A week on the Florida campaign trail


Day One: Departing Israel

Spending a week in Florida on the eve of a presidential election has become a habit for me — one I cherish. Meeting the elderly women who suddenly become interested in politics; attending synagogues, to which the candidates flock in droves to speak; watching the hurried traveling convoys of dignitaries and emissaries and surrogates making their last-minute pitches; enjoying the hospitable weather.

As I left Israel to come here, the Knesset was about to officially disperse. Soon enough, Israel will have its own round of elections, and the speeches made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, the opposition leader, were no more than election speeches.

The American public views Netanyahu in a positive light, according to a Gallup poll taken during the summer. Israel is also viewed positively by the American public, even more so than Netanyahu. Thus, as the two American presidential candidates play the Israel card in their public appearances, they play both offense and defense in somewhat tricky ways.

Consider this: For Mitt Romney, invoking Netanyahu’s name is a way of putting President Barack Obama in a tough spot. Naturally, Obama doesn’t want to acknowledge that his relations with Netanyahu are bad, that he can barely stand his presence and can hardly stomach the need to maintain contact with him. Such an admission would make matters even worse policy-wise, and might not fly with the voters who tell pollsters that they view Netanyahu positively. It might even seem problematic to voters who do not like Netanyahu but understand that having a contentious relationship with him does not serve any purpose.

Thus, when Romney calls forth the name “Netanyahu,” the only possible and credible response he can get from Obama is “Israel.” Obama doesn’t speak much about the prime minister. On the other hand, speaking about “Israel” is good for Obama, because Israel, as I mentioned above, is more popular than Netanyahu. Israel is what pro-Israel voters are concerned with. Israel is the way for Obama to circumvent “Netanyahu” or “the government of Israel.” The president has made it a habit to constantly express his support for the country, while constantly, if more subtly, expressing his dislike of its democratically elected leadership.


Day Two: Boca Raton

I began a big-fish debate night with the little fish: Florida congressional candidates speaking to a Jewish crowd. It was 7 p.m. on Oct. 16, and at the entrance to Temple Beth El of Boca Raton, dozens of young, Jewish campaign volunteers were waving signs at the coming cars, distracting drivers, threatening to scratch their side windows.

Volunteers for Republican congressional candidate Adam Hasner were mostly yarmulke-wearing young men who seemed markedly Orthodox. If their presence at the forum is any indication of Hasner’s chances — he might have one. But it could also be a sign that Hasner’s young, Jewish supporters are the ones with the commitment and the enthusiasm — though not necessarily the numbers. It was, after all, just one evening, one event, one crowded temple. Crowded, but not packed. (Well, is a temple ever packed except on Yom Kippur?)

Rabbi Dan Levin began the evening with a couple of words about the houses of Hillel and Shammai, of which the Talmud says: “These and these are both equally the words of the living God.” Which, naturally, reminded me of Obama and Romney. And if their words weren’t quite godly in their second debate, the heat and combative manner could certainly be compared to the Beit Hillel-Beit Shammai battle of ideas.

And, of course, moving from the Beth El forum to the Long Island debate didn’t feel like a huge leap. The Forward’s Gal Beckerman tweeted toward the end: “With questions from Carol Goldberg and Jeremy Epstein bookending this debate, it is officially the Jewiest debate ever.” Noah Pollack asked: “Was that a town hall debate or a meeting of Beth Shalom Congregation of Five Towns?”

More than an hour passed before the candidates got a question on foreign policy — Libya. Until then, immigration and a passing mention of China were the closest we got to the world beyond America’s borders. If anyone was still in need of any proof that American voters — Jews included — care in this election cycle only about the economy and jobs (no, not about Israel, and I also didn’t hear any question on Iran), this debate was proof enough for me.

And yes, the Libya moment was one of the highlights of the evening. But it was also more about America, not about the world. It was less about the right way to fix Libya or the guidelines for intervention in foreign wars and much more about Libya becoming a political football.

Groups worry over domestic budget cuts


Jewish groups expressed concerns about proposed Obama administration cuts in poverty assistance, but praised the U.S. budget for preserving aid to Israel.

The White House’s proposed budget, released Monday, projects cuts in programs such as heating for the poor and in blocs of money funneled to the states for social programs, and increases funding for education and for “clean energy” development.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said there is “much to praise” in the proposed budget’s “investments in schools, nutrition and energy,” but cautioned that in other ways, “low-income Americans seem to be paying the price for attempts to lower the deficit and pay for these programs.”

Obama’s budget is aimed at launching 10 years of spending cuts and tax increases that would wipe out $1.1 trillion in the national deficit.

Republicans, who control the U.S. House of Representatives, said Obama’s budget won’t do the job and called for deeper spending cuts while rejecting tax hikes.

The National Council of Jewish Women faulted the GOP for what it said were its “punitive and draconian” proposals.

The Jewish Federations of North America commended Obama for “his serious treatment of our nation’s deficit.”

William Daroff, the umbrella’s Washington director, said in a statement that the group recognizes “that there are many difficult decisions ahead as our nation works to spend within our means. However, we urge the President and Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of those among us who are most in need.”

Daroff also said a proposal to end itemized tax deductions would reduce charitable giving.

B’nai B’rith International, which runs a system of homes for the elderly, said Obama’s proposed five-year freeze on domestic spending “could eventually jeopardize a range of aging services programs, especially as the baby boomers begin to retire.”

B’nai B’rith praised the budget for preserving assistance to Israel, which according to current levels should reach $3 billion this year.

Republicans have shown little indication that they will seriously cut Israel spending. In a letter this week, members of the College Republican National Committee, a farm for future leaders of the party, urged GOP lawmakers to keep the funding at present levels.

“The ongoing political and social unrest in the Middle East brings into sharp focus the necessity of having a stable ally like Israel in the region,” said the letter, a signal that the mainstream GOP would resist calls from the two Pauls—Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)—to cut Israel spending.

“We should seek friendly relations and trade overseas, but we cannot justify lavish gifts to foreign leaders when American taxpayers are increasingly feeling the pain of our economic crisis,” said the elder Paul in a letter to colleagues Tuesday urging them to save $6 billion by slashing funds for Israel, Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, pledged in a statement to work with Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the chairwoman of the subcommittee, to maintain such foreign funding as a means of preserving U.S. influence. 

“Even in these difficult economic times, we cannot afford to enact broad and haphazard cuts to key pillars of our national security,” said Lowey, whose views closely reflect pro-Israel lobby postures on preserving overall foreign aid, and not singling out Israel for support. “We must not allow our response to an economic challenge to create a national security crisis.”

Kennedy seen as giant on domestic issues, Soviet Jewry


U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is being remembered in the Jewish community for his huge impact on domestic issues such as education and health care, but also as a giant in the Soviet Jewry movement.

Kennedy “was one of the earliest, strongest champions on behalf of Soviet Jewry,” said Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia. “He was always proactive and didn’t wait for NCSJ and other organizations to come to him—he was always looking to see where he could make a difference.”

In his 2006 book, “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror,” Natan Sharansky specifically mentions Kennedy as the first Western politician to meet with refuseniks “in a midnight meeting that was kept secret from the KGB until the very last moment.”

And Levin noted that whenever Kennedy met with Soviet officials, in Washington or in the Soviet Union, he would bring lists of those he wanted to see released.

“He never forgot we were talking about individuals and families,” Levin said.

Kennedy also will be remembered as a strong champion of Israel. Jewish organizational officials noted that he was a stalwart supporter of foreign aid, opposed arms sales to Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, and was a strong backer of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He also publicly rebuked President George H.W. Bush when he linked settlements to U.S. loan guarantees for the emigration of Soviet Jews, and was a leading voice in speaking out against the Arab boycott of Israel.

Israeli official rushed to praise Kennedy, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling the senator “an American patriot” and “a great friend of Israel,” according to media reports.

And Israeli President Shimon Peres said Kennedy’s death was “a very big loss to every sensitive and thinking person the world over.”

“Kennedy was a clear friend of Israel the whole way, and in every place that he could help us he did help,” he added.

The late senator drew praise from a broad range of Jewish organizations, including both the Orthodox Union and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. They noted that he had worked on a vast array of domestic issues over his 47 years on Capitol Hill, from religious liberty bills such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to his efforts on children’s health insurance.

In a statement, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, Nancy Ratzan, said: “We were honored to work by his side on so many critical issues: Family and Medical Leave, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights, the Americans with Disability Act, hate crimes prevention, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, health care, the increase in the minimum wage, and numerous judicial nominations—to name a few.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council said in a statement that the “greatest tribute” to Kennedy would be to enact comprehensive health insurance reform.

“On the little stuff and the big stuff, he was always there for us,” said Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Boston JCRC. “There wasn’t an issue he wasn’t on top of.”

LAST LOOK: Where do McCain and Obama stand on the issues?


DOMESTIC POLICY

ABORTION

Abortion is an area of sharp disagreement between the two candidates. Obama said during the Oct. 15 presidential debate that he believes Roe v. Wade was “rightly decided,” although “good people on both sides can disagree.” He added that “women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers are in the best position to make this decision,” and that the Constitution “has a right to privacy in it that shouldn’t be subject to state referendum, anymore than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum.”

At the same debate, McCain called Roe v. Wade “a bad decision” and said that decisions on abortion should “rest in the hands of the states. McCain says on his Web site that the ruling should be overturned. McCain has backed a ban on abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother, and he said at a presidential forum in August that his administration will have “pro-life policies.”

Obama in the same debate said he is “completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial birth or otherwise, as long as there’s an exception for the mother’s health and life.” He voted against a ban in the Illinois state Senate because it did not contain such a clause.

McCain has voted to ban such procedures, and at the debate said that exceptions for the health of the mother had “been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.” This trend, he said, represented “the extreme pro-abortion position.”

Obama said at the August presidential forum sponsored by Pastor Rick Warren that “the goal right now” should be “how do we reduce the number of abortions” and talked about ways for those on both sides of the aisle to “work together” to reduce unwanted pregnancies. He said at the Oct. 15 debate that such efforts should include “providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.”

McCain says on his Web site that he will “seek ways to promote adoption as a first option for women struggling with a crisis pregnancy” and that government must help strengthen the “armies of compassion”—faith-based, community and neighborhood organizations—that provide “critical services to pregnant mothers in need.”

The Republican nominee has criticized Obama for voting against legislation in the Illinois Senate that requires the state to provide legal protection and medical treatment to any fetus that survives an abortion. At the Oct. 15 debate, Obama said the bill in question would have “helped to undermine” Roe v. Wade and “there was already a law on the books in Illinois that required providing lifesaving treatment, which is why not only myself but pro-choice Republicans and Democrats voted against it.”

Obama has said that he does approve of the version of the bill that passed the Illinois Senate in 2005—after he had gone to Capitol Hill. That legislation had a specific clause stating that nothing in the bill “shall be construed to affect existing federal or state law regarding abortion.”

EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH

The Obama campaign has run an advertisement claiming that McCain has blocked embryonic stem cell research, but independent fact checkers have deemed the ad untrue. In fact, support for embryonic stem cell research is one issue on which the candidates essentially agree.

McCain and Obama later voted for legislation that would have allowed federal funding to be used for research on stem cell lines obtained from discarded human embryos originally created for fertility treatments. McCain has called his vote on the bill “very agonizing and tough” and said he went “back and forth, back and forth on it.” It finally came down to the fact that “those embryos will be either discarded or kept in permanent frozen status.”

Prior to the 2004 vote, the Arizona senator was one of 14 Republican members of Congress who signed a letter asking President Bush to lift federal restrictions on the research.

In response to a questionnaire from a coalition of scientists and engineers last month, McCain said, “While I support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, I believe clear lines should be drawn that reflect a refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress.”

McCain differs from both his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the Republican Party platform on the issue. The platform, adopted at the GOP convention, calls for an expansion of funding for research into adult stem cells but a ban on the use of human embryos for research.

In response to the same questionnaire from Sciencedebate2008, Obama was more emphatic than McCain on the issue. The Democrat said he will “lift the current administration’s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.”

Obama and McCain do disagree on the prospects for research on adult and other kinds of stem cells. McCain has expressed hope that advances in adult stem cells could make the debate over embryonic stem cells unnecessary, but Obama said embryonic stem cells are “the gold standard” and any research on other types of stem cells should be done in parallel.

SUPREME COURT

The presidential candidates demonstrated their contrasting views on the Supreme Court in August when they were asked by Pastor Warren which of the sitting justices they would not have nominated. Obama named two justices from the court’s conservative wing, saying Clarence Thomas was not qualified at the time of his nomination and Antonin Scalia because “he and I just disagree.”

McCain named twice as many justices, citing the four commonly identified as the left wing of the court—Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens and David Souter—because he disapproved of their “legislating from the bench.” But as a senator McCain voted for Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer—Stevens was nominated before he was elected to the Senate. At the Oct. 15 debate, McCain said he voted for them not “because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated.”

Obama as a senator has voted against both Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. He said at the Warren forum that “one of the most important jobs” of the Supreme Court “is to guard against the encroachment of the executive branch” on the “power of the other branches,” and Roberts has been “a little bit too willing and eager to give an administration” more power than “I think the Constitution originally intended.”

McCain was also a member of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” formed to break an impasse over judicial nominations in 2005. The Democratic senators in the group agreed not to filibuster judicial nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances,” while the Republicans pledged not to vote for the “nuclear option”—a maneuver that would have allowed a majority of the Senate to change the rules requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster. Obama declined to join the group, and said in a newspaper interview in May that he didn’t think “it was a particularly good compromise” because “the Republicans got everything they wanted out of that.”

On his Web site, McCain says that he will “nominate judges who understand that their role is to faithfully apply the law as written, not impose their opinions through judicial fiat.” He also stresses the importance of federalism and separation of powers in his judicial philosophy.

At the Oct. 15 debate, McCain said he believed “that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test” on abortion, although he added that “I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade would be part of those qualifications.”

Obama has said that qualifications for the high court go beyond academic and professional accomplishment.

“What makes a great Supreme Court justice,” he said in a November 2007 primary debate, is “not just the particular issue but it’s their conception of the court. And part of the role of the court is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority” and “those who don’t have a lot of clout.”

Sometimes, he added, “we’re only looking at academics or people who’ve been in the [lower] court. If we can find people who have life experience and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have the system not work for them, that’s the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court.”

More recent, during the Oct. 15 debate, Obama said he would look for judges “who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through.” The Democrat also rejected a “strict litmus test” on the abortion issue.

FAITH-BASED SOCIAL SERVICES

Obama and McCain both want to continue President Bush’s faith-based initiative providing federal money to religious groups to perform social services. But they differ on one key point: Obama has said he would not allow religious groups receiving government funds to discriminate in hiring, while McCain has concurred with Bush in saying he would.

In a July interview with The New York Times, McCain said, “Obviously it’s very complicated because if this is an organization that says we want people in our organization that are Baptists or vegetarians or whatever it is, they should not be required to hire someone that they don’t want to hire in my view.”

And in a response to an American Jewish Committee questionnaire, McCain said, “I would permit faith-based organizations to improve their volunteerism numbers by allowing them to hire consistent with the views of the respective organizations without risking federal funding.”

Obama in a July speech laid out a vision for his Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that would include an allocation of $500 million a year specifically for faith- and community-based efforts to bolster summer learning programs for 1 million children. He said in the speech that Bush’s version of the faith-based initiative “never fulfilled its promise.”

A summary of the Obama plan released by his campaign states that recipients of federal funds “cannot discriminate with respect to hiring for government-funded social service programs” and “must comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Obama also said he would undertake a pre-inauguration review of all executive orders related to the faith-based initiative, especially those having to do with hiring. He also said he would consider elevating the director of the initiative to a Cabinet-level post.

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

Both candidates have expressed support for the principle of the separation of church and state. But McCain sparked controversy in a September 2007 interview with Beliefnet in which he said, “I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” He quickly added that all religions are welcomed, “but when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.”

A spokeswoman later said that McCain believes “people of all faiths are entitled to all the rights protected by the Constitution, including the right to practice their religion freely,” but that the “values protected by the Constitution” are “rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is all he intended to say to the question, America is a Christian nation, and it is hardly a controversial claim.”

In response to an American Jewish Committee questionnaire, Obama called the separation of church and state “critical” and said it has “caused our democracy and religious practices to thrive.” On the same questionnaire, McCain said, “choosing one’s faith is the most personal of choices, a matter of individual conscience. That is why we cherish it as part of our Bill of Rights.” He added that “all people must be free to worship as they please, or not to worship at all. It is a simple truth: There is no freedom without the freedom of religion.

Obama told a Christian Broadcasting Network interviewer in July 2007 that “whatever we once were, we’re no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we’re formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we’ve got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.”

Asked by the AJC whether they would back legislation directed at strengthening the obligation of employers to provide a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious practice, both candidates expressed support.

I believe firmly that employers have an obligation to reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious practices,” Obama said. “I would support carefully drafted legislation that strengthens Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to further protect religious freedom in the workplace.”

“I am committed to ensuring that no Americans are discriminated against in employment because of their religious beliefs. I will support any legislation that improves our commitment to a pluralistic society, both inside and outside the workplace.”

As to vouchers for private and parochial schools, Obama said he is against them because he believes “we need to invest in our public schools and strengthen them, not drain their fiscal support.”

McCain supports voucher plans, arguing that “it’s time to give middle- and lower-income parents the same right wealthier families have—to send their child to the school that best meets their needs.”

FOREIGN POLICY

IRAN

Obama and McCain both back isolating Iran to bring an end to its suspected nuclear weapons program and have said that the military option should remain on the table. This summer, senior surrogates from both campaigns signed onto a position paper from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy advocating intensified U.S.-Israel dialogue aimed at preventing an Israeli attack on Iran.

The campaigns differ on how to isolate Iran and the degree of engagement with the Iranian government such an effort would prohibit. McCain has criticized Obama for suggesting he’d be willing to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In response, Obama has compared McCain to Bush, accusing both of hurting America’s standing in the world by turning their backs on diplomacy.

The Obama campaign has committed itself to the full list of sanctions currently advocated by Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, including targeting Iran’s central bank, getting the five major players in the re-insurance industry to boycott Iran and stopping the export of refined petroleum to Iran. The McCain campaign expresses generic support for sanctions but has resisted sharing details. In the Senate, Republicans have blocked sanctions legislation without explaining why. The Bush administration opposes the AIPAC/Israel list in part because, the White House claims, the list would upset sensitive efforts to bring the Europeans, Russia and China on board with the effort to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran.

Obama campaign officials say that after rallying international support for tighter sanctions—a top priority that would take place as soon as February, they say—they would start reaching out to Iranian officials with “carrots.” These incentives would be aimed at getting the Iranians to end uranium enrichment. No one says so out loud, but the implication is that one such carrot would be to recognize Iran’s preeminence as a regional power, giving it veto power over military decisions in the region. Other incentives would include expanded trade.

McCain’s campaign does not speak of such incentives; rather, it emphasizes isolation and sanctions as the means to bring Iran around. It also favors isolating Iran through a “league of democracies.” That formula would exclude China and Russia, undercutting a key element to Israel’s strategy on Iran, which is to cultivate Russia and China. Overall, McCain’s strategy suggests confrontation with Russia, particularly over the expansion of NATO.

Last year, Obama opposed a non-binding amendment that would have designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist entity. Obama was not present at the vote, but 76 senators favored the amendment, sponsored by Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), including top Democrats. The amendment was also backed by AIPAC.

McCain favored the amendment, and his campaign has accused Obama of pandering to the Democratic base, noting that his primaries rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) voted for the amendment and suffered the consequences.

Obama said that he backed similar language in different legislation but opposed the amendment because it tied Iran to attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq—language that he said could be used by the Bush administration as a pretext to launch an attack on Iran. Obama has said he supported Bush’s subsequent issuance of the executive order declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist entity and subject to relevant U.S. sanctions.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

Both campaigns have endorsed a two-state solution, voiced strong support for Israel, called for U.S. backing of Palestinian Authority leader Mahoud Abbas and signed on to the policy of boycotting Hamas. They have also counseled caution and exuberance when it comes to the Bush administration’s late-term push for peace.

In the Obama campaign, Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, favors intensified involvement in the peace process, and has advocated—in the context of his own writing, not as a campaign spokesman—open pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. Dennis Ross, a former top Middle East negotiator and the Obama campaign’s top adviser on Israel, says that an Obama administration would be fully engaged in brokering Israeli-Palestinian talks. But, he adds, it would avoid setting any artificial timelines for a deal. Ross says that Palestinian statehood would be impossible as long as Hamas terrorists control the Gaza Strip.

Two top McCain advisers, historian Max Boot and diplomat Rich Williamson, have expressed the same concerns as Ross, but they say the Israeli-Palestinian track will not be a top priority. The GOP running mate, however, has sounded a different note: Gov. Sarah Palin said a McCain government would sustain the Bush administration effort launched by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and said that reaching a two-state solution was a top priority. McCain himself has promised to be the “chief negotiator.”

Both candidates back an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while leaving the city’s final status to Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.

Obama stumbled when he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in May that he would strive to keep the city undivided and Israel’s capital. Palestinians, and Arabs in general, were infuriated by Obama’s remark, leading to clarifications from Obama’s campaign claiming the candidate “misspoke.”

What Obama meant, the campaign and the candidate said, was that while Obama doesn’t want to see Jerusalem divided, the city may well be shared one day by Palestinians and Israelis and that Jerusalem’s final status should be left up to negotiators. McCain’s backers used the clarification to portray Obama’s remarks as inconsistent. On substance, however, the campaigns’ positions are identical.

McCain, however, has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem right away; Obama has not. Many candidates-turned-presidents have made such pledges in the past; none have delivered.

SYRIA

Syria is an issue where there are clear differences between the candidates.

Some in the McCain campaign, like the Bush administration, have made clear McCain would discourage the Israeli-Syrian negotiations currently taking place under Turkish auspices. The thinking is that the negotiations allow Syria to maintain some degree of hegemony in Lebanon, which the United States opposes.

The Obama campaign says this opposition to Israeli-Syrian talks preempts Israel in its ambitions for peace. However, Kurtzer, in a private capacity, has warned Syrian officials that they should not expect deep U.S. involvement until the talks truly are at an advanced stage. That would consist of Syria showing a serious effort toward meeting the key Israeli demand that it peel itself away from Iranian influence.

—- Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Obama camp to raise domestic issues in bid for Jewish vote


DENVER (JTA)—After months of playing up their candidate’s support for Israel, Obama advisers say the campaign is opening up a second front in the battle for Jewish voters.

Obama Jewish outreach director Dan Shapiro told JTA the campaign will now be emphasizing that the presumptive Democratic candidate’s “values” are “in sync” with historic “Jewish values” on a variety of domestic issues, while Republican “John McCain’s values are not.”

Shapiro cited Obama’s commitment to the separation of church and state, his economic policies to “protect the middle class and the less fortunate,” his choice of justices for the Supreme Court, and his backing for energy independence and protecting the environment as issues falling under the Jewish values umbrella.

He added that the campaign also would point out that Obama is the “only candidate who can rebuild the historic ties between the Jewish and African-American communities.”

Shapiro and others close to the campaign stressed that the new “Jewish values” message would complement and not replace a continued emphasis on Obama’s “rock-solid support for Israel.”

“We are not in any way moving away from foreign policy,” said Shapiro, who has been advising the Obama campaign for months but recently signed on for a full-time position. “We think his foreign-policy stands are one of his strengths.”

While the Illinois senator has been leading consistently in recent polls of Jewish voters by about 30 points, his level of 61 to 62 percent is significantly below the percentage of the Jewish vote that recent Democratic presidential candidates have garnered—including John Kerry’s 75 percent in 2004 and 79 percent for Al Gore four years earlier.

Many have attributed Obama’s lower numbers to a variety of factors—from concerns raised by e-mails falsely claiming he is a Muslim to his association with controversial Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright to the unfamiliarity of Jewish voters with a politician who was first elected to the U.S. Senate less than four years ago.

Other analysts attribute McCain’s relative strength to his “personal appeal” as a moderate and maverick. That was the line used by Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call and Richard Baehr of the politically conservative American Thinker Web site during a discussion of the Jewish vote that took place Monday in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention taking place here this week.

Jewish Democrats say focusing more attention on domestic issues such as the Supreme Court and reproductive rights will change that perception of McCain in the Jewish community.

“John McCain has been very effective in appearing to be much more moderate than he really is” because of his support of campaign finance reform and immigration reform, said Mel Levine, a former congressman from California who is advising the Obama campaign on Middle East issues.

For example, National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ira Forman noted that he often speaks to groups of Democrats and independents who are surprised to learn that McCain has proudly touted his “pro-life” record.

Jewish Democratic leaders in Denver praised the promised new domestic thrust, saying it was critical for the Obama campaign to flesh out for Jewish voters the sharp distinctions between the two candidates on many domestic issues of traditional importance to the Jewish community.

A top Jewish Republican leader also liked the strategy, but for different reasons.

“This signifies they’re putting up the white flag” on the Israel issue and have decided to “play to their base,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks. He said voters to whom the new message would appeal are “already Obama supporters.”

The new strategy was on display at the inaugural meeting of the Obama campaign’s Colorado Jewish Leadership Committee. But on Sunday morning in Denver, it was clear that Israel remains a major element of Obama’s Jewish outreach.

Featured speaker U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) discussed the candidate’s positions on Israel and Iran, then said, “While it is clear Barack Obama’s support for Israel is strong, it is even more clear there is only one candidate who represents all of our values in the Jewish community—and that candidate is Barack Obama.”

Wasserman Schultz earned her loudest applause when she went on to note Obama’s support for “protecting a woman’s right to choose.”

Two-thirds of her speech, however, was devoted to foreign policy, and most of the questions were requests for clarification or explanation of Obama’s Middle East positions, including the future of Jerusalem and where to locate the U.S. Embassy in Israel.

Also noticeable at the meeting was the Obama campaign’s willingness to be aggressive in challenging the McCain campaign on Israel-related issues.

In response to a question about whether Obama would support moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the campaign’s Jewish vote director, Eric Lynn, said McCain was “100 percent disingenuous” when he says he will move the embassy to Jerusalem on “day one.”

“The U.S. Jewish community,” Lynn said, “should not be lied to … about where the embassy will be at what day and time.” Lynn noted that President Bush made the same pledge during his 2000 campaign, but has signed a waiver every six months of his presidency deferring the move for national security reasons.

“Senator Obama has stated that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and as such the U.S. embassy shall be there,” Lynn said, adding that “he will not make promises that will not be kept.”

Obama and his surrogates have been pushing the argument in recent weeks that Israel has been made “less safe” in the past eight years of a Republican administration because of President Bush’s failure to engage in the peace process until the second half of his second term.

“They’re not playing from the old Democratic playbook of saying … ‘We’re just as good on Israel, don’t worry about it, you should care about other things,’” said one senior Jewish community official who asked not to be identified. “They’re saying they’re better on Israel.”

The Obama Jewish strategy involves not just message, but also organization. The Colorado Jewish Community Leadership Committee is one of more than 15 such groups across the country comprised of Jewish Obama supporters sponsoring house parties and other events to persuade friends to vote for the Democrat.

“Nothing is more powerful in a political campaign than expressing the message on a voter-to-voter basis,” said Alan Solomont, a top Jewish backer of Obama from Boston.

Barbara Goldberg of Potomac, Md., one of four co-chairs of the Washington-area Jewish Obama group, said her committee has a group of high-powered surrogates—from U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to former State Department official Stuart Eizenstat to Obama foreign policy adviser and Clinton administration national security adviser Tony Lake—“ready, willing and able” to speak any time they are needed, from Jewish house parties to synagogue forums.

The group also has planned Sunday canvassing in the swing state of Virginia through the Nov. 4 election.

“We think of ourselves as a force ready to be used whenever necessary,” Goldberg said.

Members of the Jewish outreach groups are being armed with talking points to respond to the most prevalent falsehoods circulating about Obama, from his religious heritage to his foreign policy advisers.

Those rumors, though, continue to be a major concern of Jewish Obama backers like Michael Wager of Shaker Heights, Ohio, a delegate to the Democratic convention this week. who attended a Cleveland-area meeting last week.

Wager received the talking points, but believes such information has “not been sufficiently disseminated.”

South Florida Democrats say the same. Florida state Sen. Nan Rich said Obama surrogates have been “shocked” by the hostility towards their candidate they have encountered at condominiums in her area.

Steve Geller, who serves as the Democratic minority leader in the Florida state Senate and represents parts of Broward County, said he was nearly chased out of the “condos”—shorthand for retirement communities—when he said he backed Obama.

“I’ve noticed almost a mob mentality,” Geller said. “I can change people’s minds in a group of five or 10. When there’s 300 people in the room, they feed off each other and don’t want really to listen to us.”

Wasserman Schultz said that more face-to-face encounters with Obama are needed.

“We need to make sure he comes down to South Florida and they get to know him,” she said. “He needs to come down and have bagels and cream cheese in the condos and he will be fine.”

Reality radio goes kosher


Reality in Israel can be tough, especially for very religious families. In many ultra-Orthodox (Charedi) communities, Torah study for men is more highly valued than work. As for the women, if they are not working to support their husband’s learning or to add to their husband’s often-low income, they are raising children — and many children at that. To top it all off, they can’t escape their financial woes through the secular world’s favorite diversion: the tube.

“In religious communities, especially the Charedi communities, people don’t have televisions at home. Whereas a secular person comes home after work and turns on the TV to watch news, a religious person comes home and turns on the radio,” said Ido Lebovitz, CEO of Radio Kol Chai, Israeli’s most highly rated religious radio station, broadcasting to some 200,000 religious people.

To maintain its edge, Kol Chai has adapted television’s most popular trends to give religious communities, ranging from religious Zionist to Charedi, some kosher entertainment and education all in one. “A Life of Riches and Honor,” the station’s new reality radio show, seeks to assist religious families in overcoming their difficult reality through reality entertainment.

Over the course of 10 weeks, 13 families, representing a cross-section of the religious spectrum, must prove that they can run their households more economically and efficiently than the rest — and that includes paying bills, providing for their children and getting out of the hole.

Every week, the families are given a task related to home and financial management. The first task of the show: Purchase a week’s worth of groceries within a prescribed budget. The commercial teaser for this episode offered the tip: “Don’t go supermarket shopping hungry.”

At the second taping of the episode at the Kol Chai studios in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Bnei Brak, all contestants shared, on air over the phone, their experience overcoming the first challenge.

“We tried to cut and buy only what we need, not just what was within hand’s reach, but to think before buying,” one contestant concluded. “We tried to buy more with less,” said another.

A studio panel of experts from the field of banking, business and household management judge the contestants’ shopping prudence and analyze their savings methods. To help determine the winner, producers compile detailed figures comparing their new spending habits with the old. Listeners at home and the show’s judges vote for the winners based on their ability to cut costs.

At the end of each show, one family is sent back to its poorly managed home. The first-place winner receives 20,000 NIS (about $4,750) worth of electrical appliances — not a bad way to solve at least some troubles.

However, Lebovitz insisted, “the point is not to find a winner but
to increase awareness. The real winners are the hundreds of thousands of people who learn to save.”

Budget Worries


Gov. Gray Davis’ proposed state budget for 2002-2003 has local Jewish organizations worried.

With the state’s approximately $12 billion deficit (in a proposed $98 billion budget) covered by program cuts, along with loans and spending deferrals, local agencies such as Jewish Family Service (JFS) and Jewish Vocational Service may face a significant reduction in funding.

"Jewish community agencies get literally millions and millions and millions of dollars in funding from the government for provision of nonsectarian services," said Michael Hirschfeld, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). "Right now we have legislators saying, ‘You need to worry.’"

The programs most at risk are those funded directly through the state’s General Fund, which comprises about 80 percent of the budget. Since General Fund allocations are not specifically directed toward programs but funneled through state agencies, they are politically easier to cut when budgets get tight.

While Paul Castro, Jewish Family Service CEO, expects most of his organization’s funding will be "at least held constant or only [suffer] a slight reduction," more than a quarter of JFS’ budget comes from the state.

Jessica Toledano, who monitors the state budget for JCRC as director of government relations, said, "Any organization that gets money from the state General Fund is on alert."

For example, JFS programs funded in part by the state include the family violence program, which assists victims of domestic violence, and the citizenship program, which helps immigrants through the difficult process of becoming a citizen. Senior citizen health care programs and the Linkages program, which connects those in need of mental health care with appropriate providers, are also endangered by the proposed budget cuts. In all, JFS receives $6 million of its $22 million budget from the state.

The programs most reliant on General Fund dollars are those serving the elderly. Other Jewish agency nonsectarian services, such as job training and meal programs, are generally either federal or state-mandated services, with allocations set aside in harder-to-cut special funding.

The governor’s budget is only the first step in a months-long process toward preparing the final state budget, so it is still too early to know exactly what services will have to be cut.

However, Jewish organizations are not waiting to see where the ax falls. Through the JCRC and statewide through the Jewish Political Action Committee in Sacramento, they are preparing their own set of priorities and budgeting necessities.

As Hirschfeld put it, "We’re engaged now in a consultative process with professional and lay leaders of Jewish agencies, deciding what politically is worth advocating for and what we cannot save."

Toledano is optimistic that programs that seem endangered now may yet be funded: "There are other pots to look in. In a few months, there may be money."

The state’s legislative analyst’s office, which released a report on Davis’ proposals last week, is more skeptical about the budget’s workability, noting, "While ‘on paper’ the plan appears to work, many of its assumptions are overly optimistic," which "raises the risk of substantial future budgetary imbalances emerging." The report goes on to note that, in addition to other shortfalls in the proposal, the governor’s budget assumes nearly $3 billion in spending reductions for this year, which have yet to be implemented.

Jewish organizations are considering teaming up for lobbying efforts with like-minded providers of nonsectarian services "to try to be a stronger force in Sacramento," Toledano told The Journal. JCRC works with the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), to secure funding in Sacramento. JPAC Chair Barbara Yaroslavsky wrote in the organization’s December newsletter, "Maintaining funding for our agencies will be very difficult in 2002."

For most concerned citizens, however, now is not the time to be worried, Hirschfeld says. Many political and economic factors are expected to come into play between now and July 1, when the final state budget must be passed by the Legislature.

Castro stressed that because the governor’s budget is far from final, people with concerns can influence the cuts made to service programs.

"Anybody with a relationship or contact with a legislator should write them," he urged. "Tell them not to balance the budget on the backs of these vulnerable populations.

"The important thing to keep in mind is that this process has just begun," he said. "This initial draft in January will look much different in July."

Sampling of Extreme Right Propaganda


In the days following the attacks, domestically based extreme-right organizations struggled to formulate a position that balanced their ostensible nativism with an otherwise tailor-made opportunity to lash out at Jews and U.S. support for Israel. Typical of their commentary:

  • In Louisiana, white supremacist David Duke suggested that while the attack was tragic, America was "reaping the whirlwind" for submitting to the dictates of its "Zionist masters."
  • The World Church of the Creator issued a Sept. 12 press release headlined: "Pro-Israel Foreign Policy Costs Thousands of Lives Today."
  • In California, White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger suggested, "If the U.S. criminal leaders had kept its [sic] nose out of the Middle Eastern feud, thousands of Americans that are dead would still be alive. Intervention and international policing to protect transnational corporations, banking and Jew intrigue are the causes — disaster is the effect."
  • Holocaust denier Michael Hoffman blamed the federal government’s "naked, partisan bias toward Zionism," which he said would result in "a good dose of Zionist clap — carte blanche budgets for Big Government and all-seeing surveillance by Big Brother."
  • "We may not want them marrying our daughters," added the neo-Nazi National Alliance’s Billy Roper, "but anyone willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright [sic] by me. I wish our members had half as much testicular fortitude."
  • A World Church of the Creator Internet mailing list contained a post suggesting that if Palestinians were determined to be responsible for the attacks, "then it is my personal feelings, in violation of the stated [anti-Jewish] policies of the World Church of the Creator, that we should leave the bodies of Palestinians, wherever we may find them, littering the streets." Another mailing list, this one distributed by the Imperial Klans of America, blamed "ugly and dishonorable sand-niggers" for the attacks.
  • "The enemy of our enemy is, at least for now, at least, our friend," declared American Nazi Party Secretary R. J. Frank in an online forum. "While I do not care for the sand-niggers, you can’t help but admire the military precision, planning, and most of all dedication they showed. If we had a handful of people willing to give it their all as they did, many of the issues confronting white America would be non-issues today."
  • "We may not want them marrying our daughters," added the neo-Nazi National Alliance’s Billy Roper, "but anyone willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright [sic] by me. I wish our members had half as much testicular fortitude."

A Nanny’s Story


There are a thousand stories in the naked city of Los Angeles, but when it comes to nannies, there are at least a million – nannies who have a free reign of the household, nannies who make good salaries, nannies who get help from their employers to buy cars or put a down payment on a house. But there are the other stories as well – the nanny who works long hours for little pay, with no holidays, no sick days, no breaks. “I knew when I was here without papers, I didn’t deserve to be here,” says nanny Carmen Davis, “but still, that didn’t mean I deserved to be treated without respect.”

Davis, 33, from Colima, Mexico, is registered with Nana’s World, “the best professional service for all your domestic needs,” in Sherman Oaks, owned and operated by Esther Matalon, a Sephardic Jew from Chile. Matalon is a straight talking, tough-minded businesswomen who has built her agency from the ground up, placing Latinos, Israelis and east Europeans in well-off families from the Valley to Pacific Palisades; about half her clients are Jewish. Since she started in business 14 years ago, she has seen her employees walk a thin line between the good, the bad, and the ugly – between trust and mistrust, between closeness and contempt.

“There should be a code of respect for nan-nies,” she says. “If [an employer] trusts a nanny enough to take care of his children, then he should trust [her] as a person. They should treat her like a human being,” Matalon says in a challenge to her clients.

The story about Davis is a happy one, although she admits it wasn’t always that way. Through Matalon, she worked for three years with a Jewish family in Agoura Hills, one of the best job experiences she ever had.From day one, Carmen’s employers (who wished to remain anonymous for this article) tried to make Carmen feel at home. “They really cared about me, always asking about my family, always nice and polite about the way they treated me,” Davis says. “If I got sick and needed to have a day off, or whatever, they understood.”

Davis’ employer felt the same way. “I hired her because her attitude was upbeat and because of her philosophy – that the child was the most important thing. We developed a really close bond. She gave my [child] a real comfort zone – safe and secure. My wife never worried once when she was at work.”Davis, who is married with no children, began her day at 5:30 a.m. to arrive at work by 7:30 a.m. She started right in. “I would feed the baby, change her diaper, play with her, take her for a walk,” Davis recounts. “When she was growing up, we would go to the park. We made a lot of friends there.”

In the park, Davis and her young charge would find five to seven other nannies with young children to play with. The majority of the nannies Davis met were Latino live-ins who worked for Jewish families. Most were without papers and spoke little English. Their situation was different from Davis’, who had a car, spoke English and insisted on time off to go to school (she is studying child development and English).These nannies worked from early in the morning until late at night, often getting up during the middle of the night to care for children. They had no time for themselves, no paid sick days, no holidays off and no privacy. They were expected to clean the house as well. All for $30 to $50 a day.

One of the women in particular, Davis says, was staying on, not because she liked the family, but because she didn’t want to leave the children. “The family didn’t treat her bad, but they didn’t really care for her. They didn’t even realize how good she was. If I was the mom, I wouldn’t even be able to pay for the love and care she put into those kids.”

How much, then, does a good nanny cost? Matalon reveals that a typical salary for a nanny who owns a car and has papers ranges from $500 to $750. For nannies without papers and with little English, a typical salary can fall as low as $150 to $250 a week. (Matalon’s minimum is $200.)

Davis commanded the top-of-the-line salary. For her friends at the park, though, she realized their options were limited, as hers had once been.

“Once I worked for a lady [when I was first here and spoke little English]… I said, ‘You know what, you make a lot of mess in the morning when you make breakfast; you make a lot of mess at noon when you make lunch (and I wasn’t making this up either) and you eat dinner really late; I can’t stay up this late and get up really early, so we have to have a schedule here.’

“She said, ‘Well, I hired you as a live-in nanny,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I know, but I don’t have to stay up this late.’

She got really upset and told me if I didn’t like this job I could go look for something else. I said, ‘Okay, if that’s the way you want it.’ I went to my room, and less than an hour later, she [knocked on my door] and said, ‘You know, I’m sorry, you were right.’ “

Davis contemplates a few unalienable rights she would like to see granted to nannies, even if they don’t have papers or speak English.

“Give us a separate room. Provide for us food. Make a schedule for the nanny. Just because you have a live-in nanny doesn’t mean she is available 24 hours a day. We should have sick days, a paid vacation. Why not? Nannies like holidays, too.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re trapped. Employers should have flexibility. Once I worked for a woman who wouldn’t let me do anything. I asked her if I could go for a walk after I had finished my work. She said ‘No. I might need you.’ I told her, ‘Once I put the kids to bed, it’s my own time. You know what, I’m not a slave.'”