attempted to challenge Biden’s pro-Israel bona fides. The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement Wednesday citing a 1982 clash that Biden had with Israel’s then-prime minister, Menachem Begin, in which the Delaware senator criticized Israeli settlement expansion and reportedly raised the possibility of cutting U.S. aid to Israel over the issue. In addition, the RJC cited several pro-Israel congressional letters and resolution that Biden did not sign on to.

Biden, who has worked closely with Israel and Jewish groups on many issues, was praised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee upon being tapped by Obama.

During his speech, Wexler—who boasts of being the first Jewish congressman to back Obama’s presidential bid—described the nominee as a staunch supporter of Israel.

“In his heart, in his gut, Barack Obama stands with Israel,” Wexler said, adding that the candidate “understands the threats Israel faces from Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. And as President, Barack Obama will strongly support Israel’s right and capability to defend itself, and finally make progress toward the goal of a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s security as a Jewish state.”

Obama’s support lags previous Dems, poll finds

As he headed to Israel and the Palestinian Authority earlier this week, Sen. Barack Obama told reporters that as president, he would begin working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal from his first day in office. The presumptive Democratic candidate said, however, that both sides must work to make peace happen.

“There’s a tendency for each side to focus on the faults of the other, rather than look in the mirror.”

The Illinois senator is on a tour of Europe and the Middle East on what his advisers insist is a senatorial fact-finding tour. However, his campaign is also eager to build up his foreign policy credentials.

“The Israeli government is unsettled, the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas, and so it’s difficult for either side to make the bold move that would bring about peace,” Obama said. “My goal is to make sure that we work, starting from the minute I’m sworn into office, to try to find some breakthroughs.”

Obama was careful to point out that peace would not come about overnight and that a U.S. president could not “suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace.”

The good news for Obama is that U.S. Jews are still a pretty liberal group, especially when it comes to judging the Bush administration, according to a recent survey of Jewish attitudes on foreign policy. The poll found that 90 percent of American Jews believe the country is on the wrong track and 83 percent disapprove of Bush’s job performance.

Commissioned by the fledgling left-wing Middle East advocacy group, J Street, and conducted by Gerstein/Agne Strategic Communications, the poll also found that nearly 80 percent said they disapproved of the president’s handling of the Iraq War.

But the surveys had bad news for Obama: If the U.S. presidential election were held today, American Jews would support the Illinois senator at a significantly lower level than they did his most recent Democratic predecessors.

The poll found that 58 percent of U.S. Jews said they would definitely vote for Obama, with another 4 percent saying they were leaning toward the presumptive Democratic nominee. In contrast, Al Gore and Bill Clinton both drew nearly 80 percent of the Jewish vote in their respective runs for the presidency, while John Kerry garnered more than 75 percent in 2004.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they would vote for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), with 3 percent saying they were leaning toward the presumptive GOP nominee. That would top the 24 percent of the Jewish vote Bush drew in 2004.

Combined with similar results of polling done by Gallup, the J Street survey suggests that Obama has failed to increase his base of Jewish support since May, despite several significant outreach efforts.

In early June, Obama delivered a high-profile address to a crowd of more than 5,000 at the policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Since then, the Obama campaign has been organizing Jewish Community Leadership committees, often with the help of lawmakers who either had backed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) or decided to remain neutral during the primary.

Several observers predicted that if Obama’s Jewish numbers remain stagnant, it could have an impact on a few key swing states with relatively large Jewish populations.

“In places like Florida and Ohio, it could make a difference,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, during a conference call Monday with reporters.

Forman, however, was quick to note that a poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee in the late summer of 2004 had Kerry taking 69 percent of the Jewish vote — seven points lower than he ended up winning in November.

The general rule to keep in mind, Forman added, was that undecideds tend to break in equal proportion to the way the rest of the group voted — in the case of Jewish voters, the overwhelming majority will usually go Democratic.

But at least according to the J Street poll, very few voters are undecided, though about 6 percent said they are considering a candidate other than Obama or McCain.

The poll, based on interviews with 800 respondents, has a 3.5 percent margin of error.

“The Jewish community is responding to John McCain’s proven ability to reach across the aisle to try and solve America’s difficult problems in a bipartisan way,” said Suzanne Kurtz, press secretary of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “And most importantly, McCain has been a reliable friend and supporter of Israel and the Jewish community throughout his 25-year career in Congress.

“On the other hand,” Kurtz said, “the Jewish community is reluctant to gamble on Sen. Obama’s thin record and lack of experience.”

Kurtz also cited several lawmakers and policy experts who have been linked in varying degrees to Obama and criticized in some hawkish Jewish circles. She also mentioned Obama’s statement last year that he would be willing to meet with the president of Iran without preconditions.

Even while rejecting them as unjustified, Forman acknowledged that such lines of attack have probably had an impact on some Jewish voters. But he also noted that in the Gallup polling from May, Clinton registered 66 percent in a head-to-head matchup with McCain — only five points better than Obama and about 10 points worse than Kerry’s 2004 performance.

“My sense is that there are few Jewish Kerry voters, if any, who would not vote for Hillary because of Israel or foreign policy in general,” Forman said during an interview Tuesday. “There has to be another issue.”

Forman essentially echoed Kurtz in speculating that the “other issue” is McCain’s reputation as a maverick and a moderate.

“It is probably helping him among some Jewish voters,” he said.

In the J Street poll, McCain finished with a significantly higher favorable rating and lower unfavorable rating than Bush or the Republican Party.

McCain finished with a 34-point favorable rating, compared to 22 percent for Bush and 29.4 percent for the party. His unfavorable rating was 57 percent, compared to 74 percent for Bush and 63 percent for the GOP.

Forman said he expected some of McCain’s Jewish support to fall when more voters realize that he opposes abortion rights and is a hard-core conservative on other domestic issues.

Jim Gerstein, whose firm conducted the poll, described McCain’s favorable-unfavorable rating as a “terrible” number.

“It’s only positive when compared to an extraordinarily unpopular president,” he said.

Gerstein noted that respondents by far ranked the economy and then the Iraq War as the two issues that would play the most important role in deciding their vote.

While the poll dealt exclusively with foreign policy issues, he pointed to various indicators and data from other surveys that suggest Jewish voters overwhelmingly side with Obama on economic issues.

On the question of Iraq, the J Street poll found that 64 percent of American Jews line up with the Obama-sounding view that “we have done everything we can in Iraq and must start to bring home U.S. troops in a responsible way.” Only 28 percent said that “we must achieve stability and finish the job in Iraq before we begin withdrawing U.S. troops.”

The breakdown on the Iraq question actually lines up with the Obama-McCain figures. But Gertsein said the most plausible reading of the data is that 62 percent is Obama’s floor and 32 percent is McCain’s ceiling.

“As people get to know Obama better, his support is going to rise,” Gerstein said. “We see that all the time with base constituencies.”

Democrats call on GOP to condemn Prager; Deputy in Mel Gibson bust claims harrassment

Democrats Call on GOP to Condemn Prager, Rep. Goode

For several months, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) pounded Democrats for allegedly being soft on Israel and for failing to call out Democratic leaders who made anti-Israel remarks. Before the midterm elections, the RJC even took out ads in Jewish newspapers painting the Democrats as weak on Israel.

Now, the Democrats are pushing back. Borrowing a page from the RJC handbook, the Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, recently lambasted right-wing talk show host Dennis Prager and Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) for making remarks many perceive as anti-Muslim. Not content to simply take the pair to task, Democrats for Israel has also called on the RJC, “in the name of decency, fair play and the United States Constitution,” according to a recent release, to join the group in its condemnations.

“This is a chance for the [RJC] to show it is concerned about the Jewish community instead of just engaging in political demagoguery for political purposes,” said Andrew Lachman, president of the local chapter of Democrats for Israel.

Prager sparked a firestorm of controversy by writing, in a recent column, that the nation’s first ever Muslim House member, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), should not be allowed to take his oath of office with a Quran. Prager said that Ellison, who received the endorsement of the American Jewish World newspaper in Minneapolis, would “be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this county than the terrorists of 9/11,” if permitted to takes his oath on the Quran. Echoing Prager, Goode said, he planned to take his oath on the Bible, and does not “subscribe to using the Quran in any way.”

Lachman said that requiring the use of a Christian Bible to take an oath of office, as he said Prager and Goode have suggested, undermines the separation of church and state and opens the door for discrimination against Jews.

RJC California Director Larry Greenfield could not be reached for comment. The RJC has yet to officially weigh in on the controversy.

Several prominent Jewish organizations have criticized Prager or Goode’s remarks, including the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith.

— Marc Ballon, Senior WriterDeputy in Mel Gibson bust claims harrassment

The deputy sheriff who arrested Mel Gibson for drunken driving said he is being harassed during a leak inquiry.

Deputy James Mee’s attorney said last week that following the July incident, Mee was suddenly transferred to another beat and that his work is being unfairly scrutinized by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as it investigates who leaked Mee’s report of the arrest.

The department initially said Gibson had been arrested without incident, but Mee’s report, which was leaked to, indicated that the actor was belligerent and made anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments when stopped for drunken driving.

The department interrogated Mee for three hours and searched his house, confiscating his computer and phone records, attorney Richard Shinee said.

A separate investigation concluded that Gibson received no preferential treatment during or after the incident.

Arnold stops at Jewish Home for Aging; Cal GOP says ad campaign worked; North Valley JCC shooting la

One Special Stop on the Campaign Trail

Even when the gubernatorial election was just two days away, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger found time to talk to a large group of senior citizens at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda.

After arriving nearly an hour late, the governor was met with applause and a few cries of “Arnold!” Along with his wife, Maria Shriver, the governor stopped to shake hands on the way to the microphone. Perfectly coiffed and sporting a suit with no tie, the governor seemed relaxed, if rushed, as he told the crowd that he had attended a memorial for the five firefighters killed in the Esperanza fire.Towering over a sea of seated white heads as he spoke, Schwarzenegger recapped his first term in office, talked about the economy and briefly derided the federal government: “They’re all fighting, the Democrats and Republicans, but in Sacramento we all get along now.”

He made a special attempt to bond with his audience as well, reminding them that he was an immigrant to the United States, and that all his successes were due to his move to California. As usual, he found time to mention his past as a Hollywood star, though he refrained from quoting any of his movies. At one point, he did mention Sugar Ray Robinson, a former middleweight boxing champion, as a mentor who gave him $500 at the beginning of his career. Though he talked at length about his own experiences as an immigrant, he never discussed any current immigration issues.

Schwarzenegger also reminded everyone that his first visit outside the country as governor had been to Israel, and that he had attended the pro-Israel rallies, which was met with more applause.

Shriver also spoke, saying that she had been to the Jewish Home on five or six occasions, and that she had brought her children’s schools there on field trips.

The two held a brief Q-and-A session after the 15-minute talk, fielding questions about social security, which the governor said was a matter for the federal government.

As the governor and the first lady exited the room they were besieged by photographers and fans.

The Jewish Home’s residents voiced varying opinions. Tauba Grischkan, an immigrant who came to the U.S. from Lithuania shortly after World War II expressed satisfaction with Schwarzenegger.

“I like him,” she said. “He’s a good man.”

Mort Symans, another resident, had some reservations about Schwarzenegger.

“He said some wonderful things, but the only problem is, he is a Republican talking like a Democrat,” Symans noted. “He has a Republican ideology and he’s trying to talk with the mouth of a Democrat.”

— Alex Collins-Shotwell, Contributing Writer

California Republicans Report Ads Drew New Members

Three hundred new members joined the California Republican Jewish Coalition in September and October, the largest two-month gain in the group’s history, according to Larry Greenfield the group’s director. Membership is now nearly 7,500 members, up from 2,000 just two and a half years ago, Greenfield said.

The membership boost came on the heels of 11 national RJC ads that argued that Democratic support for Israel is weakening. One ad, which ran in The Jewish Journal, suggested that Ned Lamont’s Connecticut primary victory over Sen. Joseph Lieberman reflected a Democratic shift away from the party’s historically strong support of the Jewish state. Another ad spotlighted a number of opinion polls, including one from the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg, which found Republicans more sympathetic toward Israel than Democrats.

The RJC spots have “generated a tremendous response for our organization,” said Greenfield, who, along with RJC California Chair Joel Geiderman, served among Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s statewide re-election campaign co-chairs.

Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, and other Democratic leaders have denounced the RJC’s ad campaign for distorting strong Democratic support for the Jewish state and for undermining bipartisanship.

The ads notwithstanding, Welinsky believes that the overwhelmingly majority of Jews have and will continue to vote Democratic, because “the values and convictions of the Democratic Party and American Jews are very much in sync.”— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Suit: Gun Shop Mishandled Shooter

A gun shop did not adequately vet a white supremacist jailed for life after a shooting attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, a lawsuit contends. The family of Joseph Ileto, a Philippine-born postal worker shot dead by Buford Furrow shortly after Furrow’s 1999 attack on the JCC filed a wrongful death suit Thursday against the Loaner Too pawn shop in Seattle.

The family’s lawyer, Mike Withey, contends that the shop failed to require Furrow to fill out a federal form that would have disqualified him from purchasing a pistol because he was a convicted felon who had spent time in a mental institution.

Three children, a receptionist and a teenage counselor were injured in Furrow’s shooting attack on the center. Withey also filed a $15 million claim in August on behalf of families of five children injured or traumatized in the attack against the Washington state corrections authority, which was supervising Burrow at the time.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Democrats and Republicans again; Suissa’s Pico-Robertson ‘hood; A correction

Bill Boyarsky

Bill Boyarsky’s piece on public schools neglected to mention both Bob Hertzberg and Dr. Keith Richman’s contribution to the movement to transform Los Angeles schools (“Mayor’s Plan for Schools Gets ‘E’ for Effort,” Sept. 22) Most importantly, teachers not politicians, will be the final arbiters of whether our schools set high standards, improve and obtain excellent results or not.

David Tokofsky
Los Angeles School Board
District 5

Fire in the Hood

What David Suissa made explicit in his beautiful article we would like to make explicit (“Fire in the Hood,” Sept. 29). The bite of the ordeal we are going through as a result of the fire has been considerably softened by the love we feel around us. We are blessed. Thank you to everyone for your concern, for your help and for your prayers.

My hunch is that someday all of us who live in this community will look back at this period some day and realize that we were living through a charmed golden moment of the “West Coast exile.” David Suissa’s articles go well beyond describing our beautiful community, they help us to redefine it.

Kol Hakavod.

David, Deena, Aviva and Noa Brandes
Via e-mail

RJC vs. Dems

In the ongoing squabbling in these pages over whether Republicans or Democrats are better for Israel, letter writer Norman Epstein states that “[the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], the Republican Jewish Coalition, and the mainstream Jewish community supported congressional legislation to oppose U.S. funding of Hamas” while “Americans for Peace Now [APN] and other groups whose policies have long been discredited, lobbied for funding Hamas, confusing lawmakers.”

In reality, it is Epstein who is confused. The policies of APN, a Zionist organization supporting the survival of a secure, democratic Israel, far from being discredited, represent the mainstream of pro-Israel American Jewish opinion. APN has never lobbied for U.S. funding of Hamas. Rather, we opposed the House version of this legislation because it had nothing to do with opposing aid to Hamas (aid which is already barred under U.S. law), and everything to do with using Hamas as a pretext for banning, limiting, conditioning and sanctioning virtually every aspect of U.S. contacts with even those Palestinians who oppose Hamas. This is bad policy, for both the United States and Israel. In his confusion, Epstein also seems unaware that the House bill was opposed not only by the entirely nonpartisan APN, but also by President Bush (not generally known as an “aging Jewish liberal”), for very similar reasons to ours.Epstein also seems to have missed the fact that APN supported a more responsible version of the legislation that was eventually passed by the Senate.

Lara Friedman
Director of Policy and Government Relations
Americans for Peace Now
Washington, D.C.

I do not see the RJC speaking about Jack Abramoff and his crew of vicious vipers who have illegally stolen money right and left as they left the White House and Tom Delay’s office. I do not see the RJC talking about the medical bill that is hurting so many Jewish families and Jewish poor. Nor do they talk about the Iraq war, which has now taken as many people as were killed at the World Trade Center, nor the ineptness of the Afghan campaign. I could go on about Katrina, and the shutting out of any Democratic participation in laws that have been passed in the past years under the Republicans. And, lest I forget, the cutting of the estate tax, that the Republicans almost passed. And now look at how many Republicans were involved in blocking any mention of Sen. Mark Foley.

It is time that Jewish Democrats rise up and demand equal time, something that the Republicans have stymied in the media that used to belong to all the people.

Al Mellman
Los Angeles

Orthodox Youth

I would like to thank you for such an excellent article about a very touchy subject (“Orthodox Youth Not Immune To High-Risk Lifestyles,” Sept. 29). As a brother of Joel Bess, I watched him go through his “tough times” and to see him pull himself together is by itself unbelievable, but to start an Organization Issue Anonymous to help other kids is truly unfathomable. He doesn’t like to call it an organization because it might scare away kids; he calls it “a place to talk, eat and chill out.” Yoel (as the family calls him) has a heart of gold and I hope many more needed kids will join. Keep up the great work.

Meir Bess
Roosevelt, N.J.

Jonathan Bornstein

I read with interest Carin Davis’ article on the probable Major League Soccer (MLS) “rookie of the year,” Jonathan Bornstein of ChivasUSA (Pro Soccer Rookie Bornstein Gives Small Goals a Big Kick,” Oct. 13). From what I am told, he is deserving of all the accolades he is receiving.

He is not, however, the only Jewish soccer star playing in the MSL in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Galaxy started the season with two Jewish players, Mike Enfield and Ben Benditson. Enfield remains with the team and is a major contributor. (There were, in fact, seven Jews in the MSL at the start of the season.)Incidentally, Benny Feilhaber was not Jonathan’s only outstanding Jewish teammate as Enfield and he played together at UCLA.

Ephraim A. Moxson,
Jewish Sports Review

And Who Shall Die

Your thoughtful and thought-provoking column on military obituaries a few weeks ago inspired me. As stated in your column, few individuals within the Los Angeles Jewish community have a direct connection with a soldier, living or dead, serving in Iraq or Afghanistan (“And Who Shall Die,” Sept. 22).

When the people with power and money in our society simply don’t know the people who assume the personal risk of combat, it becomes painfully easy for the administration to sell the illusion that this war is necessary and moral.

At-risk youth; Much more Mathout; Donkeys vs. Elephants — the beef goes on

Custody Battle
Wendy Jaffe’s cover story on divorce focused primarily on the custody battles while neglecting alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, which can lead to far more peaceful results (“Who Gets the Shul?” Oct. 6).
In my role as a divorce mediator, I have worked over the years with scores of Jewish couples who are separating or divorcing to help them negotiate issues concerning their Jewish life and the Jewish life of their children. Couples in mediation are able to reach agreement on synagogue membership, synagogue dues and religious school fees, b’nai mitzvah costs, the wording on b’nai mitzvah or wedding invitations, as well as how they will share time with their children for holy days and festivals.
Not only is mediation less expensive than litigation, but the process results in far less acrimony and battle. Divorce, while maintaining shalom bayit, is indeed possible.

Rabbi Jeffrey A. Marx
Sha’arei Am — The Santa Monica Synagogue

Maher Hathout
It would have been irresponsible to stand by when a man is honored, even though he uses anti-Israel, anti-Jewish propaganda and participates in rallies that support terrorist groups, as he did at the Federal Building on Aug 12, where he was a keynote speaker and participants chanted, “Long Live Hezbollah” (“Controversial Muslim Leader Gets Award,” Sept. 22).
Hathout never distanced himself from them, nor, after his nomination, did he try to reach out and allay our understandable concerns. Instead, he lashed out, labeling us “un-American” fringe groups that oppose free speech or dislike Muslims. Hathout is free to say whatever he likes, but this extremist, divisive rhetoric and behavior should not be any city’s model for human relations.
We were not alone. Only four out of 14 commissioners voted for Hathout, with five abstaining and four absent. Steven Windmueller, dean of Hebrew Union College and a 1995 Buggs [Award] honoree, returned his award, stating that the [County Human Relations] Commission’s selection of Hathout stained the legacy of the award’s namesake.
There has been no “pressure” on us from “Jews in high places,” and we have not backed down. As rhetoric about the Middle East continues to escalate, the endgame of our protests is to send a strong message about desirable standards of discourse for Los Angeles, to educate the public about extremist rhetoric and to raise questions about who is a “moderate Muslim.”
We succeeded. We hope that Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders everywhere were paying attention and will strive for balanced, informed discourse as the standard for people singled out for special recognition.
Roz Rothstein
Director, StandWithUs

At-Risk Youth
I would like to applaud The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax for courageously highlighting Aish Tamid and other programs in Los Angeles that offer “troubled teenage boys a way to curb self-destructive behavior” (“Orthodox Youth Not Immune to High-Risk Lifestyles,” Sept. 29). The topic of troubled teens is one of the most pressing and concerning issues facing our city, and it is important to supplement the article with a few additional facts and comments.
Firstly, while the core services and programs provided by Aish Tamid are tailored for troubled teens, we have also witnessed that not only troubled teens regularly attend and participate, but that there is a craving for our services by many different types of students. It is correct that our programs have been designed and appeal to troubled teens and/or students who have tried or are using drugs, but most Aish Tamid students are not druggies, and it is important to clarify this important distinction for the sake of all of our student participants.
It is also significant to note that the issue of at-risk youths is not restricted to only the Orthodox community, but that it affects all teens and young adults in our city, irrespective of their religious upbringing.
The article began with the mention of an Orthodox boy who overdosed on drugs, but many of us recall reading a little more than a year ago about the unfortunate death of a Los Angeles boy who was raised in the local Conservative schools and synagogues of our city who also died from a drug overdose.
In fact, after being mentioned and quoted in your 2005 article, Aish Tamid received a flood of phone calls from parents and school principals within the Conservative and Reform movements who confirmed that their children and/or students where facing the exact same challenges that was attributed to only Orthodox students in your recent article.
It would be naive of us to conclude that only Orthodox students are challenged with religious expectations, community and family pressures, academic and educational obstacles, questions on personal relationships, uncertainties on professional career options and, of course, the immense social influences of sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and other self-destructive habits.
These are the challenges of all teens and young adults, not just Orthodox, and the Aish Tamid programs and services, especially the Pardes/Plan B alternative high school program, have been designed to provide resources and support to all Los Angeles teens, young adults and their parents, irrespective of their religious affiliation.
Rabbi Avi Leibovic
Founder and Executive Director
Aish Tamid of Los Angeles

Politicized Reports
Joseph M. Lipner makes several interesting points in his op-ed (“Israel Should Probe Accusations of War Crimes,” Sept. 29), particularly on the subjective nature of terms such as “war crimes.”
Unfortunately, his piece is marred by incredible naiveté regarding human rights NGOs. Claims that Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International “appear to be acting with good motives” toward Israel, or that they can be expected aggressively to take the side of civilians in any military conflict are not grounded in reality. They reflect the halo effect these groups cultivate to escape accountability.
Research carried out by NGO Monitor shows a different story. Amnesty and HRW released highly politicized reports and statements throughout the war. Amnesty published a scathing 50-page report focusing entirely on Israel’s actions, while hundreds of rockets fell on Israeli civilians daily. HRW even denied Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields.

GOP pro-Israel campaign is the real deal — why the hysteria?

Sure, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has an agenda.
 The RJC wants Jews to become Republicans. So, the RJC buys ads in Jewish newspapers.
Why the unbridled hysteria?
Were the ads pornographic?
For some liberals, free
speech is selective. For them, (Jewish) community standards define the Republican Party as obscene. They don’t want to read what the other side has to say, and they do not want you to read it, either.
To be fair, some Republicans also blindly follow their political party. And I am not one of them. I don’t think the Republican Party is perfect. But on most issues, Republicans are a better fit for me.
For many in either party, party allegiance is based on gut feeling, for others, a multiplicity of issues that can be discussed another time. For now, let’s talk about the most controversial issue RJC confronted — Israel.
The message in the RJC ads sent some Democrats up the wall. Why take it out on the messenger? These angry Democrats had two intellectually defensible alternatives. They could have said that Israel is important to them and, also added: (a) “Other issues are more important to us than Israel,” or (b) “We have an Israel problem in our party, and we’ll work it out within the party.”
But party hacks are loyal to their party, not principle. And major Jewish Democrats, who could rise to the occasion, are in denial.
Let’s not pretend, as Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) does, that the RJC rhetoric somehow challenges a bipartisan coalition for Israel. Congressman Berman is a bright, honest, decent man who knows better. I respect Howard, but his political identity, vested in the Democratic Party, trumps his formidable IQ. It is not that he cannot, but he chooses not to see reality.
Bipartisan coalition? Anti-Semite Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) merely spoke more boldly than many of her African American colleagues in Congress, who are, I am sad to say, anti-Israel populists. The more patrician Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) publicly buys into the Jewish conspiracy line.
Then there is the “Southern gentleman” — then-Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), who on the Senate floor blamed the Iraq War on Jews. I could go on and on (Lois Capps [D-Santa Barbara], Barbara Lee [D-Oakland], Fortney Pete Stark [D-Fremont] and Maxine Waters [D-Los Angeles] to name just a few more members of Congress).
Berman’s Jewish brethren in Congress are disingenuous. For years, if not decades, they have supported cuts in the size and scope of our intelligence community. Soft on defense, they also have consistently opposed U.S. strategic and tactical weapons systems.
Do Jewish Democrats like Sen. Barbara Boxer (California) and Rep. Henry Waxman (Los Angeles) really believe that an intelligence out-to-lunch and militarily weak United States can support an ostracized, isolated Israel? These politicians embarrass me.
Indeed, my friend (and Republican) Michael Medved’s political re-awakening came after he, as a young Democratic aide on Capitol Hill, organized opposition to the Lockheed C-5A as a boondoggle. A few years later (1973), those aircraft transported armaments that literally kept Israel alive during the Yom Kippur War.
Consider the “Democrats for Israel” ad in this newspaper (Sept. 29). It argued that 96 percent of congressional Democrats supported “Israel’s right to defend itself against Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.” So did Saudi Arabia. Big deal. Besides, what about the most senior Democrat from Michigan, Israel-bashing Rep. John Dingell, who declared himself neutral between Israel and Hezbollah?
In most states in this country, you’ll have no problem getting a pro-Israel resolution at a Republican state convention. You won’t fare so well at a state convention of Democrats.
Why? For two reasons. Their party’s activists are allied with politically correct groups that are increasingly receptive to the anti-Israel theology. Increasingly, Palestinians are seen as a suffering group that must be supported by victims groups — African Americans, gays, feminists, immigrants.
And the second reason: That Democrat politicians reflect their base. Let’s talk reality. Polling data, as highlighted in the RJC ads, are conclusive (for example, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg). A majority of Republican voters support Israel; a majority of Democrat voters do not.
Since most Jews are Democrats, this would seem counterintuitive, because you would expect them to show up statistically. Until you realize that evangelical Christians who support Israel are disproportionately Republicans. And, conservative Republicans, as a group, generally see Israel as a worthy ally.
In contrast, many rank-and-file Democrats, including what James Carville might call “trailer trash,” buy into the Jewish-Zionist conspiracy. If you still don’t get it, look at Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Mass.) defeat. It wasn’t just Iraq. Look at the anti-Semitic ravings against him on liberal Web sites.
What of the distinguished Democrats? Former President Jimmy Carter has used his stature as a former president to travel the world attacking Israel. Former President Bill Clinton is hardly anti-Israel. But after the first Persian Gulf War, we had arguably the best opportunity for a negotiated peace. Yasser Arafat, discredited and isolated, was at his lowest point. What did Clinton do? He resurrected and legitimized him with an invitation to the White House, and the true moderates for a Mideast peace lost more than a decade.
What happens next month if the Democrats gain control of Congress? Anti-Israel John Conyers (D-Mich.) will chair the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Anti-Israel Dingell will chair the critical Energy and Commerce Committee. Anti-Israel David Obey (D-Wis.) will chair the key Appropriations Committee. This rogue’s gallery is far from complete.
Politicians pander to Jews on Israel. Does it matter whether Republicans remain in power?
If you still don’t get it, ask someone in Israel.

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst. He has written graduate texts on politics and media.

GOP pro-Israel propaganda: trick to disguise Republican failures

It’s that time of year again — election time — when White House officials trigger homeland security alerts and talk about the threat of Osama bin Laden. It’s also the time of year when Jewish Republicans bring out the bogeyman of the bad, bad Democrats who want to harm the State of Israel.

Bipartisan support for Israel has been a major accomplishment of pro-Israel activists in this country. Therefore, one might think that Republicans would be hesitant to try to undermine this accomplishment. However, from point of view of Republican electoral considerations, this attack strategy might be the best of a bunch of bad options.

After all, this is a Republican Party whose domestic policy accomplishments include its response to Hurricane Katrina and the exploding budget deficit. This is a party’s whose social and science policies are viewed by the vast majority of the Jewish community as closely aligned with the thinking of the Spanish Inquisition. And finally, this is a political party that has brought the country from the unity of Sept. 12 to the quagmire of Iraq.

So in the wake of Israel’s traumatic war with Hezbollah, it just might make electoral sense to try and scare American Jews into believing that the “lefty” Democrats are a threat to Israel’s survival. Yet, common sense and objectivity tell us that this is just a Republican con — and a destructive one at that.

In 2006, America’s two major political parties are at opposite ends of almost all issues but not on the issue of U.S.-Israel relations. Almost all observers, from Israeli officials to anti-Israel activists, agree that both the Republican and the Democratic parties are pro-Israel.

This bipartisan consensus, in a time of extreme partisan bickering, is no accident of history. For over 50 years, pro-Israel activists in this country have labored mightily to forge this bipartisan support for Israel. This is important because Democratic control of government and Republican control of government is never permanent.

However, with the rise of politicians like former Reps. Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay and presidential adviser Karl Rove, even the most sacred bipartisan issues became fair game for partisan gamesmanship. For these Republicans, it was just not good enough that they sought, in their own manner, to support strong U.S.-Israel relations. They had to do everything in their power to tear down Democratic leaders as friends of Israel. Thus, great friends of Israel, like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco), Sen. Harry Reid (Nevada) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, are denigrated as insufficiently friendly.

There are exceptions to this bipartisan consensus. But the exceptions are relatively few, and they come from both parties. Moreover, there are lots of right-wing or left-wing fringe elements that are not associated with either of the political parties. One good example that Republican Jews love to use is Cindy Sheehan, who they wrongfully label as a Democratic activist. If Sheehan is a “Democratic activist,” then we might as well label Mel Gibson a “Republican activist.”

Rather than looking under every rock to find a “bad” Democrat, these GOP operatives could play a constructive role in fostering the U.S.-Israel relationship. They could start by quietly talking to some of their own problems. For example: California Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who has accused Israel of “apartheid” and referred to Israel’s borders as “artificial lines”; GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has called the Israeli government the most “evil” lobby in Washington, D.C.; and the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, who held up consideration of an Israel solidarity resolution because he objected to a line in the resolution urging the president “to continue fully supporting Israel as Israel exercises its right of self-defense in Lebanon and Gaza” — just to name a few.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Republican spokesmen each election year predicted that Jewish Americans were turning Republican. Unfortunately for these spokesmen, these predictions never came true.

In fact, in the last 15 years, the GOP declined from its pre-1990s levels of 30-40 percent. After the last election, the exit poll of record, the Edison/Mitofsky exit survey, found that only 22 percent of American Jews had voted Republican.

In other words, Jews were the most loyal Democratic constituency in the country after African Americans. Tom Edsall, the national journalist who followed this story closest in recent years, wrote this past winter that after all the ballyhoo, there was no real evidence that either Jewish votes or Jewish donors were moving to the GOP.

The facts never got in the way of a good Republican operative, and here we are in the fall of 2006 as these same people are cranking up the propaganda machine once more. They are ruthlessly feeding the same story to the press about how the “anti-Israel Democrats” are turning the Jewish community to the GOP. The sad part of this story is that the press often cooperates.

Ultimately, however, the tragedy of this propaganda campaign is not that some in the Jewish community might be convinced that there are Democratic bogeymen out there. Instead, the tragedy is that for a few extra votes, these demagogues are undermining the historic bipartisan support for Israel that will be so needed in the dangerous years to come.

Ira Forman is executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Dems hit back at GOP Israel ads

Top Democrats are mounting a furious counterattack against claims by Jewish Republicans that the GOP is likelier to favor Israel.

“Say ‘no’ to this effort to somehow target Democrats as being opposed to Israel,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is Jewish, said Sept.28 in a hastily arranged conference call with the Jewish media.

The conference call, also addressed by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a likely contender for the presidency in 2008, was the latest response to a series of hard-hitting advertisements placed by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC).

The effect of the ad campaign on Jewish voting patterns, which have favored Democrats by wide margins for decades, is likely only to be incremental. However, it could influence how major Jewish and pro-Israel donors spend their money, an area where Democrats acknowledge Republicans have made inroads in recent years.

The money question is especially critical weeks ahead of a midterm congressional campaign that could see Republicans lose one or both houses of Congress.

The most recent RJC ad appearing in papers this week states bluntly, “There is a difference. Republicans are more likely to support Israel.”

It cites two recent polls showing that Republicans are much likelier to say their sympathies are with Israel, while Democrats are likelier to divide their responses between support for Israel and neutrality. In both cases, the percentage of those likely to favor the Arabs is minimal.

An earlier ad quoted former President Jimmy Carter questioning the moral underpinnings of Israel’s war this summer against Hezbollah in Lebanon — and saying, in the same interview, “I represent the vast majority of Democrats,” though the latter statement referred to Carter’s views against the Iraq war.

U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), who is Jewish, slammed the ads in an opinion piece published as a letter in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and in The Forward. Other Jewish legislators also plan to attack the campaign.
The latest ad led senior Jewish Democrats to press the Israeli Embassy in Washington and pro-Israel groups to weigh in. Bipartisan support for Israel has always been considered critical to making Israel’s case, and the Jewish Democrats told embassy and pro-Israel officials that the RJC campaign undermined that unity.

By the end of Thursday there were results, though spokesmen refrained from directly criticizing the RJC ads.

“Support for the U.S.-Israel relationship has always been bipartisan, with the strong support of both Democrats and Republicans, and that’s not changing,” said Josh Block, spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The Israeli embassy also was careful to keep above the partisan fray.

“There is a longstanding tradition of bipartisan support by both Democrats and Republicans for Israel, which we cherish and for which we are grateful,” said David Siegel, the embassy spokesman. “The special relationship between Israel and the United States is deep and profound, based on shared values which transcend party lines in both countries.”

Keeping out of local politics is a typical posture for any foreign nation, but one that Democrats, speaking off-the-record, said they found frustrating.
In the call with the Jewish media, Wyden worried that Republican sniping about a divide between Republicans and Democrats on Israel could be self-fulfilling.

“I think it really could hurt the traditional bulwark of bipartisan support in the Congress,” he said.

Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director, said Democrats would do better to examine whether something was going wrong within their party instead of blaming Republicans for pointing out the problem.

“Their attention is misplaced. We’re doing nothing other than illuminating a very sad and disturbing trend taking place,” he said. “What the senators should be focusing on is why the grassroots are moving away from the Democratic Party.”
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who is Jewish, echoed Brooks. Coleman said that his message to Democratic colleagues was “don’t shoot the messenger.”

“I would hope that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would be looking inward and doing what they can to restore that strong bipartisan unanimity,” he said.

Reed said the poll questions were overly general, and that Jewish voters should pay attention to the solid pro-Israel record of congressional Democrats, who have pressed President Bush to cut off the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and isolate Iran.

“You have to look at what’s happening in Congress],” Reed said. He also repeated what has become a theme in the Democratic campaign for Jewish votes — that President Bush, while well-intentioned, has endangered Israel because the Iraq war has emboldened Iran.

“When it comes to what this administration is doing, that’s where the concern should be,” he said. “That is much more central to the security concerns of Israel.”

Biden, who at times has criticized Israel — particularly when it expanded settlements — said Democrats’ differences with Israel over tactics did not indicate an erosion in support.

“There’s nothing to break Democratic support for Israel, nothing, even if every Jew in the country votes Republican,” he said.

Biden said that his differences often were with some in the pro-Israel community, rather than with Israel itself.

He said former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged him to bolster P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, a relative moderate, with assistance, but that colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives who opposed such
initiatives stymied his efforts.

Legislation backed by some pro-Israel groups “may be totally divorced from what I’m speaking to the foreign minister about, or my discussions with Sharon before he had his stroke,” Biden said.

An (Israeli-American) Voice in the Wilderness

Jonathan Tasini’s name, in Israel, would be pronounced more like Tazini. It’s related to a command in classical Hebrew that Moses uses with his people: Ha’azinu. That is: You should listen.

And at the very least, Tasini wants voters to get a chance to listen to him. He offers himself up as a new kind of Jewish American anti-war candidate for Congress, the only one who, as this summer’s news about the miseries of Iraq merged with that of the Lebanon blow-up, critically addressed both situations. He’s using his small corner of New York’s political stage to speak about these two wars of vital interest to Jews, even as it goes scarcely noticed that Tasini is the closest any candidate has come to being an Israeli American running for the U.S. Congress.

His full name is Jonathan Yoav Tasini, and he’s challenging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York’s Democratic primary on Sept. 12. He’s asked Clinton to debate him — an event that, following Ned Lamont’s win against Sen. Joe Lieberman, would likely be a national story — but so far she hasn’t accepted. Publications as different as The New York Times and the New York Post recently urged Clinton to engage the 49-year-old Tasini, the articulate former head of the National Writer’s Union, saying that a Tasini-Clinton match-up would give her a chance to clarify her muddled position on Iraq.

On Iraq, Tasini — along with a broad range of progressive positions — favors an immediate pullout. On Lebanon, as recent violence surged, he quickly echoed calls elsewhere for a cease-fire and joined in criticism of Israel’s bombing campaign in civilian areas. Tasini spurred a midsummer ripple of controversy with remarks that included his lament of Israel’s “many acts of brutality and violations of human rights.” He didn’t back down, reminding his critics that his comments did not stray from civil rights reports and charges by Israeli leftists.

Still, many people haven’t heard of Tasini, and the Jewish world has barely taken note. His Italian-sounding name stops even some supporters from realizing he’s Jewish, although he’s clear enough about it on his Web site, The New York media — including the Jewish press — have also not covered him with anywhere near the interest accorded Lamont, who bought his share of outsider glamour for $4 million.

Tasini’s raised about $200,000 so far, compared to Clinton’s $22 million. After a recent boomlet of press, he’s polling at 15 percent of New York Democrats. Few think he’ll win. But his positions on the Middle East distinguish him as part of a new generation of Democratic mavericks who reflect this country’s sense of political crisis over Iraq and a measure of disillusionment about Israel’s conduct in the Lebanon War. One could even call his campaign groundbreaking, given the freshness of his views and the novelty of his biography.

“I absolutely view him as an Israeli American,” said Joel Schalit, managing editor of Tikkun Magazine. “He certainly spent enough time in Israel and he certainly has enough connections there.”

Born in Houston, Tasini has two families: an American one from the marriage of his father, Betsalel Tasini, to a woman who lives now in Los Angeles, and an Israeli side, stemming from his father’s second marriage to a New Yorker who emigrated to Israel in 1968. Tasini, a UCLA graduate, lived with his father and stepmother in Israel for seven years and speaks fluent Hebrew.

I recently talked to Rita Tasini, the candidate’s stepmother, by phone as she sat in her home in Ra’anana, north of Tel Aviv, a few days after a Hezbollah missile had fallen in Hadera, not far away.

“He has roots in Israel that are very, very deep,” she said of him. “He was here, not last year, but the year before. He was here for Pesach.”

Tasini, she said, “was left wing at 16. He was always left.”

And his support for a two-state solution for the Palestinians, his objections to the Jewish settlement movement reflected familial views.

“Jonathan’s father was against it,” said his stepmother, “and so was I; none of us believed that they should be living over there.”

Tasini’s late father, a computer scientist, was born in Palestine, and fought in the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state army, and its strike force, the Palmach, his widow told me. He lived for a time in the United States during his American-born son’s early years, then returned to Israel. Rita Tasini described how a teenaged Tasini, having joined his father, volunteered in a hospital, helping wounded Israeli soldiers during the Yom Kippur War.

Yet Tasini told me it was the Vietnam War and the perspective of his father, the independence fighter, that largely shaped his anti-war views. “I remember very specifically watching the news of the Vietnam War and every week they’d have the body counts,” Tasini said, as we talked near his tiny office in New York’s West Village. “This one week, the number of Viet Cong killed were more than Americans and I said, ‘Good,’ and my father said, ‘Why is it good?’ I said, ‘It is better that more of them die than Americans,’ and my father said, ‘It is about much more than that.’ He said that no country wants to be occupied by another country, and liberation movements are very strong. My father was not a deep ideological left-winger, but it was based on his history of having fought against the British.

“Gandhi means a lot to me, Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” he added.
While he said he believes fighting is sometimes necessary, and firmly deplored Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the recent crisis, he questions why, given previous deals Israel made to release Palestinian prisoners for captives, it wasn’t done this time.

The openness of such skepticism may make Tasini seem foolishly bold (or boldly foolish) in the context of a New York political race. But it is of a piece with his controversial past as president of the National Writer’s Union, a time that included taking The New York Times to court to win payment to freelance writers for electronic reuse of their work. He won in the U.S. Supreme Court.

But critics say he misapplied his chutzpah this summer in the middle of the fighting in Lebanon. In an interview with the political blog, Room 8, Tasini was asked whether he believed Israel was a terrorist state. He answered: “It is painful to say that, but when you fire missiles from sophisticated aircraft on unarmed civilians in Gaza, those are again, the definition to me of….” He paused, searching for the next words.

“Terrorism is a very heavily laden word. But to me, what the key thing is, what are you doing? Are your actions in violation of the international norms of the Geneva Convention, and so on? And I think it’s sad to say, but it’s clear, yeah.”

While he quickly stated, on his campaign Web site, that did not view Israel as a terrorist state, he held to his critical stance. The Clinton campaign denounced the remarks, and several Jewish organizations fired back. The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), a Jewish Democratic group in Washington, called the remarks “outrageous” and “downright offensive.”

I asked NJDC Executive Director Ira Forman what made the remarks so wrong — beyond the “terrorist” label, which was pushed at Tasini and about which he wavered — given that human rights groups have issued reports saying more or less the same things.(Amnesty International has just issued a report critical of the Israeli bombing of civilians during the Lebanon conflagration.) Forman said the comments were “inappropriate,” and then added: “Inappropriate may not be the most accurate statement. The accurate statement is ‘very much out of the mainstream for the American Jewish community.'”

Forman’s objection — he was one of those who said he could not remember another congressional candidate who had as full an Israeli background as Tasini — goes to the heart of what makes Tasini an interesting new presence.

Said Tikkun’s magazine’s Joel Schalit: “If Israel comes across as being more fallible, dysfunctional and morally-in-trouble than previously perceived, then American Jewish opinion is going to have some kind of crisis. I think it is about time that an Israeli American entered the process. His timing couldn’t be better.”

Tasini has a political example to aim for in Los Angeles.

“I thought he was courageous to be critical of the Israeli actions in Lebanon, given Hillary’s gestures to win out the Jewish vote,” said Marcy Winograd, a Jewish anti-war progressive who took 38 percent of the vote in her recent primary run against Jane Harmon in California’s 36th Congressional District.
Tasini called the West L.A. campaign “the model” for his.

Tasini pointed out that critics of the Zionist Left who live in Israel tend to feel stronger in their right to question policies there than American Jewish critics in this country because their devotion to the survival of the state stands beyond reproach.

“American Jews feel they are living here in comfort and protection,” he said, “and they don’t really know what is going on, and they can’t criticize Israel. I have never had that. I can say what I say with authority, and I say it because I have a stake there.”

But interesting positions alone won’t get him into the same room with Hillary Clinton. At campaign stops recently she has dodged reporters who more and more often ask whether she’ll debate Tasini. She would only tell a CBS reporter, “We’ll see how the campaign develops over the next weeks.”

Of course Moses, with whom Tasini shares a linguistic legacy, sometimes had problems getting people to listen. But even he didn’t face the mighty logic of American incumbency — that you can deny an under-funded opponent a chance to be heard, if you simply don’t respond.

Allan M. Jalon is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

Letters to the Editor

Bill Boyarsky

Bill Boyarsky’s article (“Needed: Rational Discussion,” Aug. 18) was inaccurate and mean-spirited. He had the opportunity to dissent and speak up at the meeting of more than 400 attendees, but instead chose to vent to Journal readers who were not there and who could not fairly assess his charges.

The moderator asked if the audience thought the Los Angeles Times portrayal of Israel was biased against Israel, and the verbal and show of hands response was overwhelming. The audience was not angry with Boyarsky or David Lauter personally, but rather with their collusion with this bias.

I believe that both are out of touch with the opinion of the Los Angeles Jewish community and why so many have cancelled their subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times. If this forum shed any light on the issue, it was a very important evening.

Rita Sinder

Bill Boyarsky’s column was misleading. The audience of 400 at the Women’s Alliance for Israel event responded sharply to the L.A. Times deputy foreign editor’s defense of his newspaper labeling the Hezbollah as guerillas and not terrorists. They were not “out for his scalp” but didn’t like his answers and his newspaper’s fairness to Israel. I strongly suspect that any cross-section of Jews in our town would have reacted the same way. Most Jews in Los Angeles believe the L.A. Times is unfair in its treatment of Israel.

Boyarsky is right we do need “rational discussion.” How about starting with his column? He is obviously too biased to defend his former employer.

Howard Welinsky
via e-mail

David Lauter’s brilliance and soft-spoken nature has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that many people are obviously concerned about the Los Angeles Times. I know David and have always liked him. That doesn’t make the L.A. Times a reasonable publication. The day before I left for Israel on the StandWithUs solidarity mission, the L.A. Times headline read: “Israel Rejects Peace.” If I were to encapsulate the problem, there it is. Who in their right mind, right or left, could have ever approved a headline like that? Unless it was meant as a provocation to both liberals and conservatives who care about Israel?

This is what the crowd of 400 people was upset about. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican who loves Israel and craves long-term peace. What matters is that staff at the L.A. Times would have approved such a headline, minimizing the distaste this would cause to the L.A. pro-Israel community. I’m sorry if the crowd was impatient and “unreasonable.”

But the L.A. Times staff needs to be realistic. If they continue to frequently depict Israel as the side provoking war and not interested in peace, Israel as the strong side that pits war machines against children and women, they should likely expect unreasonable audiences who are hurt and fed up with one-sided reporting. In that case, if I were David Lauter, sitting on a panel defending or explaining the L.A. Times, I would “know my audience” and not be surprised at their predictably pent up concern.

Roz Rothstein
National Director

Who cares if Lauter wore a yarmulke? Indeed all the more reason to wonder why he has no historical perspective, no understanding that Israel faces an existential crisis today and that “if we forget history we are doomed to repeat it.”

Although the Los Angeles Times has been accused repeatedly of anti-Israel bias and irresponsible reporting, there was no debate or disagreement from Boyarsky as a panelist — of the kind he expected from the audience.

Perhaps the audience might have sat politely — lending a false impression of agreement rather than exercising the same right of free speech and dissent that Boyarsky claims for the Times. If we do not forcefully confront the prejudices and distortions that underlie the anti-Israel bias in today’s media, our very values of compassion, tolerance and even- handedness could be our undoing.

Sadly, the Los Angeles Times and its representatives to not seem to understand this.

Rosalie Zalis
via e-mail

I was at the event that Bill Boyarsky and David Lauter spoke for the Woman’s Alliance for Israel Program (“Needed: Rational Discussion,” Aug. 18). However, Boyarsky is incorrect in his assumptions about us going after Lauter’s scalp.

We wanted much more from Lauter. We wanted an explanation on why the Los Angeles Times has difficulty in using the word terrorist, instead of “militant.” Instead of giving us a logical answer, he bored us with his explanation of the “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” jive, and that the L.A. Times assumes that its readers can discern the difference.

We booed because we are not the radical “right-wing” DEBKA readers, as Boyarsky implied. This was a slap in the face to any Republicans that were in the audience. We booed because we are not stupid. We expected an intellectual dialogue, but we were hit with criticisms of the Bush regime, a “not my president” attitude, and the moral explanation that because reporters put themselves in the line of fire they do a good job.

Well, my son is in the army in Israel; he puts himself in the line of fire, and he has no problems distinguishing between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. And to top it off, to make comments about FOX — the one channel that does not make excuses for suicide bombers — and assume this as our only source of information was a slap in the face to the many activists who work hard daily, educating, discussing, working and fighting for Israel. I am one of those people who was insulted by the attacks on the right, the convoluted answers and the lack of respect that Boyarsky gave us that night and in his column.

This is the reason why I find the L.A. Times irrelevant in their reporting. They refuse to listen to more than 400 subscribers and former subscribers, and the stats on their readership should be a wake-up call, not an excuse to use their political bias to win arguments.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Associate Director, American Jewish Congress
Western RegionSanta Monica

Bill Boyarsky exposes why the Israel Women’s Alliance audience was so disturbed by LA Times deputy foreign affairs editor David Lauter. We wanted substantive discussion about bias and questionable sources and editorial choices at the Times. But Boyarsky asserts that the Times is so balanced, this question isn’t even debatable. He attacks the audience for daring to raise the issue and for being dismayed by Lauter. who avoided it by prattling on about the logistics of getting reporters to Lebanon and by giving such convoluted, unconvincing answers to informed questions that the audience audibly sighed. Boyarsky and Lauter exhibited “boorishness” and “narrow-mindedness” and cut off rational discussion, not the audience. Boyarsky’s response can only heighten concerns about journalistic standards.

These are grave times. Israel and Jews face a dangerous media propaganda war fed by Arab media, sources and photojournalists. This is not the time for the journalistic establishment to circle the wagons and defend their own and their egos.

They should be engaged in serious self-examination to see if they meet their own standards or are part of the problem. Judging from Boyarsky’s response, they would rather demean and silence the messenger than rationally and openly consider the validity of the message. Unfortunately, that means they are part of the problem.

Roberta P. Seid
Santa Monica

Dems and Don’ts

Why is Rob Eshman surprised at poll findings that find Republicans more consistently pro-Israel than Democrats by 20 points (“Dems and Don’ts,” Aug. 18)? Where have you been, Rob?

Eshman’s solution to the current schism is to disengage support of Israel from support of the [Bush] administration, so as to rise above “politics.” In other words, show appreciation for the policies of the administration by withholding our support, while maintaining our support for those who increasingly oppose our interests. Oh, that makes sense.

I have a better idea: realign with political parties who support Israel.

Sam Shmikler
Santa Clarita

Rob Eshman is correct that we must make arguments that appeal to decent liberals; to do this we must revamp the case we make for Israel.

Our first priority should be making it clear that Zionism is justifiable (establish why analogies between Palestinians and Native Americans are obscene). This would certainly entail going after textbooks.

Secondly, we need to follow Joe Hicks (Chipping Away at Israel Support Endangers U.S.,” Aug. 18) and make it known to everyone that Israel is the victim of absurdly disproportional criticism; disproportionate criticism is hate, should become Israel’s slogan.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles

I respect Rob Eshman a great deal, and his column demonstrates that the pro-Israel community has done a poor job of reaching out to progressive-leaning groups, which should be naturally allied with our goals. However, many of the assumptions made in the articles were wrong.

Despite some wonderful lip service by Republicans, the GOP has shown a lack of spine in putting their money where their mouth is on Israel.

It was Republican congressional leaders who pushed Israel to accept the phased-out elimination of all economic aid to Israel, and attempted to cut military aid to Israel in 2004 before being beaten back by Democratic votes.

Further, in 2006 it was Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) who held up the Senate Resolution condemning Hezbollah and Iran because he was more concerned about Iraqi opinion than our friendship with Israel. 44 of 45 Senate Democrats sponsored that resolution, but only 19 Senate Republicans dared to put their names on the line for Israel. Anti-Israel Republicans like Sen. Sununu (R-N.H.), Sen. Enzi (R-Wyo.), U.S. Rep. Issa (R-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Paul (R-Texas) are conveniently overlooked in the Republican argument.

Even in the Connecticut Senate race, the truth is that the Lieberman/Lamont race actually shows that the Democratic Party’s support for Israel is both wide and deep and provides a “win-win” for Pro-Israel activists.

Lieberman, the sole Orthodox Jew in the United States Senate, is a tireless supporter of Israel. Some believe that Jews such as Lieberman, because of their Jewish heritage, have a special connection to Israel and the issues facing our community.

However, reviewing Ned Lamont’s Web site, Lamont demonstrates a similar strong support for Israel and the right of Israel to defend itself, stating.

Andrew Lachman
Democrats for Israel Los Angeles

In his column, it appears that Rob Eshman sees the problem, notes the dissonance, wishes it were different, but offers no deeper analysis of the problem. I urge him to think about this freshly and more deeply, not just urge liberal Dems in Hollywood to speak up. It’s their worldview that is holding them back. Eshman needs to understand and impact that to have any effect.

David Schechter
via e-mail

Miles on Israel

The cover story from Aug. 4 (“Is Lebanon Israel’s Iraq?”) was far too negative, especially since it was not even logical or accurate. The mordantly leftward slant of The Journal has made it insufferably unpleasant to read. There is something even treacherous in the miserable, compulsive pessimism of the “analysis” of Jack Miles’ opinion piece (masquerading as definitive analysis) and of The Jewish Journal’s view of the war in general. Frankly, I think The Journal needs a new editor if this self-pitying can’t be brought under control.

Jarrow L. Rogovin
via e-mail

Republican Jewish Coalition Ad

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) stoops to a new low by implying that members of the Democratic Party are anti-Israel because Joe Lieberman was defeated in the Democratic Primary in Connecticut (Aug. 18).First, Joe Lieberman was not silenced he can still speak out for Israel, as I am sure he will. Second, the man who defeated him, Ned Lamont, is a strong supporter of Israel.

I recommend the RJC convince their representatives in the Congress to support pro Israel programs not just mouth support. For example improving automobile gas mileage would significantly reduce the dollars that Iran and other Israel foes get and use to fund the terrorists including Hezbollah.

The RJC should support programs that help Israel, and eliminate programs and actions that have resulted and continue to result in recruitment of terrorists.

Henry J. Pinczower
Los Angeles

The ad on your inside cover from The Republican Jewish Coalition disgusts me (Aug. 18). Joe Lieberman was not defeated because of his support for Israel, but because of his continuing support of the most incompetent and corrupt president in the history of the United States.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party supported Lieberman. It was the voting public, fed up with the disastrous war in Iraq and Lieberman’s blind support for it, that led to his defeat.

The “radical left” has hardly taken over the Democratic Party, and Cindy Sheehan is not a spokesperson for party policy.

No Democratic president would stand by and allow Hezbollah rockets to rain down on Haifa. Nor would they have started a war with Iraq that has ended up strengthening Iran and weakening both the United States and Israel.

Finally, it is the Republican Party that envisions the United States as a Christian theocracy. I cannot understand how any Jew could proudly align themselves with these people.

Barry Wendell
North Hollywood


I read Michael Aronoff’s letter and assumed he was referring to me, among others, as one who engaged in “fury against an apostate.. [and who]…lives in a fantasy world” regarding Israel’s enemies.

I have been to Israel nearly 50 times, have spent time teaching and consulting there, serving on Jewish Agency committees, heading the North American committee on aliyah, etc. I also met with Palestinian leaders over the years, including Arafat three times. I was and continue to be a life-long Zionist. I have absolutely no delusions that enemies such as Hamas and Hezbollah and their backers are serious about wanting to destroy the state of Israel.

Bill Boyarsky pointed out sadly in his column about the behavior of those attending the Women’s Alliance for Israel meeting in last week’s issue. The two matters are conjoined. Rational discussion and open-ness to information explaining the complexities related to Middle East matters should be on everyone’s agenda here.

Israel must be kept strong under all circumstances. I have confidence in its ability to defend itself and believe whatever the rhetoric of Israel’s enemies, Israel’s continuity depends on its strength and not the wishes and intentions of its enemies.

Peace Now in Israel has been in the forefront in supporting the state of Israel, serving and fighting in its army ,while continuing to criticize, where appropriate, the behavior and policies of its governments, regardless of the party in power. Most of today’s conventional positions, including discussion and acceptance of a two state solution, began with Peace Now.

The fighting in Israel has ceased for now. What all sides need are opportunities to find moderates and rational thinkers who will continue to concentrate on the long-time festering issues which ca n never be solved on the battlefield. Open discussions, explorations of options, confronting Israel’s mistakes in dealing with its own Israel Arab citizens, cooperation with friendly Arab countries, affecting world public opinion are but some of the issues facing Jews world-wide and the State itself. Yes, Israel lives in a bad neighborhood. But it is also true that the radicals remain a small, if powerful voice and influence in the Middle East. Eventually political discussions with the enemy remains the only path for insuring peace. Easy? NO. Necessary? Absolutely.

If this is a fantasy world, then God help us all, for Israel with its ^ million Jews in a sea of a billion or more Muslims, is doomed to eternal wars.

Citizens of Israel are more realistic about these matters than many of us seem to be. I. These discussions are an imperative here and in Israel, now more than ever. I remain firm in my support of our beloved Israel but even more committed to help in some small way to finding those paths which will better serve Israel’s future than another century of warfare.

Gerald Bubis
Los Angeles


An article on Carvel ice cream shops in the Aug. 11 issue misspelled the name of the owner of the Carvel outlet at 11037 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles, near the San Diego Freeway. The owner is Stephen Winick. The article also misidentified the opening date of the store, it was September 2005, not December.


If you have any information about Ferramonti, the concentration camp in Southern Italy, please call (888) 388-0444 or e-mail

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Dems and Don’ts

Last Sunday evening, in a Westwood office tower, I sat behind a one-way mirror and watched a group of about 30 voters — half Democrats, half Republicans –respond to images and opinions about Israel’s war in Lebanon.

Pollster Frank Luntz had arranged the session as part of his research to gauge American attitudes toward Israel. Luntz is the Republican opinion maven who helped fashion Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. His work for Israel is nonpartisan, he said, inspired by his devotion to a state whose leaders’ posture has long been that actions speak louder than words. Luntz has been trying to get Israelis to understand that, in the information age, what you do often matters less than what they say about what you do.

The details of what transpired at Luntz’s “Instant Response” session were off-the-record, but I can say that the overall results were as shocking as they were commonplace: the opinion of Israel among the Democrats was consistently 10 to 20 points lower than that of the Republicans.

For the study, respondents watched various Israeli representatives on a television prompter while holding dial devices in their hands. They turned the dial left or right, depending on whether they felt warmer or cooler to the speaker’s words, and the aggregate levels registered as two graph lines across the screen, red for Republicans, green for Democrats.

This research aims to reveal which words and phrases resonate with voters. A speaker who forcefully explained how Israel risks its own soldiers’ lives to present civilian casualties in Lebanon sent both graphs higher than one who simply said the deaths were regrettable.

I kept waiting for the green line — so to speak — to run alongside the red, for the Democrats to feel as cozy to Israel as the Republicans. They never did.The danger signs of such results stretch far beyond a research session. A Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg Poll in late July found, “a growing partisan divide over Israel and its relationship with the United States.”

While 50 percent of that survey’s respondents said the United States should continue to stand by Israel, Democrats supported neutrality over alignment, 54 percent to 39 percent, while Republicans supported alignment with the Jewish state 64 percent to 29 percent.

“Republicans generally expressed stronger support for Israel,” wrote the Times, “while Democrats tended to believe the United States should play a more neutral role in the region.”

Two rallies last week drove the point home. On Sunday, the extreme left-wing A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) turned out between 1,000 and 5,000 protestors on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, carrying signs accusing Israel of genocide and blaming “the occupation” for the death of innocent Lebanese. (The occupation of what, Kiryat Shemona?)

Two days before, about 100 protesters blocked the entrance to the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard calling for an end to the war.

Sure, these protesters — who, I’m going to assume, tend to vote Democratic — are not in the party’s mainstream. The mainstream still belongs solidly to people like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who told a group of Arab representatives last week in clear terms that he would never apologize for his support for Israel. And the House of Representatives’ July 21 vote supporting Israel in its war with Hezbollah passed on a 410 to 8 vote.

That’s the way it should be. For most of Israel’s history, America’s support for Israel was the result of a strong bipartisan consensus. It was a Democratic President, Harry Truman, whose recognition helped birth the Jewish state, and politicians from both parties — from John Kennedy to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton — have played key roles in strengthening it. Most historians agree that Israel’s chilliest reception at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. came when a Republican, George H.W. Bush, was president.

Yet the change in attitudes among some Democratic voters has sparked gleeful Republican e-mails and blog entries across the Internet, and provided talking points for any number of GOP hacks. They want to use Israel as a wedge issue to beckon Jewish longtime Democratic voters away from the fold.

But Luntz and others who care about Israel understand this fissure is no cause for celebration, that treating the State of Israel as the equivalent of flag-burning or the morning after pill is dangerous and foolish.

Eventually, inevitably, the pendulum swings. Voters will kick the ruling party to the curb, and Congress, and perhaps even the White House, will go to the Dems. People who truly care about Israel and not about scoring points on Crossfire need to figure out ways to close the gap, to make support for Israel neither Democrat nor Republican, but American.

The challenge is especially great here in Los Angeles, where liberal Jews make up substantially more than a minyan in the entertainment industry. People took Hollywood’s Marranos to task for remaining largely mute when actor Mel Gibson went on his anti-Semitic bender. But Hollywood’s silence has been positively deafening during the war Israel just fought.

A terrorist group invaded Israeli territory, lobbed in thousands of rockets, killed dozens of Israeli citizens and soldiers and emptied the country’s north. And Hollywood Jewry spoke out in a collective voice about as loud as a Prius in neutral.

These Democrats, who have the power to influence public and political opinion, are being carried along in a wave of liberal antipathy toward Israel. Steven Spielberg, who went public with a $1 million donation to support Israeli hospitals and social services affected by the war, is the notable, high-profile exception.

So what’s the solution? Step one is to stop politicizing Israel. Israel and, by extension, world Jewry, faces an enemy in Islamic fascism that hardly differentiates between Jew and non-Jew, much less Republican and Democrat.

Step two is to uncouple support of Israel from support of Bush, or of the Iraq War. As much as the president understands the danger of “Islamo-fascism,” he has greatly fouled our ability to fight that threat by launching and mishandling the war in Iraq and over-politicizing homeland security. But don’t punish Israel for Bush’s sins.

Step three is for Jews of all political stripes to find ways to come together in support of Israel. I suggest a red-and-blue coalition of American Jews lobby hard to eliminate America’s dependency on foreign oil.

“A stable, peaceful and open world order are being compromised and complicated by high oil prices,” wrote Fareed Zakharia in Newsweek. “And while America spends enormous time, money and effort dealing with the symptoms of this problem, we are actively fueling the cause.”

The technology exists to resolve our oil dependency and deprive the worst anti-Israel regimes of their billions in surplus (see “Winning the Oil Endgame” by energy expert Amory Lovins at, and Jews can come together to spur politicians and corporations to implement it. It’s not red or blue. It’s pro-Israel, and it’s time.

Israel: Between Iraq and a Hard Place

The intensifying crisis of Iran’s nuclear program is bringing into sharp relief the problems created for Israel by the radical foreign policy of the Bush administration. In a world filled with nations and movements hostile to Israel, the United States has long been Israel’s big brother. What happens when big brother shows bad judgment? That is the roller coaster on which supporters of Israel find themselves in the last two years of this most unusual administration.

All along, Israel has seen Iran as a major adversary, perhaps the most serious one in its region. Iraq was also a problem, but a lesser one. America also watched Iran with great concern. To many practically minded Americans, the Saddam Hussein regime provided a convenient if ugly method to keep Iran in check. With a hostile and secular Iraq on its border, Iran lacked the freedom of opportunity to spread its wings in the region.

This pragmatism helped explain why previous Republican administrations leaned toward Iraq during the bloody Iran-Iraq War in the early 1980s. Who do we think armed Saddam Hussein and forgave his many trespasses against human rights in the interest of a regional balance of power?

When the Bush administration came to power in 2001, Israel seemed to be in good hands. Intense rhetorical devotion to Israel and a decision not to challenge Israeli policy were certainly welcome in Jerusalem. Few understood, however, the extent to which many of the Bush people were driven by an intense urge to overthrow Saddam Hussein, dating back to the overruling of their drive to take Baghdad in the first Gulf War. Maybe this new approach would work, thought many supporters of Israel. Maybe the Americans were right that this would create a movement toward pro-Western, pro-Israel regimes in the region. The removal of an evil dictator could strike a blow for democracy and freedom.

The bravado of the Bush foreign policy group, however, was not backed by the ability, experience or adaptability of previous presidencies in foreign policy. Imbued with a sense of their own historical destiny and the rightness of their cause, the Bush crowd made a hash of Iraq, and through their stunning incompetence opened the door to expanding Iran’s influence in the region. Unilateral arrogance and belligerence weakened America’s standing in the world, and temporarily robbed Israel of the benefit of pro-American admiration abroad. The United States of course, has never been universally loved outside its borders, but it was held in high regard in many places. And this high regard has been a bulwark of Israel’s strength.

The Bush group now confronts the challenge of an emboldened Iran. But Israel’s friends are watching America’s leadership with a more jaundiced eye than before the Iraq War. Some are torn. One of the most notable nouveau skeptics is Thomas Friedman, The New York Times columnist who helped bolster the case for war against Iraq, in part because he hoped it would lead to a more moderate Middle East friendlier to Israel. At the time, he hoped optimistically that the Bush people knew what they were doing. Now he has swallowed a most bitter pill, as he noted in a recent column:

“If these are our only choices,” Friedman wrote, “which would you rather have: a nuclear-armed Iran or an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites that is carried out and sold to the world by the Bush national security team…. I’d rather live with a nuclear Iran. As someone who believed — and still believes — in the importance of getting Iraq right, the level of incompetence that the Bush team has displayed in Iraq, and its refusal to acknowledge any mistakes or remove those who made them, makes it impossible to support this administration in any offensive military action against Iran.”

But not all erstwhile supporters of Bush’s foreign policy have learned such a lesson, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who has blindly embraced the Bush foreign policy team. Returning from a trip to Baghdad in late 2005, he extolled the wisdom and flexibility of the Iraq policies of the administration, went on Fox News to attack fellow Democrats for not getting behind the commander-in-chief and found himself quoted by the president as one Democrat who really gets it. (This lovefest is not helping Lieberman’s among fellow Democrats in his reelection campaign.) Lieberman, apparently, would be delighted to follow Bush’s lead on Iran policy. If Friedman has spit out the Kool-Aid, Lieberman can’t seem to drink enough of it.

One must hope that the choices are not as stark as those offered up by Friedman: a catastrophic war even more destructive than Iraq or a stand down by the world’s leading power in the face of Iran. Nor does Lieberman’s suspension of disbelief inspire much confidence. The crowing Iranians seem to have concluded that the administration is so weakened that it can be challenged easily, but that does not take into account the peculiar inward-turned and self-regarding nature of the Bush group. They are capable of taking action with or without public support; they might even believe that confrontation would increase their public support. Wars often start because of such mutual misperceptions.

America is still Israel’s most reliable friend. Simply put, America must succeed. It cannot be weakened. Somehow, we must reconnect to the American tradition of muscular diplomacy, of using strength to avoid, not seek war. That is all that Israel’s friends have ever asked for. Negotiation backed by strength, will and determination are likely to provide a way out of the crisis. With luck, the Bush administration will figure this out and earn the support such a policy could generate at home and abroad.

At the end of the day, it will be up to Republicans to bring some sense to the foreign policy of the United States during the worrisome remaining years of this administration. The Bush administration does not regard Democrats as worth listening to (although they are happy to use people like Lieberman to their purposes as long as he extols their policies). They also don’t listen to many Republicans, especially if they are associated with the more restrained foreign policy of the president’s father. But the Republican leadership’s reluctance to set any professional standards for this administration’s foreign policy must come to an end.

How, for example, should the president deal with the rambling 18-page letter he received from Iran’s president? How can such reluctant powers as Russia and China be brought on board a coalition to confront Iran and resolve the issue?

Navigating the narrow channel of dealing with Iran is going to take skill, wisdom, and strength. Those who have those qualities should not fear to raise their voices. And they should not settle for being heard in private.

If not them, who?

If not now, when?

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


The Circuit

Built to Last

Team Mortorq from Beverly Hills High School won two prestigious awards recently at a robotics competition: The Entrepreneurship Award and the Autodesk Visualization Award for animation.

The Entrepreneurship Award recognizes a team which, since its inception, has developed the framework for a comprehensive business plan in order to scope, manage and obtain team objectives. The team should also display entrepreneurial enthusiasm and the vital business skills for a self-sustaining program.

The Autodesk Visualization Award for Animation recognizes excellence in student animation that clearly and creatively illustrates the spirit of the first Robotics Competition.

The Beverly Hills High team also was scheduled to compete in Las Vegas.

Sherman Speaks

Nearly 200 visitors, community leaders and members of the local Iranian Muslim media gathered at the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills March 26 to hear speakers address the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian Jewish Federation, were panelists at the event.

Sherman, a member of the House International Relations Committee, discussed upcoming measures Congress will be taking to combat Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

“It is unlikely that we can stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Sherman said. “Iran is subject to economic pressure and we must use our maximum economic and diplomatic steps to slow down and stop their ability to get these weapons.”

Kermanian’s discussion focused on the beliefs and core goals of Iran’s current regime to impose its fundamentalist Islamic ideologies on the West by use of force. Following their speeches, both speakers answered questions from the audience concerning Iran. Also in attendance was Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Ain’t That a Kick?

Gold and silver were the colors of the day for New JCC at Milken’s Kenshokan Martial Arts Academy last month. The American Judo and Jujitsu Federation held its national convention and freestyle championships in San Ramon recently and in the youth division, Tyler Mclean came away with second place. Program instructor Gregory Poretz, who came back from a stunning upset in 2005 in last place was able to make a clean sweep of the black belt division and take the gold.

Sensei Poretz, Mclean and the rest of the Kenshokan will be training to defend their titles in 2007 in Santa Rosa.

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The End of Bush’s ‘Jewish Moment’

Republicans once had high hopes that George W. Bush would draw American Jews away from their historic affinity with Democrats into embracing the conservative party. They believed that Jews would be drawn to Bush’s intense support for the State of Israel. Orthodox Jews, already more conservative than most American Jews, would be attracted by Bush’s faith-based initiatives. Neo-conservative intellectuals, a number of whom are Jewish and strongly pro-Israel, would be integrated into the foreign policy apparatus of the administration. And finally, the war in Iraq would remake the map of the Middle East in a way that would enhance Israel’s security. Taken together, the Bush administration would provide the Republicans with their “Jewish moment.”

The first test of this multifaceted plan was the 2004 presidential election. That seemed to be a bust. Democrat John Kerry won an estimated three-quarters of Jewish voters. But then the Republican plan was never based exclusively on winning Jewish votes. It was as much about splitting the Jewish campaign-funding base, and introducing a germ of doubt into Jewish loyalty to the Democrats, especially where Israel’s security was concerned. It was also about enhancing the gap between Republicans and Democrats in foreign policy leadership. The White House successfully cultivated pro-Israel Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) to be their favorite Democrat, while rumors swirled that he would replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

Many American Jews were uncomfortable with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but, after all, Israel’s leadership spoke publicly in favor of the war, remembering how Saddam Hussein had rained missiles into Israel during the first Gulf War. Jewish voters give credence to the positions of Israeli leadership on security matters, and Israel is perhaps the most pro-American nation on earth. By the same token, intense European opposition to the war counted for less, given Europe’s pro-Arab track record.

While American unilateralism might discomfort progressive Jews, many also have demonstrated a certain willingness to endure the international isolation that comes with America’s support for Israel. And older Jews remember Jewish Cold War intellectuals joining with the Nixon administration when the Democrats seemed weaker on foreign policy in the McGovern era. And it was Nixon who bailed out Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

But since Bush’s re-election, these pillars of a paradigm shift have eroded, and now totter on the verge of collapse. The poor progress of the war in Iraq stands at the heart of the matter. The neo-conservatives turned out to be second-rate armchair warriors, working with a less-than-talented administration that shared their fantasies of global domination. Despite his corruption and dishonesty, Nixon was a brilliant strategic thinker on the global scene. He prided himself on a cold-hearted realism that allowed him to abandon his own Cold War ideology, play the People’s Republic of China against the Soviet Union and conclude historic agreements with each of them. Even as his popularity at home evaporated, he still enjoyed great respect in major world capitals. He didn’t like Jews very much (as shown in the famous White House tapes), and offered little rhetoric in support of Israel, but with the Jewish state in mortal peril during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he moved quickly and effectively to mobilize critically needed U.S. aid.

The Bush group of politicians and neo-conservative intellectuals, by contrast, has relied on the fantastical notion that an American invasion of an Arab country would spark a democratic upsurge in the Middle East. New elections would install pro-American and pro-Israeli governments in the region, thereby assuring U.S. hegemony and Israeli security. They pulled out maps of the region and plotted what they proudly referred to as the new American era of ideological and economic dominance. They saw endless possibilities for positive change in the region. One administration insider gloated about Egypt, “We can do better than Mubarak.” It apparently never occurred to them that elections might bring fundamentalist, anti-American and anti-Israel forces to power. For that matter, they seemed utterly surprised by the impact of televised images of tortured and humiliated prisoners.

Wedded to this doctrine, the administration resisted Israeli entreaties to delay Palestinian elections or to insist on preconditions for Hamas involvement, with the result that a democratically elected Hamas government, unwilling to recognize Israel, now stands on Israel’s border.

Instead of a moderate democratic renaissance, the Iraq War threatens to spark a civil war. And the prestige and power of Israel’s major regional foe, Iran, has been enhanced in the bargain. In February, Israeli television broadcast comments by Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service, who was overhead suggesting that Israel might have been better off if Saddam were still in power controlling a stable, albeit hostile, Iraq.

The Bush administration and its neo-conservative intellectuals may have inadvertently shifted the cream of foreign policy thinkers back to the Democrats. Bush’s politicians and ideologues have driven out enough foreign policy professionals from the federal government to staff a new administration, from anti-terror specialist Richard Clarke to that famously unmasked CIA agent Valerie Plame.

The controversial port deal with the United Arab Emirates and the revelation that the UAE participates in the Arab boycott of Israel further changes the political dynamic. The ports controversy has for the first time allowed Democrats to move to the more pro-Israel side of the Bush administration. Ironically, then, the transition of the Nixon era may indeed be replayed. But in a twist of history, it may be the Democrats that benefit if they can rediscover their own long-lost tradition of foreign policy leadership.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.


Political Centrism Stirring Up Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2004 Takes Some Unexpected Turns


There’s nothing as risky as end-of-year predictions, as 2004 so painfully demonstrated.

Twelve months ago, otherwise sober analysts were predicting a political upheaval among Jewish voters and that Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, was a cinch to win the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. President Bush, the pundits predicted, would turn to the political center in his fight for re-election. And in Israel, suicide bombers seemed poised to continue their deadly work, apparently still given the go-ahead by Yasser Arafat, the Nobel-winning Palestinian leader who just couldn’t forsake his roots as terrorist-in-chief.

At the dawn of 2005, Arafat is in his Ramallah grave, there are flickers of hope across the Middle East and Dean engineered the most spectacular nosedive in recent political history.

Here are some of the top Jewish stories of 2004 — and some pointers on what could be in store in 2005:

The Jewish Vote

For months, the hype was unrelenting; Jewish voters were on the verge of a great shift to the right, and Bush, thanks to his strong support for the Likud government in Israel, would reap windfall benefits on Nov. 2.

It didn’t turn out that way. When the results were in, Bush had received a mere 23 or 24 percent of the Jewish vote, far below the 40 percent or more some analysts predicted. In the end, Jewish voters ran true to form — driven mostly by domestic politics and particularly by fears about the growing influence of the religious right on the Republican administration and Congress, not by Israel concerns.

That doesn’t mean 2004 was a complete disaster for the Republicans. The GOP continued making inroads in Jewish political fund-raising and building a grass-roots infrastructure that could result in incremental change in coming elections.

In addition, the Republicans continue to benefit from a dramatic shift among the Orthodox minority. According to some estimates, more than 60 percent of Orthodox voters voted Republican this year, giving the GOP a small but important foothold among Jewish voters.

But for now, Jews are mostly where they’ve always been: Democratic, liberal and deeply suspicious of those who claim to be interpreting the word of God in politics.

Arafat’s Death

On Nov. 11, the Palestinians lost the man who symbolized their quest for statehood but also thwarted it. The death of Arafat reshuffled the Mideast deck in ways that won’t be fully known for years.

But several things are already clear. His departure means the Palestinians will have to get serious about whether they want statehood sometime this century, or just continue the political melodrama on the world stage that brings them much sympathy but little real forward progress.

Arafat’s death means that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, focused now on his Gaza withdrawal plan, can no longer sit back and say only that there’s no viable partner for new peace negotiations.

Washington, by most accounts, still has little interest in getting back into direct Mideast mediation, especially not while the administration is preoccupied by the mess in Iraq and a complex, ambitious domestic agenda. Arafat’s death will make it harder to stay on the sideline and much riskier. In the eyes of the world, it’s getting close to put-up-or-shut-up time for a U.S. administration that had demanded new Palestinian leadership as the precondition for new U.S. involvement.

“The Passion of the Christ”

Early in 2004, Jewish leaders were in high dudgeon over the upcoming Mel Gibson movie depicting the crucifixion of Jesus. The movie, with its harsh portrayal of Jews and their role in biblical events, would rekindle an old-fashioned theological anti-Semitism, groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) warned. The movie came and went and had a second coming in DVD form, and the pogroms have yet to erupt.

That doesn’t mean the ADL and other groups were wrong, though. The phenomenal number of Christians around the world who saw “The Passion” — and the even larger number who will see it over and over again on video and DVD — means the film’s perspective is seeping into the religious perspective of millions worldwide.

Exactly how that will play out in terms of their views of Jews and the idea of perpetual guilt for Jesus’ death is unclear. But it’s too early to say “The Passion” was a fizzle. It will be years before Jewish leaders can accurately assess its real impact.


In July, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to begin the divestment process against Israel, applying the political action model that was so effective against the apartheid government of South Africa. Since then, Jewish groups have convinced other mainstream Protestant denominations to pull back from the divestment precipice or at least to move more cautiously, although the Presbyterians appear to be sticking to their guns.

Divestment represents a looming disaster for Israel and a community relations crisis for American Jewish groups. Unchecked, the effort would directly challenge and undermine the very legitimacy of the Jewish state by pressing the comparison with the odious former government of South Africa.

Beating back the divestment push will become easier if Israel moves forward with its Gaza disengagement plan and shows signs of a willingness to remove major settlements from the West Bank. But if the Gaza plan turns out to be a ploy to tighten Israel’s hold on West Bank areas, as some officials of the Sharon government have hinted, it will be harder to confine the divestment effort to the Presbyterians, who have traditionally displayed an overwhelming bias against Israel.

Stay tuned.


Why the Left-Wing Hand-Wringing?

I should have known better than to forward an e-mail recommending a boycott of French products for France’s anti-Israel stance and willingness to tend to Yasser Arafat on his deathbed.

In an age of e-mail overload, forwarding e-mail is already a risky proposition, and usually I am more careful. But the real whopper was sending it to two of my Jewish friends who are Democrats.

One replied with a line lifted directly from the Democratic Party playbook: “We can’t continue to alienate every country on the globe over issues that have always been settled diplomatically in the past,” this friend noted. My other friend’s response was more unsettling: “I can’t support a group that uses Bush and Cheney as a drawing card. They sicken me. That’s the least offensive thing I can say about them.”

This hatred of President Bush comes from people who I know to be otherwise thoughtful and intelligent. Unfortunately for them, their “anybody but Bush” mantra helps to explain the Kerry defeat. Negativism and name-calling is not a winning political strategy.

These friends’ angry and contemptuous post-election sentiments are part of a larger mass hand-wringing among the left. On an Internet-based writers’ discussion board that I belong to, more than 150 messages were posted the day after the election, 90 percent of them expressing shock, dismay, deep mourning and sheer embarrassment. The sky-is-falling responses included plans to move to Canada and predictions of the destruction of the world environment, obliteration of all civil rights, and a looming Christian-based theocracy. That’s quite an agenda for only four years! Wonder if W can pull it off?

One writer likened President Bush’s religiosity to mental illness: “It’s a sad day when a man claiming to follow God’s instructions prevails in an election. Prominent people who hear voices include the Son of Sam and all those schizophrenics on lifetime medication.”

Most Jews would not, I hope, make this odious comparison. Nonetheless, many of them, including my friends, worry that President Bush’s overt faith is somehow dangerous. “I can’t think of anyone worse for the Jews than Bush,” said one of my e-mail recipients.

Just what are they so afraid of? After four years of a Bush administration Jewish life in our country is thriving and free. The United States has not been attacked again since Sept. 11 despite the efforts of known terrorist cells throughout the world and in the United States — including Los Angeles. Why the refusal to give credit for keeping us safe from further terrorist attacks? The Bush agenda also fights aggressively for the democratization of the Arab world, believing, in contrast to many on the left, that they are capable of democratic self-government. President Bush has also been a stalwart supporter of Israel’s right to defend itself and refused to deal with Arafat, recognizing him as the terrorist and mass murderer that he was.

I wished I could have engaged my friends on these issues, but with emotions running so high I didn’t dare push it. I value my friendship with them more than I value the highly unlikely chance that I might sway their opinions.

That’s why as a religious Jew, I am not threatened by the president’s basic Christian values. I am more threatened by the moral relativism of the left, which questions the war on terror, where third-trimester abortions are coyly framed only as a woman’s “right to choose,” and where those who fight to preserve the institution of marriage are instantly called bigots, shutting down any further discussion.

Many Jews respond that Christian support for Israel is self-serving: the second coming of Jesus cannot happen until Jews are safely in Israel. But it’s only a small minority of Christians whose support has ulterior motives. I am friends with several religious Christians who have had many opportunities over the years to try to get me to “come over to their side.” They never have. Instead, they have participated in missions to Israel where they helped shore up flagging tourism even during the darkest days of the intifada. Most religious Christians support Israel because they take seriously the Torah’s promise of God to Abraham: “Those who bless you I will bless; and those who curse you I will curse.” Perhaps if more Jews realized how much Christians have also suffered at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, who have committed mass murder of Christians in the Philippines, Pakistan, East Timor, the Sudan, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the West Bank, they would be less suspect of Christians’ motives in supporting Israel.

I admit that until I was in my mid-20s, I myself was a proud Jewish liberal. In fact, when I met my husband-to-be in 1984 and learned he was planning to vote for President Reagan’s re-election, I nearly wrote off the fledgling relationship. Dating a Republican felt like a violation almost as severe as dating out of the faith.

It took “four more years” for me to finally believe that Republican values of lower taxes, strong defense and support of traditional family values were in the best interests of American society and more consistent with my Jewish values of justice and compassion. Like so many other Jews, I had been deeply emotionally invested in my Democratic affiliation.

Polling pundits claim that in this election, Bush claimed 25 percent of the Jewish vote, up from 19 percent in 2000, although Jewish support in Florida and even the hotly contested Cuyahoga County in Ohio were thought to be significantly higher. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Martin Peretz, editor of The New Republic, surmised that Jewish support for the president was even higher, but that many Jews just couldn’t bring themselves to admit they voted for a Republican.

I’m pretty certain that my friends were not among those voting Republican and just unable to fess up. But I hope that in the next four years, the good effects that I expect from President Bush’s policies for the entire country will at least make me seem less vexing to my Jewish friends on the left.

Judy Gruen is a humorist and author of “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout.” Read more of her columns on