Measure ‘R’ contains curious ‘reform’
On November’s ballot, tucked among the local measures affecting only Los Angeles, is curious Measure R, a plan by the Los Angeles City Council to provide each of the 15 council
members an extra $570,000 in pay, by my own estimate roughly $1.25 million in subsidized health care per person for life and an extra pension windfall per person worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Council President Eric Garcetti, as chair of the city Elections Committee, assigned the measure the letter “R” for “reform.” But critics — including retired Department of Neighborhood Empowerment chief Greg Nelson, city ethics commissioner and journalist Bill Boyarsky and the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times — call it something else: a sneaky way to loosen the accountability of our public officials.
And here’s the kicker: The “proof” that purports to demonstrate the measure’s effectiveness? It doesn’t exist.
On the ballot, Measure R will be described by proponents as a law that improves term limits and city ethics rules. Many voters will assume it’s a good idea, since it’s backed by the League of Women Voters and Chamber of Commerce.
In truth, Measure R wipes out the limit of eight years, allowing our existing crop of 15 council members — and all subsequent ones — to stay in office 12 years. (Voters can try ousting them earlier, but the history of such efforts is not encouraging.)
Measure R did not arise from citizens. In fact, polls show that Angelenos oppose efforts to soften term limits. Nor would voters seek to hand each of our current council members an additional $1 million to $2 million in pay and perks.
Only history will tell the tale of how Measure R really came to be. What is known, however, is this: It was proposed in vague outline by the chamber and league on a Friday. The council — which can take months just deciding the color of recycling bins — backed it the following Tuesday.
I’ve seen a lot of self-interested moves by politicians. One was the clever move in 1990 by the City Council, also peddled as “reform,” to forever tie their pay raises to those of Superior Court judges. As a result, every time overworked judges get a pay raise, so do the 15 council members. That’s why they earn $149,000, the highest-paid council members by far in a major U.S. city. (New York City, a far costlier place to live, pays its council members $90,000; San Francisco, another more expensive city in which to live, pays $91,000).
Although Measure R is touted as ethics reform, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Ethics Commissioner Boyarsky — who is also a columnist for The Jewish Journal — have said it actually helps lobbyists cover their tracks.
Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce board member Ron Gastelum defended Measure R to me, saying the chamber and league proposed it because “it takes a council member the entire first term to really learn the business of the city,” and council members start running for other offices during their second term.
According to Gastelum, “after closely examining all these factors, we had to conclude that an additional term is needed.”
Except no “examination” happened. In an interview, Gastelum told me that neither the chamber nor league studied the achievements of legislative bodies limited to eight years, vs. those with 12. Moreover, they did not contact other cities or regions, nor did they define what “effectiveness” is.
Over the summer, league past president Cindy O’Connor admitted to the Tarzana Neighborhood Council that the league set up Measure R as “a carrot and stick.”
The carrot, she said, was their claim of an ethics crackdown. The stick, she said, was the unpopular term limits extension which could never pass alone.
Nelson says, “Measure R is really horrifying, because if you are lobbyist and you work on a contingency and don’t get paid until the issue you’re working on is over, you don’t, under this ‘reform,’ have to report that you are lobbying on the issue. So they are invisible! This is what Boyarsky and Delgadillo found unconscionable.”
Boyarsky, who cannot criticize Measure R because he is on the Ethics Commission, has nevertheless voiced extreme displeasure that it arose from backroom dealing and waters down city ethics laws.
“When I found out it eases regulations on lobbyists, I started asking all these questions of our [commission] staff,” he told me. “But that was all I could do. I am prohibited from criticizing ballot measures. My only consolation is I believe it’s going to lose.”
Would the City Council be more effective given 12 years instead of eight?
Nelson, who spent decades as an aide to fiery former Councilman Joel Wachs, says no.
“I realized it didn’t matter how much time council members have in office, the day I got this call from the Los Angeles Times,” he told me. About 15 years ago, before term limits, the newspaper asked Nelson to name the most important things the council had achieved that year.
“I couldn’t think of a single thing to put on a list for them,” he recalls. “The lesson is, given more time, the council is no more effective and no more interested in the big issues. I saw it firsthand.”
Jewish Voters to Play Key Primary Role
In Democratic districts on Los Angeles’ Westside and in the Valley, next week’s primary will not only determine the Democratic winner but also the person who will almost certainly win in the fall’s general election. And Jewish voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, will play a key role in the outcome.
The local Jewish community has a relatively small percentage of genuine right-wingers. But otherwise, there’s a wide spectrum of opinion, from pro-labor liberals, such as Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), to moderate, pro-business Democrats like Bob Hertzberg and moderate Republicans like Steve Soboroff and Assemblyman Keith Richman of Granada Hills. Both Soboroff and Hertzberg did very well with Jewish voters when they ran for mayor in the 2001 and 2005 mayoral primaries.
Ideological division among Jews also plays out geographically, with Valley Jews generally more moderate than Westside Jews. The Daily News tends to reflect the moderate-to-conservative side, while the L.A. Weekly holds to the liberal corner, with the L.A. Times in the middle of this broad swath.
At the federal level, the ideological diversity among Jews and Jewish politicians is less overtly apparent much of the time. That’s because opposition to the highly partisan Bush administration has created unprecedented unity among Democrats. It is politically unsafe within the party to be too accommodating or friendly to this White House.
This has created problems for Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. No Democrat has been more worshipful of the Bush Iraq strategy, nor a more useful tool to the White House’s foreign policy propaganda. As a result, Lieberman, who is Jewish, now faces a strong primary challenge from Iraq War critic Ned Lamont.
An echo of Lieberman’s struggle has emerged here, in the 36th Congressional District, which includes Venice, Manhattan Beach and San Pedro. It’s represented by Jane Harman, another Jewish Democrat perceived as a foreign policy hawk. By no means as pro-Bush as Lieberman, Harman nonetheless outraged many Democrats by seeming to back the Bush domestic spying program. Now, she has a liberal Jewish opponent, Marci Winograd, in her heavily Democratic district.
The 36th once was a swing district, and Harman’s moderation was essential to her survival. Redistricting in 2002 has since made the 36th safely Democratic, making her liberal critics less forgiving.
As a result of these primary challenges, both Lieberman and Harman have been at pains to highlight their disagreements with Bush. Harman recently referred to the Bush administration as “lawless.” Adding to Harman’s woes is Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is considering bumping Harman from her senior post on the Intelligence Committee.
It helps both Harman and Lieberman that their challengers are underfunded and that the party establishment has rallied to each of these incumbents. For that matter, Jews are likely to understand better than other Democrats the cross-pressures on foreign policy, such as support for Israel, that frequently make Jewish Democrats more hawkish than might otherwise be true. Yet Lieberman’s egregious Fox News attacks on Democrats — as insufficiently supportive of Bush — seem likely to alienate even many natural backers, while Harman’s affinity for the viewpoints of the intelligence agencies also has introduced some doubt.
At the state level, Jewish voters will choose in the Democratic primary for governor between Steve Westly and Phil Angelides, neither of whom is Jewish. The more traditionally liberal Angelides, backed by most of the union and liberal blocs in the party, presents himself as the one leading Democrat who was opposed to Arnold Schwarzenegger when the governor was popular. He also defines himself as the person willing to call for higher taxes on the rich. The L.A. Times has endorsed Angelides. The L.A. Weekly’s endorsement has not been announced as of this writing.
Westly, endorsed by the Valley’s Daily News, says he is the moderate alternative on taxes and other issues and that he can best defeat the governor. Both are well regarded in the Jewish community as friends and as supporters of Israel. But, of course, so is Schwarzenegger.
Had this election been held last year, when Schwarzenegger seemed bent on destroying his own governorship with his turn to the right, any decent Democrat could have prevailed. This year, Schwarzenegger has begun to substantially rehabilitate himself with the center and even parts of the left.
An example is how he has mended fences with much of the education establishment. He had originally provoked the ire of educators and their unions when he reneged on an agreement to repay school funds he’d borrowed during an earlier budget cycle. But the harsh political fallout and the state’s improved tax revenues have prompted him to start redeeming his original promise.
This year’s budget includes a down payment on the school funds he had used for other purposes. He also has appointed Democrats to high posts. And he has fought with the Bush administration on some issues. He’s even started to work effectively with the Democratic Legislature, whose leaders will campaign at his side this fall for a bond measure to improve the state’s infrastructure. And he has stopped running his mouth as though his primary mission were to appease right-wing talk radio.
These are the kinds of moves that will appeal to moderate Jewish voters, who have long been willing to vote for moderate, pro-choice Republicans. This is troubling news for the winner of the Democratic primary.
What could still beat Schwarzenegger in the fall is a massive Democratic turnout in the congressional races that is aimed at crushing the Bush national agenda. Then, too, Schwarzenegger’s past attacks on Democrats and their values may have left some lingering animosity. The “governator” dug himself a deep hole last year, and he has not necessarily climbed all the way out.
The moderate-liberal split also plays a role in the campaign to replace Fran Pavley in the coastal 41st Assembly district. Barry Groveman, Julia Bromley, Lelly Hayes-Raitt, and Jonathan Levey are the main contenders. All are touting their progressive environmental credentials.
Groveman, the mayor of Calabasas, is the only one of the four who does not live in liberal Santa Monica. He has the backing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and centrist Santa Monica Councilman Bobby Shriver.
Groveman and Levey have dominated in fundraising, while Bromley, president of the Santa Monica school board, boasts endorsements from Pavley and popular state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles). Levey has won both the Times and the L.A. Weekly endoresements. Groveman received the Daily News endorsement.
Another race of local interest is the one to replace Paul Koretz in the 42nd Assembly District, which cuts across from Los Feliz through West Hollywood to the Westside and includes part of the Valley. One candidate, former L.A. City Councilman Mike Feuer, lost a close race to Rocky Delgadillo for city attorney in 2001. He’d previously served as executive director of Bet Tzedek. His rival, Abbe Land, is a former member of the West Hollywood City Council and former co-chief executive of the L.A. Free Clinic.
These two progressive and very formidable Jewish candidates cannot be easily separated by the liberal-moderate rubric. Feuer has won the backing of outgoing incumbent Koretz, as well as from both The Times and the L.A. Weekly. Land has endorsements from L.A. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and from Goldberg and Hertzberg. Both Feuer and Land have a host of labor endorsements. (In the interests of transparency, I should note that Feuer is a friend whose campaign I support.)
Then there are the Jewish incumbents who face no serious challenge. Preeminent among them are county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).
Yaroslavsky continues to work effectively, if often invisibly, in the mixture of power and obscurity that marks the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
Waxman has been an outspoken and highly effective critic of the Bush administration and may become a central player in national government should the Democrats win back control of the House. The vision of Waxman with subpoena power must keep White House aides up at night.
One Jewish Republican deserves comment. Assemblyman Richman is running for state treasurer in the primary. Richman, endorsed by the Daily News, has been a force in building bipartisan alliances in Sacramento and was popular enough in the Valley to lead the field in the campaign to become the Valley’s “mayor.” In that same 2002 election, Los Angeles’ voters defeated Valley secession.
Finally, it will be interesting to see how Jews respond to Proposition 82, the initiative to provide free preschool to all California children through a tax on the wealthiest Californians. Generally, Jewish voters are extremely supportive of any education measure, especially school bonds. Many progressive groups support Proposition 82. While the L.A. Chamber of Commerce also supports it, most of business is against it.
The Times has called for a “no” vote, arguing that there are more cost-effective ways to cover those who do not have access to preschool. The Daily News also is opposed. The L.A. Weekly favors Proposition 82.
Supporters contend that Proposition 82 may be the last best opportunity to reach the goal of universal preschool with standards. While Schwarzenegger opposes it, his ally and friend, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, is a big supporter. The measure is very close in the polls, and Jewish voters may play a key role in determining the result.
Once these primaries are over, the internal dynamics of the Jewish community’s politics will become less visible, at least until the next set of primaries. Of course, as November approaches, there will be talk about how many Jews might vote Republican. But given the unifying Democratic hostility to Bush, don’t bet on it.
Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.
Has the State Got a Proposition for You!
The wind grows colder, the days shorter and a 165-page, gray book of propositions arrives in everybody’s mailbox. Welcome to the election season — for Californians.
In national politics, California has been mostly ignored by both presidential candidates as a foregone conclusion. There is hardly a single close congressional race in the state. Between war in Iraq, violence in Israel and the swing states to the East, California is not on the agenda in Washington.
But to California voters, the one-inch-thick volume of propositions is a huge chance to reshape state government. Jewish leaders and activists are staking out their positions on a few of the 16 ballot initiatives.
Prop. 71, in particular, enjoys more open Jewish support than any other measure on the ballot this fall. It would authorize the state to sell $3 billion of bonds to finance research on embryonic stem cells, which could possibly help provide cures for such chronic diseases as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Jewish support for Prop. 71 includes Rabbi Janet Marder, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism; Rabbi David Ellenson, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion president; Hadassah; the Women’s Zionist Organization of America; and others.
“Jewish tradition strongly encourages scientific research, including the use of stem cells, to find new cures for diseases,” wrote the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which also supports Prop. 71, in its proposition policy statement. “If such cures were found, millions of lives could be saved, and health-care costs could be cut by billions of dollars.”
After pressure from religious conservatives several years ago, President Bush imposed strict limits on embryonic stem-cell research that uses federal dollars, requiring all work to be done on only a handful of existing cell lines and with only a trickle of funds. That prompted Californians to collect over a million signatures to put Prop. 71 on the ballot.
But interest must be paid on bonds, and the $3 billion Prop. 71 bonds could actually end up costing about $6 billion.
“I am a very strong supporter of stem-cell research, but I don’t think that issuing a $3 billion general obligation bond is a fiscally responsible measure at this point in time,” said Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills).
Supporters say that making California the world’s leader in stem-cell research would create jobs and tax revenue.
In other financial matters, Proposition 1A would greatly limit state power over local property taxes and force Sacramento to reimburse local governments anytime it imposes a new rule or regulation.
“If we funded state government properly, we wouldn’t have to guarantee this funding, but when budgets are in bad shape [the state] steals from local government,” said Howard Welinsky, former head of the Jewish Community Relations Committee and a longtime Democratic activist.
“Imagine yourself as the mayor of a city,” Welinsky said. “You don’t know on July 1 what your revenue is until the state finishes its budget deliberations — and sometimes they wait until August to figure this out. So how are you going to manage your resources?”
Welinsky called the state budget “woefully underfunded” due to low taxes (held over from the boom years of the 1990s) that Republicans have refused to raise.
Though Republicans say that Democrats’ runaway spending is actually to blame for the state’s budget problems, both parties are supporting Prop. 1A’s ban on the state’s grab of local funds. Some opposition to Prop. 1A has questioned whether local government spends money more responsibly than the state.
Several of the propositions on the ballot are directly related to California’s faltering health-care system. Prop. 63 would impose a 1 percent surcharge on state income taxes for those earning more than $1 million a year. That money would go directly to county mental health services.
Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), former head of the Jewish Community Relations Committee in Sacramento, is one of Prop. 63’s biggest supporters. He’s called it an opportunity to fix the broken promise California made to its counties in the 1960s, when the state emptied its mental health hospitals.
But why tax only the very wealthy?
“In a perfect word, or even a better world, this is not the way to fund government,” Steinberg told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Opponents say depending on such a narrow tax base to fund partly effective programs is too risky. But supporters point to the hundreds of thousands of Californians who are either homeless or in prison today, because they could not get the mental health services they needed.
Another health-care measure, Prop. 67 would add a 3 percent surcharge on telephone use — both land line and cellular — mainly to reimburse California hospitals for the care they provide to poor patients.
About 70 hospitals have closed in California over the past decade, including six in Los Angeles County, partly due to uninsured patients needing expensive emergency care.
“If a nearby emergency room closes, the extra time it takes for an ambulance to travel to a more remote facility could literally mean the difference between life and death,” the Progressive Jewish Alliance wrote.
Richman opposes Prop. 67, calling it a Band-Aid solution. “Half the hospitals in the state of California are losing money because of uncompensated care,” he said. “I think it’s critical that we address the fundamental issue of the uninsured.”
Richman, for his part, is most passionate about supporting Prop. 62, the “modified blanket” primary. It would change California’s electoral system so that only the top two vote-getters from a district in any election — House of Representatives, Assembly, State Senate, etc. — could run in the general election.
After a primary election, each party is currently guaranteed a spot for its own top vote-getter in the general election. Prop. 62 would change that by putting the emphasis on the top two candidates, regardless of party. That means a Democrat could run against another Democrat in the general election or a Republican against a Republican.
“It will result in representatives in both Sacramento and Washington who are more moderate and will work to solve problems with common sense solutions,” Richman told The Journal, adding that the power of the parties today pushes candidates to the ideological extremes.
However, opponents of Prop. 62 claim that it will simply allow independently wealthy candidates to buy political power. Under the current system, challenging an incumbent for either federal or state office is difficult, even with a slew of money, because there are so many other candidates that split the vote.
Under Prop. 62, though, a wealthy challenger who manages to place second in the primary would have no other competition to worry about except the incumbent and could bring all his money to bear in the run-up to the general election. Groups such as Common Cause oppose it, along with both major parties.
Other propositions on the ballot include Prop. 66, which would limit the “three strikes” law to violent crimes; Prop. 64, which would restrict lawyers’ abilities to sue corporations; and Props, 68 and 70, the Native American gambling initiatives.
“It’s always hard to say what’s a Jewish issue,” Welinsky said.
This November, California Jews can decide for themselves.
Proposition 71 will be among the issues discussed at “A Jewish Perspective on Stem Cell Research,” with leading rabbis and doctors, Oct. 19 at Temple Beth Am. Free. For more information, call (310) 652-7353.
Letters to the Editor
Words can elevate and words can destroy. There was a time when the Jewish community too glibly and carelessly disregarded words of accusation of sexual abuse against clergy. That was clearly wrong, and Gary Rosenblatt of The Jewish Week helped to correct that. The pendulum has now swung to the opposite extreme, as evidenced in Rosenblatt’s column “Unforgiven” (Oct. 1).
The column reports an allegation concerning a relationship from 25 years ago – when Rabbi Mordechai Gafni was 19 and 20 and not yet a rabbi – in a situation where he had no pastoral relationship with the person in question. Gafni has a completely different account of what happened, which was not clearly related in the article (including the fact that nothing even vaguely resembling sexual relations took place).
Furthermore, we can attest first hand that several years ago, Gafni made serious attempts to contact this woman in a therapeutically mediated context to clarify the huge gulf in their understandings of what happened and, if necessary, to apologize for any way in which she felt hurt. This offer was rejected and the decision was apparently made that the press was a more appropriate vehicle for conversation.
The story also reports unsubstantiated allegations that are 20 years old. The story critically omits the fact that Rabbi Kenneth Hain, a former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, along with a psychologist, investigated the charges and found them to be baseless, and fully cleared Gafni of any wrongdoing.
We have collectively looked at this issue again in the last six months and come to a similar conclusion. Further, Rabbi Gafni has long expressed his desire to meet with any of the parties who feel he has wronged them – even when he has a completely different account of the situation.
We, like Rosenblatt, have struggled with the question of what gravity to assign to persistent rumors. Our conclusion differs from that of Rosenblatt.
We have independently, over many years, spoken to virtually everyone who would speak to us who was directly involved in order to examine the accusations against Gafni. We have found them totally not convincing. Further, there is simply no evidence that Gafni’s public role constitutes a risk to Jewish women or to anyone for that matter.
We pray that this unfair scandalous moment will soon be forgotten and that Gafni will be able to free his spiritual energy and formidable intellect in order to help build Jewish consciousness and commitment.
Rabbi Saul J. Berman
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone
I would really like to know exactly what the purpose was of your article on Rabbi Mordechai Gafni. Is The Jewish Journal so hard up for something to write about that you find unsubstantiated rumors regarding events that happened 25 years ago newsworthy? That article was disgusting, and you should be ashamed of yourselves.
My husband and I both applaud Rabbi Eli Hersher for behaving like a true rabbi and not getting sucked into the gossip that has threatened destroy the life of this great teacher (“Herscher: Gafni Still Welcome in L.A.,” Oct. 1). If Gafni were not as electric, dynamic and brilliant as he is, no one would be trying so hard to bring him down.
Until these crimes are proven, you are guilty of throwing gas on the fire. This article makes you look awful.
Does anyone else see the irony of being lectured to by Bill Boyarsky about the perils of being a single-issue voter (“Look Beyond Israel,” Oct. 1)?
Boyarsky is the ultimate single-issue voter. If you are a Democrat, he will vote for you. If you are a Republican, he will not. Period – end of story.
For Boyarsky, a fundamentalist Democrat, to decry the lack of open-mindedness and big-picture thinking takes a considerable amount of chutzpah. There are none so closed minded as he who believes in his own open-mindedness as a matter of faith.
Views on Bush
In his endorsement for the presidential election (“Why George W. Bush,” Sept. 17), Dan Cohen asks rhetorically, “Why George W. Bush”? Why, indeed. If Bush is so great for Israel and the Jews, I have a few other “why” questions to ask:
Why has the situation in Israel during his presidency been the worst since the country’s founding in 1948?
Why is worldwide anti-Semitism at the highest level since Hitler dominated half of Europe?
Why has the United States gone from being an object of universal empathy and support after Sept. 11 to the most despised and distrusted nation on earth, severely compromising our ability to serve as a champion for Israel or any other complex cause?
Why does Bush continue to coddle and shield from scrutiny his good friend Saudi Arabia, which is the fomenter and funder of worldwide Islamic radicalism and the country that attacked us on Sept. 11?
Why is Bush’s most loyal constituency, and the one he most panders to, the fundamentalist Christian right, a group whose entire world view is antithetical to the social, economic, religious, intellectual and cultural life of mainstream Judaism?
The Bush presidency has been a disaster for Israel, America and the world. Even if Kerry is elected, it will take at least two generations to reverse the damage that’s been done.
But the alternative – four more years without even the semblance of restraint in his misadventures from concern over re-election, and the prospect of two or three Supreme Court appointments to cement his homegrown version of Wahhabism – is too frightening to contemplate.
Dr. Wayne W. Grody
When it comes to the Jewish community, history will prove that George W. Bush is the absolute worst president. This president seems to think that by only advancing pro-Israel policies, then Jewish voters would or should flock to him.
Think again. President Bush is advancing a domestic agenda that should scare us. Religious freedom, privacy rights, reproductive rights and civil liberties are at stake in this election as the next president will appoint at least two Supreme Court justices.
Jeffrey L. Hoffer
Dan Cohen writes that Bush will promote economic growth by eliminating the “death tax.” In doing so, he participates in Bush’s tactic of deceiving and misleading the general public into believing that when the time comes for parents savings to be passed onto their heirs, thanks to him, they will be tax free. When the truth is that for 95 percent of the public, those savings are already tax free, and the further truth is that “death tax” is a contrived name for the estate tax, a name which points in the direction of the very wealthy 5 percent who are the only ones who will benefit if such a tax is eliminated.
That the president would knowingly deceive the general public for a self-serving purpose is shocking. That Cohen would knowingly go along with that deception casts a dark shadow over his article.
Ralph Nurnberger remarks about John Kerry’s 100 percent record of supporting Israel security, especially his remarks that he is in favor of Israel building the barrier (“Why John Kerry?” Sept. 17).
What about his remark to the Arab American Institute National Leadership Conference, where he criticized Israel for building the fence and said, “We do not need another barrier to peace?”
Can you still depend on a person who speaks from both sides of his mouth with different words?
Jews in Baseball
Seth Swirsky says that of all the Jews who have played professional baseball, only two, Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, are bona fide stars (“Friday Night Game Earns Green a Strike,” Oct. 1). Greenberg and Koufax are the only Jews elected to the player’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the game has had other bona fide Jewish stars.
I’ll spare you the bios and most of the stats, but had Cleveland Indians’ four-time All-Star/American League MVP Al Rosen not had career ending injuries after only seven American Leagues seasons, he’d be side-by-side with Koufax and Greenberg in the Hall of Fame. Then there’s Sid Gordon, Harry Danning, Buddy Myer, Kenny Koltzman, Goody Rosen, Larry Sherry, Cal Abrams, Morrie Arnovich and 1981 American League Cy Young Award-winner Steve Stone.
Founder, International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Netanya, Israel
Strikes a Chord
Ted Roberts’ first person article struck a chord with me (“Tale of Two Schools,” Sept. 3). Although I did not attend Vollentine School, my public school experience was much like his. Mr. Levine was my teacher, also.
I was the only girl in class of a dozen taunting, teasing boys. I did not experience the ruler, but many pinches on the cheeks.
It was Mr. Levine’s commitment and dedication that kept me coming, despite all that. He was determined to instill Yiddishkayt in each student, and he succeeded, and we knew that he loved every one of us.
Reva Weinberg Funk
My name is Carla Tanchum and was very surprised to see my name at the top of an article that I vaguely remember being interviewed for (“The Dangers of Apathy,” Oct. 1). As I continued to read, I was extremely upset to see that my comments were used to make a rather huge and incorrect statement about me.
While I recall making all the statements mentioned, I was never asked any questions specifically to do with voting. I will definitely be voting in this election. I feel that it is every American citizen’s obligation to do so.
The article stated that “what she doesn’t have time to do is vote.” How dare Ivri make an assumption like that based on my comments. If he had wanted to know if I was going to vote, he should have asked me, himself.
Editor’s Note: The line Ms. Tanchum refers to was added during the editorial process and was not written by Idan Ivri. We apologize for the error.
Opportunities Ahead — Maybe
Talk to Jewish Republicans these days and you hear a palpable sense of coming out of the wilderness.
After an agonizing eight years — with Bill Clinton in the White House and Jews snapping back to their traditional allegiance to the Democrats — things may be changing, they believe.
Since the heady days of Ronald Reagan, Jewish Republicans have routinely predicted their party was on the verge of dramatic gains among Jewish voters, only to be disappointed at the polls. This time those predictions could have more credence — but only if the party and their president don’t blow it.
Here are some factors that will determine whether the new Bush administration boosts Jewish Republicans’ fortunes — or just leads to more frustration and disappointment.
President George W. Bush and Compassionate
Bush is an attractive politician who talks the talk of moderation, inclusiveness and bipartisanship. His compassionate conservatism was an easily lampooned campaign slogan, but it could prove to be a compelling political asset for the Republicans — if voters see it creatively and assertively implemented.
That means working hard to make sure the focus on faith-based and private-sector solutions to social ills aren’t simply used as an excuse for cutting federal programs and casting recipients adrift.
Bush surprised many by suggesting a kind of school voucher clearly aimed at improving the education of those in the worst schools, not just giving government handouts to affluent private and parochial school parents. The Jewish community could be attracted to that kind of approach — if it continues.
His nomination as attorney general was a major blow to the image of inclusiveness and compassion Bush has tried to project.
Ashcroft, through his willingness to play the race- and gay-baiting card for political gain, has infuriated African Americans and gays; his conservative views on church-state issues have worried many Jews.
Ashcroft has promised to enforce even laws he does not favor.
If he rigorously lives up to that promise and makes genuine and sustained efforts to reach out to the minorities who were offended by his nomination, his presence in the administration will not preclude growing Jewish support for the Republicans.
But if he plays mostly to his former colleagues on the congressional right, he will do the GOP cause enormous harm with minorities and the centrist swing voters who ultimately decide elections.
The new Bush administration has said the right things about support for Israel’s security.
At the same time, it has indicated a determination not to become overinvolved, which will be welcome news to some pro-Israel forces.
A somewhat less involved, less intense president might be a relief after the hyperinvolved Bill Clinton; Bush, with his corporate CEO detachment, and Secretary of State Colin Powell, the competent military professional, might be just the ticket.
But American Jews are not likely to pat Bush on the back for simply walking away from the effort to bring peace to the Jewish state, an effort most still regard as vital.
And American Jews will judge him for the durability of his pro-Israel rhetoric when the next regional crisis comes along, and administration policymakers — many of them holdovers from the last, unfriendly Bush administration — are pulling in the opposite direction.
Administration advocates of inclusiveness and compassion will face stiff resistance from GOP congressional leaders who want to take advantage of their narrow control over both branches of government to push an ultra-conservative agenda on issues such as abortion, gun control, civil rights and school prayer.
If Bush cedes leadership to hardliners such as House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), he can kiss goodbye any Jewish shift to the GOP in 2002.
Attractive New Candidates
It’s time for the Jewish Republicans to take advantage of some of the new blood in the party.
The party boasts some attractive younger politicians — such as Rep. Eric Cantor, the new congressman from Richmond, Va. Cantor could serve as a prototype for new-style Jewish Republicans: unapologetically conservative on issues from gun control to homosexual rights, but also much better able to present those views without the bitterness and extremism Jews hear from the Christian right and their supporters in the party.
Style isn’t a substitute for policies Jews like — but without it as a launching pad, the Republicans have no chance at all.
There’s no question the Republican party would like to expand its political base, and many see Bush as the ideal leader to drive that change.
But it’s not clear if a Jewish community that has repeatedly spurned the Republicans figures into those plans.
Going after Hispanic or Asian American voters may be a much more attractive prospect to Republican leaders; both of these communities are less wedded to the Democratic party, and both may be turning more conservative as they become more prosperous.
And don’t forget Arab American and Muslim voters, who swung in the GOP direction on Nov. 7. Their domestic conservatism is a natural fit with the Republican party, a fact GOP leaders are working hard to exploit.
Jewish money still matters to GOP candidates, but the party is getting that anyway; it’s far from clear if the party has any serious intention of investing precious resources in reaching out to stubborn Jewish voters.
Alan David never gave his ballots a second thought after voting in dozens of presidential elections during the decades he lived in New York.
Then, after moving here two years ago, he voted in Palm Beach County for the first time last week.”I looked at the ballot and said, ‘What the heck is this?'” recalled David, who lives in the Century Village community of West Palm Beach. “I voted, but I don’t know what I voted. It was so confusing.”David isn’t the only Palm Beacher who left the polls on Election Day unsure if his vote helped or hurt his candidate, Al Gore.
Even before the polls closed, voters were flooding the state’s elections department with angry calls, demanding recounts and even re-votes as many realized they may have voted for the wrong candidate.Now, as the nation awaits the outcome of the legal wrangling and the vote recounts, residents of this heavily Jewish region of South Florida are not only questioning their vote, they are angry at the way they are being portrayed in the media as older, confused citizens.
Ed Lewis, who lives at the Aberdeen Golf and Country Club in Boynton Beach, said he carefully studied the sample ballot he received in the mail before the election and mapped out his votes. So he was shocked when he arrived at the voting booths and couldn’t understand the ballot.
“Even though I’m 66, I’m very bright,” he said. “I voted correctly, but I had to spend at least 20 seconds or more reading the ballot. There is no question in my mind there was a problem with the ballot.”The confusion for many stemmed from the way the ballot was structured, with the proximity of Gore’s name to the punch hole designated for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan apparently causing many Gore supporters to vote for Buchanan accidentally.
Sheila and Ed Levins of Boca Raton had volunteered to help run the polls at the Kings Point community in Delray Beach, where some of the worst confusion has been reported.
Sheila Levins said many people dissolved into tears after leaving the voting booths there.
“This was very upsetting. People started crying, saying, ‘I voted for Buchanan,'” she said. “I think it’s a terrible disgrace. Somebody has to stand up somewhere about this. I’m an optimist; I believe the truth will come out.”
Some people at Kings Point realized they had made a mistake and asked the site’s supervisor for help, Ed Levins said, adding that tempers flared when the supervisor told them there was nothing that could be done.”I really feel for these people. They find out they voted for the wrong person and nothing can be done,” he said.
“Quite a few of the older men who came to vote were so proud that they were wearing their medals and combat ribbons that they earned during World War II,” he said. “They were part of the group of people that Tom Brokaw called ‘Our Greatest Generation.’ To deny these men and women their vote is a great injustice.”
Adding insult to the injury, say many residents, is the unflattering media coverage that has focused on Palm Beach County voters, painting them as seniors too sunbaked and dim-witted to understand a simple ballot.”For the men who put their life on the line and for the women who worked the munitions factories building the ships, planes and tanks for their sons and husbands, to be made fun of and joked about by the media is embarrassing and a poor example for our young people,” Ed Levins said.
“As far as I am concerned, the people of Palm Beach County have brought to light the problems in using the present antiquated methods of voting. The over 19,000 discarded votes were comprised of people of all ages and races from every walk of life,” he added. “Hopefully, something constructive will be accomplished so that this will never happen again.”
Meanwhile, the nation waits for the courts to decide whether Palm Beach County will have to hold a re-vote before the next president is announced.
Democrats and Republicans are also closely monitoring the absentee ballots trickling into Florida from overseas, which, although traditionally coming from military members who favor Republicans, could swing Florida’s vote toward Al Gore because of the several thousand ballots requested by voters in Israel.But some here aren’t so sure if the confusion warrants a re-vote.
“I do not believe in rerunning the election,” said a senior at the Kaplan Jewish Community Center in West Palm Beach who asked not to be identified.
“I am for Gore, but I don’t think there is any indication of fraud,” the voter said. “I think people should have read the ballot better.”
Jewish Surprises on Election Day
Last week just didn’t go at all like the pundits and prognosticators predicted.
The presidential election proved to be the unwanted gift that keeps on giving – with recounts, lawsuits, accusations and frantic efforts by Florida to fend off charges that it is the newest tropical banana republic.Ironically, an election in which nobody expected the Jewish vote to be important turned out to hinge on handfuls of voters in one of the most Jewish counties in the nation.
The nation was stunned to see just how haphazard the mechanisms of democracy could be. And there were a few Jewish surprises, as well.
The biggest: the Lieberman factor.
Right up to the election, the prognosticators agreed: with Sen. Joe Lieberman on the Democratic ticket, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, would be lucky to equal his father’s dismal 1992 showing among Jewish voters.
But when the votes were counted, the Republican ticket got 20 percent of the Jewish vote – more than Sen. Bob Dole won for the Republicans in 1996, a lot better than the elder Bush’s 11 percent in 1992.That 20 percent came despite widespread Jewish excitement about Lieberman’s status as the first Jew on a major party ticket.
What happened? A lot of things.
The Jewish Republican core turned out to be a little bigger and a lot more solid than many observers predicted.
Some swing voters who might have voted Democratic because of the allure of the first ticket with a real live Jew may have been turned off by what that Jew said on the campaign trail.
Most Jews didn’t change their votes because Lieberman said he “respects” Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, but a few probably did. Ditto his offhanded comments about intermarriage.
Al Gore’s close identification with the Clinton administration’s Mideast policy was a plus for most Jews, who still regard this as the most pro-Israel administration ever. But a vocal majority insist that Clinton has pressured Israel into suicidal concessions at the peace table.
That may have tipped some ardently pro-Israel voters into the Bush column despite the presence of Lieberman, an unquestioned supporter of Israel, on the Democratic ticket.
The result: Bush’s Jewish vote, while hardly stellar, was significantly more than anybody predicted.That was all the more surprising because of the late emergence in the Bush campaign of controversial figures such as former Secretary of State James Baker lll, whose “bleep the Jews” comment during the first Bush administration still infuriates Jewish activists.
Jewish Republicans will tout Bush’s 20 percent as proof of a Jewish surge in their direction, but the reality is more like a trickle.
Still, it can’t be good news for Jewish Democrats that the GOP held steady with Jewish voters despite Joe Lieberman, who wore his Judaism on his sleeve and just about anywhere else he could put it.
Another surprise: the Arab American vote turned out to be a bust.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Michigan became a must-win battle ground for both candidates. Bush and Gore were in a dead heat in the electoral-vote-rich state, and the big Arab American and Muslim community was poised to tip the balance.
Both parties furiously courted those voters; both used surrogates to hint of shifts in U.S. Mideast policy, which Arab Americans see as hopelessly biased in favor of Israel.
So what happened?
Michigan went decidedly for Gore on Nov. 7, and the Arab American and Muslim votes turned out to be largely irrelevant. Those voters couldn’t even reelect the only Arab American in the Senate, Sen. Spencer Abraham, a well-financed Republican who lost his bid for a second term.
It was the befuddled Jews in Palm Beach, mistakenly voting for arch-nemesis Pat Buchanan, not Arab American grocers in Dearborn, who played the kingmaker role.
But don’t start uncorking the champagne just yet. In reality, the Arab and Muslim groups are just beginning their climb into the big-league political arena. And 2000 was a net plus for them.
Their numbers are growing at a rapid rate; in recent months they have effectively used the issue of Jerusalem to unify and galvanize a diverse community.
They are a genuine swing constituency, worth significant investments by both parties.
The Muslim groups, in particular, have been expanding their activism on issues such as abortion, homosexuality and aid to parochial schools, which has made them an attractive target for Republican leaders.
In the battle for clout, they are still far behind the Jews, lacking campaign finance clout and a national grass-roots infrastructure.
But these groups, which openly emulate their Jewish counterparts, are on the political ascent. The inroads they made this year provide a good base for growth; their expanding connection to the Republicans on core domestic issues is likely to flourish and may ultimately spill over into the foreign policy realm.
If their leaders act wisely, the Arab American and Muslim communities could become a counterforce in politics and government to a Jewish community that, up to now, has had the field pretty much to itself.
Meanwhile, Back in Florida…
While the nation watched and waited as the battle over the presidency continued to unfold, two old friends met in Florida last week to try to bring a resolution to the dispute over the ballots in West Palm Beach. Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills and his longtime colleague, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, spent the week after the election touring the state, attempting to bring together what they called the disenfranchised voters of Florida’s Black and Jewish communities.
The pair visited polling places, interviewed voters and organized a rally Sunday morning at Temple Israel of Greater Miami featuring Kweisi Mfume, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Ralph G. Neas, president of the progressive political organization People for the American Way.
“The crisis in Florida is a testing ground for how you would handle a national or international crisis,” Jackson told the crowd. “The moral issue is not who will be president. It is the integrity and sanctity of the vote that is the heart of this debate. Once again, sons and daughters of slavery and Holocaust survivors are bound together with a shared agenda, bound by their hopes and their fears about national public policy.”According to Jacobs, poll officials recognized the problem with the ballots before Election Day ended. At 5 p.m., a notice signed by Theresa LePore (whose ballot design is at the heart of the Palm Beach County dispute) was distributed to poll workers asking them to “please remind all voters coming in that they are to vote only for one presidential candidate and that they are to punch the hole next to the arrow next to the number next to the candidate they wish to vote for.”
Jacobs said that such measures prove the ballot had serious flaws.
“This is not matter of someone just being angry with how the election turned out. These are verifiable kinds of problems,” he said. “We were shown this piece of paper that was handed out to the officials running the polling places on election day, telling people to tell voters to vote for only one president. So you knew there were complaints all day long, but it was 5 o’clock before they had the word out.”
Since many voters involved in the dispute are Haitian immigrants, African Americans or elderly Jews, the team of Jackson and Jacobs are using the opportunity to unite Florida’s Black and Jewish communities. The two activists have often made the same attempt in other cities under a variety of circumstances, including Los Angeles following the riots in 1992.
“This is an alliance that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, when Jews and Blacks were being lynched over the right to vote,” Jacobs said. “Jews and Blacks together formed the NAACP. Then there was the civil rights movement, with Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, two Jews and a Black man, being murdered [while promoting a massive voter registration drive]. A vote meant that much to an individual. Since then, it seems we had become cynical about elections, but look how much we care!”
Some Jewish leaders, however, feel there is no legitimate reason to bring race or religion into the voting issue in Florida. David A. Lehrer, director of Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League, said he has been in touch with staffers at the Palm Beach office, and their report contradicts any allegations of discrimination.
“We have no evidence of anti-Semitic intent in the voting confusion in Palm Beach County,” stated Lehrer. “Our folks [in Palm Beach] see no motivation to disenfranchise Jews.”
Jacobs said he felt a re-vote in West Palm Beach would be a fair solution to the dispute. He declined to say who he believed would be the winner once all the state’s votes were in, but pointed out that assuming all absentee ballots from military personnel would go to Gov. Bush was inaccurate, since many minorities serve in the U.S. military who might be more inclined to vote for a Democrat.
“The bottom line is, this is not about Gore and not about Bush,” Jacobs said. “This is about the integrity of our democracy. There are masses of people out in the street, angry but peaceful. They want their votes to count. If Mr. Bush wins, he will win fairly and squarely, by the vote.”
In the end, the selection of the next president of the United States came down in many ways to voters in heavily Jewish South Florida.
And in a major twist, the votes that might have mattered most were the ones elderly Jews may have inadvertently cast for Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party candidate known for his anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements.
Florida’s 25 electoral votes hung in the balance throughout the night Tuesday, as both Al Gore and George W. Bush were declared Florida’s winner at different points during the night, only to have the state wind up as the ultimate wild card.
With both houses of Congress staying Republican for the next two years, many Jewish activists, who tend to push a more liberal agenda, were looking to the presidential election to give them some allies in the Washington power structure.
The outcome of the congressional races was disappointing to many Jewish groups, who worry that many of the legislative issues they were hoping to advance in the next Congress will have to wait at least another two years.
Particularly on domestic issues such as hate crimes legislation and gun control, the Jewish organizational agenda is likely to face the same hurdles they did in the 106th Congress.
At the center of it all were ballots in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, which have a large Jewish population.
Although Jews made up only 5 percent of Florida’s vote, a large bulk of the constituency was from that area, which includes many senior citizen communities.
“Those numbers we knew were very heavily Democratic,” said media consultant Matthew Dorf, who spent election night at Gore headquarters in Nashville. “They happen to also be the Jewish districts.”
Also needing to be counted were overseas absentee ballots, which will include Florida voters traveling abroad and those who live in Israel, as well as members of the military.
What could prove pivotal – and portends a legal battle – is a group of ballots that may have been inadvertently cast for Buchanan.
U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) told CNN that voters in Palm Beach County, a heavily Jewish area, were leaving the polling place crying because they had voted for Buchanan by accident.
Some voters were apparently confused because of the way the ballot was structured.
Ballots showed candidates on both sides of the ballot, in every-other-page order. So while Bush/Cheney was immediately followed by Gore/Lieberman on the left page, interjected between them was Buchanan.”There is no doubt that there was much confusion at Palm Beach County yesterday at the ballot box,” Wexler told CNN.
He said Buchanan received 3,000 votes in the county, compared to an average of 400 in other districts.It is unclear whether those votes were all Jews, or how many of those voters actually intended to vote for Gore, but with just hundreds of votes dividing the candidates, they could be significant.Wexler said he was unsure how the mistake could be resolved.
Voters who feel they selected the wrong candidate started deluging the local board of elections Tuesday afternoon, said Jeff Klein, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.
Klein said he himself used the paper ballot in question, and said it was easy to punch the hole for the wrong candidate.
“If you didn’t pay close attention, you could have easily” voted for Buchanan, Klein said, who added that Palm Beach County is the most Jewish county in the United States.
The irony of Buchanan siphoning off Gore votes did not escape Tammy Jacobson, who works at the Kaplan Jewish Community Center in West Palm Beach.
“I’m doubting myself,” she said Wednesday morning at a staff meeting that turned into a discussion about Jewish voters concerned about their vote.
“And what about the seniors? Some people said, ‘If you have questions, you should have asked.’ Well, I waited 25 minutes in line, and the people were sitting behind the desk taking your name – you didn’t feel there was anyone to ask. And if the seniors could get themselves to the polling station, do you think after that, they’re really going to grab someone and say, ‘Excuse me, I don’t understand?’ No!”
In addition, the sample ballot that was sent in the mail was laid out differently from the actual ballot.
It is feared that the confusion may have spread beyond the elderly. Rushed parents taking kids to school, third shift workers and others on tight morning or lunchtime schedules might have missed their intended candidate.
The effect is obvious to Lisa Stoch, another JCC employee who passed around a petition at the center calling for a re-vote.
“Buchanan didn’t even get 20,000 in the whole state of Florida, and he got 3,400 in Palm Beach County – something’s not right,” she said. “What percentage of that 3,400 were people that thought they were voting for Gore?”
Stoch rallied a meeting of Holocaust survivors early Wednesday, triumphantly announcing that “all of them have agreed to sign” the petition.
Meanwhile, concern surfaced Wednesday that a ballot box in heavily Jewish Fort Lauderdale had not been counted, adding to the confusion.
The significance of the Jewish vote in the state counters the prevailing logic before Election Day.With an assumption that the majority of Jews would be voting Democratic, as they traditionally do, both candidates were courting the Arab vote, seeing it as key to winning Michigan and the White House.In the end, Gore won Michigan handily Tuesday. The breakdown of the Arab vote was not immediately available.
“Any one group can claim they provided the margin of victory,” Dorf said. “Al Gore and Joe Lieberman made a very strong play for the Jewish vote in Florida.”
Lieberman had visited the Sunshine State so often, he had joked he felt like he was running for local elections.
Nationwide, Gore captured 79 percent of the Jewish vote, with 19 percent for Bush and 1 percent for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, according to Voter News Service.
Jews made up 4 percent of the voting bloc nationwide. Nader received 96,000 votes in the state.Many of the issues of concern to Jews will ultimately be decided by who controls the White House.The next president will inherit a troubled Middle East that could require new thinking after the collapse of the years-long peace process.
In addition, the next president may select as many as three Supreme Court justices over the next few years.Those justices could decide key cases regarding abortion rights, school vouchers, gay rights and issues relating to separation of church and state.
But Jewish activists are also concerned that Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress could place their agenda at the bottom of the priority pile.
With the Senate leaning toward an even split between Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday morning, the outcome would be affected by the outcome of the presidential race.
And the GOP held an advantage in both scenarios. A Bush victory would mean incoming Vice President Dick Cheney would hold the tie-breaking vote.
And if the Democrats win the White House, Joseph Lieberman would leave the Senate for the vice presidency, leaving the Republican governor of Connecticut to select a member of his party to replace him, breaking the tie.
For its part, the House of Representatives will remain in the hands of Republicans as well, by a very slim margin.
Several key allies of the Jewish community in Congress will leave, while a few new friendly faces will emerge in the 107th Congress, according to officials at Jewish organizations.
“You’re not getting massive changes in legislative programs because the majorities are too narrow,” said Ira Foreman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
But Matt Brooks, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, sees it differently.
“Congress is going to need to operate in a bipartisan fashion with the White House,” said “You’re going t
o see a very different climate in Washington now.”
Mark Stern, co-director of the American Jewish Congress’ legal department, said there may be efforts to bring issues of school prayer and vouchers to the congressional floor.
But Stern said issues of church and state separation will not show favoritism toward Christianity, as some American Jews feared.
Rather, Stern said there will be a “push toward insistence that religion get equal treatment as other ideologies.”
Jewish support for Gore high, but not extraordinary.
Despite a Jewish vice-presidential candidate, Democrat Al Gore only garnered a bit more support among Jews than President Bill Clinton received when he ran for reelection four years ago.According to exit polls compiled by Voter News Service, Gore and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) captured 79 percent of the Jewish vote, 1 percent more than Clinton in 1996 and 1 percent less than Clinton received in 1992.
But both times, Clinton faced not only a Republican candidate but independent Ross Perot, who got 9 percent of the Jewish vote in 1992 and 3 percent four years later.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush came away with a larger share of the Jewish vote than other Republican candidates have in recent elections.
Bush received 19 percent, compared to 16 percent in 1996 for Bob Dole and 11 percent for Bush’s father in 1992.
Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate who ran on the Green Party ticket, garnered 1 percent of the Jewish popular vote Tuesday.
Popular wisdom had predicted a larger share of the Jewish vote for Gore, given the traditional Jewish inclination to vote Democratic combined with the assumption that some Independent or Republican voters might switch parties to see a Jewish vice president.-By Matthew E. Berger, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Swing States of Mind
Finally good news has come for Al Gore.
The Arab American Political Action Committee this month endorsed George W. Bush. Last week, 20 other Michigan-based Arab organizations followed suit, including the Arab-American and Chaldean Leadership Council.
“Gore should take out billboards and announce what they’ve done,” veteran political analyst Joe Cerrell told me.The Gore-Bush election has boiled down to a fight for every swing voter in every swing state. Joe Lieberman is destined to visit every senior citizens complex in Florida. But the first Jewish vice-presidential candidate can’t be all things to all men (the gender most likely to vote for Bush). The focus this week is on Michigan, home to the nation’s largest Arab population. The Bush endorsement by the Arab American Political Action Committee (an organization based on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is aimed at the nation’s 3.6 million Arab voters.
That’s not all. On Sunday, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader reached out to the Arab contingent. Nader, who is first-generation Lebanese and speaks fluent Arabic, bolstered his double-digit Arab support by telling campaigners at the University of California’s Davis campus that Gore was not sufficiently neutral on Israel.
“If you want to really quell the violence, you say to the Israelis, ‘Back off, these rocks are not reaching the Israeli borders,'” he said.
“Great news!” said Cerrell, who advised Hubert Humphrey while facing a third-party attack from Eugene McCarthy. “This should be made common knowledge to every Jewish voter for Nader.”
Will these two Good News Bears be enough to raise the sleeping Gore? For that matter, will Gore understand that he’s slipping even in the must-win state of California? Cerrell is not a silent man. He and other advisors have reached out to Gore. “We sent him a wake-up call,” said Cerrell.
Will Gore get it? As it stands, Nader is a potential spoiler, pushing as many as eight states into the Bush column. Would Nader’s opinion on Israel be enough to bring back liberal supporters who believe in the consumer advocate?
Only a few months ago, we were jubilant, weren’t we? Scared, yes, but excited. Ready for the big time. The name “Lieberman” meant everything, promising to bring American Jews into the political center, with a White House room of our own. Talk about a shot in the arm for an American Jewish community experiencing a bout of complacency and political ennui! Having a vice-presidential candidate who worked in the civil rights movement, celebrates Shabbat and whose wife was a Holocaust survivor – what could be newer, better?
Now, faster than you can say Shemini Atzeret, the ebullience is gone. Much of the shadow comes from Israel. The prospect of a Sharon-Barak government casts the end of the Clinton era in a particular tragic pall. The rise of Arab American activists make it clear that never again will American support for Israel be so undiluted or unquestioned in our own country.
It’s true that Jews will vote for Gore, many of them just to give Lieberman a hand. But the truth is, this election is not about us. Or at least not only about us. Even a few years ago, it was possible to define an election outcome by the behavior of Jewish swing voters. This year, Latinos, gays, Catholics, females, African Americans don’t just swing, they wave. In the 2000 election, Jews are steadfast. Jews, fearful of pro-gun, school vouchers and the “no pray, no play” sentiment now sweeping up from the Texas governor’s home state, don’t swing at all.
The rise of an activist Arab American electorate is only the latest wake-up call to a Jewish community that took its activist status for granted. Cerrell reminded me that splinter group targeting is by now a venerable practice, dating back 50 years to the attempt to get Black voters to the polls. Discovering the concerns of voters is important, of course, and Jews, like many other groups, have gained a better view of themselves through the process. But if we have come to believe in ourselves as a repository of unique social values, we’re about to be shaken awake, too.
What a time to wake up, when the liberal social agenda is ripped to shreds, and Israel needs us most of all. How awful it would be to find that we speak for no one else but ourselves.
The American electorate is splintering, each ethnicity and interest group helplessly self-defining. That’s the danger, by the way, of the current fashionable talk by both candidates of allowing “faith-based institutions” to provide social services. Such policies would pit Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims against each other for a bit of the federal/state pie.
That’s also why this may be the last election in which presidential debates hold decisive interest for John Q. Voter. The illusion of common interests has gone literally gone down the tube. The three farcical presidential debates can be understood only as a response to a political system where fragmented group consciousness triumphs over national mission. Our candidates are intentionally bland in public, toadying behind the scenes.
The Israeli crisis is a high-stakes example of what a real debate about national destiny is like. Compared to Israel, our Nov. 7 election seem like Trivial Pursuit. While Israelis write to their American cousins about the perils of peace and war and the reemergence of terrorism, both Bush and Gore run away from controversy, trying to convince us that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them. Don’t believe them.
The atmosphere at Gore-Lieberman headquarters in Encino is grim. Bush, unlike his father and Bob Dole, has decided California is up for grabs. Mr. Cerrell, please resend that wake-up call.
Israel’s Mystery Man
The most talked-about, perhaps the most feared, figure in Israeli politics this holiday season is neither a statesman nor a rabble-rouser. He is Yitzhak Kedouri, a frail, mystical Iraqi-born rabbi, barely able to speak or to walk unaided, whose widely distributed kabbalistic amulets are credited with swaying thousands of underprivileged Sephardic Jewish voters.
With its tongue only slightly in cheek, Ha’aretz, the most secularist of Israeli daily newspapers, nominated him its Man of the Year. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu invited the white-bearded sage in the pillbox hat and flowing black gown to his office so that he could receive the rabbi’s Rosh Hashanah blessing. Former Foreign Minister David Levy, a veteran standard-bearer for North African immigrants, denounced him as a political stooge who was “dragging us back to the dark ages.”
In the 1996 elections, Kedouri instructed his devotees to vote Shas, the Sephardi Torah Guardians, for the Knesset and Netanyahu for prime minister. No one can measure his influence, but no one is underestimating it. Shas, the rising force in Israeli politics, won 10 seats, making it the third-largest party, behind Likud and Labor. Netanyahu defeated Labor’s Shimon Peres by less than 1 percent of the total vote.
Kedouri is, in the most literal sense, a mystery man. His exact age is unknown, though he is assumed to be about 100. In his youth, he was associated with Yeshivat Hamekubalim, a noted Jerusalem seminary specializing in the occult. Yet there is no record that he was ever ordained or that he distinguished himself as a scholar.
“Even with regard to kabbalists,” said Professor Menachem Friedman, a Bar-Ilan University expert on the fervently Orthodox world, “in the Jewish tradition, a man gains status because he wrote something, or because his students recorded his ideas. With Kedouri, there are no books and there are no students.”
David Levy attacked the rabbi after Shas helicoptered him into the ex-minister’s hometown, Beit She’an, to bless a candidate standing for mayor against Levy’s son, Jackie. With Ashkenazic politicians on the defensive against charges of patronizing the Sephardic Jews, perhaps only Levy could bell the cat and dare to question his lucidity.
“We are witnessing something surrealistic,” Levy told Israel Radio, “with rabbis being enlisted to do things that harm the unity of the people. This Rabbi Kedouri, with all due respect, I’m not sure if he even knows where he is living, the poor man. He is being abused. Does he know whom he is blessing? Does he know where he is being taken?”
In what was a challenge as much to Shas, his bitter rivals for the Sephardi constituency, as to the Kedouri cult, Levy went on: “The use being made of him takes us back to the dark ages, with people looking for good luck charms and attributing divine qualities to a human being. This has become a virtual industry, unfortunately based on superstition and leading us toward an abyss, blindness and near civil war. I firmly object to this cynical use of the innocent faith of people, especially the weak.”
A Moroccan “wonder” rabbi, “Baba Baruch” Abu Hatzeira, waded in behind Levy. “They’ve made Rabbi Kedouri into a circus,” he said, “just so that they can make money. Rabbi Kedouri is an elderly Jew who can’t tell right from left.”
Netanyahu, who knows a blessing when he sees one, sprang immediately to the rabbi’s defense. “I think the rabbi is so sober, so clever, so wise,” the prime minister said, “that it isn’t serious for me to even testify to it.”
The Shas leader, Aryeh Deri, celebrated Kedouri as “a holy man, who is completely clear-minded and very independent and cannot be influenced in any way.” He was, he added, “versed in every detail of daily and political life in Israel.”
Many Israelis remain to be convinced. In any case, both official chief rabbis, the Sephardi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and the Ashkenazi Yisrael Meir Lau, went on record against the “exaggerated and improper use of rabbis.”
In naming Kedouri its Man of the Year, Ha’aretz lamented what he tells us about Israel at the end of its first half-century.
“More than any other individual,” wrote the columnist Ran Kislev, “he symbolizes the process we are undergoing: the rise of ignorance, on the one hand, and the crumbling of the values associated with an enlightened society, on the other; the decline in the value of rational thinking in determining foreign policy and our way of life; the infiltration of religion not only into matters of personal status, but also into political life in the form of a caste of ayatollahs.”