IRANIAN ELECTION ANALYSIS: All Iran candidates will bolster Hamas, Hezbollah ties


One winner has already been declared in the Iranian elections: The Internet, used by more than 23 million Iranians, or 34 percent of the population. But that figure alone cannot be used to determine which of the four candidates will win. At the very most, one can assume most Web users will vote for reformist candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, rather than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Mohsen Rezeai.

Although the presidential race is based mostly on the individual skills of the candidates, their agendas and public record are no less important. The candidates have almost insignificant differences on issues of core interest to the West and Israel. All of the candidates have said they are willing to hold a dialogue with the U.S., but say it would be gradual and depend on U.S. policy. Even Ahmadinejad has expressed his willingness to talk to the U.S. Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Kerry’s Lead Alters GOP Jewish Strategy


More and more, it looks as though the precipitous plunge of former Vermont governor Howard Dean will deny the Republicans what they wanted most this year: a liberal Democratic patsy for President Bush to trounce on Nov. 2.

The rise of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the Democratic front-runner, with Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) as a respectable second, will alter a lot of plans in Bush-Cheney re-election headquarters, and that includes plans for harvesting Jewish votes. Kerry’s rise means an even more targeted Jewish GOP strategy, combined with an ongoing effort to pry Jewish campaign contributors loose from the Democrats.

It’s important to note at the outset that the GOP was never planning to mount an all-out offensive to win Jewish votes nationwide for the simple reason that with relatively few Jewish votes in play, the results would not justify the costs.

Almost every analyst agrees that Bush, benefiting from his unusually close relations with the current Israeli government and his leadership in the war on terror, will fare much better among Jewish voters than he did in 2000, when he won a paltry 19 percent of the vote. But almost no analyst, including top GOP strategists, believes he has a chance to do much better than 30-35 percent.

That’s a significant increase, with the potential to have a critical impact in a handful of states. But it’s hardly the political revolution that some pundits have predicted.

Many Republicans believe Kerry will cut into those predicted gains. Kerry, with a solidly pro-Israel record in the Senate, is expected to bring back to the Democrats some Jewish swing voters who may have been drifting to the GOP. That drift, most analysts say, would have been the greatest if Howard Dean had been the Democratic front-runner.

Dean quickly retreated from his September demand for a more balanced U.S. approach to the Middle East, but the damage was done. Such statements made him a prime target of the Jewish right, and his positions gave some middle-of-the-road Jews who put Israel high on their list of political priorities the jitters.

Kerry has not been a pro-Israel leader, but he has voted consistently for the positions advocated by the pro-Israel lobby. In addition, he has the aura of experience that leads many Jews in the political center to believe he won’t try to shake up U.S. policy in the region.

The dramatic change in the Democratic race will reinforce this year’s Jewish-GOP strategy, which will be a limited and very focused one.

Many Jews are concentrated in states where the president is unlikely to run well, and where even a significant Jewish shift is unlikely to make any real difference. That includes Maryland, New York and possibly California.

In a few other states, Bush is expected to do well in what could be very close votes — and big Jewish populations there are very much in play and very much desired by the Republicans. Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio are the states most frequently cited by GOP strategists.

The plan is obvious: focus on Jewish voters in those few swing states where the Jewish vote could make a real difference. In the rest, rely simply on cadres of Jewish Republicans and groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, as well as Bush’s reputation as a friend and supporter of Ariel Sharon, to produce gratifying but modest gains.

The GOP approach to Jewish voters in those targeted states will be equally narrow. It will start and end with Israel and terrorism. The president will be portrayed as the best friend Israel ever had in the White House and the leader most capable of waging a sustained, effective war against terrorism.

Republicans understand that mainstream Jews are simply not going to line up with them on domestic issues, especially the anti-government, anti-social welfare and faith-based approaches that the Bush campaign will have to ratchet up to please its conservative base.

At the same time, party activists say they will intensify their ongoing effort to pry more Jewish campaign donors from the Democrats. This is a win-win proposition for the GOP. The extra money is nice for the party, but even nicer is denying it to the Democrats, who are much more dependent on Jewish givers.

The Republicans understand the growing gap within the Jewish community, with community leaders and big political givers generally more conservative than the overall Jewish population. That represents a universe of opportunity for the GOP, and party strategists are already exploiting it.

The Jewish vote, itself, is changing much more slowly. The Republicans see a positive trend in their direction, but it will be years before they can even hope for Jewish majorities in most elections. Major impediments remain to their recruitment of Jews, starting with the GOP love affair with the Christian right.

That relationship may win the approval of Orthodox activists, but polls continue to show most American Jews fear the religious right and see it as a political adversary, not an ally.

Westside Jews Divided on Recall


Exploring the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, where Republicans once were the smallest of minorities, I happened upon a nest of recall supporters who were also great admirers of President Bush. Talking to them, I got a sense of the changing politics of Los Angeles’ Jewish community, where votes can no longer be taken for granted.

They were students of Netan Eli High School, seated around a table in the lunch-room, talking politics. I’d happened on the school the previous afternoon while looking for people to interview about the Oct. 7 election. I introduced myself to Rabbi Sholom D. Weil, the principal, and general studies principal Avi Erblich, and they were nice enough to set up a meeting with students.

Eight students were in the group: Yaakov Kurtzman, Yoni Celnik, Akiva Leyton, Mordechai Moadeb, Yosef Cohen, Michael Cohen, Daniel Mayer and Sam White. Joining us were the rabbi and Erblich.

Their school, with a student body of 30 young men, is traditional and Orthodox in its orientation. It was founded seven years ago by members of the Persian community, but in recent years has enrolled students from all parts of Jewish Los Angeles and now represents what Weil said is a cross section of the community.

Some had watched at least part of the debate the night before. "A lot of yelling," said White. "It made [Gov. Gray] Davis look good and that’s hard to do," Kurtzman said. "I liked how Arnold did," Maadeb said. "He’s an actor," Leyton replied. "He can play any role."

Remembering when Pico-Robertson was just as much a cinch to vote Democratic as the New York Yankees were to make the American League baseball playoffs every year, I was struck by the support of the recall by some of the more vocal members of the group, and the hostility toward Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

They seemed particularly riled over the way the full extent of the state’s budget crisis was not revealed by Davis until after the election. "There’s no excuse to lose that much money," Maadeb said.

Weil said, "after the election, he pulls something on us, this big, big deficit. He hid it during the election campaign. It was not a criminal act but morally speaking, it was immoral."

When I asked what they thought of Bustamante, the Democrats’ leading candidate for governor if the recall wins, the response was negative. "Do you want to vote for someone who wants to give California back to Mexico?" Mayer said.

He was referring to Bustamante’s association when he was a young man with MEChA, the Spanish acronym for Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan. Aztlan is a term used by some activists to describe the American Southwest, once part of Mexico, and MEChA rhetoric has spoken of reclaiming it.

When one student said the association occurred in Bustamante’s college days, Layton replied that people don’t "change much in 20 years."

What was most striking was the complete support for President Bush. There was no wavering, no doubts about the president. He was their man.

Elsewhere, I ran into other opinions. At Starbucks at South Robertson and Pico Boulevards, I chatted with Gary Manacher, an actor who does voice-overs. He was reading the morning papers — the Los Angeles and New York Times — when I interrupted him.

"I am categorically against the recall," he said. "If I have to live with Bush, I can certainly live with Gray."

A few days before, I visited Rabbi Robert Gan of Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park, west of Pico-Robertson. We talked in his study, where he was beginning to prepare his sermons for the High Holidays. The American Civil Liberties Union suit to delay the election until March was still alive and the rabbi was concerned with the issues it had raised.

If the recall moves ahead so swiftly, he said, it "leaves people out of the process and it is something we should be concerned with." Moreover, he said, "if you don’t like a person … vote him out next time." The recall process, he said, is "very scary."

Obviously, opinion in the once largely Democratic Los Angeles Jewish community is divided on the recall. Since I’m writing this more than a week before the election (we have early deadlines here at The Journal), I’m not going to be stupid enough to guess about the outcome.

But think beyond the recall. My conversation with the eight young men at Natan Eli High School indicated something. They were smart and well-informed. Their convictions were well-rooted and, as demonstrated by their feelings about President Bush, most friendly to the Republicans.

They may very well carry their beliefs through life, probably spreading them, as they move on to college, jobs, family and community life. Is this what Ronald Reagan used to call a prairie fire?


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

How Jewish Voters Still Count


You really did read it here first: That the Los Angeles mayoral primary, with six formidable contenders, would come down to a June 5 mayoral face-off between the Eastside kid, former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, and the son of liberal Los Angeles, James Kenneth Hahn, was predicted in this column several months ago. No, I’m not a fortune-teller. But as my grandfather would say, "I do know my customer, the Jewish voter."

Tuesday’s election results assert that the Jewish "customer" still counts, now more than ever, in the even playing field that is L.A. politics.

As the Los Angeles Times exit poll reveals, Jewish voters are a huge chunk of the declining white electorate — 17 percent, or one in three. Villaraigosa’s successful re-creation of the progressive Tom Bradley coalition joining a rising ethnic minority — in this case, Latinos who Tuesday made up 21 percent of the vote — and liberal whites, was largely dependent upon Jews.

It will remain for another time to analyze just how Jews influenced both the tone and outcome of the primary; how the upscale Jewish voter found comfort with a candidate who himself, at least in part, reflects the immigrant-laden union politics that dominates some segments of Latino Los Angeles.

At the moment, the big story is that Jews rushed to embrace an encompassing, ethnic vision of our city rather than a white-dominated conservative, pro-business view. For those who had criticized the Jewish "establishment" for ignoring Latino causes, Tuesday’s answer was, we still have heart.

Also on Tuesday, and just as I predicted, the two Jewish mayoral candidates killed each other off in appealing to the city’s conservative voters.

However, real estate developer Steve Soboroff and veteran City Councilman Joel Wachs did not split the Jewish vote. What interested me this week was that liberal voters in the San Fernando Valley joined their fellows on the Westside in support of Villaraigosa. Yes, there are liberal Jews in the Valley; a fact that, among other things, should be a warning to those aching for a separate Valley city.

Soboroff and Wachs split the Valley’s rebellious conservative voter. There are plenty of them, but not for two candidates. Soboroff and Wachs jointly pulled 32 percent, compared with Villaraigosa’s 30 percent, guaranteeing that the notorious enmity between the two will continue. Together, Wachs and Soboroff destroyed the Riordan coalition that in 1993 brought many Jews into the Republican column for the first time. We’ll be watching to see a) how Hahn moves to the right; b) how the son of beloved county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, with his traditional black base in the central city, appeals to Valley voters; and c) how the predicted endorsement of Hahn by Villaraigosa’s former buddy, Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, influences the mix.

As I made the rounds of election headquarters late Tuesday, it was clear what strange bedfellows our urban politics have created.

I was at Soboroff’s Radisson hotel headquarters in Sherman Oaks at 10:30 p.m., in time to see the fortunes of Richard Riordan’s chosen successor go south, leaving some of his supporters muttering that the results must have come in from "East L.A."

Then at 11:15 p.m., before joining the huge Antonio lovefest at Union Station, I was over at the Holiday Inn off Vineland, to find Wachs, his shirt still pressed and his hair unrumpled despite a depressing evening, embracing the last few stragglers of well-wishers.

"I should have stressed the arts connection more," Wachs conceded.

In fact, Wachs has reasons for regret. From any perspective, he and Villaraigosa ran the most interesting, and complex, campaigns, almost mirror images of each other in their attraction of opposite political bases.

As a friend of mine, Jonathan Zasloff, a UCLA law professor, has noted, in any other city Wachs would have been the "liberal" candidate, with the greatest appeal to Jews. His natural constituency includes gays, Hollywood, the rent-control crowd and the MOCA/LACMA/Bergamot axis interested in a vision of Los Angeles in which arts and lifestyle are more than music CDs from Starbucks. Yes, this is the Ed Koch guard, and it is larger than the paltry 11 percent who rallied this week behind the councilman. Yet Wachs, who reiterated that he intends to leave local politics after his L.A. City Council term ends in two years, projected himself too narrowly. He seems to suffer from a failure of will, never making his interests seem what they are, critical to humane life in our tense metropolis.

There are so many stories to be told in the historic cobbling together of Villaraigosa’s new coalition. One surprising wrinkle: the appeal of the Latino candidate to Russian Jewish voters.

"I found Antonio to be wonderful in person, genuine, honest — almost painfully so," attorney Boris Gorbis told me, recalling his first meeting with the man who might be Los Angeles’ first Latino mayor in nearly 130 years. Soboroff had targeted the Russians, assuming that this group’s long-standing affiliation with conservative candidates meant they’d go for him.

"When you grow up an outsider in the seaside Ukrainian city of Odessa, you know you’re not included," Gorbis told me. "Villaraigosa had a similar experience here in L.A."

"There are similarities in our stories that transcended the divides," Gorbis said.