Activist Linda Sarsour in New York City on June 29. Photo by Joe Penney/Reuters

How the Dems can lose 2018


Last week, the Democrats released a new bumper sticker for their 2018 Congressional campaign: “I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

It’s not a bad political notion so far as it goes — opposition in politics is an effective tool, as Democrats learned from Republicans, who campaigned against Obamacare and Democratic spending policies to the tune of 1,000 state legislature seats, 12 governorships (including in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts), 10 Senate seats and 63 House seats. Now Democrats hope to reverse the math.

But there’s something else going on here, too. Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings. That’s because for all the talk by Democrats about Republican extremism, Republicans actually have moved closer to the center on policy, while Democrats have embraced an ugly combination of Bernie Sanders-style socialism and college campus-style intersectionality.

Leave aside the boorish antics of President Donald Trump and the incompetence of Congressional Republicans. Here is the fact: Trump is the most moderate Republican president since Richard Nixon. He has successfully passed almost no major policy in seven months. His foreign policy on North Korea and Syria is barely distinguishable from former President Barack Obama’s. His approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been praised by Palestinians and former Obama officials. He’s the most pro-LGBT Republican in presidential history; his stance on abortion has been vague; his White House chief strategist has openly embraced higher taxes on upper-income earners, as well as a massive infrastructure spending program; he has embraced the central premises of Obamacare. Trump may act in ridiculous ways that defy rationality — his Twitter feed is littered with stupidity and aggression, of course — but on policy, Trump is closer to Bill Clinton of 1997 than President Obama was.

Democrats, meanwhile, are moving hard to the left. When former Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote an op-ed for The New York Times calling for Democrats to move back to the center, he was roundly excoriated by the leading thinkers in the Democratic Party. He was an emissary of the past; he had to embrace the new vision of the leftist future. That leftist future involved radical tax increases, fully nationalized health care, and — most of all — the divisive politics of intersectionality. Sens. Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may own the policy side of the Democratic coalition, but the heart of the Democratic coalition lies in polarization by race, sex and sexual orientation. Forget a cohesive national message that appeals to Americans regardless of tribal identity: The new Democratic Party cares only about uniting disparate identity factions under the banner of opposing Republicanism.

The clearest evidence for that alliance of convenience came earlier this month, when Democratic darling and Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour was caught on tape promoting “jihad” against Trump. Sarsour said that the sort of “jihad” she liked was “a word of truth in front of a tyrant or leader.” But she deliberately used the word “jihad” because of its ambiguity, not in spite of it: Sarsour has stated that pro-Israel women cannot be feminists; she supports the imposition of “Shariah law” in Muslim countries; she has stated of dissident and female genital mutilation victim Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she wishes she could take her “vagina away”; she has long associated with the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood; she opened her “jihad” speech by thanking Siraj Wajjah, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who has repeatedly advocated for a violent form of “jihad.”

Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings.

Democrats rushed to her defense nonetheless, hoping to preserve the intersectional concerns that animate their base. Never mind that Sarsour is no ally to LGBT rights, or that she blames “Zionists” for her problems. She represents an important constituency for Democrats, and so she must be protected. More than that, she speaks anti-Trumpese fluently, and thus is an important figure for Democrats.

This isn’t rare on the left anymore. Much of the Democratic establishment supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a longtime Nation of Islam acolyte who spent years defending that group’s most extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric — a man so radical that he openly associated with the Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which recently labeled Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) an “Israel Firster.”

Even as the Democratic Party embraced Sarsour and defended her ambiguous use of the word “jihad” — after all, she was opposing Trump the Impaler — leftist spokespeople rushed to microphones to denounce President Trump’s speech in Poland, in which he called for a defense of “the West” and “our civilization.” Leftist columnist Peter Beinart labeled the speech racist. As Jonah Goldberg of National Review points out, we now have a Democratic Party that spends its time defending the use of the word “jihad” against the president but labeling the phrase “the West” a problem.

Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see how it works out.

And so Democrats must focus on President Trump. They must hope that he smacks himself in the face with a frying pan. They must bank on some sort of Trump-Russia collusion revelation. They must pray that the focus stays on Republicans rather than turning back to Democrats. After all, Sanders-Sarsour doesn’t sound like a winning combination.


BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Jewish Dems blast GOP for singling out Muslims


The National Jewish Democratic Council blasted what it said was a Republican “obsession” with Muslims.

An NJDC statement termed as “utterly unnecessary” a second hearing convened Wednesday by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Commitee, on Muslim radicalization.

“Taken together with examples such as Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s and Herman Cain’s deeply disturbing comments in Monday night’s debate, these hearings are a manifestation of an upsetting GOP obsession with American Muslims,” the statement said.

In the GOP presidential debate Monday, Gingrich defended proposed loyalty tests for Muslims by likening them to past loyalty tests aimed at ferreting out communists and Nazis. Cain attempted to explain past comments in which he said he would not be comfortable with including a Muslim in his Cabinet.

“Once again, King has singled out the adherents of the Muslim faith, calling into question the loyalty of an entire community,” NJDC said. “All Americans who treasure the freedom of religion should be concerned with the growing suspicion of Muslim Americans by the Republican Party, which seems to be a requirement among its 2012 contenders.”

Republicans pointed out that King’s hearing Wednesday focused specifically on Muslim radicalization among prisoners, a topic that congressional Democrats have addressed in the past.

Jewish Dems: Don’t let Hamas-Fatah prevent peace


The National Jewish Democratic Council counseled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to use the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation to back down from peacemaking.

“The power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah represents a turning point in the current dynamics of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” said the statement Tuesday from the NJDC. “We know President Barack Obama and his Administration will monitor this situation exceptionally closely and act decisively, helping Israel to mitigate any potential dangers to its future security this apparent new reality could cause.”

The statement, which came out the day that Hamas and Fatah signed the unity deal, alluded to warnings by Netanyahu that he could not work with a government that included Hamas.

“We are hopeful that President Obama will show continuing strong leadership; that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not see this as a reason to be deterred from presenting bold steps towards a lasting peace,” it said, “and that this reported accord will put pressure on the most extreme elements of Palestinian society to lay down their weapons and end this generations-old conflict.”

Hamas, the statement said, “must renounce violence, abide by past agreements and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

The NJDC statement puts the influential group on the side of the White House as a rift seems to emerge between the Obama administration and Congress members of both parties.

The White House has expressed its dismay over the agreement between Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, the terrorist group in control of the Gaza Strip, but has stopped short of saying that it will cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority.

A number of lawmakers have said that the United States should end relations with the Palestinian Authority because of the deal.

On Election Day, Jewish Dems face challenges


Several Jewish Democratic incumbents are fighting for their political survival as Americans head to the polls.

Lawmakers under threat Tuesday in a midterm election cycle that has seen a conservative/Republican resurgence include U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), John Adler (D-N.J.)  and Steve Kagen (D-Wis.).

Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) appears set to lose his bid to win New Hampshire’s open U.S. Senate seat, as does Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher , a Democrat.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) looks like she has beaten back a challenge from Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard.

The results may open up new leadership opportunities in both houses.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, is poised to become majority leader should Republicans retake the House, as is anticipated.

If Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) loses a hotly contested battle to conservative Tea Party-backed Republican Sharron Angle, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is likely to run for party leader in the Senate, where Democrats are expected to maintain their majority.

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


Democrats Call on GOP to Condemn Prager, Rep. Goode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Comedy director David Zucker goes to GOP? You can’t be serious!


David Zucker, the producer and director of “Airplane,” “The Naked Gun” and “Scary Movie 4,” embraced the Republican Party in 2004 and voted for President Bush, largely because of security concerns. Once a liberal activist and campaign adviser to President Bill Clinton, he made a low-budget anti-Kerry ad that ran mostly in Ohio and kept his political change-of-heart largely under Hollywood’s radar.
 
Not now.
 
Zucker sees threats to America and Israel mounting, and he believes the Democrats are unable or unwilling to confront those challenges, so he has decided to go public with his belief that the Democrats have lost their way. Starting Oct. 9, the first of two ads Zucker directed and co-wrote will begin running on the Internet in hopes of helping the Republicans retain control of the House in the November elections. Like his movies, Zucker’s edgy spots employ his trademark fast-paced, gag-a-second-slapstick humor that has made him the undisputed king of spoof.
 
But Zucker believes his Republican boosterism carries some professional risk, as well. Hollywood happily forgives druggy actors and boozy directors, Zucker said, “but I don’t think a Republican can be rehabbed.” Still, at 58, he has decided to take a high-profile stand.
 
Zucker’s first Internet ad spoofs the Democrats’ reputation as the party of tax-and-spend liberals. It opens with a shot of a couple peacefully sleeping in bed. A narrator’s voice interrupts the calm: “What if you woke up a year from today, the Democrats had taken over and you were able to see their new taxes?”
Suddenly, a man in a dark suit, the Democratic tax man, appears in the bedroom and holds out his hand for a payoff. He shows up again and again. He hits up a woman who has just given birth and even demands payment from her newborn. The 90-second spot ends with an army of ominous-looking Democratic tax men, briefcases in hand, marching down the street like some spooky army.
 
A second spot charging Democrats with being soft on foreign policy is expected to be posted soon.
 
Funded by pro-Republican, tax-exempt 527 groups, the ads will appear on YouTube, the Drudge Report and America Weakly, a new parody site run by the Republican National Committee (RNC) that purports to show what the country would look like under Democratic control. The RNC asked Zucker to make the spoof ads because of his “stellar reputation and high-quality production,” said Tara Wall, director of outreach communications.
 
Political strategist Arnold Steinberg thinks such ads “can be very effective” in making an impact. Although Steinberg had not seen Zucker’s Internet ads when he spoke to a reporter, he said humorous spots might generate lots of media coverage, thereby broadcasting Zucker’s message to a larger audience extending beyond the Internet.
 
Zucker’s foray into political advertising comes at a time when he is taking stock of himself. Having spent nearly 30 years spoofing police dramas, disaster flicks and horror films, beginning with the 1977 cult classic, “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” he now wants to turn his withering satirical eye to politics.
 
Without divulging too many details, Zucker said he plans to make a film lampooning politics, sandwiched between a superheroes spoof and “Scary Movie 5.”
 
“You have people like Michael Moore going into foreign countries saying Americans are the stupidest people in the world,” Zucker said. “I want to tell the real America story, that America is a force for good.”
 
Politics became deadly serious for Zucker on Sept. 11; he was disturbed by liberals who, he said, blamed America or spoke of root causes. Zucker said he found himself supporting Bush’s robust response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As time passed, he tired of listening to calls for “talk, talk, talk” and the United Nations to solve the world’s most tangled problems, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
Despite his continued pro-choice, anti-nuclear power, pro-environmental beliefs, he found himself drawn to Republican national security policies. In 2004, he re-registered, made the anti-Kerry ad, appeared on a few talk shows to discuss his political conversion and “fell in with the dark side,” quipped his brother Jerry Zucker, director of “Ghost” and “Rat Race,” among other films.
 
“I still can’t believe I’m a Republican,” Zucker said. “There are just certain things ingrained in our Jewish roots. Our fathers voted for Roosevelt, and we voted for JFK, [Hubert] Humphrey and Clinton. But the Democratic Party has changed.”
 
He is not the only Jew to have defected to the Republican Party in the post-Sept. 11 world. Concerns about American national security and Israel have helped the Republican Jewish Coalition attract thousands of new members in recent years, RJC California director Larry Greenfield said.
 
Jews still vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and the party is fighting back against the Republican strategy of portraying them as weak on terrorism or anti-Israel (see story, p. 17).
 
But in 2004, this state’s RJC had 2,000 members and three chapters. Today, it has 7,000 members and 10 chapters. Zucker will speak at a national RJC gathering in December.
 
Sitting in his Santa Monica office, Zucker exudes the calm and confidence that comes with age and success. He looks much younger than his years but not in that unnatural skin-stretched-tight-as-a-drum sort of way. Perhaps having a 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son keeps him youthful.
 
Alternately energetic and thoughtful, it quickly becomes clear that his actions are considered. Which is why he called his business manager before agreeing to make these new attack ads: He wanted to know whether he could afford a Hollywood shunning. The answer: “I’m OK as long as I don’t buy an $8-million mansion,” he said.
 
Surrounded by Davy Crockett memorabilia, including comic books, a framed first-edition autobiography and a rifle owned by the legendary 19th century American folk hero, Zucker said he admires Crockett’s willingness to speak out for his beliefs. In the early 1990s, Zucker spent two years working on a Crockett screenplay with University of New Mexico historian Paul Hutton. The historical drama never got made, much to Zucker’s chagrin.

An (Israeli-American) Voice in the Wilderness


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Circuit


Built to Last

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

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

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

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

Sherman Speaks

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

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

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

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

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

Ain’t That a Kick?

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

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

For more information, visit

Schwarzenegger Is Losing Jewish Vote


In November 2003, California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. White voters backed the recall by a large margin, but Jewish voters swam against the tide, with 69 percent voting against the recall. On the second part of the ballot, where voters chose a replacement candidate, Schwarzenegger collected a surprising 31 percent of Jewish voters.

I suggested then in these pages that Schwarzenegger might eventually do well with Jews: “Jewish voters aren’t likely to abandon the Democratic Party anytime soon, but will likely give Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to prove that he can govern in a bipartisan, moderate manner…. If Schwarzenegger truly seeks to solve the state’s problems without being a tool of right-wing forces, and with an open-minded, progressive approach, he may find a surprising number of friends among California’s Democratic-leaning Jewish voters.”

Chance given, chance blown.

Political historians will surely marvel at the precipitous political decline of California’s celebrity governor, especially because Schwarzenegger should have been a lock with Jewish voters. He came into office as a moderate Republican with lots of Democratic friends (he’s even married to a Democrat), with pro-choice views on abortion and as an advocate of “reform,” a concept dear to many Jewish voters. Schwarzenegger invited comparisons to Gov. George Pataki of New York, a Republican moderate who is finishing his third term in a very blue state. Over time, Schwarzenegger even seemed likely to attract support from elements of organized labor.

In the beginning, Schwarzenegger was a whirlwind, reaching out across party lines to Democratic leaders and listening to a broad range of advisers who included Democrats. He split his opposition by making budget deals with the teachers and with other key interest groups. He looked like a problem-solver, not an ideologue. For Democrats enraged and alienated by the narrow-cast politics of the Bush administration, he seemed to offer a different way.

Then, under no external pressure to do so, Schwarzenegger morphed into an AM talk radio Republican. As the governor’s deal with the teachers unraveled, he had to choose between outraging Republicans by raising taxes or reneging on the original deal. His choice revealed him to be less like Earl Warren, and more like Pete Wilson. No longer surrounded by Democrats (something that had annoyed the Bush White House), he now listened to Wilson’s advisers. He blasted teachers and nurses as obstacles to change. After a transparently showy attempt to consult with Democrats, he hewed to the Bush-Rove line that all problems could be solved if Democrats and unions were excluded from the table.

Then, to add a little spice for the AM radio crowd, the governor began to talk about “closing the borders” and praised the Minutemen group carrying guns to block illegal immigrants. (Jewish voters, remember, were the one group of voters other than Latinos to oppose Wilson’s Proposition 187 campaign in 1994.) And Schwarzenegger kept up the juvenile rhetoric and media stunts that had long since worn out their welcomes.

Finally, and catastrophically, the governor called a special election for November, watched his poorly designed initiatives drop one at a time, and now finds himself fighting a battle he never should have picked.

He dropped dozens of points in the polls, completely losing Democrats and most independents. Like Bush, he now has to depend on a highly ideological Republican base. Unlike Bush, these really aren’t his people, but they are all he’s got. They certainly don’t look like Jewish voters.

Since there are a lot of Jewish teachers, it’s hard to imagine how demonizing the teachers’ unions will help with Jewish voters. Taking money without disclosure from muscle magazines that depend on unexamined, and possibly hazardous, dietary supplements while raising colossal amounts of special-interest money hardly comport with a “reform” image.

How to reverse the decline?

Jews will definitely vote for the right moderate Republican candidate in statewide elections. But for a Republican to win over Jews requires accommodating their Democratic loyalty and leanings at least halfway. The Wilson Republican camp says Schwarzenegger just needs to push harder in the same direction; the opposition, in their view, will fold like a house of cards. Others suggest that the governor ought to return to what he once seemed, a bipartisan, imposing, socially moderate problem-solver free of special-interest control. While the second option is obviously more sensible, it may not be easy to backtrack.

Schwarzenegger is playing a much weaker hand than when he swept into office. At the time, conservatives suspected that he was a potentially troublesome moderate, and on whose popularity their own party’s prospects depended. Democrats were impressed by his popularity and charm, and could perceive a real threat to their conventional thinking and political dominance. Riding high, Schwarzenegger might have challenged the orthodoxies of both parties and in Clintonian fashion, could have “triangulated” them. Now that he has put himself in the partisan box, he has raised expectations on the right and a fighting spirit on the left.

To break out now, Schwarzenegger might have to rise more strongly to challenge the Bush Republicans. He has already done so on global warming and stem cell research. Schwarzenegger will have to reach out to Democrats and make them part of the solution to the state’s problems, an attitude which, if sincere rather than a setup, would send a positive signal to Jewish voters. And then he has to get to work on the state’s problems, every day, without distractions and gimmicks. In the parlance of today’s partisan politics, this blue state will probably be amenable to a purple governor, but not to a red one.

Jewish voters are serious and attentive students of politics and government. They are a tough audience. If Schwarzenegger can win their favor, he will be on the way toward rehabilitating a crippled governorship.

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

 

The Westside Vote


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why Kerry Lost


How did it happen? How did a respectable candidate like Sen. John F. Kerry lose to President George W. Bush, the fumbling commander-in-chief and avatar of cronyism in government?

Various explanations are possible, from the painfully obvious (Bush was seen as resolute, Kerry as flip-floppy) to the deliciously conspiratorial (the Republicans rigged the electronic voting machines, and prevented blacks from voting). Since, God help us, the 2008 presidential campaign has already begun, Democrats need a clear understanding of what went wrong.

Jewish Democrats in particular must analyze our defeat. A significant percentage of Jewish voters wandered off the reservation, and we want them back.

Fundamentally, foreign policy was the crucial electoral battleground, and Kerry was a casualty of the war against Islamist terror.

There are people who want to destroy America, and kill Americans; who have already killed thousands of Americans. They are a well-funded, transnational army of would-be martyrs seeking nuclear, chemical and biological weapons with which to kills scores of thousands or even millions, and cause billions of dollars in economic damage. After Sept. 11, Bush “got it.” He realized that this is war, and like the war against Nazism, nothing less then total victory is required. To achieve victory, America must no longer tolerate Arab corruption and despotism, but must instead encourage democracy and liberalism. This is why the liberation of Iraq was so important. There’s much to criticize in Bush’s implementation, but he grasps the key point.

But while Bush is unexpectedly a Wilsonian “idealist,” Kerry turns out to be a foreign policy “realist.” Stability is a primary value for him. He doesn’t appreciate the need for a democratic upheaval in the Middle East, including in Iraq.

Even more damaging, Kerry views Islamist terrorism as a law enforcement problem, not a war of national self-preservation. His favored strategies involve building coalitions, drafting United Nations resolutions and the like. His view of the balance between civil liberties and national security is illuminated by his comment that in a Kerry administration “there will be no John Ashcroft trampling on the Bill of Rights.” But many Americans think that not being murdered by Islamo-fascists is itself an important civil right. They don’t agree that Ashcroft is scarier than Osama bin Laden. Kerry’s priorities planted doubts that he would protect America and smash the Islamist threat.

Similarly, while Kerry is undoubtedly a friend of Israel, the nagging question persists: What sort of friend? One wonders if he would have been an enthusiastic “peace processor,” urging Israel to again make “good-faith gestures” to terrorists and “take risks for peace.” There is a fear that Kerry’s desire to repair relations with Europe and the United Nations could have led to undue pressure on Israel.

Bush has been inconsistent in his support of Israel, flip-flopping on everything from the security fence to the Syria Accountability Act to settlements to moving our embassy to Jerusalem. But there is a sense that at heart Bush takes seriously the fact that Israel faces the same malevolent forces we do.

All this was foreseeable. After all, Kerry has a Senate record of voting against new weapons systems, favoring nuclear freezes and so on. This was the Democrats’ great mistake: when we realized that we needed an “electable” candidate, the Howard Dean fever broke. But instead of favoring a genuinely moderate, electable guy like Sen. Joe Lieberman, we turned to Kerry. Why? In the apparent belief that his four months in Vietnam would trump his 19 years in the Senate. In short, we gambled that his brief military career would make him a “war hero,” immunizing him from the charge of being soft on national security and terrorism. In retrospect, that was nutty.

It didn’t help that many Democratic activists seemed to lose their minds, blinded by their hatred of Bush. They saw a dim-bulb frat boy, a hard-drinking draft dodger, an election-stealing cowboy. But, the country as a whole did not share their loathing. Like it or not, Bush rose to the occasion after Sept. 11, and earned a measure of respect. The Democratic Party’s inability to recognize this meant that we “misunderestimated” him again.

Ah, well. We Jewish Democrats can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the clear majority of American Jews voted “correctly.” On the other hand, we can’t be complacent, as the demographic trends are not favorable. Younger Jews don’t necessarily inherit their parents’ or grandparents’ FDR-molded allegiances. Foreign-born Jews such as the Russians, Persians and Israelis have no automatic distaste for the GOP. The burgeoning Orthodox community has its reasons for leaning Republican. And overshadowing all these considerations, as the Jewish community increasingly intermarries and assimilates, our voting patterns will increasingly mirror those of American society at large.

To prevail in 2008, we must realize that it’s a competitive political environment, and Jewish Democrats will have to hustle. Expanding market share is the key to success. To do this, we must admit and confront the creeping anti-Israel bias on the left. We must take seriously the war on Islamist terrorism. Most of all, we must embody core Democratic values, as stated by Democratic President Andrew Jackson: “Equal opportunity for all, special privilege for none and support for Israel always.” Well, perhaps he didn’t actually say that last bit, but you get the idea.

Paul Kujawsky (kujawsky@pacbell.net) is the president of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles. The opinions expressed here are his own.

L.A. Jewish GOP Parties, Dems Despair


Stress and disappointment gave way to jubilation at the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) of Los Angeles’ election night party as President George W. Bush piled up the electoral votes and turned the map of the United States Republican red.

The mood was far more somber at the Manhattan Beach Marriot, where Democrats gathered for a victory party that never took place. By early morning, the crowd had dwindled to a handful of true believers who looked stunned by Sen. John F. Kerry’s disappointing performance.

Things got off to a slow start at RJC’s event at Level One supper club on Wilshire Boulevard. A sense of foreboding filled the crowd of 250 Republicans as early exit polls showed Kerry in the lead.

A dispirited Allen Jacobs, 27, said he felt nervous, anxious and worried. Frustrated by the early results, he attacked newly registered young Democrats as “uneducated voters who do whatever Puffy says,” an allusion to rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ efforts to get out the vote.

But like a cyclone that suddenly shifts directions, momentum quickly swung the Jewish Republicans’ way. Fox announced that Bush held a 5 percentage point lead over Kerry in Florida with 95 percent of the vote in. Men and women let out shrieks of joy, quickly forgetting about Pennsylvania. All eyes focused on Ohio, the do-or-die state for both Bush and Kerry.

Well-groomed 20-somethings clad in black, reeking of tobacco and wine, sat side by side with rich bankers and middle-aged fallen liberals who said they had never voted Republican until now.

RJC Southern California Director Larry Greenfield smiled as he surveyed the diverse crowd of Bush supporters. He said the high turnout for the festivities reflected the political realignment now taking place among traditionally Democratic Jews. Simply put: he said the Democrats had lurched too far to the left and the Republicans had become the party of liberty and stalwart support for Israel.

“Our movement is growing, and the Jewish conversation is broadening,” said Greenfield, who participated in 40 debates around the Southland before the election.

Early Los Angeles Times exit polls confirmed this trend: In California, 80 percent of Jews voted for Kerry and 20 percent voted for Bush, compared to 2000, when 81 percent voted for Gore and 15 percent voted for Bush.

In Manhattan Beach, a dark mood permeated the ballroom. Beth Matenko, a Jewish Canadian immigrant who hopes to become a U.S. citizen and vote, said she thought Jews had helped the conservative president win re-election.

“A lot of Jewish voters are voting for Bush. It’s obvious,” she said.

Back at Level One, pandemonium broke out at 9:45 p.m. when Fox projected Bush the winner in Ohio.

Jay Hoffman, a 52-year-old retiree from Los Angeles, broke into a wide smile. Around him, friends and family hugged one another.

“I think it helps Jews everywhere to have access to the Republican Party,” he said. “Democrats can no longer take the Jewish vote for granted.”

A number of RJC revelers said they had often voted Democratic in the past, but no more. They said they changed their allegiance because Bush exhibited the strong leadership needed to successfully prosecute the war on terror. Equally important, they said he understood the folly of dealing with Yasser Arafat, a terrorist not welcome in the Bush White House.

Shirley Darvish, a 24-year-old independent, said she disagreed with the president on most social issues. For the Beverly Hills mortgage banker, foreign policy trumps domestic policy in the post-Sept. 11 world. In her view, Kerry worried too much about keeping on good terms with America’s allies and not enough about identifying U.S. interests and pursuing them.

“I don’t want somebody whose going to bow down to the U.N.,” said Darvish, alluding to Kerry’s promise to work closely with the international body. “I want somebody who will make the big decisions, regardless of what other countries think.”

Lifelong Democrat Susan Rabin said she’s a new GOP convert. An entertainment lawyer who marched against the war in Vietnam in the ’60s, Rabin said her transformation from a Mill Valley liberal to ardent Bush supporter began after Sept. 11.

Stunned by the viciousness of radical Islam, she said her friends’ reaction to the terror attacks shocked her nearly as much. Rabin’s progressive pals said U.S. policies and an unflagging support for anti-Palestinian Israel had provoked the tragedy. From then on, Rabin said she considered herself a liberal no more.

“They were blaming the victim,” she said. “I couldn’t stand that they weren’t being supportive of our country and Israel. I was completely turned off.”

David Finnigan and Tom Tugend contributed to this report.

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.

Has the State Got a Proposition for You!


The wind grows colder, the days shorter and a 165-page, gray book of propositions arrives in everybody’s mailbox. Welcome to the election season — for Californians.

In national politics, California has been mostly ignored by both presidential candidates as a foregone conclusion. There is hardly a single close congressional race in the state. Between war in Iraq, violence in Israel and the swing states to the East, California is not on the agenda in Washington.

But to California voters, the one-inch-thick volume of propositions is a huge chance to reshape state government. Jewish leaders and activists are staking out their positions on a few of the 16 ballot initiatives.

Prop. 71, in particular, enjoys more open Jewish support than any other measure on the ballot this fall. It would authorize the state to sell $3 billion of bonds to finance research on embryonic stem cells, which could possibly help provide cures for such chronic diseases as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Jewish support for Prop. 71 includes Rabbi Janet Marder, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism; Rabbi David Ellenson, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion president; Hadassah; the Women’s Zionist Organization of America; and others.

“Jewish tradition strongly encourages scientific research, including the use of stem cells, to find new cures for diseases,” wrote the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which also supports Prop. 71, in its proposition policy statement. “If such cures were found, millions of lives could be saved, and health-care costs could be cut by billions of dollars.”

After pressure from religious conservatives several years ago, President Bush imposed strict limits on embryonic stem-cell research that uses federal dollars, requiring all work to be done on only a handful of existing cell lines and with only a trickle of funds. That prompted Californians to collect over a million signatures to put Prop. 71 on the ballot.

But interest must be paid on bonds, and the $3 billion Prop. 71 bonds could actually end up costing about $6 billion.

“I am a very strong supporter of stem-cell research, but I don’t think that issuing a $3 billion general obligation bond is a fiscally responsible measure at this point in time,” said Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills).

Supporters say that making California the world’s leader in stem-cell research would create jobs and tax revenue.

In other financial matters, Proposition 1A would greatly limit state power over local property taxes and force Sacramento to reimburse local governments anytime it imposes a new rule or regulation.

“If we funded state government properly, we wouldn’t have to guarantee this funding, but when budgets are in bad shape [the state] steals from local government,” said Howard Welinsky, former head of the Jewish Community Relations Committee and a longtime Democratic activist.

“Imagine yourself as the mayor of a city,” Welinsky said. “You don’t know on July 1 what your revenue is until the state finishes its budget deliberations — and sometimes they wait until August to figure this out. So how are you going to manage your resources?”

Welinsky called the state budget “woefully underfunded” due to low taxes (held over from the boom years of the 1990s) that Republicans have refused to raise.

Though Republicans say that Democrats’ runaway spending is actually to blame for the state’s budget problems, both parties are supporting Prop. 1A’s ban on the state’s grab of local funds. Some opposition to Prop. 1A has questioned whether local government spends money more responsibly than the state.

Several of the propositions on the ballot are directly related to California’s faltering health-care system. Prop. 63 would impose a 1 percent surcharge on state income taxes for those earning more than $1 million a year. That money would go directly to county mental health services.

Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), former head of the Jewish Community Relations Committee in Sacramento, is one of Prop. 63’s biggest supporters. He’s called it an opportunity to fix the broken promise California made to its counties in the 1960s, when the state emptied its mental health hospitals.

But why tax only the very wealthy?

“In a perfect word, or even a better world, this is not the way to fund government,” Steinberg told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Opponents say depending on such a narrow tax base to fund partly effective programs is too risky. But supporters point to the hundreds of thousands of Californians who are either homeless or in prison today, because they could not get the mental health services they needed.

Another health-care measure, Prop. 67 would add a 3 percent surcharge on telephone use — both land line and cellular — mainly to reimburse California hospitals for the care they provide to poor patients.

About 70 hospitals have closed in California over the past decade, including six in Los Angeles County, partly due to uninsured patients needing expensive emergency care.

“If a nearby emergency room closes, the extra time it takes for an ambulance to travel to a more remote facility could literally mean the difference between life and death,” the Progressive Jewish Alliance wrote.

Richman opposes Prop. 67, calling it a Band-Aid solution. “Half the hospitals in the state of California are losing money because of uncompensated care,” he said. “I think it’s critical that we address the fundamental issue of the uninsured.”

Richman, for his part, is most passionate about supporting Prop. 62, the “modified blanket” primary. It would change California’s electoral system so that only the top two vote-getters from a district in any election — House of Representatives, Assembly, State Senate, etc. — could run in the general election.

After a primary election, each party is currently guaranteed a spot for its own top vote-getter in the general election. Prop. 62 would change that by putting the emphasis on the top two candidates, regardless of party. That means a Democrat could run against another Democrat in the general election or a Republican against a Republican.

“It will result in representatives in both Sacramento and Washington who are more moderate and will work to solve problems with common sense solutions,” Richman told The Journal, adding that the power of the parties today pushes candidates to the ideological extremes.

However, opponents of Prop. 62 claim that it will simply allow independently wealthy candidates to buy political power. Under the current system, challenging an incumbent for either federal or state office is difficult, even with a slew of money, because there are so many other candidates that split the vote.

Under Prop. 62, though, a wealthy challenger who manages to place second in the primary would have no other competition to worry about except the incumbent and could bring all his money to bear in the run-up to the general election. Groups such as Common Cause oppose it, along with both major parties.

Other propositions on the ballot include Prop. 66, which would limit the “three strikes” law to violent crimes; Prop. 64, which would restrict lawyers’ abilities to sue corporations; and Props, 68 and 70, the Native American gambling initiatives.

“It’s always hard to say what’s a Jewish issue,” Welinsky said.

This November, California Jews can decide for themselves.

Proposition 71 will be among the issues discussed at “A Jewish Perspective on Stem Cell Research,” with leading rabbis and doctors, Oct. 19 at Temple Beth Am. Free. For more information, call (310) 652-7353.

JEWS DECIDE: 2004


Republicans promise that a substantive, tough party platform this year will present Jewish voters with a sharp contrast from the relatively scrawny Democratic document — but they may find that delving into details could prove devilish.

The Bush campaign is emphasizing its adherence to old-fashioned platform-writing techniques, going into particulars, yet leaving open an element of surprise by allowing a platform committee to hash through the proposed document on the eve of the convention next week.

That means the platform is more likely to approach the 100-some pages of the GOP’s 2000 version than the svelte 37 pages of the Democrats’ 2004 platform, said Ginny Wolfe, one of the senior Republican platform staffers.

Going into such detail will help reinforce Bush’s reputation as a friend to Israel, but it carries risks for the president on domestic issues, where Republican views are less in line with those of many U.S. Jews.

Wolfe said she could not go into specifics before the delegates get the draft platform but offered some guidance based on the 2000 platform.

"There will be an extensive section on foreign policy and our commitments around the world and strong support for our friends around the world, including the State of Israel," she said. "The difference between the Republican platform and Democratic platform is that ours is both broad and substantive. It reflects the principles and policies; it will very much reflect our party and presidential candidate."

Democrats, stung in the past by Republican accusations that the party is divided and weak, wanted to avoid the raucousness often associated with platform drafting. They therefore sought to avoid issues that divide the party base, focusing instead on unifying issues such as job creation, health care and promotion of alternative forms of energy.

The result is that the Democrats devoted just 223 words to the Middle East, against the thousand-plus words the Republicans gave the issue in 2000 — and which Wolfe suggested the GOP will match this year.

"This section of the document will reflect a deep understanding of world realities today," Wolfe said. "There are many friends around the world, and there are those who are not so friendly. It will reflect that understanding and will again make clear the president’s accomplishments in these areas."

Wolfe said the platform likely would reflect Bush’s historic recognition in April of some Israeli claims to the West Bank and rejection of any "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to Israel. The Democratic platform echoed those assurances.

Also likely to make an appearance, Wolfe said, is Bush’s goal of a Palestinian state, the first such explicit call by a U.S. president.

"All of these issues that he has made public will be reflected in the draft working document that delegates receive," Wolfe said.

Such detail is likely to work for Bush in areas where his administration is in accord with Jewish voters. For example, the length of the 2000 platform allowed Republicans to slam not only Iranian extremism but the persecution of Iranian Jews. That document also repeated three times the party’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s military edge over its Arab neighbors.

On the other hand, where Bush’s record is less popular in the Jewish community, there’s likely to be some concern. For instance, the 2004 Democratic platform mentions abortion only once, saying that "abortion should be safe, legal and rare."

By contrast, the Republicans’ 2000 platform mentions the topic eight times, using words like "infanticide" and "shocking." If this year’s platform repeats that language, it’s unlikely to attract the vast majority of Jewish voters who consistently say they favor reproductive choice.

Wolfe complained that the Democratic platform tries to be all things to all people.

"Lay them side by side; you’ll see a huge difference," she said.

Still, meeting some issues head-on could alienate Jewish voters. In the 2000 platform, for example, Republicans call embryonic stem-cell research — endorsed by the Democrats and by all Jewish religious streams — an "abuse."

Local Kerry Support Shows Softness


Sen. John Kerry, the Boston Brahmin who has so far won the vast majority of Democratic primaries and caucuses, appears to have opened up an insurmountable lead over rival Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) for the presidential nomination. A victory in delegate-rich California would cement Kerry’s status as an unbeatable front-runner and undoubtedly boost his profile in the local Jewish community, where, according one observer, the four-term Massachusetts senator and Vietnam veteran remains a bit of a "mystery man."

With his extensive foreign policy experience, strong pro-Israel voting record and left-of-center political views, Kerry would seem a particularly attractive candidate to Southland Jews who identify themselves as Democrats by a two-to-one margin. That Kerry’s paternal grandparents were born Jewish and his youngest brother and close adviser, Cameron, converted to the religion more than two decades ago might also curry favor, experts said.

Arden Realty Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Ziman, a long-standing Kerry supporter, said he expected more Jews to embrace the senator as they come to know him.

"I like his politics. I like his presence. I like his intellect. I like his experience," said Ziman, who has sponsored two large fundraisers at his home in the past year for Kerry that have raised more than $700,000. "Most of all, I think he’s the only person capable of beating Bush."

Maybe. At this point, though, local Jews, even Democrats, have yet to fall in love with Kerry — they are in "like." Simply put: Jewish support for Kerry appears softer than for some past Democratic presidential candidates, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

A relatively more conservative Jewish electorate, Bush’s pro-Israel policies and Kerry’s fondness for the United Nations, an organization viewed by many Jews as anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic, mean that the aristocratic legislator with a shock of gray hair must work hard to attract Jewish votes and dollars.

Kerry also has something of an image problem. Unlike former President Bill Clinton, whose charisma and warmth made him a favorite in the Jewish community, Kerry is "a cooler emotional package" who has so far failed to arouse as much passion, said supporter Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel, adding that he considers Kerry "Lincolnesque."

None of this is to suggest that Kerry won’t win a majority of Jewish support both locally and nationally, if nominated. In the once crowded field of Democratic hopefuls, Kerry has emerged as a local favorite.

He connects better with the community than both Edwards and ex-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the former front-runner who just quit the race, said Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss. Dean’s promise of a more "balanced" approach to the Middle East and his description of Hamas members as "soldiers" frightened many Jewish voters and could have led to mass defections to the Bush camp, Weiss said. A Kerry nomination would reduce that likelihood, he said.

The senator plans to fight for every Jewish vote, said Ari Melber, a Southern California deputy political director on the Kerry campaign who’s responsible for Jewish outreach. Melber and other staff members have assembled a group of prominent Jewish Democratic supporters to spread the word about Kerry in the community. Among Kerry’s foot soldiers are Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills and Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

"We don’t take any single community as a given," Melber said.

Kerry has history on his side. No Republican presidential candidate has won a plurality of the Jewish vote since 1920, when Warren G. Harding took an estimated 43 percent to Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs’ 38 percent and Democrat James Cox’s 19 percent, Steven Windmueller of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion recently wrote. In the 2000 election, Bush carried a paltry 19 percent of the Jewish vote.

Kerry’s progressive agenda appeals to many in the community, said supporter Lee Wallach, president of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California. Unlike Bush, the senator favors abortion rights and opposes drilling for oil in Alaska, Wallach said.

"It’s night and day with Bush and Kerry," he said. "Kerry is very supportive of environmental guidelines that protect our children, so we have a better world for them and for their kids."

Kerry also has a kind heart, said Ruth Singer, a major Southern California fundraiser. On several occasions, the senator called her family to check up on the health of her late husband, who recently died. "That’s something that someone in his position doesn’t need to do," Singer said.

For many partisan Jewish Democrats, the fact that Kerry isn’t Bush is reason enough to support him, said Raphael Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton. In their view, Bush stole the last presidential election and misled voters by running as a moderate but governing from the right, Sonenshein said.

However, the era of the monolithic liberal Jewish vote has drawn to an end, said Joel Kotkin, senior fellow with the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University. In the California gubernatorial recall election, Republican candidates Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill McClintock won 40 percent of the vote. As Jews have shifted to the center from the left, moderate Republicans, such as former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have fared surprisingly well in the community, Kotkin said.

On the right, Orthodox Jews generally seem to support Bush, said Rabbi David Eliezre, president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County. Not only do they see him as a staunch defender of the Jewish State, but they share many of his social policies, including his opposition to gay marriage and his support of vouchers for religious schools, he said.

Bush’s staunch support for Israel has won plaudits. So has his war on terror, including the toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, once the Jewish State’s biggest enemy.

Republicans are so confident that Bush can win more Jewish votes that they have ratcheted up outreach efforts. In California, hundreds of Republican volunteers plan to register new voters and hand out pro-Bush literature at delis, Israel fairs and anywhere else Jews gather, said Bruce Bialosky, Bush-Cheney California Jewish Outreach chair.

Activist Joel Strom said he has already noticed a softening of attitudes toward Bush among Jewish Democrats. The president of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Los Angeles said members of his temple are far more open to Bush now than before.

"Four years ago, people in my synagogue would say he doesn’t care about the Jews. He’s not good for Israel. Look at his dad’s record," said Strom, referring to the first President George Bush. "Now, when I go to synagogue, some members say they don’t like him, but he’s good for Israel. Others like him."

Strom’s optimism might not be misplaced. A survey released in January by the American Jewish Committee found Bush receiving 31 percent of the vote against Kerry’s 59 percent, with 10 percent undecided. If those numbers hold up, that would be a big improvement over Bush’s 2000 performance.

Kerry, who receives high marks from Jewish organizations for his voting record in the Senate, has recently seen some Jews question the depth of that support. Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations in December, Kerry set off a firestorm of controversy when he said that if elected, he might appoint former Secretary of State James Baker III or former President Jimmy Carter or Clinton as a special envoy to the Middle East.

Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman said that although Kerry had a good record on Israel, the senator’s remarks concerned him. "Carter’s anti-Israel. Baker hasn’t been a friend. Clinton didn’t succeed" in bringing peace to the region, he said

Kerry’s approach to diplomacy has aroused fears. The candidate said he wants to rebuild America’s alliances by ending the Bush administration’s go-it-alone foreign policy and working more closely with international organizations, such as the United Nations, a body that once equated Zionism with racism.

"At heart, John Kerry is a garden-variety State Department Arabist, regardless of his public pronouncements," Republican political strategist Arnold Steinberg said. "I think the Jewish community is throwing the dice with John Kerry and could end up with someone like Bill Clinton, who resurrected Yasser Arafat, by inviting him to the White House when he was becoming irrelevant."

Carmen Warschaw, former Southern California chair of the Democratic Party, said she thinks Kerry can win both a commanding share of the Jewish vote and the November election.

Still, Bush possesses an important trump card. A war with Syria or some other foreign adventure could divert attention from domestic problems, galvanize Americans behind the president and propel him into the White House for a second term, Warschaw said.

"I think with the president’s and his advisors’ mentality, they’ll look for a menace or a war or find [Osama] Bin Laden," she said. "They’ll create that kind of atmosphere. I’m not saying they’ll do it purely consciously, but I think that’s their mentality."

Jews’ Support Spans Political Spectrum


Will Jewish Democrats line up behind Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), now that the veteran lawmaker’s campaign for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination has been resurrected by Monday’s blowout victory in the Iowa caucuses?

Perhaps, but Kerry would be wise not to start sending out the thank-you letters. By all accounts, Jews are doing what they usually do in primary battles: covering most of the mainstream political bases and in the process making sure the community is well represented in every campaign.

That’s not a cynical campaign ploy. It reflects a diverse community in flux. But it also points to a strategic concept promoted by pro-Israel forces for years — one that has been a big political plus for the tiny Jewish minority.

In recent weeks, each of the major Democratic contenders has been advertising his Jewish support. Kerry, whose margin of victory in Iowa surprised even his supporters, is getting advice from political consultant Mark Mellmann, a top name in Jewish political circles. In the week before the Iowa vote, there were reports that he was picking up substantial Jewish support.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, whose front-runner status hit a classic Iowa chill, may have his problems with hard-line pro-Israel leaders, but his campaign co-chair is the former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The pro-Israel lobby, Steven Grossman and his fierce attacks on President Bush have been music to the ears of many Jewish liberals — not yet an endangered species, according to last week’s American Jewish Committee (AJC) poll.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, moving up in the polls in New Hampshire, is getting more and more Jewish campaign money. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo), who dropped out after his drubbing in Iowa, has a number of loyal, long-standing Jewish backers. Jewish politicos say Sen. John Edward’s (D-NC), while less known to the Jewish community, has a small base of support.

That reflects a community that has diverse interests and an endless variety of views on key issues, even within the Democratic fold. But it also reflects an unwritten law in Jewish politics: It’s important to have candidates in every camp or at least the camp of every mainstream candidate.

Many Jewish political donors, following that unofficial commandment, are giving to several or all of the major candidates. Others are sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the congested field to thin out before placing their bets.

The modest Jewish vote in Iowa was in play until the day of the caucuses. By most accounts, it is still in flux in New Hampshire, where early this week observers reported that there was no clear Jewish front-runner.

Trend spotters are having a hard time pointing to a Jewish favorite, but that’s exactly the point. Dean, Kerry and Clark all have cadres of passionate Jewish supporters, but there are many other Jews who are just as passionate about waiting until the political trends are clear before endorsing a candidate.

The Jewish Democratic vote may be murky today, but it probably won’t be on Nov. 2, when, according to last week’s AJC poll, any of the major Democratic candidates can expect to beat Bush by a 2-1 ratio.

That’s not as good a Democratic total as in 2000, but with the Sept. 11 attacks, the war on terror and the Bush administration’s close relations with the current Israeli government, nobody expected the incumbent president to repeat his miserable 19 percent performance with Jewish voters.

The operative theory for Jewish Democrats is that the community may be undecided today about the best Democratic candidate, but it will unite quickly behind whomever gets the nomination.

That state of Democratic flux might not cheer enthusiasts for the various candidates, but it represents a source of strength for the Jewish community. It means that Jewish interests will be well represented in the campaign of the eventual winner and that Jewish concerns will be heard.

The eventual front-runner, in turn, can expect most Jewish Democrats who supported other candidates to jump on the bandwagon once the path to the nomination is clear.

Years ago, pro-Israel leaders actively promoted the idea of spreading Jewish support around, and it has become a norm for politically active Jews.

Pro-Israel leaders aren’t orchestrating things — the Jewish community, despite legions of conspiracy theorists, is far too anarchic and diverse for that — but if they could, they’d do it this way, with Jewish support spread across the spectrum, and many Jews roaming the uncommitted center.

It’s not just a Jewish Democratic thing, either. A slowly growing Republican base in the Jewish community infuriates ardent Democrats, but it means that Jewish activists are involved in many GOP House and Senate campaigns, as well as Bush’s reelection effort. Increasingly, Jewish perspectives are heard across the Republican spectrum, because Jews are involved across the spectrum.

Politics is about relationships — and not just relationships with one party, or with today’s front-runners. The Jewish community’s successful implementation of that lesson will be a continuing source of political strength in these difficult times.

How Will Saddam’s Capture Affect Vote?


What does the capture of Saddam Hussein mean for Jewish
voters in 2004? Will it shift the preferences of Jewish Democrats as they weigh
the party’s presidential contenders? Will it push Jewish
voters closer to supporting President Bush for re-election?

The heartfelt connection that most American Jews feel for
the State of Israel overlaps with the broadly progressive, Democratic loyalties
that characterize most (though of course not all) American Jewish voters to
create a volatile mixture of instincts when foreign policy comes into play. The
spectrum runs from Jews who back Bush because of his staunchly pro-Israel
policy, to those who support Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s Democratic
version of pro-Israel politics, to those who support Howard Dean’s blistering
critique of Bush’s foreign policy. And many Jewish voters at this stage are
trying to decide among their choices.

From the perspective of those who care deeply about Israel,
the Iraq War becomes quite complicated. While there was little credible
evidence that Iraq posed a threat to the security of a United States more
immediately threatened by Osama bin Ladin, Saddam may have been a more serious,
direct threat to Israel.Â

He was in a position to define himself as the Arab world’s
leading edge against Israel. He had launched missiles into Israel during the
first Gulf War, and after his capture, information emerged that Israel had
trained commandos to attempt to assassinate him.

The problem for Israel is that while anything might be
better than keeping Saddam in power, removing his regime will not be enough to
guarantee Israel’s security. Unless the Bush administration shows greater
wisdom than it has so far in administering Iraq, who knows what kind of regime
will emerge and whether it will be even more hostile to Israel?

Placing Israel’s security in the hands of an American
administration that is blundering through its glorious experiment in
imperialism is hardly reassuring. But neither will Israelis and many American
Jews (and indeed most Americans) take comfort in the notion that there was no
value in removing Saddam from power.

So where does this tangle leave Jewish voters?

Some polls taken right after Saddam’s capture and
Lieberman’s harsh attack on Dean are showing a slight revival in Lieberman’s
fortunes, but it seems doubtful that he can emerge as the nominee of a party
whose active base wants a full-out assault on Bush. The most likely Democratic
candidates to win unstinting Jewish support are probably Gen. Wesley Clark and
Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, but they must still make credible showings in the
upcoming party contests.

Dean continues to move ahead but has not closed the deal. He
will have little trouble winning the votes of the most liberal Jews, but moderate,
middle-of-the-road Jewish Democrats may require considerable wooing on Middle
East issues. His early call for “balance” in the Middle East set off emotional
exchanges that finally ended with an eloquent letter from Dean to the
Anti-Defamation League outlining his pro-Israel views.

One of the interesting dynamics of the presidential
election, as the Washington Post’s Laura Blumenfeld noted in early December, is
that both Arab Americans and Jews have become slightly unmoored from their
traditional partisan leanings by the Iraq War. Many Jews have been gratified by
Bush’s strong support of Israel and believe that an America strong in world
affairs is good for Israel.

Many Arab Americans, a bloc of whom had voted for Bush in
2000 after he promised to be extremely sensitive to their civil liberties, have
been outraged by the USA Patriot Act and are ready to vote against Bush in
2004. If, however, Democrats try to win Arab American votes by softening
support for Israel, they will lose Jewish voters and perhaps win only a few
Arab Americans. But there may be an area of common ground between the two
groups, which is opposition to the violations of civil liberties in the USA
Patriot Act.

What does the Democratic nominee, whoever that may be, have
to do to hold the critical support of Jewish voters in light of Saddam’s
capture?

For those Jewish voters who are closely attuned to how
Israel viewed Saddam’s Iraq, it would be worth remembering that there can be
some good outcomes from even an ill-advised, dishonestly presented war. The
Bush administration’s harebrained “neo-cons” may have a ridiculously overblown
confidence in their ability to redraw the map of the Middle East around
American hegemony, but at least they factor Israel’s security into their
schemes.

The Democratic nominee must go beyond supporting the peace
process, as valuable as that is, to concretely address Israel’s long-term and
short-term security needs. That candidate must also remember that one can
oppose the Bush administration’s foreign policy approach without having to become
its opposite.

The alternative to hard militaristic unilateralism is not
just soft diplomatic multilateralism but a firm, resolute, tough foreign policy
that builds on and cherishes historic alliances. Â


Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton.

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.

Arnold’s Post-Recall Bridge Building


Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger has worked quickly to build bridges to the Jewish community and live up to his promise of including people of all races, religions and political views in his administration. Schwarzenegger, who some Jews have viewed with suspicion because of his father’s Nazi past and the actor’s refusal to spell out in detail his views, has appointed several prominent Jews and other diverse leaders to his 65-member transition team, a move that has garnered widespread praise.

Among those tapped to serve on his advisory group are at least seven Jews: businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad; USC law professor Susan Estrich, also former campaign manager of Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center; attorney and former state Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg; Bonnie Reiss, former president of Schwarzenegger’s Inner-City Games Foundation and founding director of Arnold’s All-Stars; Gerald Parsky, President Bush’s chief political operative in California; and film director Ivan Reitman. In addition, the millionaire actor has appointed liberal San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and ex-Secretary of State George Shultz, who served in the Reagan administration.

"I think the balance on his transition team shows he’s trying to reach out to everyone," said Lee Alpert, a moderate Republican who held several high positions in former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan’s administration. "[Schwarzenegger] realizes that the state’s economic problem doesn’t affect just one race, religion or one gender. He’s started on the right track."

Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel and a strong recall opponent, said it’s too early to say just how strongly Jews will embrace the governor-elect. At present, Schwarzenegger’s "pretty much of a blank slate."

Still, Welinsky said the movie-star-turned-politician has made some good early adviser choices. If Schwarzenegger continues to behave in a nonideological, bipartisan way, he could curry long-standing favor with the community.

A self-described fiscal conservative and social moderate, Schwarzenegger supports abortion and gay rights.

Not everyone is thrilled with the prospect of Schwarzenegger coming to Sacramento. Paul Castro, executive director of Jewish Family Service (JFS), said he worried that the new governor would slash state funding to JFS and other nonprofits that provide counseling, shelter and food to the less fortunate. Given Schwarzenegger’s promise to repeal the vehicle tax and balance the budget without raising taxes, except in an emergency, Castro worries the budget ax could fall most heavily on the elderly and poor.

"There’s a whole education process that needs to happen to make sure the governor-elect is aware of the types of issues facing our constituents," he said. "The fear is that while he’s on the learning curve there could be a dip in the social safety net."

Schwarzenegger’s promised moderation could boost the Republican Party’s future prospects among Jewish voters, said Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of "The Art of Political Warfare."

Conservative politicians pushing an anti-abortion, anti-gay right, "Christian religious" agenda will never excite the Jewish community. But Republicans espousing tolerance, compassion and choice, along with a dollop of fiscal responsibility, can make inroads.

"Jews are going to vote Democratic," Pitney said. "The question is, will it be by a modest majority or an overwhelming majority?"

In the 2002 gubernatorial race, 69 percent of Jewish voters chose Davis, while only 22 percent went for conservative Bill Simon. By contrast, moderate Republican Pete Wilson won 41 percent of the vote in 1994. Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks, a conservative lauded for his candor and knowledge of the issues, together received 40 percent.

In the recall race, 31 percent of Jewish votes went for Schwarzenegger, a respectable showing considering all the negatives he had to overcome, said Michael Wissot, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Southern California. During the campaign, the governor-elect had to fend off allegations that he secretly admired Adolf Hitler and that he shared his deceased father’s Nazi beliefs. He also had to explain his relationship with ex-Nazi Kurt Waldheim, the former president of Austria and secretary general of the United Nations under whose leadership the world body passed a controversial resolution equating Zionism with racism.

Schwarzenegger faced his critics head-on, which helped to blunt the sting of their criticism, Wissot said. The actor adamantly denied any fondness for Hitler and publicly disavowed his wedding toast to his former friend Waldheim. With the help of rabbis at the Wiesenthal Center, Schwarzenegger publicized his long-standing ties to the institution. Over the years, he has personally donated $750,000 and raised up to $5 million for the nonprofit.

By neutralizing allegations of anti-Semitism, Schwarzenegger succeeded in highlighting his message of restoring California’s fading luster. He has vowed to bring business back to the state, reform worker’s compensation and reduce the influence of unions, Native American casino operators and other special-interest groups. Schwarzenegger’s self-confidence and poise helped convince some Jews he had the leadership abilities to pull California out of its fiscal abyss, Wissot said.

The Democrats’ lurch to the left also scared some Jews into the Republican camp, said Joel Kotkin, senior fellow with the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, an uninspiring speaker who played to the party’s progressive wing, worried some Jews by refusing to take a strong public stand against the more radical ideas espoused by MEChA, a Latino student group to which he once belonged. Current MEChA chapters still use the organization’s 1960s symbol of an eagle clutching dynamite.

Bustamante received 52 percent of the Jewish vote. Although better than Schwarzenegger, that tally falls short considering that more than two-thirds of Jews are Democrats.

Transition team member Cooper said Schwarzenegger’s showing should send a message to Democrats, especially the party’s presidential contenders, not to take the Jewish vote for granted. Cooper said he would like to see the candidates, especially Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, take a more forceful stand on behalf of Israel.

"This is a wake-up call to Democrats in California, New York, Florida" and elsewhere, he said. "Once [Jews] get used to turning the lever the other way … that can be built on."

Jewish support for Schwarzenegger and McClintock, though, should not be misconstrued as a radical realignment in favor of Republicans. Based on Davis’ strong showing in the community, most Jews would have preferred that the colorless-but-familiar governor remain in the state capital and Schwarzenegger stay in Hollywood. With 69 percent of them weighing in against the recall, Jewish voters proved to be one of Davis’ few stalwart allies.

Jews mostly remained faithful for several reasons, experts said. Davis’ reputation for dirty politics and money mongering notwithstanding, he largely served the interests of the Jewish community, which in turn, filled his coffers.

As governor, Davis visited Israel, signed legislation expanding the definition of hate crimes and helped funnel millions of dollars to the Wiesenthal Center, Zimmer Children’s Museum and Skirball Cultural Center.

"He likes the [Jewish] culture. He likes the warmth. He likes the people," said Terri Smooke, special assistant to Davis and his liaison to the Jewish community.

"I hope [Schwarzenegger’s] advisers help him make good decisions and to continue to work for tolerance for the good of all Californians," said Smooke, who, like Davis, will soon be out of a job.

Q & A with Al Franken


A l Franken, “Saturday Night Live” alumnus, political commentator and satirist made headlines recently when the Fox News Channel sued him for using the term “Fair and Balanced” in the title of his new book, “Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them, A Fair and Balanced Look at The Right” (Dutton, 2003). Fox eventually dropped the suit, but not before Franken’s tome attacking conservative arguements hit the top of the best-seller lists, where it remains today.

Franken spoke to The Journal from his house in New York about the California recall, growing up Jewish in Minnesota and the nonissue of a Jew becoming president.

Jewish Journal: What are your thoughts on the recall and our new governor?

Al Franken: Well, I wish him all the best. I know there are a lot of Democrats who are bitter about the whole recall process, I didn’t necessarily think it was proper, but his voters have spoken, and now it is time for people to coalesce around this guy and try to solve California’s problems.

JJ: I thought that you would come with a much more partisan line. From reading your book I thought you would see it more like the 2000 election where the Republicans “stole” it.

AF: There is an aspect to that here. I did listen to him [Schwarzenegger] during the campaign, and he never said anything. It was unbelievable to me. It was like watching a movie, because politicians in movies can’t address specific issues, because the movie has to exist in sort of forever time. His speeches could have been from any year, any time. [Breaks into Schwarzenegger accent] “We have got dem for de people, in Caleeforneeah” — oh, I can’t do him.

But I do have one specific worry, that the men in California — and I hope they don’t take it this way — will see this as a license to grope Maria Shriver. And you know, she is very attractive, but guys, just because she seems to think it is OK, it is not open season on Maria….

JJ: In your book, you write that your father was a lifelong Republican who switched party loyalties in 1964 because [then-presidential candidate] Barry Goldwater didn’t vote for the Civil Rights Act, and he told you that Jews shouldn’t be against civil rights. Can you tell us a little about growing up Jewish and explain how your Judaism shaped your politics?

AF: I grew up Jewish in Minnesota, in a place where we were a distinct minority. Minneapolis had been a center of anti-Semitism, in the ’30s, ’40s and 50s. My mom sold real estate, and she was very aware that there was redlining in Minneapolis for Jews. That awareness, of actual institutional racism by banks and Realtors, made us even more keenly aware of the importance of civil rights laws. So in 1964, when Goldwater was against the Civil Rights Act, my dad, who was like a Jacob Javits Republican, became a Democrat and never looked back. I very much identify with my dad, and that made me a Democrat at age 13.

JJ: I read that your wife is Catholic, and save for a seder once a year your life is low on Jewish practices. Yet, Jewish references and Jewish experiences appear repeatedly in your book. Can you tell me a little bit about your Jewish life today? How much does Judaism figure into your daily experience?

AF: My wife is a fallen Roman Catholic…. We don’t belong to a shul, and my kids have really been raised with no formal religious education, but they definitely consider themselves culturally Jewish. Partly it is growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was quite the opposite of my experience.

My wife — every year we have a Chanukah dinner and she makes the best latkes and … the best brisket on the Upper West Side.

But my kids definitely consider themselves Jewish, have very Jewish senses of humor and went to a high school that was two-thirds Jewish.

And the most important aspect of this — we did go to a Reform temple when I was a kid, and my parents were not particularly devout, but we were taught that there was a certain ethical base to our religion that was the essence of our Judaism, and I think my kids have grown up with that.

JJ: In an interview in 2000, you were asked whether the country was ready for a Jewish president. Now it seems that if any of these Democratic front-runners get elected, we won’t be able to escape having a Jewish president. Do you think that America is moving to a place where religion doesn’t matter anymore, and why do you think so many Democrats are eager to be Jewish?

AF: Well, I think that it doesn’t hurt to be Jewish if you are a Democrat, because of fundraising. [John] Kerry is half-Jewish, [Wesley] Clark is half-Jewish, [Howard] Dean has a Jewish wife, [Joe] Lieberman is the whole boat. [John] Edwards is as goyish as you can get; [Al] Sharpton — not Jewish.

I think that the Lieberman candidacy was just a big nonevent in terms of how it affected people at the polls, which is great. It might be different if Lieberman was heading the ticket at this time. But even then I don’t think it would be that big an issue.

JJ: A lot of Jews might agree with you on being anti-Bush on social issues, but they appreciate his stance on Israel. They perceive him as being very supportive of Israel’s war against terror. Do you agree that Bush is a good friend to Israel?

AF: There is definitely a pro-Israel slant, which I basically agree with for Bush. I think that he just ignored Israel for a long time immediately after being elected because he didn’t want to get his hands dirty. He was basically doing everything that Clinton didn’t do. If Clinton had rolled up his sleeves and worked with Barak and tried to reach a settlement there, then Bush decided that the right thing to do was to do nothing.

As far as now supporting Israel, as I also write in the book, there is this odd alliance between the neo-cons, who are very pro-Israel, obviously, and the Christian right, which is very pro Israel. But the neo-cons are very pro-Israel because Israel the only democracy in the Middle East, and the religious right is for it because Jews need to be in Israel in order for Armageddon to happen, at which point we Jews will all die in a fiery death. I think that at that point the coalition between the neo-cons and the Christian Right will dissolve.

JJ: Before I read your book, I thought that it would be very funny on every single page, but there were a lot of chapters and there were a lot of pages in it where I thought that you were being deadly serious, almost to the point where it made me feel sad.

AF: Well — the Wellstone chapter.

JJ: The chapter about the late Sen. Paul Wellstone and even some of the arguments about why the tax cuts were bad and the terrorism chapter, etc. I don’t know if the book is being misrepresented. It is funny, but there are a lot of serious parts in it.

AF: I think that satire…. I don’t think that they [humor and seriousness] are incompatible at all. Even the funny parts are serious.

JJ: I read a Salon interview where you were asked whether your support for Clinton wavered during the impeachment, and you answered, joking I assume, that even during “Pardongate” you needed to give Clinton credit for the pardons he didn’t give, like to the Unabomber and Charles Manson.

In this book I didn’t find any such jokes about Clinton. It was more of a paean to him. Monica aside, is there is anything, in your estimation, that Clinton did that was wrong or at least questionable?

AF: Aside from Monica? Well I think that he might have been a bit aggressive on some of the campaign fundraising and he might have gone into Rwanda a little quicker, but basically I thought he had a really successful presidency.

JJ: Finally, what do you think Stuart Smalley would say about your book and your success?

AF: Well Stuart isn’t very political. He would say [in a nasal voice] “Well, good for Al. You know. It’s a big success, and I know him, and you know, good for him.”

Al Franken will be speaking on Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m. at Temple Emmanuel, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. $18. For tickets, call (310) 335-0917.

Fervent Political


How does a Jewish community journalist cover such a non-Jewish election?

Non-Jewish, I mean, in the sense that the recall battle isn’t being fought over issues that are especially important to Jews. Nor does there seem to be many Jews involved, except as potential voters and as contributors.

When I came to Los Angeles in 1970, politics seemed much more Jewish, even though the issues were not directly relevant to the community.

Jewish politics were largely Democratic and involved much more than raising money. Politics were a game played by street Jews, as well as by the Hillcrest crowd. Rich, poor, working class and middle class loved the intrigue, the meetings, the resolutions, the camaraderie, the endless cups of coffee, the drinks — the life of politics.

There were big street rallies on Fairfax Avenue. Los Angeles Jews got into shouting arguments over what was happening in Sacramento. On the Westside and in the West Valley, the Berman brothers and Henry Waxman organized the community block by block, synagogue by synagogue, club by club.

Roz Wyman had risen from such clubs, all filled with Jews, to become a member of the Los Angeles City Council in 1953 at the age of 22. "We were involved all over the place," Wyman, still active in Democratic politics, told me recently.

Today, Israel draws much of the community’s political energy. And while "the Jewish community is very attuned to social issues, it is not as much as before," she said. "There is active participation, not as great but still participation."

I discussed this the other day with Paul Kujawsky, president of Democrats for Israel of Los Angeles, as we sat in the sunshine at the Starbucks at Santa Monica Boulevard and Beverly Glen, just north and west of the flatland Westside neighborhoods, where middle-class Jews once spent many hours walking precincts, stuffing envelopes and getting ready for a trip to Sacramento or Fresno for the state party or California Democratic Council convention.

"I think the passion for politics is lessening, not only among Jews but every one else, after the ’60s, Watergate and the whole litany, there is a great cynicism," he said

Kujawsky made an intriguing point: Jews once strongly identified with the Democratic Party because of "self-interest. The Democrats were an urban liberal party, and that was us. We no longer identify with a party that is interested in handing out goodies to interest groups."

I think there’s more to the story:

The "Jewish vote" is shrinking. Secularization means that fewer young people identify themselves strongly with the religion or with issues that energized their parents and grandparents.

In addition, the issues that drove Jewish politics have lost their steam. Jewish politics were shaped by left-wing activism, the Depression, World War II and Franklin Roosevelt. Jews retained memories of the Depression, the war and the GI Bill that sent them through college and made possible the purchase of their first home. A commitment to public education was also a factor, diminished by Jewish abandonment of public schools.

The civil rights movement shaped the old Jewish politics. Fresh from the virulent anti-Semitism of the ’30s and ’40s, Jews were enthusiastic participants in the African American drive against housing and job discrimination and for voting rights. The collapse of the coalition left many Jewish activists embittered.

As the old civil rights coalition collapsed, Jewish political thought became sharply divided. The neoconservative movement drew much of its energy from Jewish intellectuals. Neoconservatives scorned those who favored the old liberal and economic policies. And they excoriated anyone who did not agree with their hard-line policies on the Mideast.

Finally, there is the evolution of politics from mass participation to mass media. Grass-roots organizing — door-to-door visits, rallies, coffees — once dominated politics and required a lot of volunteers, like Wyman, to run the show.

How will this impact the Jewish community’s impact on the recall?

With Jewish interest in politics, particularly state politics, declining, Gov. Gray Davis can’t waste a vote. He needs a huge Jewish turnout. He’s been going at it from the top down, a chilly presence smiling his way through Jewish contributors’ events. But, like a white politician trying to sing gospel songs in a black church or attempting Spanish in Boyle Heights, he just doesn’t have the rhythm.

Davis’ fight is an uphill effort, and tracking it is a great job for a Jewish community journalist. True, there are no directly Jewish issues. But what Jews do in the recall, while possibly not decisive to the outcome, is an important chapter in the political evolution of our community.


Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of
each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a
political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for
three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

The Circuit


They came for the kosher and stayed for the kibitz.

About 100 people attended the Democrats For Israel, Los Angeles (DFI-LA) Summer Garden Party on Aug. 25 at the Bel Air home of Frank Ponder, general manager of Bel Air Camera and DFI-LA board member. Dyed-in-the-wool Dems talked Israel, party politics and the Jewish singles scene, met with L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and witnessed the group’s changing of the guard.

Paul Kujawsky, DFI-LA’s former vice president, moved up to become president, while Linda Bear stepped in as the group’s new vice president. Treasurer Reuben Zadeh and secretary Ken Silk will continue in their positions. Marilyn Landau, DFI-LA’s president for the last two years, will stay on as a board member.

DFI-LA, co-founded in 1989 by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-24th District), is the only Jewish Democratic organization in Los Angeles and works closely with the party’s state central committee. The group recently issued a paper to the state Democratic executive board on the need to support Israel.

"There’s so much bad information that gets picked up by the media regarding Israel," DFI-LA Chair Howard Welinsky said. "I think the Jewish community needs to remember that there’s always an opportunity to educate about the Middle East." — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Comedian/comic actor Larry Miller ("The Princess Diaries," "The Nutty Professor") recently returned from a trip to Israel, visiting children, victims of terror and professionals in Israel. Miller, a parlor-meeting fixture, has been an active participant in The Jewish Federation’s Jews in Crisis Campaign, which has raised $17 million in support of victims of terror, provided trauma care and created summer activities in a safe and secure setting for children in Israel.

Sarit Finkelstein-Boim was elected the president of B’nai B’rith International’s Shalom Unit on July 24. The installation ball is scheduled for Nov. 16 at Sinai Temple. For reservations, call (310) 471-8545.

Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) will hold its Los Angeles Annual Gala on Nov. 10 at the Four Seasons in West Hollywood. Dan Raviv, the Washington-based CBS News correspondent who this year released the book "Comics Wars," his Wall Street tell-all of the fall and resurrection of Marvel Entertainment, will be the keynote speaker at the banquet. This year’s honorary chairpersons will be Drs. Anna and Max Webb. The evening will honor WIZO member Annie Gross as its 2002 Woman of the Year.

Leading American shoe company Florsheim, which is based in Chicago, opened its first Israeli outlet in Jerusalem at the Center One shopping mall on 43 Yirmiyahu St.

"Especially during these difficult days," said Florsheim Jerusalem owner Tzvi Berg, "I am proud of Florsheim for the commitment they have made and the confidence they have shown in the Israeli market."

Northridge resident Meirav Fishman Cafri, a West Valley Hebrew Academy student, is the national Jewish National Fund (JNF) Blue Box Contest winner. The contest, which engaged more than 350 kids to create artwork featuring JNF’s Blue Box, was held in the spirit of the 100th anniversary of JNF.

The National Jewish Medical and Research Center honored local attorney Jeffrey Kapor, a shareholder at Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger.

The commitment to connect college students with Jewish life was the recurring theme at the Los Angeles Hillel Council’s (LAHC) annual Back to Campus Celebration on Aug. 18 at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, where Michael Diamond — LAHC immediate past president who heads the litigation department at the Los Angeles office of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy — received the Rabbi Richard N. Levy Award, and UC students David Cygielman (UCSB) and Panteha Haverim (UCLA) each received a Distinguished Student Award.

Event co-chair Jonathan Anschell made the opening remarks, while actress Mayim Bialik (of "Blossom" fame) served as emcee. Event co-chair Kenneth Ostrow presented Diamond with his award, while Diamond’s daughter, Beth Diamond, read a poetic tribute she had written.

State Sen. Richard Alarcón (D-Dist. 20) attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Sept. 9 grand opening of the Temple Ramat Zion kindergarten in Northridge. He presented the temple with a congratulatory certificate and cut the ribbon on the new classroom. On Jan. 1, the senator’s district will expand to include Northridge, and he is reaching out to the community in every way possible.

"We are pleased that Sen. Alarcón is extending his hand to the Jewish Community in Northridge," said Betty Gorelick, director of Early Childhood Education. "We are very excited about our new kindergarten, and are thankful for everyone’s efforts in making this happen."

Temple Ramat Zion has been serving the Jewish Community in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Simi valleys for 40 years.

The Friars Club threw a party for the debut of Richard Crystal’s new jazz album, "Nearer."

On hand to introduce his brother was Billy Crystal, proctor of the New York Friars Club. Among the others in attendance: Billy Crystal’s "Mr. Saturday Night" co-star David Paymer.

Richard "Rip" Crystal began his career playing the lead roles in numerous musicals, including "The Fantasticks," "Finian’s Rainbow" and "Bye Bye Birdie." He eventually moved behind the camera and has had a successful career as a writer and producer. Most recently, he conceived and produced the feature film, "Murder By Numbers," starring Sandra Bullock.

The recently discovered photographs of artistic collaborators Benjamin Strauss and Homer Peyton are the subject of "Art and Artifice," an exhibit that runs from Sept. 30-Dec. 20 at the Bell Family Gallery at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Strauss and Peyton perfected a style of portraiture, combining photography with pencil/crayon enhancement that captured the flavor and the feel of their era, the Roaring ’20s. Gallery hours are by appointment only. For information, call Judy Fischer at (323) 761-8352.

Oralingua School for the Hearing Impaired will honor actor Elliott Gould ("M*A*S*H*," "Friends") at its 14th Annual Gala Dinner Dance and Auction on Nov. 9 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel. Proceeds will support the nonprofit Oralingua’s auditory/oral deaf education program, which focuses on students’ capabilities rather than their disabilities.

For information on this event, contact Elizabeth Haig at (310) 265-7200, or visit www.oralingua.org.

What next for Capitol Hill?


With the November elections just around the corner, Jewish observers and activists are predicting that no matter who wins control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the Jewish communal agenda will encounter some of the same legislative hurdles it faced in the 106th session.

Many feel that even if the Democrats win back either the House or the Senate, the margin for the majority will be too slim to see significant movement.

“Margins will determine the degree of work that gets done,” said Diana Aviv, vice president of public policy for United Jewish Communities, the Jewish community’s central fund-raising and social service agency.

Much will also depend on who wins the White House.

In the House, a net gain of six seats would give the Democrats a majority, while a net gain of five seats would change the leadership in the Senate. Democrats are thought to have a good chance at winning the House and a more distant chance at winning the Senate.

A Democratic-controlled Congress would be different in style and approach, but there would be few major differences in the actual policies enacted, according to Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Neither side will have the troops to do what they want,” he said.

As a result, Reva Price, Washington representative for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, expects the same kinds of logjams that occurred this past year on controversial domestic issues such as gun control and hate crimes.

“It will still be difficult to make things happen,” she said.

The 106th Congress passed only a few pieces of legislation that had been pushed hard by Jewish groups.Among them:

a compromise religious liberty bill, which gives religious liberty protections to prisoners and patients and eases restrictive zoning laws that block religious institutions from building; a bill that allows victims of terrorism and their families to collect damages against countries that sponsor terrorism; and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding for domestic violence programs.Legislation whose status remained unclear as Congress worked to conclude its session this week includes: national hate crimes legislation, which would expand federal protection to victims of crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender or disability; certain gun control measures; exemption from income tax for restitution payments to Holocaust survivors; restoration of immigrant benefits that were cut by welfare reform legislation; and cutting off aid to the Palestinians if they unilaterally declare a state.

While there is division in the Jewish community over a number of proposals, many Jewish groups band together on a range of issues.

Jewish organizations feel they were successful in quashing school voucher initiatives, a resolution that would have blamed Turkey for its early 20th-century genocide against Armenians and a bill that would have outlawed “partial-birth” abortions.

But other issues not supported by most Jewish groups, such as charitable choice measures, were included in mental health and substance abuse legislation.

Charitable choice, passed in 1996 as part of welfare reform, allows religious institutions to bid for government social service contracts.

Though foreign aid is usually left to the very end of the legislative session, full U.S. aid for Israel – nearly $3 billion – was expected to pass.

Some controversial issues would likely be treated differently with a change in congressional leadership, where the leaders play a key role in determining the agenda.

It would likely be more difficult in a Democratic-controlled Congress, for example, to push through more charitable choice measures.

Many Jewish groups are concerned that charitable choice programs could violate the separation of church and state as well as the religious liberties and civil rights of program beneficiaries and employees of service providers.

Both presidential candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush, support charitable choice measures.”Anyone can hold up legislation,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. “There will be a lot of power in the hands of individuals.”

Similarly, important committee leadership positions would change hands if Democrats gained control of Congress, though it’s not always certain who would take charge of a committee.

If the Republicans lose control in the House, Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.) would lose his chairmanship of the foreign operations appropriations subcommittee.

Callahan has been a thorn in the side of Jewish activists, and this year he tried to cut part of the foreign aid package to Israel to express his disagreement with a planned Israeli sale of advanced weaponry to China.On the Senate side, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), also unsuccessfully attempted to place some restrictions on aid to send a message to Israel because of the China deal.Israel ultimately ceded to U.S. pressure to cancel the deal.

If the Democrats should gain control of the Senate, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who is seen as more of a friend to the Jewish community than Helms, is the likely choice for committee chairman.The House International Relations Committee, long presided over by the lone Jewish Republican, Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), would likely be turned over to Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), who is also Jewish. Both men are supportive of Israel issues.

The agenda for the next year is also set in large part by the president, and the race between Gore and Bush remains close.

Certainly whoever wins the presidency will have the leading role in deciding U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere. With the region very volatile right now, either Gore or Bush will need congressional support for his plans there.

Likewise, either Gore or Bush could be pushed to take certain actions. For example if the Palestinians decide to unilaterally declare a state, Congress is likely to push to end economic aid to the Palestinians.Though the chances of reviving the peace process now appear remote, a dramatic shift could mean the quest for more U.S. funds to bolster a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

With foreign aid in general always a battle on Capitol Hill, securing additional funding could be a problem, say analysts.

Pushing a financial package from the United States will be “problematic” no matter who is in control of Congress, Ornstein said.

Last year Jewish organizations had to fight hard for $1.8 billion in special funding that was promised to Israel and the Palestinians when they reached an agreement at the 1998 Wye talks.

The Great Divide


Who are your readers, a friend asked me recently. He is not Jewish, which perhaps explains the question.I gave a pat answer: Young and old; men and women; observant and secular; liberal and conservative; survivors and their offspring; families that often trace their history through three generations. The usual; you’ve met them all. I waved away the question.

But it lingered with me, partly because I had deliberately omitted one category: Those who view the gentile world with distrust as opposed to those who see non-Jews as “fellow Americans,” not much different from their Jewish friends and family. I remembered what someone close to this newspaper once told me: In the end, I have my two bags packed in the closet, because you can’t trust anyone who isn’t Jewish. He had served in the army during World War II, was a self-made man, quite successful and wealthy. He had an attachment to Israel, but no desire to live there. The vehemence behind his words caught me by surprise. I thought then that his feelings probably reflected a generational divide. That no amount of worldly goods or acclaim could erase, for him, the sting of rejection and segregation which characterized the experience of so many American Jews in the 1930’s through much of the 1950’s. His children – certainly his grandchildren – did not feel that way, I assumed.

Today I am less certain. The response to Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s vice-presidential candidacy has given me pause. Of course most Jews, regardless of political affiliation or generation, were thrilled. But a minority let their anxiety show. Such visibility carried risks, they said. What if the anti-Semites seized on the campaign to mobilize all the latent and overt hostility towards Jews that exists out there? In the first days after the nomination, the Internet, carried more than 14,000 crude messages. Or: What if the Democrats lost? Would Lieberman and the Jews be assigned the blame? And so it went.

New York Magazine seized the occasion to publish a cover story on Lieberman accompanied by a round-table discussion with some of the city’s more prominent Jews. There were many questions posed, but the answers all seemed to revolve around this key one.

The people who’ve raised the most doubts about the wisdom of putting a Jew on the ticket tend to be Jews themselves. Do you think Jews are paranoid or just more conscious of anti-Semitism? Here are some of the responses, albeit in shortened form, with some connection to other statements made later in the discussion.

Mort Zuckerman (founder of Boston Properties and publisher of the New York Daily News, U.S. News and World Report and Fast Company): I think people always worry about someone Jewish being in such a visible and exposed position, because they’re worried it will reflect back on the whole people, as any minority is concerned – it’s the same for Black people. But Jews need not have any fear about Joe Lieberman, because he leads by example… So I think it will really give a wonderful vision of what Jewish people in general are like.

Malcolm Honlein (executive chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations):…It’s important to note that just ’cause we’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not chasing us… I think it will clear up a lot of mystery in this country about what it means to be a Jew, especially an Orthodox Jew… For many people, it’s the first time they had to confront, beyond the stereotypes, beyond the bigotry, just what a Jew is.

Marcelle Karp (a founder and co-editor of Bust, the feminist ‘zine and a co-author of “The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order”): You know, I hate to inject a skeptical note into this, but I think there’s something being lost here. Things might be different in New York and in L.A., but in many parts of America, they still hate us.

Philip Weiss (a novelist, journalist and columnist for the New York Observer): One of the things I find really dismaying is this constant harping about anti-Semitism. America said no to my father in very important ways. But I’m 44 years old, and America has said yes to me over and over and over again. And yet there are people at this table still saying they hate us. I don’t think they hate us. What I would argue is that they love us… and our specialness has been recognized… Quite apart from his politics, which I don’t particularly like he’s (Lieberman) an impressive person, and so Jewish. The polls suggest that Americans are happy to accept him. They don’t think it’s such a big deal.

Ben Younger (director of the movie “Boiler Room” and who recently sold the pilot for a new television series to ABC): If Joe Lieberman ran around wearing a yarmulke, he might elicit a very different reaction… I don’t mean to be a naysayer, but my experience and my family’s experience have taught me that it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security… A year ago in Bergen County, (New Jersey) where my parents live – a very nice middle to upper-class community – walking home from Rosh Hashanah at night, I’ve got guys screaming at me. Screaming Jewish epithets. I felt it in San Diego, where I spent a summer last year; I felt it in Los Angeles; I feel it all over the place. You don’t wear a yarmulke, so you don’t know. If you hold a lulav in your hand and walk home on Sukkoth, you’re a target.

Weiss: I think that’s terrible… But I would say that there is racism directed towards many people in this country, and many groups face barriers much worse than ours. For Jews, these barriers have largely fallen… I’m embarrassed that at this moment when America has said yes to us… everyone at this table remains so self-obsessed. What is happening here is that a Jewish man is being nominated to be the vice president of the United States. It’s a great responsibility, and I hope it’ll force us to stop just thinking about Jews. The fact is, Jews have a lot of power in this country.

Karp: We’re all successful New York Jews – that’s who we are at this table. I don’t think if you ask someone who drives a truck in Mississippi that he’s going to intellectualize what’s so great about Lieberman. He’s going to look at him and go: He’s a Jew.

How do we rationalize the divisions among the New Yorkers? Age doesn’t offer a satisfactory answer. Nor does the secular-observant divide; or the political one, liberals vs. conservatives. For a brief while I thought perhaps the comments accentuated the difference between those who have strong affiliations with Jewish organizations and those who do not (namely, Philip Weiss).

But upon reflection, I’ve decided it might just be a function of personality plus experience. Some of us need to be well-defended, choose to keep our guard up. For good reason: History has taught us that lesson and, in some cases, experience has confirmed it.

But then there are those of us who prefer to remain open to life’s risks. There may be slaps, occasional or a’plenty, but the pleasure of roaming the world, freely, seems to compensate for the potential confrontation, and even the occasional moment of danger.

Call the Headhunter


Early last winter, a reporter asked Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., about her rumored plans to run for Senate. “I’m really not sure,” Lowey said. “I don’t know if that’s how I want to live my life.”

“That makes sense,” the reporter replied, recalling dark tales of the Senate fund-raising treadmill. “If you want to spend your life asking people for money, you might as well go work for the United Jewish Appeal.”

Lowey did a double-take. “How did you hear about that?” she demanded.

The reporter hadn’t heard a thing. He was trying to make a joke about campaign finance. But Lowey wasn’t joking. She actually had been approached, weeks earlier, to accept the presidency of America’s largest Jewish charity. An odd coincidence, they both agreed.

And, yet, not so odd. As it turns out, you could just about fill a phone book with the names of distinguished Americans who were offered the top UJA job over the last year. There were Cabinet secretaries, Congress members past and present, university presidents, mayors, even a few professional heads of Jewish charities. In a sad commentary on the current state of the legendary fund-raising organization, just about everyone turned the job down, including Nita Lowey.

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