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 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/12/15/widening-democratic-party-divisions-on-the-israeli-palestinian-issue/), 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 DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

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.”

Obama takes on critics of Iran nuclear deal


President Barack Obama took on critics of a newly brokered nuclear deal with Iran on Monday by saying tough talk was good for politics but not good for U.S. security.

Top Republicans – as well as U.S. ally Israel – have criticized Obama for agreeing to the deal, which the United States and its partners say will prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Obama has long been criticized for his desire to engage with U.S. foes. As a presidential candidate in 2008, the former Illinois senator took heat for saying he would talk to Iran, which has not had diplomatic relations with Washington for decades.

The president seemed to want to make a victory lap with his remarks on Monday, which were mainly focused on immigration reform. He noted he had ended the war in Iraq and would end the war in Afghanistan next year, two things he also pledged to do as a candidate.

If Tehran follows the agreement, Obama said, it would chip away at years of mistrust with the United States.

To his critics, Obama was especially direct.

“Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it is not the right thing for our security,” he said.

The White House has declined to identify a date for the next round of talks between Iran and world powers Russia, China, the United States, France, Britain, and Germany. But a spokesman said on Monday that Washington was eager to get started quickly.

Obama is in the middle of a three-day western swing to raise money for the Democratic Party while promoting his policy priorities on the economy.

Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Tim Dobbyn

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.

A rebuttal to Mitch Paradise


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 8

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

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

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

Republicans’ ‘Starting from zero’ aid proposal startles pro-Israel community


“Starting from zero,” the foreign assistance plan touted by leading Republican candidates at a debate, is getting low marks, and not just from Democrats and the foreign policy community. Pro-Israel activists and fellow Republicans also have concerns.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry introduced the plan during the first foreign policy debate Saturday night, held by CBS and the National Journal at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state.

“The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is going to start at zero dollars,” he said. “Zero dollars. And then we’ll have a conversation. Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries.”

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, signed on immediately. Gingrich said the plan made “absolutely perfect sense.” Romney, who has made clear that he disagrees with Perry on much else, in this case said he welcomed the idea, saying “You start everything at zero.”

The proposal of such a radical change raised concerns in the pro-Israel community.

“Hacking away at the international affairs budget of the U.S. government is inefficient and counterproductive, and will not advance U.S. fiscal interests,” said Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international affairs. “There’s too little money and it’s too vital to put on the chopping block.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee did not have comment, but its former spokesman, Josh Block, weighed in with an e-mail blast to reporters of comments he had provided to Politico.

“When Rick Perry speaks, all I can think is oops,” wrote Block, who is now a consultant for centrist Democrats, but who has been critical of President Obama. Block was referring to Perry’s “oops” in an earlier debate, when he had a memory lapse about the agencies that he had proposed to eliminate.

“Even appearing to question our commitment to Israel certainly falls in that category,” Block said. “Foreign aid is one of the best investments we can make, and it represents 1 percent of our budget. Israel is special, and our aid to them is a direct investment in our own economy.”

At least three-quarters of the $3 billion in military assistance that Israel receives from the United States each year must be spent stateside. Overall, the U.S. spends about $50 billion annually in foreign assistance, less than 1 percent of the overall budget.

Pressed by a viewer, through Twitter, to specify whether “start from zero” included Israel, Perry replied, “Absolutely.”

“Every country would start at zero,” he said. “Obviously, Israel is a special ally. And my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level. But it makes sense for everyone to come in at zero and make your case.”

That drew a withering response from the Republican Jewish Coalition, which tweeted, “Hoping @perrytruthteam will brief their man on 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that governs US- #Israel funding levels.”

Israel and the United States signed the 10-year memorandum of understanding in 2007; its long-term assurances are aimed at providing Israel with both financial assurances and political support. The message, said Robert Wexler, a former Democratic congressman from Florida speaking to Jewish reporters on a Democratic National Committee conference call, is that the United States has Israel’s back in the long run.

“Contrast that with the message that the Republican presidential candidates sent on Saturday night, which is that the security relationship between the United States and Israel, like all other relationships, is zeroed out every year,” Wexler said. “And let Israel make the argument why it’s justified, and maybe it will and maybe it won’t be honored. The 2007 memorandum of understanding for President Obama is sacrosanct. For the Republicans, they apparently don’t even reference it.”

In fact, immediately following the debate, Romney’s spokesmen said he would exempt Israel from the policy—but that didn’t do much to assuage pro-Israel concerns. Pro-Israel figures for years have emphasized that they prefer to see Israel wrapped into an overall foreign policy package and not tweaked apart, as some Republicans have proposed.

Gingrich raised pro-Israel eyebrows when he proposed starting Egypt at zero, in part because of rising Muslim-Christian tensions in that country in the wake of the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. Israel has made clear that it wants U.S. assistance to continue as long as the Egyptian government maintains the peace treaty with Israel.

Richard Parker, the spokesman for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a foreign aid advocacy group co-founded by AIPAC and top-heavy with former U.S. generals, said U.S. assistance leverages U.S. influence and tamps down unrest.

“When we go into a country and help them with education and health efforts, you can stabilize those countries,” said Parker, whose group on Monday released a letter from five former secretaries of state—including four Republicans—urging Congress not to cut the foreign aid budget.

That was also a key point for Isaacson, who spoke with JTA from Morocco, where he is on an AJC trip through the region to encourage democracy reforms.

“I’m meeting with government and civil society figures that see us a beacon of democracy, but an uncertain partner,” Isaacson said, referring to the rancorous political debate in the United States over the proper U.S. role overseas. “Signals that the U.S. would retreat are troubling and not in the interests of the United States.”

A Romney adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said that influence comes only if the United States ensures accountability from recipients. The source referred to the issue that had sparked Perry’s response in the first place: Pakistan’s unreliable role as an ally.

“We have seen a ton of money in places, and zero comes out of it,” the source said, explaining that starting from zero would “force a culture of accountability. The Pakistanis think they have us over a barrel. It’s one thing to have influence, and it’s another to have someone think they’re so indispensable to you they can do what they want.”

That is not a unanimous view among Republicans. The top foreign operations appropriator in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), has repeatedly made the case for using assistance as a means of influence. Significantly, two of the candidates with deep congressional roots made the same case in the debate Saturday night, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

“We can’t be indecisive about whether Pakistan is our friend,” Santorum said. “They must be our friend. And we must engage them as friends, get over the difficulties we have, as we did with Saudi Arabia, with respect to the events of 9/11.”

The most recent debate was not the first time that Republican front-runners called for a change in American foreign aid policies. In a debate last month, Romney suggested that he favored eliminating American foreign aid that goes for humanitarian purposes.

“I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid,” Romney said at the Oct. 18 debate. “We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are taking that borrowed money today.”

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.

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,
Co-Publisher
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.

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
Encino

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
StandWithUs

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
President
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

Israel

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

Corrections

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.

Connections

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

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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 oilendgame.com), 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.

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.

 

Community Briefs


Israel Travel Penalty Ends

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill that seeks to bar life insurance companies from penalizing travelers who visit Israel and other countries commonly perceived as dangerous.

The states of Washington, New York and Illinois have similar legislation on the books.

The change, signed into law Sept. 30, should help both Californians planning to travel to Israel as well as those who have previously visited Israel. Both groups have faced increased premiums or outright denials of coverage. Insurance companies based this practice on the presumption that traveling to Israel significantly increased the chances of a person’s death.

Many companies based the policy on State Department travel warnings, which to this day classify Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip as dangerous for Americans.

“That’s not provable [by] data,” said Nancy Appel, regional deputy director for the Anti-Defamation League, which lobbied in favor of the bill.

“The [dangerous] events could be highly localized, while other parts of the country are fine,” said Appel, who testified before legislative committees on behalf of Senate Bill 1105.

The bill enjoyed swift and broad support, but there was concern about opposition from the influential insurance industry.

Backers of the bill, including its sponsor, state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco), made an important compromise in June to avoid opposition from the insurance industry. The industry agreed to stay neutral in exchange for a clause allowing insurers to continue former practices when there is documentation supporting a country’s dangerous reputation.

“They would have to come up with statistics that your risk of death has gone up and therefore [they are] denying you coverage or charging you a higher rate,” Appel said. — Idan Ivri, Contributing Writer

MTA Driver Wins Discrimination Suit

A Jewish bus driver has been awarded $20,000 from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which had refused his request for time off on Shabbat and eight major Jewish holidays.

The award is the result of a religious discrimination suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department last year on behalf of Henry Asher, 56, of Tarzana against the MTA.

In a settlement announced this month by the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., the MTA agreed that drivers who are assigned shifts that conflict with their religious observances can take up to 30 days of unpaid leave while waiting for a more suitable shift to open up.

The case was initiated by the Justice Department’s civil rights division, after MTA refused to change its rule that all drivers must be available for work at all times.

Asher was hired by MTA as a driver trainee in June 2002 and fired a month later after he allegedly missed two work days.

“Public employees should not have to choose between their religious beliefs and their livelihood,” Bradley J. Schlozman, U.S. acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, told the L.A. Times.

“While public employers have the authority to set reasonable standards for work schedules, they cannot reflexively refuse to consider an accommodation at the cost of civil rights,” Schlozman added. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Mission Visits Chad

A delegation of Jewish leaders visited Chad to meet with Sudanese refugees. Last week’s mission, led by Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), also included John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and two other Reform rabbis. The AJWS has led Jewish activism in response to the massacres and displacement of millions in Darfur in neighboring Sudan. — Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Not Just for Republicans

A documentary on radical Islam was named best feature at the second annual Liberty Film Festival last weekend in West Hollywood. The event is known for its gathering of politically conservative filmmakers.

The 70-minute film, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” took top honors at the Pacific Design Center gathering of several hundred film fans and creators. Jewish Director Wayne Kopping prompted laughter when he acknowledged the festival’s large number of Jewish attendees by picking up his Liberty statuette and, instead of thanking the awards “jury,” he said, “I’d like to thank the Jewry.”

The festival showcased about 25 short films, dramas and documentaries. A festival audience of about 350 cheered “Obsession” footage of Winston Churchill, after booing the film’s shots of filmmaker Michael Moore

A more sobering part of “Obsession” was its excerpts from a 2003 Arab miniseries, in which actors portrayed Jews killing a Christian child for his blood during Passover.

Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told the filmmakers that Hollywood’s studio brass might understand Islamic extremism better, “if terrorism had struck on the West Coast rather than on the East Coast.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) made a cameo appearance at the festival, where he hobnobbed with Jewish Republicans, including Santa Monica dentist Joel Strom and Laura Willick, Jewish outreach committee chair of the Southern California Republican Club.

After watching “Obsession,” Willick said, “If students were to see this, it would open their minds to the actual threats we face. It’s just a matter of can we get this out to the liberals?”

Winning Liberty’s short film award was a 30-minute exploration of college political correctness called, “Brainwashing 201: The Second Semester,” with the short’s honorees including producer and Encino attorney Blaire Greenberg.

The festival also debuted a 72-minute travelogue on Israel called “Entering Zion.”

At a panel discussion, Seattle-based Jewish talk show host and festival board member Michael Medved praised the pro-Israel film and joked about conspiracy theories on Jewish control of the media.

“With all of this ‘Jewish control,'” Medved said, “a great film about Israel had a self-raised budget of about $7,000.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Continental Divide


With just a few minutes to go before we are to take the stage Stan Kritzer, the elder statesman of the Temple Ner Tamid brotherhood, gathers

us speakers into a small side room off the main sanctuary for a last minute talking to.

“Now look,” Kritzer says, “we heard what happened at Sinai and we don’t want that happening here.”

At Sinai Temple in Westwood the week before, Republicans audience members shouted down Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) as he praised John Kerry’s record on Israel and defense. It was great theater, one participant told me, but lousy debate.

Stan wanted a civil, informative evening. Attorney David Nahai was to speak for Kerry. Republican Jewish Coalition of Southern California (RJC) Executive Director Larry Greenfield for President Bush, and I was moderating.

“If people are warned and they still won’t listen,” Kritzer said, “they can deal with me.”

I looked Kritzer over: a pleasant, gray-haired man in his 70s, but in his prime I’m sure he kicked butt.

It seems that over the past few weeks, that’s what things have come to. This election season, our political divisions have gone from normal to nasty. The bright side to this is that activism and involvement are up. For Hollywood Democrats, the scut work of electioneering has become glamorous. A television producer told me he’s never seen so many friends lend their hands to everything from voter registration efforts in local malls to precinct walking in south Florida.

I’ve been moderating debates and forums, a lot of them over the past weeks. Just when you’d think there’s not one Jew left who couldn’t recite the Kerry or Bush talking points, the seats fill and the sparks fly.

On Oct. 11 some 500 young professionals jammed into Sinai Temple for a debate between talk show host Dennis Prager and Forward editor J.J. Goldberg. The debate, sponsored by The Forward, The Jewish Journal and Sinai’s ATID program, followed a pattern that stuck. I polled the audience and found it was 50/50 Bush-Kerry, with a few undecideds. At the end of 90 minutes of passionate debate, I asked if anybody had changed his or her mind. Nope.

The other fact that became clear was that Israel, Iraq and terror are the gut issues for the people who show up for such events. This is an existential vote, and the speakers could not have framed their sense of the choice more starkly. Our guy will save us, their guy will destroy us.

Same debate, different people, Oct. 17 at the University of Judaism. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) vs. the RJC’s Greenfield. Greenfield has been as ubiquitous as CNN tracking polls lately. The crowd of 100 is again 50/50 — despite surveys that show Bush taking no more than 24 percent of the Jewish vote. But the Republicans came out in force to cheer, and Greenfield doesn’t disappoint.

Berman is, without question, one of Israel’s most important supporters in Congress, and he tells the audience he wouldn’t support Kerry if he thought for a moment doing so would compromise Israel’s security. I think I hear some low boos, although I’m not sure exactly what for.

Actually, I know what for. In a political season everything is politicized. The Journal runs ads, paid ads, earning us good clean cash, from the RJC — and our answering machines fill with nasty accusations of favoritism, as if we wouldn’t cash a Democratic check as well (we would).

A man at one debate accuses me of “showing my bias” as if I’d stripped to my boxers, or briefs.

I say, “For Kerry?”

“Yeah, right,” he sneers.

At Ner Tamid another man accuses me of favoritism.

“For Bush?” I ask.

“You wish,” he shoots back.

All week I replay a long, vicious voice message accusing The Journal of selling out to the right because we ran a few more pro-Bush letters than pro-Kerry ones, and because we reported that immigrants are voting Republican — which they are.

The bright spot of the week comes at Temple Beth Am, when I moderate a discussion, “The Jewish Perspective on Stem Cell Research.” The Orthodox, Reform and Conservative rabbis all agree that such research is vital. That’s right: three Jews, one opinion. For a moment, I wonder if the messiah will waltz in.

But that, of course, is the exception. As a moderator I struggle to get speakers to move beyond the standard campaign rhetoric, which only comforts the convinced. It’s clear this election is about security — that’s true for Jews as it is for most Americans — and there’s nothing quite so secure and warm as a mind closed to doubt.

The media doesn’t help, and the Internet has become one big I-told-you-so, where messages and articles that only reaffirm our beliefs zing about like electrons from one true believer to another.

So it’s not surprising that when we finally come face to face with those who disagree with us, we’re offended when we should be curious, we shout instead of listen, we lecture instead of ask.

In the end, Kritzer’s worse fears came to naught. The 300 or so people who attended the Ner Tamid debate were spirited and involved, but civilized.

I didn’t ask how many people had changed their votes or their minds or a single opinion — I’d learned by then that’s not the point of the exercise. The question is, what is the point? Although the Jewish vote in this election isn’t evenly split, it is deeply divided. Come Nov. 3, those divisions can deepen or heal. I know who I’m voting for Nov. 2, and I know what I’m hoping for Nov. 3.

Jewish Switch to GOP? Not This Year


“Because of the strong support of the Republican candidate for president and doubts about the commitment of the Democrat, this

is the year that large numbers of Democrats will finally move into the Republican camp and stay there, because the Republicans really do better represent the status and interests of the Jews.”

We have seen and heard that before. It appeared in three major magazine articles in 1972, when the hard-line conservative Richard Nixon ran against decorated war hero, liberal, George McGovern, who was accused of being unsympathetic to Israel. It was repeated even louder in 1980, when the conservative, publicly pro-Israel Ronald Reagan ran against the moderate Jimmy Carter, sympathetic to the Palestinians and, at best, ambivalent about Israel.

Welcome to 2004.

In fact, there was erosion of the Jewish Democratic vote in both 1972 and 1980. About 35 percent of the Jews voted for Nixon and almost 40 percent voted for Reagan. But those must be seen in comparison with the larger American vote, especially that of white non-Jews.

In 1972, the Jewish vote was 29 percentage points more Democratic and even in 1980 it was 16 percentage points less Republican, both well within the 50-year range of 16-29 percentage points.

Looking over a 52-year-period, the difference between Jews and white non-Jews is significantly higher between 1984 and 2000 than it was between 1952 and 1960. Thus, in spite of their continued climb up the socio-economic status ladder, compared with other whites, Jews are relatively more Democratic at the beginning of the 21st century than they were in mid-20th century. And there were a lot more poor, labor union, Depression-born Jews in 1952 than there are in 2004.

In spite of Sen. John Kerry’s perfect voting record on Israel over 20 years, he is generally correctly perceived as less ardently pro-Israel than is President Bush. Although it has been largely withdrawn, Kerry’s suggestion to give prominent roles in foreign affairs to former Secretary of State (“f— the Jews”) James Baker and Carter raised doubts about his sensitivity to Jewish Israel concerns. His willingness to cede more power to an increasingly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel European Union raises further questions.

One critical perspective argues that Jews will eventually find a way into the Republican Party to vote for their (economic) interests. For the time being, forget about that remarkably simplistic Marxist analysis.

Jews vote Democratic to protect their self-interests: freedom of choice on abortion, stem cell and scientific research, protection of the environment, separation of church and state, gun control, political and economic rights for minorities like gays, universal health care, protection of Social Security and for reallocating budget priorities: spending more money for education, medical research, the arts, welfare for the disadvantaged and less money for the military.

Given where most Jews stand on the issues, Jews do indeed vote for the party that, by far, comes closest to their preferences.

Is the case for Israel sufficient to move large numbers of Jews into the Republican camp?

No. From the perspective of the large number of American Jews, Bush is simply very wrong on almost all the important issues.

Will some Jews switch?

Yes. Those Democrats for whom Israel is by far the single most salient issue may move, but many of those people — such as the more extreme Orthodox — are already in the Republican camp, because of issues like church-state, especially those who send their children to Jewish day schools.

For most American Jews, especially the younger ones, Israel is not the most important issue. Most Jews — such as the younger, better educated — are strongly liberal on issues like civil liberties, civil rights, the environment, aid to science, etc. There is simply no way that Bush’s moderately more pro-Israel position will pull them into a Republican vote.

A CNN Poll two weeks ago gave 78 percent of the Jewish vote to Kerry. That sounds a little high to me. I would guess that it would be in the range of 72-76 percent, and if one takes into account the vote of the apparently strongly pro-Bush American Jews living in Israel (whose exact vote we shall never know and whose vote will not be counted in the Election Day exit poll that will be cited as the definitive figure), probably in the 70-74 percent range.

Will significant numbers of Jews ever leave the Democratic Party?

Maybe, but it will require either a Democratic Party that is not pro-Israel and/or the Republicans nominating a candidate with decidedly moderate social policies. But not this year.

Alan Fisher is a political science professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Republican Redux: Jews Going Right?


In a town famous for hot air, the Washington Post made a major contribution over the weekend with an oft-repeated tale of how Jewish voters, concerned about terrorism and Israel, are about to migrate to the greener pastures of the GOP.

Jewish Democrats reacted angrily, saying it was just the usual pre-election GOP spin; Republicans insisted that this time they really do see signs of a dramatic Jewish shift.

Both sides score some points, but their arguments smack more of hope than fact.

In reality, nobody really knows where the big, amorphous center of the Jewish electorate is these days. It seems to be in flux, and there may be tremendous opportunities for the Republicans, but there are also things keeping Jews away from the GOP — particularly the conservative domestic policies of the Republican White House and Congress.

Message for Republicans: Don’t count your kosher chickens before they hatch. If you do, you risk another embarrassment when Jewish voters fail to support your wildly optimistic projections.

Message for Democrats: don’t assume you have the Jewish vote locked up. You don’t; the forces that have caused journalists to rhapsodize about a Jewish political revolution may be exaggerated, but they aren’t just hallucinations.

The problem with predictions about Jewish political behavior is that there is no single Jewish political community. Different factions are moving in different ways — but some factions are more visible than others.

There’s little question Jewish leaders, especially those whose primary focus is Israel, have been turning steadily toward the Republicans for years, and that trend seems to be accelerating.

One reason is that they and their organizations are defending a right-of-center Israeli government and reacting to an administration and Congress, along with their religious right backers, that have been unusually receptive to its policies.

Part of the perceived shift, too, has to do with an increasingly concentrated top Jewish leadership strata — the big-money types who keep Jewish organizations afloat in these perilous times.

That stratum, predisposed to the GOP, is highly visible; they are the talking heads reporters turn to, the organizational voices. But their views may not reflect a broader Jewish community that is much more varied.

The vast majority of American Jews care about Israel, but may not be involved in pro-Israel activism, or belong to Jewish political organizations. For many, Israel is one of many important issues, but domestic issues still take precedence.

The Bush administration’s Israel policy may be pulling top Jewish leaders and single-issue pro-Israel voters into the GOP ranks, but it’s not at all clear the same thing is happening to rank-and-file Jews. In fact, some may be hardening in their liberalism — part of the broader liberal fury ignited by the aggressively conservative domestic policies of this administration and Congress, as well as the Iraq War.

For many, the president’s coziness with Pat Robertson is more significant a factor than his coziness with Ariel Sharon.

That gap between the leaders and the Jewish mainstream is a major reason why the biennial predictions of a sea change in Jewish partisan preferences have just led to disappointment for the Republicans. Commentators are misled because the public voices of the community are more Republican, more conservative; so are most of the pro-Israel activists interviewed by the Washington Post and others.

It’s also misleading because there already was something of a Jewish-GOP revolution during Ronald Reagan’s presidency — but the Republicans blew it with his successor, President George Herbert Walker Bush, and have been struggling to recover ever since.

All of that is good news for the Democrats, but it would be a big mistake to celebrate.

The surging anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism of the political left is barely reflected in the Democratic Party today, but it could be in the future, something that would drive out the Jews in droves. As the debate over the Iraq War grows more bitter, the risks of that happening grow.

It’s not exactly a secret that when Louis Farrakhan comes to town, he’s hosted by a Democratic congressman; increasingly, the Capitol Hill voices most critical of Israel are on the Democratic side of the aisle, although they are a tiny minority.

The Democrats are increasingly interested in winning over the fast-growing Arab-American and Muslim communities, groups ripe for the plucking, thanks to widespread hostility to the Bush administration’s harsh anti-terrorism policies.

And while Jews have been partially immune from the natural shift of white ethnic groups to the right as they gain affluence, that factor is still at work in the community, especially among younger Jews.

Many Jews in the middle are torn between their historic commitment to liberalism and the forces that have pulled so many white, middle-class voters into the Republican camp in recent decades. One result: They’re much more willing to vote for individual Republican candidates, the first stage in shifting party loyalties.

Overall, the picture is of a community in flux, with the potential for a dramatic political shift favoring the Republicans.

But there are also forces pushing in the opposite direction. The 2004 election could be a watershed — or it could be just another occasion for spin, counterspin and dashed hopes when it comes to Jewish voters.

Bush, DeLay Views on Israel at Odds


Are the two most powerful Republicans in Washington playing a version of the old good-cop, bad-cop game with Israel and its friends in this country?

President Bush and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) appear to be on different sides of the Middle East policy game. Both profess to be great friends of Israel, interested in the security and survival of the Jewish state, but that’s about all they agree on.

The differences were on display in recent days as Bush hosted the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers at the White House in back-to-back summits, while DeLay was traveling in the Mideast, declaring himself "an Israeli at heart."

While fulsome in his praise for Bush as a great friend of Israel, DeLay was essentially lobbying against Bush’s Mideast policy while overseas, a long-standing political taboo here.

Bush is the first Republican president to endorse Palestinian statehood, and he frequently repeats his commitment to making that happen by 2005. DeLay said the Palestinian state would be "a sovereign state of terrorists," and "I can’t imagine this president supporting a state of terrorists."

Bush has embraced the international "road map" for peace, called for dismantling Jewish settlements and wants Israel to stop work on the security fence it is building in the West Bank. DeLay has called the road map a blueprint for Israel’s "destruction." He warned that a "consortium" of "inadvertent servants of tyranny … neoappeasers … [and] fancy thinkers is attempting to coerce the president into accepting what they innocuously call a ‘road map.’"

Bush wants Israel to withdraw for the most part to its 1967 borders and remove the settlements, but this year, DeLay told the pro-Israel lobby, "I’ve toured Judea and Samaria and stood on the Golan Heights. I didn’t see occupied territory. I saw Israel."

Are these two devout Christian evangelicals from Texas singing from different hymnals?

DeLay, a Baptist from Sugar Land, is a leader of the Christian Zionist movement, which has become the most hawkish element of the pro-Israel coalition, often going far beyond right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. DeLay’s speech to the Knesset last week in Jerusalem led one Israeli lawmaker to comment, "Until I heard him speak, I thought I was to the farthest right in the Knesset."

A delegation of 29 House Democrats is in Israel this week to show their support for Israel as well. Their views are closer to Bush’s than are those of the House GOP leader. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), like Bush and unlike DeLay, supports the road map, territorial compromise and is optimistic about the chances for peace.

This dichotomy raises some interesting questions:

Is DeLay undermining Sharon’s — and Bush’s — policy of negotiations by encouraging the Israeli far right to resist all compromise, because it has a powerful friend on Capitol Hill? Is he leading on the far right, convincing them that he wouldn’t be saying those things if he didn’t have the backing of his president?

DeLay insists that his positions are not political but a natural extension of "my faith." Many evangelicals believe that the Jews must return to all of Israel and that the Jewish State must be engulfed in unending conflict until the "second coming," when all the Jews will either perish or convert to Christianity.

How will DeLay and his evangelical brethren react when — not if — an Israeli government agrees to withdraw from most of the territories in return for peace, fulfilling their prophecy of a satanic "false peace?"

What happens if there is a clash between Sharon and Bush over territorial compromise and removing settlements? Does anyone believe DeLay would not stand with his fellow Texan, his party leader and his president?

Would DeLay be as enthusiastic about supporting Israel with a left-leaning government led by someone like Ehud Barak or Shimon Peres, who were willing to trade territory for peace?

DeLay, whose views can make Sharon look like a naïve dove, insists his positions have nothing to do with politics. That may be hard to swallow, but it is realistic.

While some of the big pro-Israel groups are enthusiastically backing the right-wing government, polls show that most Jews are much more inclined to the dovish position. For them, DeLay’s fire-breathing speeches hold little appeal.

In addition, there’s the matter of Bush’s and DeLay’s domestic record, which is in conflict with the views of most Jewish voters on a broad range of topics like civil liberties, gender, education, environment, abortion and, most of all, church-state relations.

Most Israelis on the right love the raw meat rhetoric of the Texan known as the "Hammer"; they love that he shares their views on Yasser Arafat, Palestinian statehood, terrorism, compromise and strong beliefs.

They laugh off the evangelicals’ scriptural beliefs in Armageddon and can’t understand why U.S. Jews do not. The American cousins see the evangelicals as stalwarts in a campaign to breech the wall of separation between church and state.

So the DeLay strategy may generate headlines here and in Israel and win enthusiastic support from the Jewish right, but it may backfire on GOP efforts to win over the Jewish mainstream.

Jewish Republicans Assess Bush


Cold, hot, lukewarm – two months shy of the November election, local Jewish Republicans are still conflicted about the man at the head of their party’s ticket. A sampling of attitudes indicates a wide range of attitudes toward Gov. George W. Bush.

Those who are most supportive anchor their positions in Republican philosophy more than in personal enthusiasm for Bush himself. It’s safe to say that the candidate is not inspiring much excitement. And in the back of everyone’s mind looms the formidable presence of Sen. Joseph Lieberman on the Democratic ticket. Most of the Republicans who were interviewed felt that Lieberman agrees with them but is in the wrong party.

“I’m indecisive, because I don’t know enough yet about Bush’s positions,” says Ozzie Goren, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee and former president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “I’m in the process of examining his positions on the Middle East and his domestic programs before I make a decision. We need to compare Gore and Bush’s positions, not by virtue of the fact that one is a Republican and one is a Democrat, but by what we deem to be best for the people. A good president will change course for the betterment of the country, and not just do something for political reasons, which is what I believe to be the problem I have with Gore. He’s a total politician.”

Republican Jews may be backing Bush, but when the object of their real feeling and affection shows, the photo in the valentine is Lieberman.

Lieberman’s presence on the ticket is an undeniable factor for those interviewed, but they are careful to assert they will not vote on the basis of religion.

“Lieberman’s nomination is a positive factor in that a Jew can be considered for the position,” Goren stated. “However, I don’t believe that an American should vote based on his or her own ethnicity. I don’t think women should just vote for women, Christians just vote for Christians, or Jews should just vote for Jews. If that point of view prevailed, we would have no Jewish congressmen or senators, and we would not be able to have a Jewish vice president. It is important that we vote on the basis of the issues and on the basis of merit and conviction.”

Nettie Becker, a prominent Republican Jewish activist, is also undecided. “I’m sitting on the fence,” she explains. “One reason is Bush’s attachment to God and bringing it into the political arena. Particularly his statement about Jesus being his favorite philosopher and that only Christians should go to heaven.”On the other hand,” Becker continues, “Bush has made some strong statements regarding Israel, about moving the embassy to Jerusalem and not pressuring Israel in the peace process. These are positive indicators, provided he will honor these statements in the White House. His foreign policy advisors are very good. He has George Shultz, and Condoleezza Rice is wonderful.”

Becker has a complex reaction to the candidacy of Lieberman and sways back and forth on his nomination. “First of all, we’re electing a president, not a vice president. But historically it’s important to have a Jewish vice president,” she says. “However, I don’t like his bringing religion into the arena, mixing church and state.”

Becker’s take on Lieberman is drawn from personal impressions. “I’ve spent time with him,” she said, “and I happen to like him very much. Very much. He’s very moderate, forthright, and he’s honest and smart. I’m very impressed with him. But he’s going to be following Gore’s policies, which concern me.”

But then Becker goes on to raise another question mark: “On foreign policy, it’s never been good for Israel when a Jew’s been involved. Look at Kissinger, Dennis Ross and Martin Indyck. They bent over backwards. Israel always does better with gentiles.”

Bruce Bialosky, a former member of the executive board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, is more firmly aligned with Bush based on his Republican philosophy. He also feels that Bush is solid on Jewish issues.

“I feel excellent about his candidacy,” Bialosky states. “Bush is surrounded by a lot of Jewish people who are involved in his campaign: Ari Fleischer, his main spokesperson; Stephen Goldsmith, his domestic advisor. Those involved in the Republican Jewish Coalition staunchly supported Bush from the beginning, even when there were other candidates in the race.”

Bialosky responds in two ways to the Lieberman candidacy: “Before Joe Lieberman came on the ticket, he was pretty much a Republican Jew aligned with our positions. Once he became the nominee, he altered that philosophy to meet the needs of the political landscape. But all of us, in a lot of ways, have good feelings about him. He’s an honorable man. He would have been nice as the Republican VP nominee, not that we’re unhappy with our own nominee.”

“My liberal Jewish friends ask me: Don’t you have to think about this now that Lieberman’s on the ticket?’ and I reply, ‘Would you vote for George W. Bush if Arlen Specter was the VP nominee?’ And that kind of ends the discussion.”

Beyond support for a single candidate, Republican Jews still fret the alienation most of their fellow Jews feel from the Republican Party. There’s no basis in reality, they say, for an abiding feeling that Republicans won’t look out for their interests.

“The biggest money in the Republican Party happens to be Jewish,” said Bialosky. “The head fundraiser for Bush is a friend of mine, Mel Sembler, and the biggest giver to the party is Sam Fox. My liberal friends want to believe that for some reason the Republican Party doesn’t have the interests of the Jewish people at heart. I think that’s kind of insulting to these gentlemen. These guys are not schmucks. They’re writing large checks. Bush isn’t going to just blow off Sam Fox and Mel Sembler and the others and all of a sudden screw Israel over with Steve Goldsmith sitting in the room. Cite me a Republican president who hasn’t been a good friend of Israel. You try to find me a person more supportive of the Jewish community than either Jeane Kirkpatrick or George Shultz. And who is going to be Bush’s national security advisor? Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Shultz.”

Dennis Prager, the talk show host, frames his support of Bush in the context of his opposition to any Democratic candidate: “The primary reason that I support Bush is that he is the only alternative to a Democratic White House.”

Prager maintains that the primary financial supporters of the Democratic party are trial lawyers and teachers’ unions, “the two most corrosive organized groups in the U.S. at this time. And the absence of tort reform is going to end up with America eating itself up in litigation. Lawsuits have become a form of legal terror.”

Prager sees the “near destruction of our public school system as a major American tragedy. And it’s not because of a lack of funds, but a lack of right values and right people running these public schools. I want vouchers to enable poor people to send their children to private schools just as a significant number of public school teachers do. And so does Joe Lieberman want this.”

Prager calls the Lieberman candidacy “wonderful for America, wonderful for the Jews. But I don’t vote by race, ethnicity or religion. I don’t respect other groups that vote with racial or ethnic solidarity.”

Is Prager concerned about Bush’s perceived lack of intelligence?

“No; the most necessary characteristics for a president are clarity and stability. Way down the list is a great intelligence. I’m not voting for Bush because he’s great. I’m voting for him because he’s not a Democrat. He may end up great. I hope I eat my words.”

John F. Nickoll, CEO of the Foothill Group, thinks Bush “is a very interesting candidate with very interesting ideas. One thing I dislike about him is that he’s not pro-choice. That’s his glaring weakness.”Nickoll thinks that Bush’s ideas about social security “are very revolutionary,” and that he’s “good on education. I think his ideas
on taxation make a lot of sense, maybe modified somewhat. But I really believe that if you’re going to cut taxes, you have to cut them everywhere. You don’t just target a few people who are making between $35,000 and $48,000, like Gore is doing.”

Nickoll, like most of those interviewed, is most impressed with the people around Bush in the foreign policy area.

“They’re tremendous,” he says. “Colin Powell could be secretary of state. Condoleezza Rice will head international security. And conceivably John McCain could be secretary of defense.”

Nickoll, like Prager, is most wedded to Bush on the basis of fundamental Republican principles.

“I don’t dislike Gore,” he states, “but I think he has become almost too populist. He’s gonna do away with poverty? We’ve been through that with Lyndon Johnson, and it didn’t work. You can’t just will it away, and you can’t do it by spending. I think the private sector is the best way to solve a lot of these problems.””The predominant number of Jews in America today are very secular and not religious,” said Gary Klein, another Republican activist. ” They’re very liberal and very much against the views of the Torah. I attend an Orthodox synagogue, and my father’s an Orthodox rabbi. I don’t consider myself Orthodox, but I lean toward Orthodox learning. Knowing the Torah as I know it, I do believe the Republi-cans reflect more of the Jewish ideals than the Democrats do.”

Klein supports Bush as “basically the lesser of two evils.” He is more wedded to Republican philosophy than to the candidate. “I’m not necessarily a George W. Bush fan. If it was up to me, I would vote for the Republican Lieberman. But the Republican Lieberman is running for the Democratic Party under the VP banner.”

Still, would Klein have preferred another candidate to head his party’s ticket?

“I think Bush is as good a pig in a poke as the rest of them are,” he replied. “He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he may not be great at debating, but if we were looking for the smartest presidents, they’d be Clinton and Nixon, and they weren’t our greatest presidents at all.”

When Klein was told that Jewish Republicans were being interviewed for an article on Bush, he asked, “Are there any of us?” He doesn’t think there are too many. “I’m even having trouble finding a nice Republican Jewish girl. Do you know any?”