Almost half of U.S. voters unaware of Sanders’ Jewishness


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders cannot capture a TV audience without being identified as Jewish, or as some tweeps see him as the “Jewish uncle from Brooklyn.” But it seems that despite the chatter, few Americans can identify the insurgent Democratic-Socialist candidate by his religion.

According to a poll conducted by Emerson College Polling Society over the weekend, only 23% of registered voters identify Sanders as Jewish, while 48% were not sure. 1.5 percent identify Sanders as a Muslim.

If elected, Sanders would be the first Jewish president. A Gallup poll released earlier this year showed that 91% of Americans would vote for a qualified presidential candidate who is Jewish.

In several appearances over the past few months, Sanders claimed that his Judaism in the post-Holocaust era has shaped his policial philosophy in a “very deep way.”

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important,” he said. Adding, “Historically, the Jewish people have been strong advocates fighting discrimination and fighting for social and economic justice.”

The Emerson College poll also shows that if Biden chooses not to jump into the 2016 race, Hillary Clinton’s lead over Sanders extends to 48 percent – 68% to 20%.

Spirit Up, Tally Down on Super Sunday


Leon Weinstin has spent much of his life fighting on behalf of the Jewish people.

In his late 20s, he participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis and somehow managed to escape a near-certain death. Later, he immigrated to the United States, opened a successful clothing manufacturing business and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to mostly Jewish charities, especially yeshivas.

The 95-year-old Weinstin volunteered his time Feb. 26 to call prospective donors on Super Sunday, the annual mega-fundraiser of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. In just two hours at Federation’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Weinstin, resplendent in a blue blazer, red tie and wool slacks, raised $15,000.

“I believe in tzedekeh. I believe in helping people,” said Weinstin, who has participated in 26 Super Sundays. “As long as I’m alive, I’m going to come to Super Sunday.”

Seated next to Weinstin, Beverly Hills resident Esther Brenner could hardly contain her excitement whenever she landed a contribution, big or small. The retired Hebrew school teacher seemed to become especially animated when lapsed donors ponied up.

“Hey,” she announced to nearby volunteers, a smile crossing her face. “I just got somebody to give $10 who hadn’t given since 1990.”

An estimated 1,700 volunteers working at three locations obtained pledges for about $4.4 million this Super Sunday, about $200,000 less than last year. Participants included young and old, the religious and non-religious, Israelis, Persians and Russians — a veritable rainbow of Southland Jews. Given the diversity of and interaction among the volunteers, Super Sunday seemed as much about building community as raising money.

“This gives everybody a chance to come out and make this community a better place,” Federation President John Fishel said. “Super Sunday’s a unifying event.”

It’s also an opportunity for politicians to show solidarity with Jewish voters. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss each dropped by the midtown Federation headquarters and the phone banks in West Hills. L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl both volunteered at headquarters. The third fundraising hub was the Torrance Marriott.

“I want to make some calls. Let’s do it!” said Weiss as he made his way to the phones at 6505 early Sunday morning.

The stakes were especially high this Super Sunday, because many of the Federation’s 22 beneficiary agencies have seen their government funding shrink. At a time when demand for its services have surged, Jewish Family Service, for example, has been unable to keep pace because of government cutbacks, said Jewish Family Service (JFS) Executive Director Paul Castro in an interview. The JFS Gramercy Place Shelter has lost about $180,000 in federal and state money over the past two years, a huge financial hit for the 57-bed homeless shelter.

Nationally, Super Sundays have proven so successful that, in recent years, many federations have added Super Mondays and Super Tuesdays to attract more volunteers and to increase the likelihood of reaching donors at home. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington even has a Super Week.

Participants caught up with one another at 6505 between calls, noshing on bagels and cream cheese, pastries and ice blended coffee drinks. Clusters of purple, red and white balloons decorated the main call center. Gummy bears and bottled water seemed within arm’s reach of most callers.

Anne Blank worked the morning shift. The Beverly Hills psychotherapist said she attended her first Super Sunday to pay homage to her late father, an active philanthropist in Jewish causes who passed away nearly two years ago at age 82. “He’d be thrilled I was here,” she said.

At the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, mothers and fathers came with young children to enjoy the family-friendly amenities, including a daycare center, a bounce house and inflatable slide. Teenagers dropped by with buddies to make calls and gossip.

Twelve-year-old Shani Mesica staffed the phones from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. By early afternoon, she had landed a $75 donation. Although she said the majority of callers reacted positively to her pitch, a couple told her they weren’t Jewish and demanded that she place them on a do-not-call list. Still, the seventh-grader at Kadima Hebrew Academy in West Hills said she planned to participate in Super Sunday again next year, even if her school waves its community-service requirement.

“It’s nice to help people who can’t afford to get flu shots or buy food for themselves,” said Mesica, amid the cacophony of voices that filled the gymnasium where volunteers seated at long tables made calls.

A contingent of 20 well-heeled members from El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana were among those staffing the phones at Milken. Many of them pitched fellow club members, who are expected by El Caballero to give 3 percent to 5 percent of their income to charity, said Donald Marks, a club member who personally raised $150,000 from fellow club goers. His pitch?

“I tell them that if Jews don’t give to Jews, who’s going to give?” said Marks, a 61-year-old industrial real estate developer. “We’re not talking about cancer or other catastrophic diseases. We’re talking about helping our Jewish brothers.”

 

Schwarzenegger Is Losing Jewish Vote


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

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

Chance given, chance blown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to reverse the decline?

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

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

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

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

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

 

When Jews Lose


 

The narrow defeat of mayoral candidate Robert Hertzberg marked a signal defeat not only for Los Angeles but for the future of Jewish influence in Los Angeles. For the second time in four years, Los Angeles voters turned down a smart, moderate Jewish candidate — last time it was Steve Soboroff — for people whose primary affiliations lie with other interests and ethnic groups.

As occurred in Soboroff’s loss, the deathblow to Hertzberg’s spirited campaign came from his fellow landsmen, less than half of whom bothered to support him. In contrast, African Americans rallied in larger percentages for City Councilman Bernard Parks, as did Latinos, clearly the city’s ascendant group, in their backing for City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Jewish rejection of Hertzberg is all the more puzzling since, unlike the Republican Soboroff, he is a well-known Democrat with moderately liberal credentials. Hertzberg’s pro-business stance and positions on critical issues, such as traffic and the schools, should also have won him broader support.

To a large extent, the explanation for this defection lies in a continued, and growing, divide between two distinct groups of Jewish voters. On the one side are the more middle-class Jews, concentrated in the San Fernando Valley, who are more likely to run local businesses and would like to be able to send their kids to public schools. These largely secularly oriented Jews, although mostly registered Democrats, joined the more Orthodox, particularly in places like Pico-Robertson, in backing Hertzberg.

Where Hertzberg failed was with another large bloc of Jewish voters, the very liberal, generally more affluent constituencies that cluster largely on the Westside. These people split their vote evenly between Hertzberg and liberal heartthrob Villaraigosa.

Hertzberg adviser David Abel traces this to the Westside elite’s lack of interest in local affairs.

“The [Westside] Jews are losing any connection to local government and think only on the national level,” Abel said.

Whatever the reasons, Hertzberg’s campaign failed to mobilize the Westside. Perhaps Hertzberg’s pledge to address the underperforming Los Angles Unified School District (LAUSD) — with its horrific near 50 percent dropout rate — was less critical since so few Westsiders now send their kids to public schools, particularly past the primary grades. The fact that it is someone else’s kids, such as children of their nannies, who have to be subjected to LAUSD, no doubt makes a difference.

Political consultant Arnold Steinberg points out that many of these same voters, and politicians, also backed busing, which has probably expelled more Jewish families from Los Angeles — and particularly the Valley — than anything outside the 1992 riots. Wealthy liberals often enjoy a special immunity from the consequences of their politics.

So given these trends, what is the future of Jewish political power and place in Los Angeles? In the short term, the chances of electing a Jewish mayor are fairly remote, given the divisions in the community, and the growing dominance of Los Angeles by Latino politicians and public employee unions. At the same time, the Jewish vote as a percent of the city electorate is decreasing — down to 14 percent from highs of more than 20 a decade ago — and likely to keep doing so, as more families opt out of the city to settle in places with better schools and often more welcoming business climates.

“The demographic trends are limiting the options for Jewish politicians,” Steinberg said. A Jewish mayor could still be elected someday in the future, he suggested, but probably only if the city founders further under Hahn or a future Villaraigosa administration. Perhaps it will take a woman to do this, like clean-government maven Laura Chick.

In the immediate future, however, Jewish power in Los Angeles will likely be largely as a “swing” group, whose major power is as much measured by campaign contributions as votes. Whatever the fantasies of some left-leaning Jews, there is little reason to expect a Villaraigosa administration would revive something like the old Bradley multiracial coalition by substituting Latinos for African Americans.

This is improbable because things have changed so much over the past 30 years. In the early 1970s, Los Angeles still had a strong right wing that Jews could oppose without embracing far-left politics. Today, the right is all but dead in Los Angeles. At the same time, a Villaraigosa administration would rest on a bedrock of Latino power, including many talented professionals and savvy labor activists, whose numbers suggest little need for “coalition building” on an equal footing with a fractured, increasingly indifferent and shrinking, minority.

Instead, I expect that most Jews, particularly those in the Valley and places like Pico-Robertson, will do as Jews have done for centuries. They will retreat into their families and private businesses, scrap together the shekels to send their kids to private school or leave Dodge entirely. They will survive, and even thrive as individuals, but will likely never again be a central source of political power within the confines of a city that we have done so much to shape.

Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the author of “The City: A Global History” to be published by next month by Modern Library.

 

The Westside Vote


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

L.A. Jewish GOP Parties, Dems Despair


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Finnigan and Tom Tugend contributed to this report.

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."

Coalition Lesson


Community activist Karen Bass’ victory in the 47th Assembly District’s Democratic primary provides a valuable opening for coalition efforts between the Jewish community and a new generation of African American and Latino activists.

Los Angeles has a long and distinguished history of biracial coalitions. Rooted in the 10th City Council District, then divided among African Americans, Jews and Asian Americans, the coalition behind Tom Bradley stormed the gates of City Hall.

Bradley was first elected to the City Council in 1963 and then to the mayoralty in 1973, a position he held for 20 years. The Los Angeles black-Jewish coalition became a national model for interracial politics and governance.

But the Bradley coalition has largely fallen by the wayside as the city’s politics have fragmented and as the leadership ties that sustained the coalition have atrophied. While promising efforts to build bridges between Jews and Latinos are beginning to bear fruit, they are still young.

The open 47th Assembly seat seemed likely to hurt rather than help intergroup coalitions. The 2001 redistricting had reshaped the district represented by former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson from a surefire black seat to one potentially contested between African Americans and whites.

The district was moved westward and northward and now includes such white liberal — and significantly Jewish — areas as Westwood, Cheviot Hills and Beverlywood. Whites represent 37.8 percent of the population; African Americans, 40.1 percent; Hispanics, 22.6 percent; and Asian Americans, 8.5 percent. The voting population, however, is more skewed toward blacks and whites.

With three strong black candidates — Bass, Rickey Ivie and Nate Holden — fragmentation of the black vote and intergroup conflict with whites seemed possible. A white candidate could have potentially won the race but without broad-based support in the district.

Bass took the creative way out of the box: She reached out to Latinos, organized labor and white voters, including Jews. The three black candidates received a combined 88 percent of the vote, with Bass drawing a near-majority 48 percent. Clearly, Bass received strong support both from African Americans and white voters. Out of possible conflict came something much more promising — potential bridges among African Americans, Latinos and Jews.

I was less surprised than I might otherwise have been, because of my knowledge of Bass’ previous work. I first met Bass about a decade ago. A federal agency had contracted with me to study how a particular organization in South Central Los Angeles managed to impact the alarming dispersion of liquor stores.

I visited the offices of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Training — later shortened, thankfully, to the Community Coalition — where I met Bass, the organization’s energetic director. She was working to prevent the rebuilding of some liquor stores that had been burned down during the violence of 1992. The office was brimming with energy, with young staff and volunteers, African American and Latino.

There was a serious conflict of interest between those who wanted the stores reduced in number and those whose livelihood depended on the stores staying open. In New York City, a similar conflict became highly racialized, as calls arose to "kick Koreans out" of inner-city communities.

By contrast, Bass’ dedication to keeping the conflict nonracial helped Los Angeles to keep the focus on the behavior of individual liquor stores and not on the ethnicity of the owners. Bass insisted that it did not matter who owned the stores, only how the stores were operated.

Because she and her organization stuck to that philosophy with such consistency, no traction could be created for an anti-Korean campaign.

I spoke with leaders of Korean American organizations who saw themselves under attack on the liquor store issue. Those I interviewed were very unhappy and resentful about the coalition’s pressure but recognized and appreciated that Bass kept the racial aspect to a minimum. Bass was also adamant about reaching out to Latinos in South Central Los Angeles and actively incorporated them in her organization’s activities.

Bass’ victory in the 47th Assembly District marks another new turn for the politics of urban Los Angeles. New participants — organized labor, Latinos, young minority activists — are reshaping the city’s traditional politics of black and white.

While African American candidates are likely to keep dominating the offices in Central, Mid-city and South Los Angeles for some time to come, their constituencies are shifting. The Jewish community should keep its eyes and ears open to these developments and look for new ways to connect to a promising, exciting and boundary-crossing politics of the next Los Angeles.


Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton, is the author of “Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles” (Princeton University Press, 1993). His article, “The Battle Over Liquor Stores in South Central Los Angeles: The Management of an Interminority Conflict,” appeared in the July 1996 issue of the Urban Affairs Quarterly.

Kerry Begins Jewish Outreach Effort


Now that he’s proven he’s electable, John Kerry is ready to tell Americans why he should be elected.

Only in recent days has the Massachusetts senator started to outline detailed policy positions. Some of these having to do with foreign policy and terrorism have been of particular interest to Jewish voters.

One measure of his new seriousness was a New York meeting Sunday with about 40 Jewish organizational leaders, where Kerry elaborated at great length on his Middle East policies.

All participants interviewed by JTA described the closed-door meeting as successful.

"It would be impossible for anyone to leave that meeting not impressed," said Hannah Rosenthal, the executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Until now, Kerry’s campaign says, the candidate has had little breathing room for such explanatory encounters because of the grueling primary schedule and because his energies were devoted to his come-from-behind triumphs.

The campaign has hired a Jewish coordinator for New York, Lisa Gertsman. But Cameron Kerry, the senator’s brother who converted to Judaism 20 years ago when he married a Jewish women, is key to the campaign’s Jewish outreach effort.

The Kerry brothers’ own Jewish background — their paternal grandparents were born Jewish in the former Austro-Hungarian empire — gained a further wrinkle over the weekend when an Austrian genealogist revealed that two Kerry relatives died in Nazi concentration camps.

Last week, the senator forcefully defended Israel’s right to build its West Bank security barrier after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed eight people in Jerusalem.

"Israel’s security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense," Kerry said, a salve to Jews who had been concerned after Kerry described the fence to an Arab American audience in the fall as a "barrier to peace."

Participants at Sunday’s meeting said the candidate went into unprecedented detail on how a Kerry presidency would deal with the Middle East.

"He was able to talk to the complexity," said Judith Stern Peck, president of the Israel Policy Forum, which promotes greater U.S. engagement in the region. "He knows Israel; he’s been going there for years."

Kerry displayed a wide-ranging command of the issues, participants said, addressing the failure of the Oslo accords, the collapse of accountable authority in the Palestinian Authority, the role of neighboring Arab regimes and demographic threats to Israel’s future as a Jewish State.

One feature of Kerry’s outlook was using U.S. leverage with Arab allies to end incitement and pressure the Palestinians into making peace.

"He painted a picture that a Kerry presidency would be more engaged" on Israeli-Palestinian peace, "and build on the relationships he has and would hold others accountable," Rosenthal said.

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said the meeting helped lay to rest a nagging concern — that relentless Democratic criticism of Bush’s foreign policy implied criticism of Bush’s closeness to Israel.

"He tried to exempt Israel from the critique of Bush’s foreign policy," Foxman said, saying Kerry agreed with administration policy on isolating Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, supporting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and on the security fence.

Kerry also implicitly backed away from earlier remarks touting former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker as potential envoys to the region.

This time, he named figures regarded as much more favorable to U.S. Jews, including former top Middle East envoy Dennis Ross and Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser.

Kerry said he would more aggressively pursue disarming Iran of its nuclear capability, saying the Bush administration has not done enough.

Republican strategists suggested that Kerry’s vulnerabilities in the Jewish community would have more to do with terrorism than with Israel.

"He hasn’t been strong in the defense functions of this country," former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, the chairman of Bush’s reelection campaign, said.

Some participants at the Jewish leadership meeting expressed disappointment that Kerry never got around to discussing domestic issues of concern to Jews.

"Surely the community’s fundamental value of taking care of the vulnerable populations should have been up there on top of the agenda," Rosenthal said.

Cameron Kerry said that he believed his brother — like his party — was in lockstep with U.S. Jews on domestic issues. Of particular concern, he said, was the Bush’s administration’s appointment of hard-line conservative judges to appeals courts.

Ultimately, Cameron Kerry said, his brother would continue to be his own best counsel.

"He’s somebody who really sifts through all sides, he likes to have the facts, he’s got an inquiring mind," he said. "He doesn’t accept ideas filtered for him. He tests, challenges, is a devil’s advocate, but in the end — once he’s made up his mind — it’s full speed ahead."

JTA staff writers Rachel Pomerance in New York and Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

How Will Saddam’s Capture Affect Vote?


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

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

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

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

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

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

So where does this tangle leave Jewish voters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Republican Redux: Jews Going Right?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of Sight, Out of Power?


The forced retirement of Gov. Gray Davis, and the shattering of the Democratic one-party government in California, marks a major turning point in the political evolution of the state’s Jews. For the first time in a decade, the state’s liberal Jewish elite finds itself widely outside the corridors of power.

In a sense, Davis represented the ultimate deal for the state’s Jewish establishment. A consummate insider, Davis understood the cynical use of money and power while continuing to mouth the favored liberal mantras that allow rich liberals to enjoy their wealth without guilt. Jews could feel that they not only could "buy" into Davis’ "pay-to-play" system, but, at the same time, pay homage to the old leftish traditions of the community.

Arnold Schwarzenegger represents a total shock to this cozy arrangement. Although he comes out of a heavily Jewish-dominated Hollywood, he himself has few ties to the institutional elites. His Jewish supporters, like those of another former actor, Ronald Reagan, are largely industry friends and co-workers. Like Reagan, a strong supporter of Israel and the cause of Holocaust remembrance, he is not the kind of bar mitzvah regular epitomized by the former governor.

Yet, unlike Reagan, Schwarzenegger comes to power in different times. Reagan, for all his pro-Jewish and pro-Israel sentiments, could not count on many Jewish votes. In contrast, the new governor emerges in an era when a larger share of the Jewish polity itself is shifting away from predictable liberal politics. Unlike African Americans who have, I believe, to their own detriment remained dutifully Democratic at all times, Jews have been wandering off the plantation with increasing rapidity.

In Los Angeles this was most evident in the strong majorities won by former Mayor Richard Riordan against Democratic opponents. It also was true in New York, the other great American center of Jewish life, where many Jews supported Republican Rudy Giuliani with considerable enthusiasm.

Schwarzenegger, as an Austrian son of a Nazi father, faced greater barriers then either of them, particularly after a seemingly gratuitous series of hits in the generally pro-Democratic Times, both the New York and Los Angeles varieties. Had Riordan, the affable Irishman, not Schwarzenegger, been on the ballot, it is entirely possible that upward of 50 percent of Jews might have supported him against establishment favorite Davis.

But even with these negatives, Schwarzenegger — and the far more conservative Tom McClintock — won roughly two in five Jewish votes. This is a far larger percentage than was enjoyed three years ago by George Bush, a candidate who never connected with a large number of Jewish voters, and the last GOP candidate, conservative ideologue Bill Simon.

Can Schwarzenegger build on his success and expand the GOP opening among Jews, and other traditional Democratic groups, most notably Latinos? This may prove one of the key political tests of his administration. There is reason for him to do well, at least with the monied elite, many of whom have historically backed Davis but may be more comfortable with the pro-business approach advocated by the actor.

Some, such as the ubiquitous Eli Broad, have already landed on the new governor’s transition team. Rich people can often not only buy power and influence, but are themselves easily lured by political power. After all, if they have agendas, they need someone in office who can help carry them out. Davis is now as useful as yesterday’s paper towels; Schwarzenegger now has the power to make things happen, or not.

But more important than the wooing of the elites will be the progress the Republicans may be making among the rank-and-file. Bill Leonard, former minority leader, and David Fleming, a prominent attorney and Schwarzenegger backer, see in the new election the emergence of a new constituency, largely young to middle age, middle class, with socially moderate and economically conservative views.

This new constituency, they believe, backed Schwarzenegger in ways that belie traditional politics. These voters included many who may be considered "post-ethnic," that is, Jews or Latinos who favored their own independent streak of politics as opposed to any more traditional, ethnically shaped point of view. They have rejected the politics of their parents — the shtetl or barrio model — for something that makes more sense to their own lives.

Right now, such voters represent a small, but growing minority among Jews. This kind of Jewish voter is also more concentrated in less affluent, more middle-class areas, where Jews are now moving. For example, while heavily traditional Jewish Beverly Hills went three to two against the recall, similar to both the city and the Westside, the more middle-class Jewish enclaves in the Valley split their vote fairly evenly. Westlake Village, where many Jews are also settling, went two to one for the recall.

These voters, Jewish and otherwise, may represent the true swing voters of the future. Middle-class, home-owning, child-raising, but not wedded to the dogmas of left or right, they were only "rented," as Fleming suggests, by the GOP this year. They could stay with Republicans, it appears, if they adopt moderate views on social issues, maintain a pro-choice stance and appear concerned with public education.

Similar, for the Democrats, they can also win over this electorate. Their challenge will be to stay away from the kind of "progressive" agenda adopted by much of the legislature. The radical "progressive" Democrat — in contrast to more traditional Pat Brown or Hubert Humphrey liberalism — revels in victimization politics and often opposes middle-class values, whether in terms of drivers licenses for illegal immigrants, state advocacy for an aggressively pro-gay agenda or radical redistribution of wealth.

Due to their adherence to this left-wing agenda, the Democrats have lost the governorship and been humiliated. If they learn their lessons and return to the sensible center, they likely will recapture much of the vote that got away, particularly in the Jewish community. If not, the Jewish vote, like much of the multiracial middle-class, will continue to seek other alternatives, particularly if the Republicans can make them at least passably acceptable.


Joel Kotkin is a senior fellow at the Davenport
Institute for Public Policy at Pepperdine University. He is writing a history of
cities for Modern Library. He can be reach at jkotkin@joelkotkin.com

.

‘Map’ Won’t Play Key Election Role


Opponents of the recently released Mideast "road map" are reassuring themselves that presidential politics will keep the Bush administration from pressuring Israel too hard to accept the plan, which proposes a diplomatic sprint to the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

They may be living in a dream world. Concerns about the road map’s electoral impact may be only a minor factor as President Bush cautiously wades into the treacherous Mideast cross-currents.

Bush is not worried about losing Jewish votes, mostly because he doesn’t have that many to lose, and the president’s problems with evangelical Christians, a pillar of his political base, are primarily domestic. Some Christian leaders may squawk if the road map moves into high gear, but few evangelical votes will take a detour on Election Day, 2004.

The Jewish part of the equation isn’t exactly rocket science. For months, pundits and political spinmeisters have been predicting that 2004 could mark the start of the long-predicted, never-materialized Jewish shift to the GOP. The administration’s desire to see that happen as Bush fights for a second term, some predict, will keep him from pushing too hard for a Mideast plan that the big pro-Israel groups here distrust.

However, the numbers tell a different story. If the current warmth in U.S.-Israel relations continues, Bush could do significantly better with Jewish voters this time than he did in 2000, when he won just 19 percent — especially if the Democratic nominee is perceived as soft on Israel.

However, even the most optimistic Republicans don’t predict a wholesale change on Election Day. Jewish voters may appreciate the administration’s strong support for Israel and its war on terrorism, but too many worry about the president’s domestic agenda and his close connection to controversial religious conservatives.

Even a 10-point shift in favor of the GOP could be important in Florida, but it is unlikely to play much of a role anywhere else. The Republicans may be more successful in wooing Jewish campaign contributors. However, a sharp confrontation with Jerusalem could put a crimp on the GOP’s Jewish fundraising.

The president’s re-election coffers are flush with money, and an outright confrontation with Jerusalem seems unlikely, given Bush’s sympathetic view of the current Israeli government. So under most scenarios, Jewish giving is unlikely to change dramatically, even if the new U.S. push includes moderate pressure on Israel.

Bush has much more to fear from disaffected Christian conservatives, a much bigger voting bloc and a critical part of his support base. He needs their enthusiastic support not just for his own election, but to keep both houses of Congress in Republican hands.

Mideast policy is a growing priority for this political segment. Many evangelical leaders actively support the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and will oppose new U.S. pressure on issues like settlements and quick Palestinian statehood.

Some openly share the nationalistic view of Israel’s settlers — that Gaza and the West Bank are inherent part of God’s bequest to the Jews. But those issues are not nearly as important to the evangelical rank and file as a host of domestic concerns, including abortion, faith-based government programs, school prayer and the fight against homosexual rights.

In recent weeks, several evangelical leaders have signaled intense dissatisfaction with the Bush administration. But the object of their ire wasn’t the Mideast road map. Instead, they were furious that the White House had not jumped to the defense of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), whose harsh comments about homosexual rights produced a firestorm of controversy. Fighting homosexual rights is a core issue for many politically active evangelicals — much more than Mideast politics.

Threats by some evangelical leaders to sit on the sidelines in 2004 are "not credible," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, adding, "Most conservative Christians are very happy with Bush."

In the weeks and months to come, the president is likely to take steps to solidify their support. He is almost certain to ratchet up further the effort to implement much of his faith-based agenda through executive action and legislation. In addition, he may choose to become more active in the fight for school vouchers.

Administration action on the road map is likely to be a nonfactor for most conservative Christian voters, however much some of their leaders complain.

Bottom line: Jews worried about new pressure on Israel as the road map discussions begin in earnest shouldn’t expect presidential politics to play a restraining role on Bush.

The real unknown as the new initiative gets underway is this: Is Bush genuinely committed to the plan or is he acting on the road map only because of international pressure? If it’s the latter, Sharon has little to worry about.

And will the Europeans and the Arab nations do their part to force an end to Palestinian terrorism? If they do, Bush is likely to press ahead regardless of political factors. But history suggests they will shun that responsibility; in that case, the road map may lead to yet another Mideast dead end.

Separate Cities Pay Off


If the people of the San Fernando Valley want to vote to become their own independent city and it is not going to take any money away from the rest of the city, then why should any among us feel we have the right to deny them that right?

State law gives every California community this right, provided it is revenue neutral, meaning, in the case of the Valley, that it will not take any money from the rest of Los Angeles. The Valley city will be required to pay $60 million a year to the city of Los Angeles as a form of alimony so that Los Angeles will not lose money for its programs or to service the poor. The Valley is willing to make this payment so that they can control their own destiny, solve their traffic problems, have their own city council, create better community plans and make better decisions about providing public services.

The truth is, if the Valley becomes a city, a new smaller Los Angeles will reap the same benefits that Valley residents are seeking, more accountable, responsive manageable and efficient local government.

For example, the City of Los Angeles spends $153 million a year to provide services to the Harbor communities and its 150,000 residents. If the Harbor become its own city, they can provide the services needed, including more police for only $98 million. A savings of $55 million a year.

The proposed City of Hollywood, with 250,000 residents, can provide their public services for only $107 million. With an annual revenue of $145 million they will have an annual budget surplus of about $37 million as a smaller city. With that surplus they can put more police on their streets, improve their parks, solve traffic or reduce taxes.

The city says it spends a billion a year in services to the Valley. We believe that as our own city we can reduce that cost by $50 to $100 million.

The politicians need to recognize the potential benefits to the residents of Los Angeles they represent. Residents of Los Angeles should consider the potential benefits and savings they might receive as residents of a new smaller city of Los Angeles and start to ask questions.

The report put out by the L.A. County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) is a draft document. There are areas of their report that need to be refined. They are currently holding public hearings around the city. In January they will issue a revised report based on public input to correct the report’s shortcomings. Then they will hold even more public hearings.

The politicians say there is too much uncertainty. That is simply not true. In response to their concerns LAFCO has provided a great deal of certainty.

All the laws, services and employees will continue on day one after the vote. The new Valley city will pay Los Angeles for services, while over a three-year period, the new city will work with the old city to slowly take over their own services in a planned and logistical manner. All existing city employees will keep their jobs, pensions and benefits. Any changes that would be made to laws or services after the vote would be up to the respective city councils of the cities and subject to public scrutiny and hearings.

There is nothing magical about the city of Los Angeles’ boundaries. Most of those opposed to a smaller Los Angeles and a new Valley City don’t even know the exact boundaries of the city. There are 88 independent cities in the County of Los Angeles, the city of Los Angeles is just one of them. For years we have been asked to give a new mayor, council member or city program, such as advisory neighborhood councils, a chance, but still L.A. neighborhoods decline. People are capable of making their own decisions and solving problems whether the politicians want to acknowledge it or not.

Reorganization of Los Angeles into two smaller cities, a new smaller city of Los Angeles and a new Valley city, may not be good for the politicians and their careers, but all the evidence indicates it could be a good for the residents of Los Angeles and the Valley.


Jeff Brain is the president of Valley VOTE (Voters Organized Toward Empowerment).