No need to shame the Federation


This column is a response to a column posted March 17 at jewishjournal.com, “A Deafening Silence from the Jewish Federation,” taking the Los Angeles Jewish Federation to task for not speaking out against certain policies and statements of President Donald Trump. You can join a Facebook discussion on this issue here.

Our local Federation can do no right. When it took a public stand two years ago against the Iran nuclear deal—which many of us considered bad for Israel and America, and still do—it got reamed by local Jews who felt the Federation should not exclude the many Jewish voices who favored the deal.

Although I was against the deal, I had sympathy for that pushback, since politics in general is very divisive and the Federation’s role is to be as unifying and inclusive as possible. The Federation learned its lesson. 

But now that Donald Trump is in the White House, some of those same voices are taking the Federation to task for staying out of politics and keeping quiet. In a joint op-ed in the Journal by four prominent progressive Jews, the Federation is shamed for remaining “deafeningly silent” in the face of the outrageous words and actions from our new president.

This goes against a long local tradition, the authors write, where “Los Angeles has had active Jewish community organizations that often spoke with one voice, took stands, ventured into politically risky territory and helped mark Jews as a force to be reckoned with on the community relations and political scenes.”

But the authors cite no precedent of past Federations taking on a president, or even a political cause. They use the loose term “Jewish leaders” without specifying if those were Federation leaders.

What they do suggest is that if anyone as bad as Trump would have become president over the past forty years, “The non-profit leadership of this community would have been vocal, visible and busy organizing in opposition.” 

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way.

Fair enough, but here’s the problem with that position: I know a lot of Jews in Los Angeles who think Obama was pretty bad, too. They believe Obama increased the racial tensions in our country, did virtually nothing to stop the massacre of 500,000 civilians in Syria and the worst refugee crisis of the century, and tried to turn America into another failed, socialist European state.

Some of those Jews claimed Obama’s policies violated Jewish values, and that it was a Jewish value to oppose him. In fact, had progressive Jews mobilized to oppose Obama during the massacres in Syria, and implored the Federation to speak out in the name of Jewish values against Obama’s Syria policy, they might be getting a better hearing today.

Either way, I have no political dog in this fight. I’ve written columns urging Republicans to “dump” Trump and even wrote a piece calling him worse than a liar. Personally, I enjoy seeing the Trump opposition movement—it shows me our diverse community in action.

That long and noble tradition that the authors write about, of Jews being “active participants in meetings, demonstrations, legislation, community events and forming alliances,” is alive and well. It reminds me of how much I cherish our freedom to protest and hold our leaders accountable, which I never take for granted.

But should that be the role of the Federation at the expense of further dividing our community? I don’t think so.

It’s interesting to note that when the authors try to strengthen their case by showing examples of prominent conservatives who had the guts to take on Trump, they cite three newspaper pundits. These pundits, they write, “all have readers, long-time admirers and fee-generating organizations that they have angered and alienated because of their courage—but they spoke out nevertheless.”

Yes, but speaking out is the core role of a pundit. Pundits don’t have the duty to unify a community or help it heal. Federations do. Our Federation has made its share of mistakes over the years; I just don’t think that aiming for bipartisanship in tremendously divisive times is one of them.

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way. Instead of picking one voice, the Federation would convene multiple voices. Maybe really smart people will find a middle ground that can project Jewish values in a Trumpian world without dividing us any further.

As the Journal’s Esther Kustanowitz wrote on a Facebook post, “It’s easy to emerge as leaders, with a statement to rouse community to action, when everyone agrees. It’s when people disagree—when a community holds different beliefs in tension with each other—that emerging as a community leader gets difficult.”

If you ask me, any leadership move that can bring Jews together under the most divisive and stressful circumstances would be worthy of the highest Jewish value—Trump or no Trump.

Lee Zeldin: Trump’s Jewish mini-me


At a time when most Congressional Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Donald Trump, one is behaving like a cheap clone of his party's presidential candidate, complete with mind-numbing outrageous charges and incendiary rhetoric.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, the lone Jewish Republican in the 114th Congress, has called Barack Obama a “racist,” sounded like a Trump birther clone questioning the president's heritage and loyalty and accused him of having “no idea what he is doing.”

Zeldin, a freshman representing New York's first district at the eastern end of Long Island, likes to imitate his idol, Trump, by phrasing an accusation as if he's not the one who actually made the charge.

He said the return of $400 million in frozen funds to Iran was a “cash ransom to the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism,” virtually accusing the president of treason by suggesting he “is playing for the other team.”

The charge of dual loyalty is particularly offensive coming from a Jewish congressman.

Speaker Paul Ryan's called Trump's attack on the Mexican heritage of Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel “the textbook definition of racist,” but Zeldin defended the mogul, telling CNN not Trump but “the president of the United States is a racist with his policies and his rhetoric.” 

Trump, like many on the right, have trouble accepting an African-American or a woman as the president of their white man's Christian country.  Sounds like Zeldin does, too.

Huffington Post has said Zeldin has “shown a willingness to engage in some of the basest forms of politics.”

As the GOP's lone Jew in Congress Zeldin is often expected to give a hechsher or approval to his colleagues' positions on Israel. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but the New York Post reported he “skipped out” on two thirds of the meetings in his first year that focused on ISIS and the Syrian crisis despite all “his tough talk” on those issues.

Zeldin told the Jerusalem Post that Trump would be a more reliable friend of Israel than Hillary Clinton despite saying he'd be neutral in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and that neither side really wants peace. He also flip-flops on where in Israel the U.S. embassy should be located, and has said Israel and other countries should reimburse Washington for past foreign aid.  

More alarming, 50 leading Republican former national security officials have said Trump would be an unreliable ally to America's foreign friends like Israel and is unqualified to be commander in chief.

The GOP approach to the Jewish community is based on being super-hawks on the three I's – Israel, Iran and ISIS – and hoping we're stupid enough to overlook their generally dismal records on domestic and social issues that are at least if not more important.

It doesn't work, and as new evidence listen to the far right Israeli politician and settlement leader, Dani Dayan, who just became Prime Minister Netanyahu's consul general in New York.  “Any American president is good for Israel,” he told the New York Times. 

After former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani returned from Israel recently saying Netanyahu prefers Trump, the prime minister's office quickly announced he is not taking sides this year.

When Netanyahu criticized Trump's planned Muslim ban last December, the reality TV performer was offended and cancelled a planned trip to Israel. 

Hating Muslims has been a cornerstone of Trump's campaign and no doubt some Jews, especially on the right, may share that, but the overwhelming Jewish reaction has been rejection, perhaps because they understand that for hatemongers like Trump “we could be next.”  

Zeldin, 36, an Iraq war veteran, has predicted Trump would “annihilate” Clinton in his Long Island district, which went Democrat in the past two elections.  

His opponent is Anna Throne-Holst, a former Southampton town supervisor.   Unlike the incumbent, she supports the Iran nuclear agreement, the two-state solution and is receiving contributions from the pro-peace JStreet PAC. 

Zeldin has strong support from anti-abortion and gun groups. The NRA gave him its A rating and National Right to Life scores him 100 percent. Planned Parenthood, NARAL, ACLU and the Friends Committee on National Legislation all give him zero ratings.

He opposes same-sex marriage and is sponsoring legislation that would sanction discrimination based on “a religious belief or moral conviction” opposed to same sex marriage. GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence signed a similar law as governor of Indiana.

Zeldin has met at least twice with the rightwing group Oath Keepers, which the New York Daily News said dabbles in “fringe conspiracy theories,” claims the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax and called President Obama a “Muslim/Extremist.”  Its founder has said war hero Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is “a traitor who should be hung by the neck until dead.” 

Zeldin initially justified the meetings by saying he's available to all constituents, but after numerous protests said he doesn't agree with “100%” of the group's message.

He also defended majority whip Steve Scalise's (R-LA) meeting with white supremacists linked to former KKK grand dragon David Duke, saying it wouldn't harm “Republican progress towards reaching minorities and the Jewish community.”  Three months later Scalise For Congress sent Zeldin a $2,000 campaign contribution.

In Trumpian tradition, Zeldin excoriated the media for bringing up the “not a big deal” incident and attacked Obama for having “82 meetings with Al Sharpton.”

Zeldin has tied his wagon to Donald Trump in a district that went Democrat in three of the past four elections.  Non-partisan election experts rate Zeldin's race a toss-up.


Douglas Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist; Washington, D.C., lobbyist; and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Barney Frank on practically everything


Long a legislative lion for Democrats, Barney Frank retired from Congress two years ago. But he remains famously shrewd and caustic, feisty and funny, as well as the most prominent gay politician in the nation. With current roiling debate over the financial reform that Frank helped to legislate, along with his frequent appearances on CNBC and the publication of his memoirs in March, he's back in the spotlight.

Frank was in the U.S. House of Representatives for 32 years. In Congress, he was the controversial Democratic leader on the House Financial Services Committee and was a co-sponsor of the eponymous 2010 Dodd-Frank act, which brought sweeping reform to the financial industry. Now 74 and married, when he's not on TV or relaxing on the coast of Maine, he's giving paid speeches and teaching at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

David A. Kaplan recently talked to Frank for Reuters in mid town Manhattan. During a wide-ranging exchange, in his characteristic Bayonne-meets-Boston mumble, Frank discussed the 2016 presidential election and his fear of Chris Christie; his prediction on a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage; the future of Dodd-Frank; his disappointment over President Obama; his distaste for Jon Stewart; and why, no, he didn't cause the 2008 financial crisis. Edited excerpts:

REUTERS: What do you make of Congress last weekend watering down Dodd-Frank, your signature bill?

BARNEY FRANK: One small piece of the law was affected, but it's mostly good news because of the furious response, which shows that financial reform continues to be a major public concern.

R: Would you encourage President Obama to consider not signing the bill?

BF: Yes.

R: And thereby shutting down the government?

BF: He could say, “Send me the same bill without the provision [affecting Dodd-Frank].” Any shutdown would be brief.

R: Did supporters of changing Dodd-Frank, even a little, miscalculate politically?

BF: Yes, Republicans misread public opinion. So did the Senate Democratic leadership and the White House.

R: And the banks themselves-the ones affected by Dodd-Frank?

BF: They're not concerned with public opinion.

R: What will Republicans do in terms of further rollback since they'll soon be in control of Congress?

BF: Given the response we just saw, it will be difficult for them to make any major changes in the face of what I am now confident will be very loud public disapproval.

R: Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was most vocal in opposing the current bill. How do you think she comes out?

BF: She showed she's a force to be reckoned with.

R: Do you miss not being part of the legislative action?

BF: I wouldn't want to have had to be involved in complex negotiations. But I was glad to speak out last week.

R: Are you happy with how Dodd-Frank has been implemented so far?

BF: Yes, with one exception. There's been one chip-away, but it came a coalition of left and right, with the support of lenders, realtors, homebuilders and in particular, advocacy groups. I wanted to say that no mortgage loans could be made and then 100-percent securitized without risk-retention; people refer to that metaphorically as “skin in the game.” But to get the bill through, we had to give in to create a special category of super-safe loans that didn't have to be risk-retained. I also was disappointed the Republicans under funded the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the SEC, but that hasn't really done any harm. Ideally, I'd have liked to merge the SEC and the CFTC.

THE SCOURGE OF POLITICS

R: What do you think of the midterms?

BF: I'm discouraged by more than simply the God-awful turnout. The root of our problem is people who are frustrated we haven't produced for them economically. You get into a vicious cycle in which people are disappointed in government because it hasn't delivered, so they then get mad at government and vote for people who dislike government, which makes it even less likely that government will do anything for them.

R: What's the fix?

BF: There are two things we should do to free up money. One, and I'm sorry the President appears to be back-pedaling on this, is cut military spending. And the time has also come for Democrats to look at the environmental issue. Part of that community makes two mistakes. They take a morally superior tone. It's possible to support laws on climate change, but still understand it will have a negative impact on some people and figure out how to compensate them. Not every environmental issue has the same moral importance.

R: So, better turnout next time isn't the solution?

BF: We have to persuade white guys that we really do care about their economic interests.

R: Do the midterms portend badly for Democrats in 2016?

BF: Not so much. We have a temporary advantage in that the Republicans are so badly split that they're going to have a hard time putting together a ticket that gets unified support. They're going to have the same problem Romney had.

GAY RIGHTS

R: Has the velocity of change gay rights surprised you?

BF: It's astonishing. I filed the first gay rights bill in Massachusetts history in 1972. And at any time these past 40 years, if you'd asked me to say, “Where's it going to be three years later?” I'd have been wrong.

R: Is that speed a function of the progressivity of the American people?

BF: Absolutely. If it hadn't been for gender equity and race, we wouldn't have gotten started. But once we did, the reason [for progress] is simple: We're much less different. Almost every straight person has gay and lesbian friends, relatives, etc. When we all started saying who we were, people realized it didn't make any difference. Reality beat the prejudice.

R: Will the U.S. Supreme Court rule on same-sex marriage?

BF: Yes, next year. Of course they'll say yes. Unless Ruth Ginsburg dies. But then they'll still say yes because it will be a 4-to-4 tie. Based on his prior votes [in other gay rights case], I'm sure [Justice Anthony] Kennedy is going to vote to uphold same-sex marriage.

R: So, you predict 5-to-4?

BF: Yes. Potentially 6-to-3, if [Chief Justice John] Roberts joins, but I doubt it. I was struck by what they did recently-their refusal to act. [Without comment, the Court let stand lower-court rulings that upheld a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.] There's a perfect sports analogy. They gave same-sex marriage an intentional walk. They weren't going to let us hit a home run, but they weren't going to try and get us out.

THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE: 2016

R: Would you support Hillary?

BF: Pretty enthusiastically. I have slight differences with her on foreign policy-she's more hawkish. But the reality's going to force Democrats into a less intervention position. And you have an appealing candidate. So I'm supporting her and I'd urge others not to run against her.

R: Think there's a chance others will?

BF: No, especially because it doesn't look like we have the luxury of a fight. After the midterms, it's particularly hard for anybody who's thinking about running against her from the left.

R: Who will the Republicans nominate?

BF: They have a terrible problem. You have Jeb Bush on the one hand who has real problems on the right. You have Rand Paul or even a Rubio who have a certain implausibility. God is not that much of a Democrat for Ted Cruz to get nominated.

THE GOP AS LEADERS

R: Will the GOP behave differently now that it controls both houses of Congress?

BF: The real problem is House-versus-Senate. You're going to see great dysfunction. The House Republicans are a very right-wing group, They understand they're going to have a hard time getting anything done, so they're preemptively blaming Obama for their own failure to get together.

R: Is current congressional dysfunction unique in U.S. history?

BF: You have to go back to the Civil War. Things were not ground down under George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan, or Carter. It starts in 2011. In 2009 and '10, we passed financial reform and health care. We repealed “Don't ask, don't tell.” We did women's pay equity. Go back to W. You got No Child Left Behind, the prescription drug program. Under Clinton, even when Republicans were impeaching him, he was still working on a budget deal.

R: What will break the fever?

BF: If the Republicans lose badly in '16. The Democrats take back the Senate, win the presidency, and make gains in the HouseUsually when a party goes far to the extreme, as the Republicans did in '64 with Goldwater, or the Democrats in '72 with McGovern-they're punished at the polls. What was unique in 2010 was Republicans went to the right, but so did the country. It was anger over the things we had to do to respond to the financial crisis. So the Republicans didn't get penalized.

R: Which '16 Republican candidate would worry you most?

BF: Chris Christie maybe, although that bridge scandal was bad. But he'll have terrible trouble getting the nomination, because there's this perception of him being more moderate.

R: More so than Jeb Bush?

BF: If I thought Bush, I would have told you Bush.

R: He's articulate and thoughtful, and from an important state electorally.

BF: And he's a Bush. And his brother went out very unpopular. There's a sense of establishmentism. Christie conveys a sense of being an outsider.

R: If Hillary doesn't run, would Senator Warren be interested?

BF: Of course she'd be. Who's got an ambition in life to be a Triple-A shortstop?

OBAMA

R: You've praised Obama at times, even though you initially supported Clinton in 2008. What are the lessons from his presidency?

BF: He misunderstood partisanship in its best sense. I was worried when he said in 2008 he was going to be post-partisan, It gave me post-partisan depressionHis mistake was to think you can talk your way out of things and undervalue the reality of genuine disagreement. You win the right to cooperate only by being tough to start with. He skipped that part.

R: Is his failure related to race?

BF: Obviously he got elected. And I don't think that's why Tea Party members of Congress were so bad. But the whole birther thing was clearly based on race. And by the way, any sense that race is not a big factor in America is totally refuted by Ebola. If Ebola had broken out in Israel or Ireland, rather than with black people in Africa, it would be treated very differently here.

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008

R: In prior financial epochs like Enron and the S&Ls, people went to jail. Why not this time?

BF: The abuses in many cases weren't yet illegal-ethically awful, but not illegal.

R: Was the Justice Department too timid?

BF: I think so. But liberals have to remember that an essential element of due process is you shouldn't be convicted on behavior that's ambiguously criminal. Part of it, though, was early on were worried about the fragility of the economy, and those other things-Enron, Tyco, World Com-didn't occur when the economy was on the brink.

R: Why would a fragile economy deter prosecutions?

BF: Because you'd make it more fragile by crashing institutions and high-level individuals.

R: Are you given insufficient credit for supporting free enterprise?

BF: I have a fundamental philosophical view, which is we have two systems in our democratic, capitalist society: private sector and public. In the private sector, the more money you have, the more influence you have. That's how a market economy works. If you work harder, you get more moneyAnd that's a good thing. the public sector is supposed to be one-person, one-vote. But weak campaign-finance laws allow you to buy more influence. You're supposed to be able to buy influence in the private sector, not in the public sector.

R: Don't people get the government they deserve?

BF: I agree absolutely. My formulation is this: politicians make a lot of mistakes, the press drives me crazy, and voters are no bargain, either. But part of the problem is unequal money.

R: What do you mean by “voters are no bargain, either”?

BF: It's interesting that the institution the public values the least is the one in which they have the greatest input in selecting: Congress.

PRESS PROBLEMS

R: If the press were so influential, wouldn't Paul Tsongas have been elected president in 1992?

BF: The press is very different today. It's a major contributing factor to pro-right-wing, anti-government feeling. Because even the liberal press is anti-government. Ever watched Jon Stewart say anything good about government?

R: He's part of the problem?

BF: Him and others. The effect is to tell people it doesn't make any difference who they vote for. I differentiate Bill Maher from Jon Stewart. Maher's very funny, but also has good and bad guys on the show. You say, “Oh, I agree more with this side than that side.” You come away from Stewart and especially Colbert, and say, “Oh, they're all assholes.”

R: Is your media critique that different than it would've been a generation ago?

BF: The most active people in society live in parallel media universes, which only reinforce what they believe. That's one reason we don't get compromise. Because when people who represent one faction try to compromise, they're told by supporters, “Why are you doing this?” If the response is, “We didn't have the votes,” you hear, “Of course you have the votes. Everybody I know is for it.”

R: Isn't there some good in how the Web makes information more accessible?

BF: Before the Internet, if you read something, except on a bathroom wall, people generally had to persuade somebody else that what they said had some plausibility. The Internet destroys that.

R: Shouldn't I expect my legislators to be smarter than to believe the echo chamber reflects reality?

BF: You missed the point entirely. You have the people who are going to vote for you overwhelmingly threatening not to vote for you if you compromise. If you think elected officials are entirely indifferent to their voters, you're wrong.

R: Might there not also be – God forbid I use the phrase-a “silent majority”?

BF: Not who vote in primaries.

R: Is your press critique an argument for greater press regulation?

BF: No. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

R: Say again?

BF: Who will guard the guardians?

R: What do journalists not ask you that they should?

BF: Good question. There's this misperception about who did what during the financial crisis, and particularly the irony that it was conservatives pushing for subprime loans. The liberals were trying to regulate them! There's been this great historical effort by conservatives to suggest otherwise.

R: Trying to turn you into the bad guy?

BF: Yeah. In 2007 a Wall Street Journal attacked me because we had a bill to restrict subprime loans. They said, “Don't you want poor people to have homes? These loans are wonderful-80 percent of them are paying off.” That's not a very good percentage.

PRIVACY IN PUBLIC

R: Is it fair game for journalists to speculate about the sexual orientation of public figures?

BF: There's a right to privacy, not a right to hypocrisy. If you're gay and you're voting for anti-gay stuff, then you should be outed. Let me ask you this: If the leader of the right-to-life movement got his daughter an abortion, would you publish that?

R: I'd have trouble. Because it's the daughter's privacy.

BF: If [gun-control advocate] Sarah Brady had an Uzi, would you report it?

R: Yes. That's not within the zone of privacy.

BF: Why not?

R: It's not about health, sexuality, finances, religion, and so forth.

BF: Here's the deal: Nobody thinks there's a zone of privacy as to whether or not you're heterosexual.

R: So if someone is gay that's not in a zone of privacy that journalism ought to respect?

BF: I didn't say you would go out [a public official]. I said it would be a good thing if he did it.

'TOO HARD ON PEOPLE'

R: What do you know now that you wished you'd known 30 or 40 years ago?

BF: I didn't fully understand how to integrate a democratic society with a capitalist system. I also wish I had a better sense I could be too hard on people. I've gotten a little gentler-being less explicit when I thought something was incredibly stupid.

R: Do those amount to regrets?

BF: Most people tell me that a lot changed when I fully came out in '87. If you muffle your sexuality and try to have your career make up for it, I believe that infects your career.

Lee Zeldin becomes Congress’ sole Jewish Republican as GOP retakes Senate


Results late Tuesday showed Republicans winning control of the United States Senate as well as wins for fresh faces with close Jewish and pro-Israel ties.

In Long Island, Lee Zeldin, a state senator, was set to become the sole Jewish Republican in Congress, ending a short drought that commenced with the defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor in the Republican primary in June.

As of 11:45 pm eastern time Tuesday, Republicans were projected to pick up seven Senate seats, one more than the six they need to win control of the upper chamber. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader who handily beat back a challenge from Alison Lundergan Grimes, spoke in his victory speech as if he was ready to lead the Senate.

“Friends, this experiment in big government has lasted long enough,” he said, alluding to Republican claims that President Obama overreached with his signature health care reform. “It is time to go in a new direction. It is time to turn this country around.”

As of late Tuesday, two other Jewish House candidates had come up short, while the two Jewish senators up for reelection both kept their seats.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) lost to Robert Dold in Illinois’ 10th after serving just one term in Congress. And in Colorado, Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff failed in his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Mike Coffman

In Minnesota, Sen. Al Franken defeated Republican Mike McFadden to win a second term. And in Hawaii, Brian Schatz defeated Republican Cam Cavasso to hold the seat he was appointed to when Daniel Inouye died in 2012.

In New York’s 3rd district, Zeldin defeated Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop. Zeldin had campaigned in part by saying he would revive the Jewish GOP presence in Congress after Cantor’s defeat. Dave Brat, the Tea Party candidate who defeated Cantor, also won the general election Tuesday.

Jack Moline, who directs the National Jewish Democratic Council, said the Democratic defeats in the sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency demonstrated a frustration with gridlock.

“Results produce results,” Moline told JTA. “For whatever reason, and I would attribute it to the obstinacy of Republicans in Congress, the president hasn’t been able to accomplish what he wants to accomplish.”

Matthew Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, agreed that the election was a referendum on Obama’s inability to get results.

“The Republicans have made significant gains and the American people have clearly spoken and clearly want a different direction for the country.” he said.

Brooks predicted early action on Iran in the next congressional session. The current majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), has been able to head off GOP bids to intensify sanctions against the Islamic Republic, which the Obama administration opposes while negotiations are underway to reach a long-term deal over the country’s nuclear program.

“Obama is going to have real tsuris because he won’t have Harry Reid to block and tackle for him,” Brooks said, using the Yiddish word for “troubles.”

Brooks’ RJC congratulated the national party and noted its own role in bringing about the gains.

“Our members contributed and raised millions of dollars for campaigns around the country,” its statement said. The RJC political action committee “made significant contributions to critical races,” it said. “And our grassroots events energized our members to participate in get-out-the-vote efforts.”

Moline also faulted Democrats and his own organization for ignoring Jewish voters in key states, including Georgia and Virginia. In Virginia, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) faced an unexpectedly strong challenge from Ed Gillespie. In Georgia, Michelle Nunn, the daughter of the long-serving Democratic senator Sam Nunn, was defeated by Republican David Perdue.

“There are more Jewish voters in Georgia than in Michigan,” Moline said. “There was a tremendous effort to turn out Latinos and African Americans, but very little effort for Jewish voters.”

There were some wins for candidates with unusual Jewish community ties. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), named by the state’s governor to the seat in 2013 after Jim DeMint retired, was elected outright, remaining the only African American Republican in the Senate. He is close to Nick Muzin, an Orthodox Jew who formerly served as his chief of staff and who now advises Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) a likely candidate for the GOP presidential nod in 2016.

In New Jersey, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), elected in a special election last year after Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) died, won his first six-year term outright. Booker, an African American who headed a Jewish studies group when he studied at Oxford University, remains close to the New Jersey Jewish community.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats scored a rare win, picking up the governor’s mansion. Tom Wolf, the victor, is close to the small Jewish community in his native York, Pa. and is a major contributor to the local Jewish community center.

Obama takes on critics of Iran nuclear deal


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

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

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

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

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

To his critics, Obama was especially direct.

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

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

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

Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Tim Dobbyn

Mitt Romney, John Thune make pitch to Jewish Republicans at RJC bash


At the Republican Jewish Coalition’s winter leadership retreat here, it was the absence of certain likely candidates for president that had the crowd most excited.

While names like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann generate enthusiasm at some other conservative gatherings, their absence over the weekend here had the Jewish crowd giddy that ahead of the 2012 race, the Republican Party may be retreating from the divisive hyper-conservatives that have frustrated Jewish attraction to the party in recent years.

At this GOP gathering the heroes were probable presidential hopefuls who are likelier to sway Jews from their traditional Democratic home and toward Republican candidates with positions on issues like the economy and foreign policy.

Matt Brooks, RJC’s executive director, told a questioner that the social issues that have driven Jews away from the Republican Party in the past—abortion, gay rights, church-state separation—were hardly registering now.

“Social issues get a large role in campaigns when there’s not a lot of other issues at the forefront,” he said. Instead, the issues now are America’s economic health and job loss, Brooks said. “That’s what will drive the narrative,” he said.

The economy—and foreign policy, particularly Israel—certainly were the issues driving the narrative at the RJC event.

The two likely candidates to address the audience in the open forum, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, wove both the economy and foreign policy into their challenges to President Obama, whom they and just about everyone else pledged to make a one-term president. Notably, neither man mentioned social issues.

Both lambasted Obama for what they said was the distance he had established between the United States and Israel, breaking with a tradition of decades of closeness.

Romney said Obama’s attempt to appear evenhanded in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations led him to “castigate Israel while having nothing to say about thousands of rockets being launched into Israel.”

The Obama administration has condemned Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, although its tense exchanges with Netanyahu’s government over settlement building have received much greater attention in the Jewish community.

Thune said the Obama administration’s emphasis on settlements made it appear that they were the reason peace talks were not advancing while ignoring Arab recalcitrance and the Iranian nuclear threat.

“America’s ally is now and always will be the State of Israel,” he said. “I think the Obama administration sometimes forgets that fundamental fact.”

Thune has said he is not running, but his supporters will not count him out and his appearance at this event and others like it fuels speculation that he may return to the race. Dan Lederman, a Jewish state senator from South Dakota, joked that he had already reserved the VP spot on the Thune ticket.

Romney seemed transformed from his failed 2008 bid for the GOP nomination, when he was faulted for appearing scripted and uncertain in his opinions. He barely consulted a single sheet of notes, and spoke in detail not only on his strengths—health care and budget management—but about the threats facing Israel from Iran and about the peace process.

He subtly cast what he undoubtedly will play as his strength—business and executive experience—into every topic. Obama, he said, does not understand negotiations, a lacking that led him to concede too much at the outset to the Russians in negotiating a missile drawdown in Europe.

“He could have gotten a commitment on their part, ‘We will not veto crippling sanctions on Iran,’ ” a reference to the Republican critique that U.N. sanctions approved last year on Iran were not sufficiently far-reaching. Instead, Romney said, Obama made it clear from the outset that he was willing to end missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic, a key Russian demand.

“The consequence of not understanding negotiations has been extraordinarily difficult,” Romney said.

Romney was relaxed and jokey. Insisting that the tax cuts he would advocate targeted the middle class, he said, “I’m not looking for ways to make rich people richer”—and then added, glancing over at Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and RJC mainstay sitting in the front row, “Sorry Sheldon.”

He also had a practiced answer on health care, facing a vulnerability that has dogged him until now: The plan he championed in Massachusetts, which reduced emergency room-generated costs by mandating health care, was a model for the plan passed last year by Obama and which Republicans want to repeal.

“Romneycare” was good for Massachusetts, he said, but as president he would not impose it on all 50 states. Later he added, to laughter, addressing Obama: If the president truly modeled his plan on Romney’s, “Why didn’t you call me?”

One questioner asked Romney if, like Donald Trump—another putative GOP candidate—he would fight “scrappy” and not behave as a “gentleman” as he had done in previous campaigns. The reference appeared to be to Trump’s adoption of arguments questioning Obama’s citizenship credentials. Romney was adamant he would not stoop to “innuendo” in a campaign.

The most telling moment in Romney’s appearance was when he called his wife, Ann, to the stage.

“Mitt and I can appreciate coming from another heritage,” she said, referring to their Mormon background. That “another” was a sign of the difficulties that minorities have in assimilating into a party that is still perceived as predominantly white and Christian.

The perception that “Republican and Jewish” is an anomaly continues to dog the RJC, despite its successes, including upping the Jewish Republican vote from barely 20 percent in 2008 to more than 30 percent in November’s midterms. Much was made of a show of hands of first-timers at the confab—about a third of the room—and speaker after speaker urged them to bring in more friends and family.

The event was held at Adelson’s palatial Venetian casino hotel, much of it taking place on Shabbat. Observant Jews who attended rushed from services, prayer shawls over their shoulders to events during the day Saturday, dodging oblivious, skimpily dressed cocktail waitresses attending to the crowds. The catering was not kosher, although kosher food was available.

A few Orthodox Jews murmured dissatisfaction with the inconveniences, noting that they are the most Republican of the Jewish religious groups.

Overall, however, the mood was jubilant, with spirited defenses of Republican policies in hallway discussions greeted with effusive nodding, and with attendees relishing the chance to meet with party stars like Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the U.S. House of Representatives majority leader, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and with Danny Ayalon, the Israeli deputy foreign minister.

Muriel Weber, a delegate from Shaker Heights, Ohio, said a Republican candidate would be an easier sell among Jews in 2012 than in 2008.

“The country’s moved on,” she said. “The economy, our relationship with Israel—the world has become more difficult, scarier.”

Jewish groups adjusting agendas for new GOP-led Congress


Faced with a new Congress intent on slashing the U.S. federal budget, Jewish groups are trimming their agendas to hew to its contours.

On issues from Israel aid to the environment to elderly care, Jewish organizations are planning to promote priorities that would find favorable reception in the new Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives. The groups are trying to build alliances based on shared interests and recasting pitches for existing programs as Republican-friendly.

“Some parts of our agenda won’t have much traction in this new climate,” acknowledged Josh Protas, the Washington director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “We are looking for items that have bipartisan priorities.”

To be sure, Democrats still control the White House and the Senate, and many conservative initiatives will die in the Senate or by the stroke of a presidential veto. But the House, with its considerable oversight powers and its ability to stymie legislation, remains extremely important.

Protas says the JCPA, an umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, already has had meetings with staff members of the new House speaker, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio).

On domestic issues, many of the major Jewish organizations are devoted to policies that directly contradict Republican approaches. According to Protas, Boehner’s staffers told JCPA representatives that the best strategy for working around that is to cherry-pick the smaller issues within the broader agendas that could appeal to Republicans.

“We definitely got the sense that smaller, more focused legislation is what we’ll be seeing, so we’re trying to look at more discrete cases,” he said.

For example, on elderly care, a signature issue of the Jewish Federations of North America. The JFNA will seek to frame Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs, one of the jewels of the federation system, as a cost savings, according to William Daroff, director of the Jewish Federations’ Washington office.

NORCs have been pitched previously as appealing earmarks for lawmakers to insert into bills. But Republicans say they will eliminate earmarks, or discretionary spending by lawmakers; the Jewish Federations’ emphasis on cost-effectiveness is an attempt to hit a popular Republican note.

“Programs like NORC,” Daroff said, “shift governmental policy away from expensive institutionalized care to less expensive” programs.

Daroff invoked Republican talking points in explaining how the Jewish Federations would continue to seek funding for security for Jewish community institutions. Security funding, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in recent years, has given local law enforcement the power to decide exactly how the money is spent, not federal officials.

“It’s not a nameless, faceless bureaucrat in downtown Washington making a decision but someone in a community allocating funds to what a community feels its needs are,” he said.

Another strategy is to establish relationships with Republican Congress members based on mutual concerns, and then trying to make the lawmakers aware of what drives Jewish community concerns, said Mark Pelavin, the associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.

He cited international religious liberty issues, including the persecution of Christians around the world.

“You have to go member by member to find people’s interests,” he said.

Jewish organizations will continue to promote some issues even if the Republican-controlled Congress isn’t interested in them. Protas and Pelavin cited cuts in funding for the supplemental nutrition assistance program, or food stamps, as an area where their groups would push back against GOP cuts. Daroff mentioned plans by some fiscal conservatives to disburse funding for Medicaid and poverty assistance in bloc grants to states, which would dilute spending on programs for the disabled.

Israel funding is likely to remain steady, Capitol Hill sources said, although there are concerns about how the funding will take place given the Republicans’ interest in trimming foreign spending.

Some leading Republicans, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the new chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, say Congress could separate funding for Israel from overall foreign spending, allowing conservatives to maintain current levels for Israel while slashing foreign spending for countries they don’t see as friendly or programs they oppose.

The pro-Israel community sees such a proposal as disastrous, in part because it will make Israel a “special case” after years of efforts to make backing Israel a natural extension of foreign policy. That could engender resentment of Israel.

Correspondingly, the pro-Israel lobby sees foreign aid as a means to bolster support for the U.S.-Israel alliance in the international community. Pro-Israel groups in Washington often have taken the lead in lobbying for Israel-friendly countries in the past.

One proposal has been to make Israel funding a part of defense spending. Insiders say they have been reassured that Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, has no intention of giving up funding for Israel and the power it yields her.

It also remains unclear what Republicans mean when they say they plan on keeping funding for Israel steady. Israel and the United States are in the middle of a 10-year agreement that incrementally increases assistance year by year between 2007 and 2017, so that it averages $3 billion a year.

Does “keeping funding steady” mean maintaining the 2010 level of $2.775 billion, or keeping to the agreement and upping the amount to $3 billion this year?

Officials say the best asset available to Jewish organizations dealing with domestic and foreign policy is the grass roots—not the lobbyists in Washington, but the activists across the country who make appointments to see their lawmakers on home visits.

The lesson of the Tea Party, the grass-roots movement that propelled Republicans to retake the House, should not be lost on Jewish groups, says Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women, which will advocate this year for President Obama’s judicial nominees, pay equity and immigration reform, among other issues.

“The inside-the-Beltway strategy is to find our friends where we can, on a bipartisan basis,” she said. “But also to get the grass roots to speak out—that’s key, that’s what always turns the tide. If the Tea Party taught us nothing, it’s that getting folks to speak out and be persistently involved makes a difference.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

GOP pro-Israel propaganda: trick to disguise Republican failures


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dems hit back at GOP Israel ads


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circuit


The Reagan Library was the setting when more than 500 Jewish Republicans gathered to pay tribute to U.S. and Israeli armed forces.RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) set a powerful model of the necessity for firm resolve at this time of international crises.

Guests also heard from California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, Jewish Republican statewide candidate for insurance commissioner, and Tony Strickland, statewide candidate for controller.

After touring the library and taking photos on the impressive Air Force One at the musuem, guests enjoyed a kosher cocktail party and dinner.

Larry Greenfield, Republican Jewish Coalition’s California regional director, says what is motivating their membership is the quality of the conversation.”RJC members and guests consistently value an honest appraisal of the international situation and a realistic approach to a dangerous world that the Jewish community respects,” he said. “Support for a beleaguered Israel, concern about a UN that has broken its promises, and moral clarity about Islamo-Fascism all resonate with American Jews today.”

According to Greenfield, under RJC CA Chairman Joel Geiderman, the RJC would continue to focus on supporting Jewish college students and the need for “fair play.” The RJC has been working with other Jewish groups to confront anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism at universities.

“We have begun to mature as a Jewish political community. Those in attendance included current White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, past and present Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke; and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

“Many thoughtful Jewish Republicans are making a strong contribution rooted in Jewish values, both as, and with senior access to, American policymakers,” Greenfield said.

The Great Statesmen

Van Nuys High School American government students enjoyed an informative Q-and-A with Stanley Sheinbaum and Mike Farrell on June 8. The event, titled “14th Amendment Equal Protection Under the Law,” was the first in a series of discussions produced by California Safe Schools.

The two celebrated statesmen in the social justice community have been recognized for their humanitarian efforts: Sheinbaum for the protection of constitutional rights, education, public justice, human rights and international peace efforts; Farrell for his opposition to the death penalty and children’s rights. Farrell is also well-known for his portrayals of B.J. Hunnicutt on the long-running series “M*A*S*H” and as veterinarian Dr. James Hansen on the NBC drama “Providence.”

“It was inspiring to see the students so well versed in national, international and environmental issues. We look forward to replicating these programs for other students throughout the State and Country,” said Robina Suwol, executive director of California Safe Schools.

Both men were honored at the event with the California Safe Schools Humanitarian Award for their decades of service. The office of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) joined in the celebration presenting additional awards to each. The event as moderated by David Allgood, Southern California director of the state’s League of Conservation Voters.

Fond of the New Rabbi

Native Angeleno Rabbi Devora Fond became the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia in July, following her recent ordination by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ). Fond received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Santa Cruz in 1991, and a master’s degree in rabbinic studies from the UJ in 2002. She has served in a variety of capacities, including hospital chaplain at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, rabbinic intern at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley and educator and rabbinic intern at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.

Fond feels called to serve God by helping Jews connect with themselves, others, God and Torah, and through working with people of all faiths to make this world a better place. Fond says she is enthusiastic about having the opportunity to build relationships with the people in her community: to touch other people’s lives and be touched by others. She is committed to reaching out to new members, leading spiritually meaningful and innovative services, and making Judaism come alive through creative programming and thought-provoking teaching.

All About Ethics

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo nominated Helen Zukin, a lawyer in private practice and an active member of the State Bar of California, to the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

“Helen’s skill as a lawyer and commitment to the highest ethical standards will be tremendous assets to the Ethics Commission,” Delgadillo said. “Her counsel and insight will serve the Commission well as it takes up the challenge of interpreting and implementing changes to our campaign finance laws, as well as maintain its critical role as city watchdog.”

Zukin, who also serves as a temporary judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, served on the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for nearly a decade. She has a long history of community and professional involvement, including membership on the Board of Governors for the Consumer Attorney’s Association of Los Angeles and as a trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation.

A civil litigator, Zukin’s practice has an emphasis on toxic torts, product liability and environmental property damage.

In addition to the city attorney, the mayor, controller, city council president and council president pro-tem each nominate one member to the five-member Ethics Commission. Commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, and are subject to review by the City Council’s Rules and Elections Committee, and to confirmation by the full L.A. City Council.

The commission was established in 1990 as part of a comprehensive package of local government ethics and campaign finance laws.

Gay Marriage Ban Could Alienate Jews


It’s a familiar calculus in the relationship between the Jewish community and the Bush administration: a social issue that divides the country 50-50 has the Jewish community split 75-25 against where President Bush stands.

On Monday, Bush strongly endorsed the federal marriage amendment to the U.S. constitution, which would effectively ban gay marriage.

“Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization, and it should not be redefined by activist judges,” Bush said after meeting with supporters of the constitutional amendment. He was referring to the 2004 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages.

The bill, which was likely to be considered by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, has virtually no chance of passing. Constitutional amendments need 67 of the 100 Senate votes to pass, and no one anticipates the vote breaking 55.

That makes it a win-win for Bush in his effort to keep evangelical conservatives on board ahead of the November midterm congressional elections. The reasoning is that the amendment will still resonate with the GOP’s conservative base five months from now, but will likely have disappeared from the memories of Republican-leaning social moderates.

However, Jewish Republicans, who have been trying to lure Jews away from their solid 3-to-1 support for Democrats, might have been dealt a blow, at least according to the amendment’s opponents.

“It’s unclear to me how the Republican Party will gain ground in the Jewish community by bringing forth a centerpiece of the religious right’s agenda,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “For a large section of the Jewish community, this is an issue of fundamental rights and they will be watching closely to see how their senators vote.”

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements oppose the amendment. On Tuesday, the Conservative movement’s leadership joined in the opposition, in a statement that referred to a 2003 United Synagogue resolution opposing any such discrimination. Also in opposition are major Jewish civil liberties groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

The National Council of Jewish Women has taken a lead in opposing the legislation, organizing clerical lobbying against it and leading an alliance of liberal Jewish groups in urging senators to vote it down. Orthodox groups, led by the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, support the amendment.

The most recent polling on the issue, by Gallup, found 50 percent of Americans in favor of the amendment and 47 percent opposed. A 2004 American Jewish Committee survey of American Jews found 24 percent in favor and 74 percent opposed.

Jewish supporters of the amendment suggested they would sell the amendment to the Jewish community as one that would guarantee religious freedoms.

Proponents of gay marriage were “pursuing a deliberate plan of litigation and political pressure which will not only redefine marriage, but will follow from that to threaten the first freedom enshrined in the First Amendment — religious liberty,” said Nathan Diament, the director of the Washington office of the Orthodox Union.

Diament, the only Jewish participant at the meeting with Bush on Monday, said the Massachusetts ruling already had a negative impact on religious freedom. He cited as example the state’s Roman Catholic Church decision to drop out of the adoption business because it would be required to consider gay couples as parents.

“They’re trying to impose their position on society at large,” he said of proponents of gay marriage. “How a society defines marriage affects everybody.”

That view had some backing from at least one Jewish civil rights group, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

Marc Stern, the AJCongress’ general counsel, cited the example of an Orthodox kosher caterer who could face a lawsuit for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding.

A successful compromise would “recognize the marriages in the context of a secular economy, for instance by not discriminating on domestic partner benefits, but it would not force people to act in areas they find morally reprehensible,” Stern said.

Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University law professor and an activist for gay rights, said such arguments had no place in the public arena.

“There are lots of ways in which a religious organization can run its business as it wishes,” Feldblum said. “Rabbis don’t have to perform a marriage that they don’t agree with, a religious organization does not have to allow lesbians as rabbis. The problem is when religious organizations are operating in the public arena, with lunch banks, day camps, shelters. Then it’s very difficult to allow a religious organization to go against the public policy of the state.”

Republican Jewish spokesmen turned down requests for comment, but the amendment was not likely to help their efforts to appeal to Jews on domestic issues.

The emphasis before the 2004 election on Bush’s friendship with Israel and his tough reputation on security issues failed to make much of a dent on the Jewish Republican vote, which crept up to between 23 percent and 25 percent from about 19 percent in 2000.

Since then, Jewish Republicans have learned the lesson of emphasizing foreign policy too much and have carefully calibrated a social message designed to appeal to younger Jews. In Jewish newspaper advertisements and in stump speeches, Bush’s pro-business record is pitched to Jewish voters who may be more fiscally conservative than their parents.

And spokesmen like party chairman Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish, bluntly acknowledge to Jews that the Democrats were on the right side of history when they backed civil rights in the 1960s; but they say that Bush has inherited that mantle with his efforts to promote democracy abroad and force education reforms at home.

The most prominent Jewish Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would vote against the amendment. He cited classic Republican small government philosophy: government “ought to be kept off our backs, out of our pocketbooks and out of our bedrooms,” Specter said, according to The New York Times.

Democrats said the marriage amendment would help cripple such efforts.

“The Republicans are saddled with an agenda that’s horrific to the vast majority of American Jews,” said Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Supporters of the amendment said they believed momentum was on their side. A similar effort in 2004 garnered just 48 Senate votes; this effort will top 50, they believe.

Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, said he believed all Americans would eventually internalize the amendment’s moral arguments.

“This battle will be won in stages,” he said. “It takes time for the nation to fully absorb the implications of allowing same-sex marriage and the effect it will have on traditional families.”

The Reform movement’s Pelavin said his impression was that time was on the side of opponents of the amendment.

“This isn’t a fight that we picked, this is a fight that the president and the Republican leadership have picked,” he said. “This is an issue of fairness.”

 

Community Briefs


Israel Travel Penalty Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MTA Driver Wins Discrimination Suit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish Mission Visits Chad

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

Not Just for Republicans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish Groups Lose on Three Judges


The Senate didn’t go nuclear this week, which was good news for those worried that a proposed rule changing barring filibusters on judicial nominations could produce congressional chaos. But the news wasn’t as good for the handful of Jewish groups that have been fighting against some of President George W. Bush’s conservative judicial nominees.

On May 23, 14 moderate Democrats and Republicans signed an agreement to invoke cloture, thereby ending filibusters, on three controversial Bush nominees: Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen.

In return, the 14 swing voters — seven from each party — agreed that “nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.”

And in light of that commitment, the group pledged to “oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress” threatened by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

What that means is that a handful of controversial nominees are likely to be approved quickly, but also that the so-called “nuclear option” of changing the Senate rules on the filibuster is being abandoned, at least for now, because there won’t be enough Republicans to support it.

Democrats and liberal Jewish groups hope this also means President Bush will start making more moderate appointments; groups on the religious right were incensed, charging Frist with a cave-in.

“Compromises are by their nature ugly creatures,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), which has opposed several nominees because of their records on civil rights, women’s rights and abortion rights. “But there’s one very big positive: It means the nuclear option is off the table. That is very important.”

But he conceded this means several nominees the RAC has opposed are likely to be confirmed.

“I don’t know how I could look at anything that paves the way for Owen, Brown and Pryor to get lifetime appointments as a victory,” he said.

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), which led the fight against anti-abortion rights judges, expressed similarly mixed feelings.

“Clearly we are extremely disappointed that this compromise could pave the way for the confirmation of three particularly egregious nominees,” NCJW President Phyllis Snyder said in a statement. “However, we are gratified by the successful effort made by our grass roots who, united with like-minded Americans across the country, spoke out to preserve our system of checks and balances.”

NCJW Washington Director Sammie Moshenberg said that while the Democrats have abandoned the filibuster option regarding some specific judges, the agreement may have changed the politics of the debate over future judicial nominations.

“Before, there were maybe two Republicans moderate enough to go after on judicial nominations,” she said. “Now we have seven Republicans who have agreed to work in a bipartisan fashion. So we have at least the potential for approaching these lawmakers and working with them.”

 

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.

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."

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.

Turning GOP in O.C.


An emerging conservatism among Jews has rattled traditional Southern California partisan allegiances, and local Republicans are claiming a surge of new Jewish recruits. But in Orange County, one of the most conservative strongholds in the nation, party leaders say the migration has been going on for years.

“I think it has been rather consistent and ongoing for quite some time,” said Tom Fuentes, chairman of the O.C. Republican Party. “What I’ve seen is a philosophical motivation among practicing Jews involved with their faith finding a value compatibility with the values of the Republican Party.”

The conservative trend, as well the presence of Jewish Republicans on the ballot in the upcoming election, has energized the once-dormant local chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which has bloomed to 75 members.

“It sort of petered out over the last several years, but now it is thriving,” said Bobby Zemel, an RJC member from Anaheim. “I think recent events in the Middle East have really shaken American Jewry into understanding which party has the interest of Israel in mind. I think they are especially attracted to Jews in leadership within the Republican Party in Orange County.”

Zemel pointed to Adam Probolsky, a pollster from Costa Mesa who heads the 400 Club, the O.C. Republican Party’s largest fundraising arm. Zemel also cited his father, former Anaheim City Councilman Bob Zemel, who serves as the party’s second vice chairman and is currently seeking to reclaim his council seat, and Jon Fleischman, a deputy with the O.C. Sheriff’s Department and former executive director of the California Republican Party.

Taking exception to Zemel’s thesis is Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, a high-profile Democrat whose re-election race is of countywide interest because of Irvine’s role in reshaping the much-contested El Toro airport into a multiuse park complex.

Agran is running against a Republican, Mike House, and is campaigning on a slate with two other Jewish candidates. Agran said he did not “buy it for a minute” that Jews were leaders of the local Republican Party.

“I think this business about Jewish people in high positions in the Republican Party of Orange County is largely a myth,” said Agran, whose running mates for two city council seats are incumbent Beth Krom and Mitch Goldstone. “The fact of the matter is that Jews share progressive values that are most reflected in the Democratic Party and in independent thinking.” Agran said it was in a democratic spirit that neither his running mates’ religious affiliation nor his opponent’s became an issue in their races.

House is joined on the Republican ticket by Irvine City Council candidates Christina Shea, a former two-term mayor of Irvine, and Chuck DeVore, an aerospace executive.

DeVore, Goldstone, Krom and Shea are vying for two open seats, along with Libertarian candidate Linda Lee Grau.

Fuentes said Jewish Republican candidates in Orange County have benefited from the local support, especially Republican County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is running for a state Assembly seat. Spitzer, who leaves open a highly coveted seat, is expected to defeat his Democratic opponent, Bea Foster, a teacher from Santa Ana, mainly because of the highly Republican makeup of Assembly District 71 and his popularity in leading the defeat of El Toro.

Although the Republican Jewish Coalition has not formally endorsed Orange County candidates, it supports candidates along strict partisan lines. One candidate, however, seven-term Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), has posed a unique challenge to some Jewish Republicans.

Rohrabacher’s Jewish opponent, Gerrie Schipske, a Long Beach community college trustee and the Democratic nominee for the 46th Congressional District, has accused Rohrabacher of being “anti-Israel.” Rohrabacher, a senior member of the House International Relations Committee, could not be reached for comment, but a spokesman for Rohrabacher vehemently denied Schipske’s portrayal of the congressman.

Rohrabacher was one of only 21 House members to vote against the May 2002 resolution in support of Israel. According to the spokesman, however, this was a vote in support of President Bush, who was trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, not a vote against Israel.

“I count Dana as a friend,” said Probolsky. “He has voted very differently than what I hoped he would vote regarding Israel, but I think there are a whole lot of efforts by friends of his to try to get him to see a different perspective.”

Republican Revelry


They may be small in numbers, but Jewish Republicans were out in full force during Inauguration weekend, partying as George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee co-sponsored a reception Friday at L’Etoile, a kosher French restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C. RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks called the event an “insiders’ briefing.”

New White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and the editor of the Weekly Standard, William Kristol, addressed the audience, mostly donors to the RJC and similar organizations, as well as influential Jews in the Republican Party.

Brooks said it was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions about issues of concern to them: how active a role Bush would play in the Middle East peace process and how much interaction he would have with the Jewish community.

The atmosphere was light and jovial, as the speakers — including Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and former Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour — joked with the audience.

Outside the reception hall, Bruce Bialosky sat on a couch and spoke to old friends. A contributor to Republican causes, he said Republican Jews may be relatively few, but they still wield power.

“There’s enough people in there with enough money to assert their influence over George W. Bush, if that’s what they wanted,” Bialosky said, motioning to the ballroom. “Jews have a big influence on Republicans. Bush knows all of them.”
An accountant and real estate broker from Los Angeles, Bialosky said he hopes the younger generations of Jews realize they don’t have to be Democrats.

“The values of the Democratic Party have moved away from traditional Jewish values,” he said. “Individual responsibility is a basic precept of Judaism.”

Noah Doyle walked over to Bialosky with a plate full of food, and the two ate together.

Doyle, a 20-year-old Cornell University student from Long Island, said too many people simply assume Jews will vote Democratic.

“Most Jews are bipartisan,” Doyle said. “But they’re afraid of the Christian Coalition.”

That sentiment was repeated throughout the event. Republican Jews indeed seem weary of the Christian Coalition and its perceived grip on the GOP, but they also want to bring the Republican Party to the Jewish community and emphasize the party’s inclusiveness.

Steven Some, a lobbyist and chairman of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, said that many things about the Republican Party should appeal to Jews, such as the party’s economic views, stance on national defense and support for Israel. But the Jewish community is turned off by Republican positions on domestic issues like abortion, he acknowledged.

“The perception that the religious right has some hold on the Republican Party concerns me,” Some said.

Despite the political discussions, the focus of the weekend was on celebration. Guests rattled off long lists of receptions, events and balls they were attending.

Dale Robinowitz, a Dallas dentist who had come up from Texas for the weekend, called Bush “an old friend” and said she had high hopes for the next administration.

“I think he’s going to listen and he’s going to care,” she said.

Jewish Republicans Assess Bush


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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