September 26, 2018

Antifa, Nazism and the opportunistic politics that divide us

White supremacists clash with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Americans are more united than ever on issues of race and free speech.

So why the hell are we so divided?

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist terror attack on anti-white supremacist protesters, the vast majority of Americans agreed on the following propositions: white supremacism is evil; neo-Nazism is evil; violence against peaceful protesters is evil, whether from left to right or vice versa.

Yet here we are, two weeks after the event, and the heat has not cooled.

That’s not thanks to serious disagreements among Americans. It’s thanks to political opportunism on all sides.

It’s easy to blame President Donald Trump for that reaction; his response to the Charlottesville attack was indeed deeply disturbing. It was disturbing for the president to initially blame “both sides” for the event, as though those counterprotesting white supremacism were moral equals of those protesting in its favor. It was more disturbing for the president to say there were “very fine people” at the neo-Nazi tiki torch march, and to add that he had no idea what the “alt-right” was.

Trump’s bizarre, horrifying response to the Charlottesville attacks would have justified criticism of him. I’ve been personally pointing out the president’s stubborn and unjustifiable unwillingness to condemn the alt-right for well over a year (I was the alt-right’s top journalistic target in 2016 on Twitter, according to the Anti-Defamation League). Such critiques would have been useful and welcome.

Instead, the mainstream left has politicized the situation through two particular strategies: first, labeling conservatives more broadly as neo-Nazi sympathizers; second, justifying violence from communist/anarchist antifa members.

The first strategy is old hat by now on the left. On college campuses, conservatives are regularly labeled beneficiaries of “white privilege” who merely seek to uphold their supremacy; anodyne political candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been hit with charges of racism from the left. Democrats routinely dog Republicans with the myth of the “Southern switch” — the notion that the Republicans and Democrats changed positions on civil rights after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, leading to Republicans winning the South. (For the record, that theory is eminently untrue, and has been repeatedly debunked by election analysts ranging from Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics to Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin and Richard Johnston of theUniversity of Pennsylvania.)

But that false conflation found a new outlet for the left in support for antifa (anti-fascism). Antifa is a violent group that has attacked protesters in Sacramento, Berkeley, Dallas, Boston and Charlottesville; it’s dedicated to the proposition that those it labels fascists must be fought physically. It’s not anti-fascist so much as anti-right-wing — it shut down a parade in Portland last year because Republican Party members were scheduled to march in that parade. Antifa’s violence in Boston two weeks after Charlottesville wasn’t directed at Nazis or Nazi sympathizers, but at police officers and normal free-speech advocates.

Yet many on the left have justified their behavior as a necessary counter to the white supremacists and alt-righters. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) justified the violence by appealing to the evils of the neo-Nazis. Professor N.D.B. Connolly of Johns Hopkins University wrote in the pages of The Washington Post that the time for nonviolence had ended — that it was time to “throw rocks.” Dartmouth University historian Mark Bray defended antifa by stating that the group makes an “ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late.”

This is appalling stuff unless the Nazis are actually getting violent. Words aren’t violence. A free society relies on that distinction to function properly — as Max Weber stated, the purpose of civilization is to hand over the role of protection of rights to a state that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Breaking that pact destroys the social fabric.

Now, most liberals — as opposed to leftists — don’t support antifa. Even Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) denounced antifa’s tactics in Berkeley, for example. But in response to some on the left’s defense of antifa and their attempt to broaden the Nazi label to include large swaths of conservatives, too many people on the right have fallen into the trap of defending bad behavior of its own. Instead of disassociating clearly and universally from President Trump’s comments, the right has glommed onto the grain of truth embedded in them —  that antifa is violent — in order to shrug at the whole.

The result of all of this: the unanimity that existed regarding racism and violence has been shattered. And all so that political figures can make hay by castigating large groups of people who hate Nazism and violence.

Let’s restore the unanimity. Nazism is bad and unjustifiable. Violence against those who are not acting violently is bad and unjustifiable. That’s not whataboutism. That’s truth.

If we can’t agree on those basic principles, we’re not going to be able to share a country.


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

Donald Trump can lay ‘Stargate’ to rest — assuming he wants to

Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign never recovered after he was caught on video telling a group of millionaires that 47 percent of Americans will always vote for Democrats because they don’t take “personal responsibility” for their lives and are “dependent upon government.”

The incident has become a case study not only in watching one’s words (and being nice to your waiters), but in spin control. Hammered by the media and the Democrats for sounding elitist and insulting half the country, Romney first blamed the listeners, saying they had misheard what he intended as innocuous demographic analysis. Later, as the transcripts of the video made clear that he said what everyone thought he said, Romney fell back on the classic dodge that his remarks had been taken “out of context.”

A lot went wrong for Romney that year, and the remarks weren’t the only reason independent voters felt that Romney cared more about Wall Street than Main Street. But some regard the incident as a classic case study in bungled PR. Lanny Davis, the Clinton White House lawyer and an author of a book on crisis management, has suggested what Romney ought to have said: “You know, that was a stupid mistake and I didn’t mean it – of course those 47 percent are composed of a variety of voters who have many reasons for not being for me not related to government, and I want to apologize to them for my mistake.”

Had Romney admitted his gaffe, wrote Davis, “the 47 percent issue would have gone away almost instantly.” Davis’ rule: “Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself.”

It’s probably safe to assume that Donald Trump hasn’t read Davis’ book. If anything, now that Trump is having a bit of a “47 percent issue” of his own, he seems to be following the Romney campaign’s (failed) strategy: “Deny you said it, blame the media, change the subject.”

The current brouhaha started when critics noticed how a tweet from Trump’s campaign lambasting Hillary Clinton as the “most corrupt candidate ever” featured a six-pointed star and a pile of money. Some critics, pundits and pols cried foul, arguing the image was anti-Semitic. Next, the millennial website Mic revealed the Twitter image had first shown up on message boards of the far-right, anti-Semitic alt-right movement — the same people who gave us the charming (((echo))) symbol to identify Jews.

Trump denied that the tweeted image was anti-Semitic, saying it was a “Sheriff’s Star.” Nevertheless, Trump’s people quickly removed the tweet and denied that their boss was an anti-Semite. Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and increasingly important campaign adviser, put out a statement defending his wife’s father: “My father-in-law is an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife. I know that Donald does not at all subscribe to any racist or anti-Semitic thinking. I have personally seen him embrace people of all racial and religious backgrounds. The suggestion that he may be intolerant is not reflective of the Donald Trump I know.”

Kushner’s statement seems spot on – at least when it comes to the Jews. For all his vilification of undocumented workers from Mexico and calls for a ban on Muslim immigration, there’s not much evidence that Trump has a problem with Jews.

But Kushner’s statement also seems beside the point. The question isn’t whether Trump is anti-Semitic. Rather, how is it that the Trump campaign ended up tweeting out a meme already making the rounds in anti-Semitic circles? And now that the origin of the image is clear, and the image itself is being hailed by the likes of David Duke, why is Trump doubling down instead of walking it back?

The best-case scenario for the Trump campaign is that, indeed, either Trump or a member of his skeletal staff passed on an internet meme without researching where it came from or how it might be received — and Trump being Trump, he’s not willing to admit a mistake.

Alternately, and ominously, Trump or his staffers knew full well where the meme originated and simply didn’t care.

In either case, for those worried about emboldening white nationalists and other assorted haters, Kushner’s vouching for his father-in-law doesn’t count for much. The fear isn’t about what’s in Donald Trump’s heart but whether he is willing to speak out against the racists and anti-Semites, however marginal, seeking to make common cause with his campaign.

Trump could have put “Stargate” to rest had he made a Davis-like apology: “You know, that was a stupid mistake by my campaign and one that won’t be repeated. In our haste to engage with voters, we didn’t properly vet a tweet that unfortunately originated with some rather nasty people. Rest assured that the Trump campaign does not welcome the support of bigots of any stripe, and that we reject their hateful messages.”

Or course, if not a word of that statement sounds like Trump – and not a word of that statement sounds like Trump – that could be your answer. That Donald Trump never admits a mistake is a theme of his biography.

Trump isn’t the first politician — nor the only candidate in this campaign — who has trouble apologizing, or acknowledging a vulnerability. Jeff Greenfield recently wrote about how Hillary Clinton supported “traditional marriage” before eventually getting on board with gay marriage. Asked about her switch, Clinton “grew testy at the very suggestion that her evolution might be explained by political calculation,” Greenfield wrote.

“I think you’re trying to say I used to be opposed and now I’m in favor and I did it for political reasons, and that’s just flat wrong,” Clinton told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, as if one of the most talented politicians of her generation was above political calculation.

But this controversy is about more than just the idea that being Trump means never having to say your sorry. Whether confronted with questions about support from Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, or about the anti-Semitic internet trolls who torment Jews who write critically about Trump, the candidate demurs, denies or lashes out.

At the same time Trump was digging his heels in over the Star tweet, the Clinton camp was busy extinguishing a fire that most people hadn’t even gotten wind of. Soon after Elie Wiesel died last Saturday, the virulently anti-Israel writer Max Blumenthal put out a series of tweets essentially calling the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate a hypocrite and worse. Blumenthal has no connection to the Clinton campaign, although his father, Sidney, happens to be a longtime Clinton adviser. That was enough to prompt Hillary’s people to come out with a strongly worded condemnation of Max Blumenthal, calling his remarks “offensive, hateful, and patently absurd.”

That kind of disavowal plays wells with the Jews, who also responded positively when candidate Barack Obama in 2008 gave a long and impassioned rebuttal of his own pastor’s dubious views on the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Trump could go a long way toward setting aside the anti-Semitism chatter, if he took a cue from his Democratic rivals and gave a similar speech disavowing the haters — or at the very least stopped hanging out with them on Twitter.

Cruz to speak at RJC Spring Summit in Las Vegas

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz will be addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Spring Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas in April, the RJC announced on Tuesday. 

Governors Scott Walker, Tim Scott, Charlie Baker, Greg Abbott, as well as Senator Ron Johnson and Congressman Lee Zeldin will also speak during the confab taking place at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas on April 8-10. Dennis Prager will keynote the gala dinner, according to the RJC. 

Cruz also attended the 2015 summit along with George Pataki and Mitt Romney. “It isn’t complicated to come to the RJC and say you stand with Israel,” Cruz told the crowd. “Unless you’re a blithering idiot, that’s what you say when you come to the RJC. For anyone that doesn’t get that, we have medical treatment available.”

The RJC’s Vegas meetings, which are held at the Adelson-owned Venetian resort hotel and casino, have emerged as key stops on the GOP presidential donor-courting circuit. Adelson did not endorse a candidate in the 2016 Republican primaries. Cruz and former Florida Senator Marco Rubio were considered favorites in what has been dubbed by the media as the ‘Adelson primary.’ 

Last month, Adelson 

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Republican Romney leads old guard in condemnation of Trump as ‘a fraud’

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a blistering rebuke of 2016 Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Thursday, leading an attempt by the party establishment to halt the rise of the outspoken New York billionaire.

Romney, a Republican elder statesman and the nominee four years ago, urged Republicans in states that have not yet held nominating contests to back Trump's opponents to stop his march to the nomination for the Nov. 8 election to succeed President Barack Obama.

“Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” said Romney, 68, in a hard-hitting speech.

“He's playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat,” he said.

Trump has made his party's mainstream uneasy with his positions on trade and immigration, including his calls to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, deport 11 million illegal immigrants and temporarily bar Muslims from entering the country.

But Romney's strategy risks backfiring by further energizing Trump's supporters, who are angry with a party they see as not representing their views on illegal immigration, trade and America's role in the world.

“If you’re Trump, this is like getting the good kind of Kryptonite,” Republican strategist Doug Heye said.

The real estate mogul dismissed Romney in television interviews and posts on Twitter, calling him “a failed candidate” who had “begged” him for an endorsement in 2012 when he eventually lost to Obama.

“Mitt Romney is a stiff,” Trump told NBC's “Today” program.

In a speech he wrote himself, Romney said Trump's economic policy would sink America “into prolonged recession” and slammed his business acumen and temperament.

He warned that polls show Trump would likely lose to possible Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in November.

Earlier, more than 70 Republican national security leaders signed a scathing open letter opposing Trump and his stance on many foreign policy issues.

Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008 who has sparred with Trump, joined the wave of criticism of the billionaire who took a step toward securing the nomination when he won most of the Republican contests on Super Tuesday this week.

“DANGEROUS”

“I would also echo the many concerns about Mr. Trump’s uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues,” said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Romney pointed to Trump's refusal to release his tax returns and initial reluctance to disavow an endorsement from a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist group.

Romney, who did not endorse anyone, suggested Republicans vote for candidates with the best chance against Trump in states still to hold nominating votes: Senator Marco Rubio in Florida, Ohio Governor Kasich in his home state, and Senator Ted Cruz from Texas where he is strong.

Romney's speech came hours before Trump and his rivals share a stage in Detroit at 9 p.m. EST for a debate hosted by Fox News.

Israeli-American Council jumps onto national stage with a splash

At the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) three-day inaugural conference in Washington, D.C., last weekend, nearly 800 attendees and Washington journalists witnessed the high-profile entrance on to the public stage of what was, until recently, a quietly expanding and well-funded Los Angeles group created with the comparably modest vision of providing educational, cultural and religious resources for Southern California’s large Israeli-American community.

The IAC’s first foray into the national spotlight — and its ability to attract top politicians from both parties and their donors — points to a group on its way to becoming the go-to resource for Israeli Americans across the country and their political voice in Washington.

“We will be a growing community in the United States. We will rise to national recognition and will influence the Jewish community,” said Adam Milstein, an Israeli-American businessman and philanthropist, and a founding IAC board member.

Milstein said that the group’s goal in holding its inaugural conference in the heart of the nation’s capital was to make Israeli Americans a “brand name community in the United States and to make sure that Washington notices.” On the latter point, it undoubtedly succeeded: Political correspondents for top news outlets filled the press section to cover the IAC’s prominent speakers, including former (and possibly future) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and billionaire rival political kingmakers Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson.

Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban and Israeli American Council Chairman Shawn Evenhaim at the IAC Conference in D.C. Photo by Shahar Azran

That Friday evening, as a packed ballroom at the Washington Hilton enjoyed Shabbat dinner, Romney told his former foreign policy senior adviser Dan Senor, in an onstage discussion, that President Barack Obama has been “divisive and dictatorial and demeaning to our friends,” and also that Democrats were routed in the recent midterm elections partly because voters felt the Democratic candidates had been disingenuous in distancing themselves from Obama’s policies.

Meanwhile, Senor and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman both strongly suggested they would like to see Romney attempt another presidential run: “It would be doubly refreshing to hear your voice in the public debate going forward,” Senor told Romney as he concluded their discussion.

The following night’s plenary, while modest by comparison, saw Graham threaten to cut off funding to the United Nations if it “turns into the most anti-Semitic force on the planet,” and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer — who was a frequent and vocal guest on cable news during the recent Gaza war — joked that the key to a happy marriage between an American and an Israeli is for the American to “preemptively concede the argument to the Israeli spouse.”

“Then you’ll actually have a chance of having your way,” Dermer said to an admiring crowd. “Now what that means for diplomacy and U.S.-Israel [relations], I’ll leave it to all the sharp reporters in the room to figure out.”

The conference’s first two plenaries, though, were only the starter for the weekend’s highlight: the first-ever public discussion between billionaires Saban and Adelson, two of the country’s most sought-after, and generous, political donors for Democratic and Republican politicians, respectively. While their conversation, which was moderated by IAC Chairman Shawn Evenhaim, at times sounded like a debate, Saban stole the spotlight when Evenhaim asked him what he would do if he were in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shoes and Western powers signed a nuclear agreement with Iran that risked Israel’s security.

“I would bomb the living daylights out of those sons of bitches,” Saban said to thundering applause, striking a tone starkly to the right of Adelson, who only spoke in general terms of Israel needing to “take action” and “not just talk.” Earlier, Saban said that if such a deal is signed, he would come to the “full realization we are screwed, baby.”

Adelson, for his part, provided his own memorable remarks, sharply criticizing journalists in general and particularly The Forward’s Washington correspondent Nathan Guttman. He also cast doubt on the importance of Israel remaining a democracy and called the Palestinians “an invented people.”

Saban, a media mogul, and Adelson, a casino tycoon, then engaged in what sounded like either banter or an impromptu investment strategy session, discussing how to influence mainstream American media outlets when it comes to coverage of Israel, which Saban called “very left-wing” except when it comes to “maybe a bit the Wall Street Journal and definitely Fox News.”

“I wish that [Amazon.com CEO] Jeff Bezos didn’t buy the Washington Post,” Saban said. “It would have been nice if you and I could have bought it, Sheldon.”

“For $250 million — bupkis!” Saban continued, as the audience laughed.

Adelson responded: “I wish I had known it was available,” then asked Saban, again to raucous applause, “Why don’t you and I go after The New York Times?”

Saban said he has tried to purchase the news giant, but that “it’s a family business” and would not sell. Adelson, sharing some corporate takeover advice with the audience, told Saban that the only way to get The New York Times would be to bid more than its worth and count on the family shareholders rejecting the offer, which would give minority, non-family shareholders a right to sue for a sale.

While marquee attractions such as Saban and Adelson provided the bang for IAC’s weekend, mornings and afternoons were filled with speakers from across the Jewish and pro-Israel world who talked about sensitive topics, especially for a group seeking to tow the line between American and Israeli and Jewish identities—such as the dilemmas facing a possible “double identity” and how to integrate Israeli Americans into the American-Jewish community.

Evenhaim, in a telephone interview following the conference, said he wants Israeli Americans to integrate within America’s broader Jewish community, but said that integration has not been a priority of the organized American-Jewish community, in Los Angeles and across the United States.

“If the Jewish-American community put that as a priority for them, there probably wouldn’t be an IAC,” Evenhaim said.

At the same time, though, IAC’s goal is to help foster a unique Israeli identity among not just Israeli expats, but their American-born children and grandchildren, too.

“We don’t want to become just Jewish Americans,” Evenhaim said. “The Israeli message is important to us, and it’s important to give to the next generation.”

To that end, the IAC runs programs including Celebrate Israel festivals across the country every year and Sifriyat Pijama B’America, which sends free Hebrew-language children’s books and music to Israeli-American families.

“Israel is our homeland,” Milstein said, when asked to discuss the vision of IAC in the context of America’s historical success in assimilating immigrants. “Our relationship with Israel is more unique than Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Chinese Americans — we are different.”

He said the IAC plans to become a “catchall” group for Israeli Americans, focusing not just on Israel advocacy, but eventually seeking to influence national policy on things like access to charter schools and Jewish education.

“Our community has issues that are important to them, and it will be our mandate to advocate for those issues in Washington,” Milstein said.

Formed as the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC) in 2007 at the request of Ehud Danoch, the Israeli consul general of Los Angeles at the time, the ILC rebranded itself two years ago as the Israeli-American Council when its leadership realized the need to be viewed not as Israelis or as Americans, but as “Americans of Israeli descent,” as Milstein wrote in the Times of Israel one year ago. Until then, he wrote, “The State of Israel labeled us as yordim [a derisive characterization for Israelis who leave]. Americans saw us as U.S. citizens, and our children definitely didn’t want to be perceived as kids of foreigners.”

Now viewed as a potential asset by top American politicians as well as the Israeli government — as evidenced by the presence last weekend of numerous Israeli politicians and diplomats — the IAC plans to open four to six new regional councils in the next year, in addition to the existing five, and has its eyes on a 2015 conference, which Milstein said will likely again be in Washington, D.C., and, he predicts, will attract two to three times as many people.

Year in Review: Highlights of 5773

From wars and elections to scandals and triumphs, here’s a look back at the highlights of the Jewish year 5773.

September 2012

Sept. 19: Islamists throw a homemade grenade into a Jewish supermarket near Paris, injuring one. The incident is part of a major increase in attacks on Jews in France in 2012.


October 2012

Arlen Spector

Oct. 14: Arlen Specter, the longtime moderate Jewish Republican senator from Pennsylvania whose surprise late-life party switch back to the Democrats helped pass President Barack Obama’s health care reforms, dies at 82 following a long struggle with cancer. During his time in the Senate, Specter offered himself as a broker for Syria‑Israel peace talks and led efforts to condition aid to the Palestinian Authority on its peace process performance.

Oct. 15: Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley, American economists with ties to Israeli universities, win the Nobel Prize for economics.

The Israeli Knesset votes to dissolve, sending Israel to new elections for the first time since 2009.

Oct. 17: Jewish groups pull out of a national interfaith meeting meant to bolster relations between Jews and Christians following a letter by Protestant leaders to Congress calling for an investigation into United States aid to Israel.

Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman is arrested at the Western Wall and ordered to stay away from the site for 30 days after attempting to lead a women’s prayer group at the holy site in violation of Kotel rules. The incident, which is witnessed by dozens of American participants in town for the centennial celebration of the women’s Zionist group Hadassah, stokes outrage among liberal American Jewish groups.

Oct. 22: Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast, killing more than 100 and causing an estimated $50 billion in damages. The populous Jewish areas of New York and New Jersey see extreme damage, and a Jewish man and woman are killed by a falling tree in Brooklyn. Synagogues and Jewish organizations nationwide join efforts to raise money to help victims of the superstorm.

Mitt Romney, left, and Barack Obama

Oct. 25: Israel, a heated issue throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, is mentioned 31 times by Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney at the final presidential debate, which was devoted to foreign policy and held in Boca Raton, Fla. Both candidates sought to score points on the issue, but actual policy differences seemed to be in short supply.

With a charter flight of some 240 Ethiopian immigrants, the Israeli government launches what it says is the final stage of mass immigration from Ethiopia to Israel. The following summer, the Jewish Agency announces that the last Ethiopian aliyah flight will take place in August 2013.


November 2012

Nov. 11: Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center opens to great fanfare.

Nov. 6: Obama is re-elected, with exit polls giving the incumbent about 68 percent of the Jewish vote — down from the estimated 74 to 78 percent in 2008. Many of the campaign battles between Jewish surrogates were fought over Middle East issues, but surveys suggested that like most other voters, American Jews were most concerned with economic issues.

Nov. 7: Major League Baseball player Delmon Young pleads guilty to misdemeanor charges related to an incident in New York in which the Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter yells anti‑Semitic slurs at a group of tourists talking to a homeless panhandler wearing a yarmulke. Young is sentenced in Manhattan Criminal Court to 10 days of community service and ordered to participate in a mandatory restorative justice program run by the Museum of Tolerance in New York.

Nov. 14: After days of stepped-up rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel launches Operation Pillar of Defense with a missile strike that kills the head of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari. In all, six Israelis and an estimated 149 to 177 Palestinians are killed during the weeklong exchange of fire. Egypt helps broker the cease-fire between the two sides.

A constitutional court in Poland bans shechitah, ritual slaughter, along with Muslim ritual slaughter. An effort in July to overturn the ban fails.

Mohamed Morsi

Nov. 27: The decision by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to grant himself near-absolute powers dismays U.S. and Israeli observers just days after Morsi is lauded for helping broker a Hamas-Israel cease-fire. Morsi backtracks in December, but the move helps stoke popular discontent in Egypt with the country’s first democratically elected president.

Nov. 28: The United Nations General Assembly votes 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, to recognize Palestine as a state. Passage of the resolution, which does not have the force of law, prompts condemnations from the United States and warnings of possible penalties, but none are invoked. Israel responds with its own dire warnings and announces new settlement constriction in the West Bank. Over the course of months, the change in status in the U.N. proves largely irrelevant.


December 2012

Dec. 4: After months of occasional cross-border fire on the Golan Heights, including errant Syrian and rebel shells landing in Israel, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian government is violating a 1974 disengagement agreement with Israel by deploying military equipment and troops over the cease-fire line.

Ahmed Ferhani, 27, an Algerian immigrant living in New York, pleads guilty to planning to blow up synagogues in New York City.

Dec. 10: In a case that ignites passions in the Charedi Orthodox community in Brooklyn, Satmar Chasid Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, is found guilty of 59 counts of sexual abuse. Days later, a Chasidic assailant throws bleach in the face of a community rabbi, Nuchem Rosenberg, who advocates for victims of sex abuse. In January, Weberman is sentenced to 103 years in prison.

Dec. 12: German lawmakers pass a bill enshrining the right to ritual circumcision but regulating how circumcisions are to be conducted. The law displaces a ban on Jewish ritual circumcision imposed by a court in Cologne in June.

Dec. 13: Yeshiva University President Richard Joel apologizes for alleged instances of sexual misconduct and harassment by two former faculty members — Rabbis George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon — at the university’s high school more than two decades earlier.

Dec. 14: Numerous Jewish groups call for stricter gun control regulations after a gunman kills 20 first‑graders and six adults in Newtown, Conn. The youngest victim is a 6-year-old Jewish boy, Noah Pozner.

Dec. 18: Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the leader of one of London’s largest congregations and a former chief rabbi of Ireland, is named Britain’s chief rabbi-designate. This fall he is to succeed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who has served in the post since 1991.

A Paris court orders Twitter to monitor and disclose the identities of users from France who posted anti-Semitic comments online, including Holocaust denials. Twitter later appeals the decision but loses, and the U.S.-based company complies with the demand in July.


January 2013

Jan. 4: Video emerges from 2010 of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi — then a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood — calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.” Morsi tells U.S. senators that he gets bad press because “certain forces” control the media.

Jan. 10: Obama nominates Jacob Lew, his chief of staff and an Orthodox Jew who frequently serves as an intermediary with Jewish groups, to be secretary of the Treasury Department.

Jan. 18: Data released from a 2011 survey of New York-area Jews shows that two-thirds of the rise in New York’s Jewish population over the previous decade occurred in two Charedi Orthodox communities in Brooklyn — a sign that Orthodox Jews will constitute a growing share of America’s Jewish population.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2012.

Jan. 22: Benjamin Netanyahu wins re-election as Israel’s prime minister, but his Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu faction suffers significant losses at the polls, falling to 31 seats. The big winners are two newcomer parties: Yair Lapid’s centrist, domestic-focused Yesh Atid, which comes in second with 19 Knesset seats, and Naftali Bennett’s nationalist Jewish Home, which wins 12 seats. Both later opt to join Netanyahu’s coalition government, which takes nearly two months to assemble.

Jan. 29: Iran and Argentina sign an agreement to form an independent commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and was blamed on Iran. Argentinian and American Jews denounce the agreement as a farce. Iran’s parliament has yet to sign off on the pact.

Jan. 30: Amid concerns that Syrian President Bashar Assad may be transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah, Israeli planes bomb a Syrian weapons transport on the Lebanese border. It is one of several Israeli strikes in Syrian territory during the year.


February 2013

Ed Koch

Feb. 1: Ed Koch, the pugnacious former New York City mayor whose political imprimatur was eagerly sought by Republicans and Democrats, dies at 88 of congestive heart failure. At his funeral, a cast of political luminaries remembers him as a friend of Israel and the Jewish people.

Feb. 5: Bulgaria affirms that Hezbollah was behind the attack in Burgas in July 2012 that killed six people, including five Israelis. The finding adds to pressure on the European Union to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. After concerns are expressed in the ensuing months that Bulgarian officials are backing away from their assertions, Bulgaria’s foreign minister reassures Israel on the attack’s one-year anniversary that Bulgaria still holds Hezbollah responsible.

Feb. 12: The Australian Broadcasting Corp. identifies a man known as “Prisoner X,” who hanged himself in a maximum-security Israeli prison in 2010, as Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier. Zygier is said to have worked for the Mossad.

Feb. 21: A British court convicts three British Muslims of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in the country, including on Jewish targets.


March 2013

March 4: Vice President Joe Biden tells thousands of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) activists meeting in Washington that Obama is “not bluffing” when he says he will stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

March 8: The U.S. State Department cancels plans to honor Egyptian human rights activist Samira Ibrahim after opponents note that anti‑Jewish tweets were posted on her Twitter account.

Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market

March 12: Mike Engelman, the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market in Los Angeles, is videotaped directing his employees to unload boxes of meat from his car while the store’s kosher supervisor is absent. The footage leads the Rabbinical Council of California to revoke the shop’s kosher certification the day before Passover, leaving many kosher consumers in the lurch.

March 20: Obama makes his first visit to Israel since taking office in 2008. In a speech upon arrival at the airport, Obama says the United States is Israel’s “strongest ally and greatest friend.” His trip receives widespread praise from Jewish groups.

March 22: Following prodding by Obama, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu agree to resume normal ties after Israel apologizes for the deaths of nine Turks in 2010 during a clash with Israeli commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara, a ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Erdogan later balks, saying normalization will not take place until Israel fulfills its obligations under the agreement.

Berlin’s Jewish Museum provokes controversy with its “Jew in a Box” exhibit (formally titled “The Whole Truth”), in which Jews spend a shift sitting in a glass box and answering questions from visitors.

March 28: A Lebanese-Swedish citizen is convicted in Cyprus on charges of spying on Israeli tourists for Hezbollah. The closely watched trial is a sign of Hezbollah’s expansion of terrorist activities into Europe and fuels calls for European Union countries to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.


April 2013

April 10: Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister who was lauded for his technocratic approach toward state building in the West Bank, resigns. He is replaced in June by university president Rami Hamdallah, who announces after two weeks on the job that he is quitting.

French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim

April 11: French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim resigns following revelations that he plagiarized the work of others in his books and claimed unearned academic titles.

April 12: After being asked by Israel’s prime minister to come up with a solution to the Women of the Wall controversy, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky proposes that the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall be expanded and renovated to allow for egalitarian prayer there at any time. Reaction to his proposal is mixed.

April 15: Rabbi Michael Broyde, a prominent legal scholar in the Modern Orthodox community and professor at Emory University, is forced to step down from a leading religious court after admitting that he systematically used a fake identity in scholarly journals. The admission followed a report by The Jewish Channel exposing the ruse.

April 19: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews opens in Warsaw.

April 24: Bret Stephens, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and now deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, wins the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

April 23: The Jewish Museum of Casablanca reopens following a major renovation funded by the Moroccan government. The renovation is part of a broad effort led by Morocco’s king to restore Jewish heritage sites in the country, including an ancient synagogue in Fez and dozens of former Jewish schools.


May 2013

May 13: Following complaints from pro‑Israel groups, the Newseum in Washington cancels a planned honor for two slain Palestinian cameramen employed by a Hamas affiliate.

Eric Garcetti

May 22: Eric Garcetti, a veteran L.A. city councilman, becomes the city’s first elected Jewish mayor. With his victory, America’s three largest cities boast Jewish mayors.

The Claims Conference is embroiled in controversy after the public learns that officials at the organization failed to adequately follow up on allegations of fraud in 2001, missing an early chance to stop what turned into a $57 million scheme. The disclosure comes during the trial of the scheme’s mastermind, Semen Domnitser, who is found guilty. In July, the Claims Conference board agrees to some outside input in formulating plans for its future but votes to re-lect its embattled chairman, Julius Berman, who oversaw a botched probe in 2001 into the allegations.

Arvind Mahankali

May 30: A 13‑year‑old Indian‑American boy, Arvind Mahankali, spells the Yiddish‑derived word “knaidel” correctly to win the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee.


June 2013

June 3: U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg dies at age 89 after a long and accomplished career advocating for Jewish issues.

Jun. 10: Yeshivat Maharat, a women’s seminary started by Rabbi Avi Weiss in 2009, graduates its first class of Orthodox women clergy known as maharats.

June 14: The Canadian Jewish News decides to abort a plan announced in April to stop printing the newspaper.

June 21: Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, is arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

June 26: Liberal Jewish groups hail the Supreme Court decision striking down California’s ban on gay marriage, while Orthodox groups express muted disappointment.


July 2013

July 1: In a letter announcing his retirement, Yeshiva University Chancellor Norman Lamm issues an apology for mishandling sex abuse allegations decades earlier against faculty members at the university’s high school for boys. Days later, several former students file a $380 million lawsuit against the university.

July 5: Three campers at the Goldman Union Camp Institute near Indianapolis are injured, one critically, in a lightning strike. A few days later, a Jewish camp counselor is killed by a falling tree at Camp Tawonga, a Northern California camp located near Yosemite National Park.

Michael Oren

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, announces he will return to Israel after four years in the position. He is to be replaced by Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu. Both ambassadors are American born.

July 9: Egypt’s army deposes President Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader. The Obama administration stops short of calling the action a coup, avoiding an automatic cutoff in U.S. aid to Egypt. Morsi had become deeply unpopular among liberal and secular Egyptians but retained deep-rooted support among members of his Muslim Brotherhood.

July 11: Portugal enacts a law of return to make citizenship available to Jewish descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews. The move is intended to address the mass expulsion of Jews from Portugal in the 16th century.

July 18: The European Union issues new guidelines prohibiting grants to Israeli entities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem, prompting an outcry from Israeli officials.

July 22: The European Union designates the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

July 23: In New York, Jewish mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner admits to engaging in lewd online exchanges after his resignation from Congress amid a sexting scandal in 2011, but he declines to withdraw from the race. Meanwhile, San Diego’s Jewish mayor, Bob Filner, rebuffs calls to resign as he faces a barrage of sexual harassment allegations, including from staffers. Instead, Filner takes a two-week leave of absence to undergo sex therapy. Eventually, he agrees to resign, effective Aug. 30.

July 24: Rabbis David Lau and Yitzchak Yosef, both sons of former Israeli chief rabbis, are elected Israel’s Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis. Days later, Lau is caught on tape using a derogatory term to describe black basketball players.

19th Maccabiah Games

July 27: The 19th Maccabiah Games open in Israel with a record number of athletes.

July 29: After months of intense shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israelis and Palestinians restart direct negotiations for the first time in three years.


August 2013

Aug. 13: In a goodwill gesture to accompany renewed peace talks with the Palestinians, Israel releases the first 26 of 104 Palestinian prisoners, including terrorists convicted of murder.

William Rapfogel

Aug. 14: William Rapfogel, the longtime CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, is fired and apologizes for misconduct and alleged financial improprieties, including allegedly inflating insurance bills and pocketing the overcharges for himself.

Palestinian prisoners are released in advance of peace talks.

Aug. 19: As Egypt’s military rulers kill hundreds of civilians in a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel lobbies behind the scenes against a cut in U.S. aid to Cairo.

The bartender who rescued America

Scott Prouty buried his lede.

That’s journalism jargon for not recognizing the most newsworthy part of a story – for delaying the real attention-grabber for later.  (Calling a story’s first words the “lede” instead of the “lead” is a beloved fossil from the days when typesetters used lead – the metal – to put space between lines.  No wonder newspapers’ bottom lines are hurting.)

Prouty, we learned last week, is the 38-year old bartender who videotaped the $50,000-a-plate Boca Raton fundraiser where Mitt Romney wrote off 47 percent of the country as victims. 

It’s plausible that that footage cost Romney the presidency.  It validated his biggest perceived weakness – his image as a cartoon plutocrat, Mr. Moneybags, the Bain guy who fired workers and saddled companies with debt, the country club Republican who called sports “sport” and didn’t have a clue about how ordinary Americans were hurting. Romney tried to counter that image: he wore jeans, reminisced about shooting varmints and had country western stars in his corner.  He wanted swing voters to believe that his sucking up to his party’s resentful right was just an obligatory primary-season performance, and that as president he’d govern from the middle.

Scott Prouty’s tape revealed that the regular-guy stuff was the real performance – play-acting for the rubes. There he was in a roomful of millionaires, caught in the act, dissing half the country as dependents on the public teat.  The contempt for working stiffs wasn’t caricature; it was character. 

Prouty didn’t shoot the video because he wanted the goods on Romney.  He was just making a souvenir, like his pictures of Bill Clinton shaking hands with the staff at another event.  It was only when Romney talked about going to China to buy a factory “back in my private equity days” that he knew he had something explosive on his hands.

Romney told the room that the factory employed 20,000 young women in their teens and twenties, living twelve to a room in triple bunk beds, ten rooms sharing one little bathroom, working long hours for a “pittance.”  The factory was surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.  “And we said ‘gosh, I can’t believe that you, you know, keep these girls in.’ And they said, ‘no, no, no. This is to keep other people from coming in. Because people want so badly to work in this factory that we have to keep them out.’ ”

What galled Prouty was that Romney bought the lie.  He told the story not to condemn slave labor, but to say how lucky Americans are to be born in a land of so much opportunity that we don’t have to stop people from scaling walls to get work. 

Looking around the room, Prouty saw that none of the guests were appalled.  He thought it wrong that only people with $50K to shell out could see the real Romney. Afterward, searching online, he learned that the factory was Global-Tech in Donguan, and that “>who’d written about Bain’s forays into China.  Enterprising reporters from “>Huffington Post managed to track Prouty down.  But it was only at the end of August, when Prouty posted the clip of Romney saying that 47 percent of Americans were freeloaders that the video began to catch fire.  Corn was the first to get “>Ed Show last week, Prouty ensured that the story would be about Romney, not about the motives of the man who made the tape.  What was striking about his media appearances was how important it was for him to keep talking about China and Kernaghan’s work for the “>Leo Gerard, who offered Prouty a job.  His goal is to go to law school and fight on behalf of ordinary Americans like himself.

But it turns out that the Scott Prouty tending bar at that Boca fundraiser was not an ordinary American.  Yes, he was struggling to make ends meet, and he had no health insurance and no car.  But going public with the video was not, “>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@usc.edu.    

Michael Oren is staying put — which is a good thing

Michael Oren is Israel’s ambassador to the United States. And he has no plans to stop being Israel’s ambassador to the United States. 

This was news to me, as reports abound on the Internet that, as of March 2013, Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will replace Oren in Washington, D.C.

“The reports of my demise are grossly overstated,” Oren told me during an interview on the evening of Jan. 15, just before he took the stage at the Saban Theatre for a major address to the Los Angeles community.

“I don’t know where that’s coming from,” he said.

Oren said that, while things can always change, no one has asked him to leave his role — officially or unofficially — and he has no plans to do so.

Which is, as they say, good for the Jews.

What is happening now in Jewish life is as plain to see as the hole in the bagel: American and Israeli Jews are drifting apart, splitting into two tribes and in danger of becoming one people separated by a common religion.

Michael Oren is one of those rare people who mind the gap.

This was in evidence as he spoke at the event, sponsored jointly by the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The gig was not exactly a tough assignment — telling an audience of about 1,000 guests hand-selected by the consulate, Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools just how special the U.S.-Israel bond is. It was like convincing Arnold Schwarzenegger that exercise is good for you.

But Oren is practiced at the harder stuff, too — explaining Israelis to American Jews, and American Jewry to Israel — and that job is only getting harder.

Consider this: In the recent American election, close to 80 percent of American Jews supported President Barack Obama, while, in Israel, polls showed a similar percentage supported Obama’s opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney. Israeli Jews overwhelmingly supported the second Iraq War. American Jews overwhelmingly opposed it. 

Think back to the Obama-Bibi rancor of 2010, when Israel declared in the face of U.S. umbrage that it had approved construction of 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem. American Jewish support for Netanyahu on that issue dipped to 44 percent. Support for Obama was 59 percent.

The aspects of Israel that upset or alienate large sectors of American Jewry, such as the control of Orthodoxy over civil matters, elicit a shrug from most Israelis.

And the things that keep Israelis up at night, like the Arab uprisings, many American Jews approach with a more hopeful attitude.

“They see what’s happening in Egypt and Syria and think Lexington and Concord,” Oren told me — and then later, the audience — “we think, ‘oy vey.’ ”

The surprise turnout for the centrist Yair Lapid in this week’s election is a sign that a bigger chunk of the Israeli electorate than pundits predicted does care, and votes, on issues of religious freedom. But the gap persists, and Oren (like, fortunately, Lapid himself) remains one of the few Jewish leaders who can bridge it.

Oren and I met in the Saban Theatre’s green room before the main event. A security detail arrived first, then aides and consular officials, then Oren’s wife, Sally, and a strikingly handsome, 20-something sabra who turned out to be Oren’s son. Oren is grayer than the last time I interviewed him, in 2010, but still army-uniform lean.

I immediately brought up the various brouhahas — my word — that had arisen between the United States and Israel that week.

Just that morning, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in Bloomberg News, reported that Obama, in his frustration over Netanyahu’s decision to allow settlement in an area of the West Bank known as E1, repeatedly said, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” 

Oren, to his credit, neither shot the messenger nor denied the accuracy of the message. 

“It just doesn’t reflect the reality in Israel,” he said.

He focused instead on the positive — Bibi’s stated willingness to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians, provided they come to the table. 

Another brouhaha: the accusation among staunch pro-Israel activists that Sen. Chuck Hagel, Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, is anti-Israel, or even anti-Semitic.

“Do you think the phrase ‘Jewish lobby’ is anti-Semitic?” I asked.

“Well,” he said — and this is why he’s Israel’s top diplomat — “it’s inaccurate. Not every one who supports Israel is Jewish.

“I don’t like the phrase ‘Israel lobby’ either,” he added, pointing out that pro-Israel forces in America are Americans acting in what they assert are America’s interest. 

Stepping back, I asked Oren about my deeper concern, whether these incessant brouhahas don’t indicate a deepening rift between American and Israeli Jews.

On the one hand, Oren pointed out that support for Israel among all Americans is at a 20-year high. Even among younger people, he said, despite claims to the contrary. Oren is one of those rare Jewish leaders who isn’t afraid to relay good news to audiences more accustomed to doomsday pronouncements.

But Oren, born and raised in America, is acutely aware that different life experiences make for different outlooks. He moved to Israel as a young man. His wife’s sister was murdered in a bus bomb attack. In the army, he survived an attack that killed many of his buddies. His son was severely wounded in combat as well. Oren, a preeminent historian and author, has a deep intellectual understanding of the forces that guide the Middle East. But nothing beats being there.

“Look, we Israelis know what it means to deal with suicide bombers, terror, regional turmoil. Israeli Jews do the heavy lifting. These are profound differences,” he said.

“There’s a gap in understanding. If American Jews would see it from the inside out, they’d better understand it.”

And, he added, Israelis don’t often see the deep support that American Jews marshal and maintain for Israel.

“There’s an expression in Hebrew,” he said, quoting Ariel Sharon: “Things look different from here than they do from there.”

Oren didn’t say it, but a little humility on both sides might just help.

His aide ended the interview — it was time for the ambassador to take the stage. We shook hands.

“What’s that word brouhaha come from?” he said, ever the curious researcher. “Can someone look that up?  Does that have anything to do with malarkey?” 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism

Donald Trump endorses Netanyahu in video

American billionaire Donald Trump endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video released on YouTube.

“My name is Donald Trump and I’m a big fan of Israel,” Trump says at the start of the 36-second video.

“You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu — there’s nobody like him. He’s a winner. He’s highly respected. He’s highly thought of by all. And people really do have great, great respect for what’s happened in Israel.”

Trump concludes, “So vote for Benjamin. Terrific guy, terrific leader. Great for Israel.”

Trump endorsed Mitt Romney in the recent U.S. presidential election. Trump's daughter, Ivanka, is a convert to Judaism and married a Jewish businessman, Jared Kushner.

Knesset elections: A reader’s guide

Remember the second U.S. presidential debate in October, when the incumbent Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney stood about six inches from each other, with one interrupting the other at every turn?

Add about a dozen candidates, take away the formal rules of debate, switch to Hebrew and you’ve got a fairly good approximation of the tenor of Israel's current election campaign.

Israel's parliamentary system, in which voters choose a party instead of a candidate, makes for some narrowly focused parties and strange bedfellows, though factions do tend to fall in with their natural political allies. Parties submit lists of candidates and their top choices are seated in proportion to the party's total share of the vote.

This year, 34 parties are officially vying for the Knesset in the Jan. 22 elections, though only about a dozen are likely to actually cross the threshold necessary to win seats. They fall broadly into the following major blocs.

RIGHT WING

Major parties: Israel’s biggest political bloc, the right wing has led the polls throughout the campaign and almost definitely will lead the next coalition. Its flagship party is a merger of two factions: the right-wing Likud and the hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu. Likud favors a tough foreign policy and has presided over an expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. On economic policy, the party tacks conservative, promoting free markets, privatization of state industries and reduced regulation.

Yisrael Beiteinu, originally founded as a party for Russian immigrants, has attracted a broader base with hard-line nationalist rhetoric, a secularist agenda and calls for universal army or volunteer service.

An upstart challenger to Likud-Beiteinu is Jewish Home, a hawkish pro-settler party that also favors some progressive economic policies. Historically a religious Zionist party, Jewish Home has successfully broadened its base this cycle and has an excellent shot at a third-place finish.

People to watch: Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud chairman and current prime minister, almost certainly will win another term. Netanyahu, 63, has relentlessly sounded the alarm on Iran’s nuclear program and shaped Israel’s supply-side economic policies. He was first elected prime minister in 1996, lost the 1999 election and made a comeback in 2009, winning his second term.

Avigdor Liberman, Yisrael Beiteinu’s chairman, was Israel’s foreign minister until he resigned following his indictment in December for fraud and breach of trust. An immigrant from Moldova, Liberman, 54, advocates hard-line foreign and domestic policies.

Naftali Bennett, a high-tech entrepreneur and past leader of the settlement movement, is the charismatic new chairman of Jewish Home. Bennett, 40, has changed the image of the party from a sectarian religious Zionist faction to one that courts Jewish Israelis of all stripes.

Moshe Feiglin, 50, has led a revolution within Likud, driving a sharp turn to the right that has led to the rise of other hawkish politicians and nudging out of moderates. He is 14th on the Likud list and almost certain to gain a Knesset seat.

CENTER

Major parties: Israel’s most fragmented political bloc, likely headed for the opposition, the center has three major — and largely similar — parties. Labor, Israel’s founding party, has pushed progressive, socialist policies. Yesh Atid, a party of political neophytes, emphasizes middle-class tax cuts and mandatory army or volunteer service for all Israelis. Hatnua, also founded last year, supports Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a two-state solution.

Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset and the ruling party from 2006 to 2009, has been largely discredited and may not cross the 2 percent vote threshold necessary to a win a seat in the Knesset.

People to watch: Shelly Yachimovich, 52, a former television journalist, is the Labor chair and has shifted the party's focus from a two-state solution back to the progressive socioeconomic policies that once defined it. She has been criticized for barely addressing diplomatic policy, though she recently vowed not to join a Likud-Beiteinu coalition.

Yair Lapid, 49, another former TV journalist and the head of Yesh Atid, announced his entrance into politics early last year amid hype that his party could rival Likud. Lapid is the son of former journalist and politician Tommy Lapid.

Tzipi Livni, 54, chairwoman of Hatnua, has shifted from right to center-left during a lengthy political career. Originally a senior politician in Likud, Livni followed former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Kadima in 2005 and served as foreign minister from 2006 to 2009. She resigned from Kadima last year after losing the chairmanship in the party primaries.

LEFT WING 

Major parties: As Labor has tacked to the center, the standard-bearer of the Zionist left has become Meretz, a party that advocates Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, equal rights for all Israeli citizens, far greater separation of religion and state, and progressive economic policies. To Meretz’s left is the non-Zionist, communist, Arab-Jewish Hadash, which also advocates equal rights and progressive economics but does not prioritize Israel remaining a Jewish state.

People to watch: Zahava Gal-on, Meretz’s chairwoman, immigrated to Israel from Russia as a child and has been an outspoken supporter of civil liberties since she first entered the Knesset in 1999. Hadash’s chairman, Mohammed Barakeh, has been indicted for alleged violence at protests, but also has earned praise for visiting Auschwitz in 2010. Hadash’s third in line, Dov Khenin, is a well-known leftist activist who ran for mayor of Tel Aviv.

CHAREDI ORTHODOX

Major parties: The two main haredi parties are the Sephardic Shas and United Torah Judaism, a merger of a few Ashkenazi haredi parties. UTJ’s main issues are government support for yeshivot (including stipends for full-time students), continued Charedi control of the chief rabbinate, social services for their often low-income haredi constituents and continued exemption of full-time yeshiva students from military service. Shas advocates a more moderate versions of those policies as well as social services for Israel’s poor families, many of whom are Sephardic and vote for Shas even though they are not Charedi.

Am Shalem, a new breakaway party from Shas, was founded last year and opposes much of the Charedi agenda, advocating military or volunteer service and the elimination of subsidies for most full-time yeshiva students. It is considered a long shot to win any Knesset seats.

People to watch: Aryeh Deri, one of the three leaders of Shas, won 17 seats for the party in 1999’s Knesset elections only to wind up in prison on charges of bribery a year later. Now, the charismatic Deri is free to run again and has retaken the helm at Shas along with Eli Yishai, the current interior minister, whose policies are decidedly right wing.

Haim Amsalem, a former member of Shas, is now a thorn in that party’s side with his new faction, Am Shalem. Amsalem hasn’t pulled his punches, relentlessly criticizing Shas and claiming in his ads that Maimonides would vote for him.

ISRAELI ARABS

Major parties: Arab parties have never served in a coalition government and historically have underrepresented the Israeli Arab population, which is about a quarter of the country. The two Arab slates in this election are the secular Balad, which is explicitly anti-Zionist and believes that Israel should be a state of all its citizens, and Ra’am-Ta’al, an alliance of the religious Ra’am and the secular Ta’al that is not as explicitly anti-Zionist.

All of the parties favor better treatment of Israel’s Arab minority, a two-state solution and peace with neighboring Arab countries.

People to watch: As no Israeli government has included Arab parties, their main purpose is to speak up for Arab-Israeli rights and against what they see as Jewish discrimination. Two of the most outspoken Israeli Arab members of Knesset have been Ta’al leader Ahmad Tibi, a former adviser to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, and Hanin Zouabi of Balad. Both at times have been disqualified from running for Knesset due to anti-Zionist statements, but the bans have been overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court.

Two-state attrition

There are three subjects that Jews in my social circle never tire of: food, movies and the two-state solution.

Consider me officially tired of the third.

I began promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict long before it was popular. In 1986, when I helped organize a rally in Beverly Hills calling for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians, no mainstream Jewish organization would have anything to do with us, and Jewish “patriots” shouted us down and disrupted the event.

I believed then — and still believe — that establishing two states is the best, most just way to resolve the conflicting claims two peoples have over a single piece of real estate.

I believed then — and still believe — that for Israel to annex or incorporate a massive Palestinian Arab population into its body politic would result in apartheid, an endless civil war or the end of a democratic Jewish state. 

I believed then — and still believe — that if all sides wanted to achieve such a solution, they could do so in a week. In fact, in the years since that rally, a Middle East peace-industrial complex has arisen with so many agreements, plans, meetings, charts, understandings, negotiators, books and commentators that it now forms a kind of nation-within-two-nations.

The problem isn’t that my beliefs are wrong. The problem is reality.

Reality No. 1 is Hamas. Hamas controls Gaza. And, as its leader Khaled Meshal made clear earlier this week in his first visit there, it seeks the destruction of Israel.

“Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he told a massive rally of enthusiastic supporters on Dec. 7.

“We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”

Maybe one day Israel will be able to negotiate with Hamas — but that day will come only when Hamas’ leaders, like the generation of intransigent secular Palestinian leaders before them, recognize that there is no other choice. In the meantime, there can be no “two-state solution” when there are two Palestinian entities, one sworn to Israel’s destruction. Last time I checked, 1 + 2 = 3.

Reality No. 2 is Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA). After going to the United Nations on Nov. 29 to successfully upgrade the Palestinian status to a nonmember observer state, Abbas could have then turned to Israel and asked for a resumption of negotiations without preconditions. He could have denounced Meshal’s speech. But he did neither of those things.

Instead, as analyst Douglas Bloomfield wrote, Abbas “renewed his demand for a total construction freeze beyond the 1967 lines, including East Jerusalem, and added a new one, resumption of talks on the 2008 [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert proposal that he initially rejected. He knows both are nonstarters.”

Reality No. 3 is Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not predisposed to taking great risks for a two-state solution, which it’s not clear in any case he really wants or believes in. Many of his coalition partners reject it out of hand, and his foreign minister, Avigdor
Lieberman, has called for Abbas’ removal.

Reality No. 4 is the Arab Awakening, which has thrown Israel’s neighborhood into a lasting turmoil. Syria is on the cusp of even greater change, and the Jordanian monarchy, hiding in the corner like a kid hoping to avoid the teacher’s wrath, is bound to experience its own Tahrir Square.

These realities make a two-state solution as unlikely as a Romney 2016 bumper sticker. 

So, as much as I believe in a two-state solution and would like to see it happen in the context of a regional peace, it just won’t.

But that splash of cold water doesn’t rinse away the underlying facts that make a separation between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza so important.

So I’ve moved on from what I think should happen to what I think will happen. And that is not a two-state solution but two-state attrition. 

Israel, the dominant player, will resist ceding chunks of the West Bank to the Palestinians until it absolutely has to, when concerns over demography, democracy or international pressure become insurmountable. At that point it will pull back, adjust its security border and go on with its life. A Palestinian entity will fill the void, either the PA alone, the PA in cooperation with Hamas, or, worst-case scenario, a Hamas that has overtaken a weakened PA leadership.

Eventually, Israel will have given up the minimum amount of land and population it has to — including in Jerusalem — and the Palestinians will have established a state with the largest amount of land and people they can get.

The security fence, begun in 2003, was the first stage of the two-state attrition, and its success has proven the concept. Unilateral actions by all sides will arc toward a status-quo solution whose end effect will be Israel and at least one Palestine. It will be a less-than-ideal outcome determined by attrition, indecision, outside events and internal conflicts. There will be no signings on the White House lawn.

The optimist in me wants to believe that years after this dragged out mess, the two (or three) sides will eventually seek cooperation and negotiation. But I won’t hold my breath.

We’re all tired of holding our breath.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Zach Braff’s new (Jewish) relative

There’s nothing quite like discovering new branches of the Jewish family tree, espcially when that branch reaches all the way to failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Zach Braff, the Jewish star best known for the film “Garden State” and the TV show “Scrubs,” recently discovered that he’s related to the ex-governor of Massachusetts through a common ancestor. And not just any ancestor, but one accused of witchcraft in the 17th century, according to report from MSN.

“It’s very bizarre because believe it or not, I thought it was another prank on the Internet because I’ve been killed off on the Internet, I came out of the closet on the Internet, a lot of things have happened to me on the web and I start getting wind that I was related to Mitt Romney through a witch!” Braff said during an appearance on “Rove L.A.”

“That sounds like a joke, but this genealogist, who I guess has way too much time on his hands, went and tracked my mother’s maiden name and figured out she grew up in Rhode Island and discovered that Mitt Romney and I are related through the very last woman who was killed through the Salem witch trials,” he went on. “And I thought it was like a tabloid thing, [but] it was a reputable genealogy journal, so yeah, Mitt and I are related through a witch!”

We’re not quite sure what this means for the tribe, but Braff would certainly be an interesting edition to the Romney family portrait.

Does the Jewish vote still matter?

Does the Jewish vote still matter and if so, how? Exit polls indicate that 70 percent of Jews voted for President Obama, compared to roughly 39 percent of white voters overall. However, with California and New York, which have large Jewish populations, guaranteed to go Democratic, the Jewish vote may have mattered only in Florida. 

As usual, most attention on the Jewish community has been focused on whether Obama’s 70 percent Jewish support represents a serious decline from the either 78 percent or 74 percent (depending on the source) that he received from Jews in 2008. We spend so much effort on the beaten-to-death question of whether Jews will ever vote Republican that we miss something more important — the potential role Jewish voters can play in a society that is in profound demographic and political transformation.

The 2012 election may well turn out to be more historic than Barack Obama’s 2008 election. It revealed the flowering of the transformation of the American electorate, a trend that was obscured in 2008 by the hope and change that surrounded Obama’s first campaign, and that brought about a momentary appearance of consensus.  The rough, tough re-election campaign of 2012 clarified the lines of conflict in the electorate.

This is especially true in California, but also nationwide, where the Democratic surge was powered by a new electorate that includes growing cadres of both younger and minority voters. Sleeping giants awoke. Latinos increased their share of the overall vote to 10 percent and broke in huge numbers for Obama, giving him between 70 and 75 percent support. Young voters comprised a larger share of the vote than they did in 2008. Single women, who represented 20 percent of the vote in 2008, comprised 23 percent in 2012 and cast 67 percent of their votes for Obama, according to a study by the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund. In California, these constituencies carried Proposition 30 to an historic upset victory and may have helped to give Democrats two-thirds dominance of the Legislature. Nationally, one swing state after another fell into the Democratic column.

At the same time, Mitt Romney increased — to 59 percent — the Republican share of the white vote over John McCain in 2008. A majority of whites were on one end, especially those who are older and those who live in the South, while communities of color, especially if younger, were on the other.

And then there are the Jews. The overall demographic transformation is so startling that there has been less attention on the Jewish vote this year than in 2008. Republicans have much bigger problems than not winning over Jews, starting with their staggering defeat among mobilized African-Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans as well as among single women. 

Yet Jews voted for Obama in numbers comparable to Latinos, echoing conservative legendary plaint that “Jews live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” (Well, also like single women and also like Asian Americans — 73 percent.) Only the gigantic support of African-Americans surpassed all of these groups.

It’s less important that Jews frustrated Republicans than that Jews, an older, largely white demographic, represent a refusal to be predictably polarized along lines of race, age and class. This block of voters adds a more realistic perspective to the simple assumption that there are two Americas, one ascendant and the other on the decline, one nonwhite and the other white. 

The Jewish vote, whether or not it determines who wins states, offers an important reminder that whites are not a monolithic block of voters. After all, more whites voted for Obama than any single minority community. The 39 percent Obama support among whites, among the more than 70 percent of votes cast, represents roughly 27 percent of all votes. In his 2007 book, “Boomers and Immigrants: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America,” Dowell Myers argued that in order to maintain support for such programs as Social Security and Medicare, the aging boomers, who are disproportionately white, need to be in alliance with immigrants. Bridge building will be essential. Jewish voters never joined the parade of immigrant bashing, and opposed such anti-immigrant measures as California’s 1994 Proposition 187. Nor did Jews turn away, even in political hard times, from the social liberalism on abortion and gay rights that this year became politically popular for the first time.

One underappreciated role of the Jewish vote in American politics is in bridge building. Even in Los Angeles in the mid-1800s, when it was a rough-and-tumble frontier city filled with diverse groups, the small Jewish population was civically active and a positive contributor to local governance.

When American cities were torn apart by racial polarization in the 1960s, a small block of white voters, principally Jews, supported embattled black mayoral candidates in Gary, Ind., Cleveland, Newark, N.J., and Chicago. In Los Angeles, the relationship between African-Americans and Jews flowered into a full-fledged, coalition of equals, with Mayor Tom Bradley drawing from African-American and Jewish supporters. For many African-Americans and for many whites, the black-Jewish coalition became a path across which new friends and allies could be encountered and cooperation nurtured, and also a framework for working out intergroup conflict.

Organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League have been working for decades with those in minority communities who fight for equality and justice. As communities of color push further into the center of state and national power, the bridge role played by the Jewish community will continue to matter.

The Jewish political role will not disappear in local, state and national politics. There has indeed been a noticeable decline of Jews in office in Sacramento, but Jews continue to hold many national offices, especially in the House and Senate, as well as in the states. In Los Angeles, high voter turnout among Jews means that city candidates will continue to consider the Jewish voice in local elections. It will still be important to have candidates and elected officials who are sympathetic to the interests and values of the Jewish community.

There is no question that the Jewish vote still matters. But the future for Jewish involvement may extend even beyond electoral strength to reconnecting with the bridge role that a state and nation of isolated communities may value.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Five Jewish takeaways from the 2012 election

The prime minister of Israel does not speak for the Jews of America, nor do many of the Jewish organizations.

One of the most significant losers of Election Day was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who openly opposed President Barack Obama from the very beginning of his administration, first on settlements and then on the question of Iran. He went to Congress and to his friends on the Republican right to appeal to the American people over the head of the president and used AIPAC to arouse the American Jewish community against the Obama administration. Most recently, he pushed for a presidential commitment to specific military action before the election holding the president seemingly hostage and the Jewish vote in balance. No longer!

Jews voted overwhelming for President Obama 70 percent, more than two in three — and they just didn’t buy the arguments that the Jewish right, the Israeli prime minister and the Republican candidate were offering. Obama had not thrown Israel under the bus; worse yet, if he had, Jews just didn’t care enough to cost him Florida, New York or California. Equally important, they cast aside the hyperbole that has been filling our e-mails and our Jewish papers, calling the president every name in the book, declaring an emergency when none was apparent, crying wolf all too often. American Jews paid more attention to the support that this administration has offered to Israel militarily and politically. They paid more attention to Israel’s president, defense minister and Israeli security officials than to the prime minister. They do not know Israel’s foreign minister.

And now the tide is turned. Netanyahu is the candidate, Obama will never again face the electorate, and the Israeli people must decide if they want to re-elect a prime minister whose relationship with the American president is, to say the least, problematic, if not dysfunctional. I presume the president will be what the prime minister was not — gracious. Bibi threatened; he could not deliver.

The American electorate is changing.

The Romney campaign had one model of the American electorate, the Obama campaign had a very different model and the Obama campaign was right. The Hispanic vote will only increase and America is more diverse, more colorful, more pluralistic and more religiously diverse than ever before. Jewish outreach to these communities must continue, and though Evangelical support for Israel has been strong, the outreach of the Jewish community must be more nuanced, more inclusive. 

There are great divisions within the American Jewish community and even greater divisions between American Jews and Israelis of American origin.

The Jewish right and the vast majority of American Jews are seeing two different realities and experiencing the world through different lenses. These divisions are real. And though many Jewish activists may be on the right, they could not deliver the people, and if Jewish institutional life continues to tilt rightward it may well find itself without a constituency. 

We must also subdivide the Jewish vote to understand its true implications and thus see the divisions between the Orthodox — Modern and Charedi — and the non-Orthodox to truly understand how divided we are. Nate Silver was right about the election; Peter Beinart may not have been wrong about American Jews despite the many attempts to refute him. 

Polls in Israel found that four out of five dual Americans living in Israel who voted by absentee ballot supported Gov. Romney. That was almost the polar opposite of the way in which their American Jewish kin who remained in the United States voted. The gap is wide and growing. Perhaps one of the reasons they immigrated to Israel was because of a certain alienation from the American Jewish community and the direction of American life. Perhaps because they did not have to face the consequences of living under the domestic policies advocated by the Republican right, they could concentrate solely on Israel.

I suspect that I was not alone in feeling that the economic collapse of 2008 was a compelling argument against deregulation and for Dodd-Frank and that the social safety net could not be abandoned. Perhaps I am not the only American Jew to feel that the Jewish ethos taught me a communitarian ethic of concern, compassion and community and that the emphasis on rugged isolated individualism was alien and potentially cruel. Perhaps I was not a lonely American Jew singularly unimpressed that vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s hero was Ayn Rand. Perhaps I am not the only Jew of privilege willing to pay more in taxes for the common good.

On the international front, during the last Republican administration the United States fought two wars incompetently, entered one war under pretenses that proved false, and transformed the geopolitical balance of the Middle East in such a way that Iran was strengthened (by the weakening of Iraq) and Hamas was put in power by the commitment to democracy that became the ideology employed to justify the wars. The last Republican administration ended when the United States of America was at its weakest point in my lifeline, and it seemed as if the same people would return to power under a Romney administration. I was not moved by the prominent role of Ambassador John Bolton, or assured by the presence in the Romney camp of pro-Israel Dan Senor, who had worked for Paul Bremer when the disastrous decision was made to dismantle the Iraqi army. I was less than thrilled by the prominent role that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice played at the Republican convention. What were the lessons of Iraq for the American people?

And for those few American Jews who heeded the advice of my distinguished friend Rabbi David Wolpe and voted only on the question of Iran, one has to wonder which candidate were they to support as Israeli opposition to an Israeli attack grows and as sanctions seem to be destabilizing the Iranian regime? Who do they vote for as one Israeli official after another — including the prime minister — accepted the assessment of the American government regarding when Iran would be capable of building a nuclear weapon?

Social Issues count for the American Jewish community.

We are notoriously liberal on issues such as abortion, contraception, birth control and on gays. We are unburdened by the Catholic conception of original sin. In Roman Catholic theology the fetus is innocent life. A child who enters the world is tainted by original sin and loses its innocence. We find considerations of the “personhood” amendment alien to Jewish religious values. Jewish tradition encourages stem cell research — we are religiously bound to assist God in the healing process. And few of us have any religious problem with in vitro fertilization. Be fruitful and multiply is the first commandment issued to humanity in the Torah; would that Jews, who are not reproducing in numbers sufficient for the growth of the Jewish community, observed it (so says the father of four).

Policies toward the elderly are essential to a Jewish community that is significantly older than the American population as a whole, and if we are to take the New York Jewish community recent population study seriously, policies toward the poor — yes, there are a large number of Jewish poor — are also quite important. If Orthodox Jews, especially within the Charedi community, voted against Obama in overwhelming numbers, they voted against their own economic interests. 

Most Jews I know supported the push to universal health care and many have changed their views regarding gay rights – certainly our children have. And in my family, their attitude, as well as the fact that my former neighbors were a happily married gay couple, forced me to rethink my positions. My neighbor’s marriage posed no problem to the stability of my family, to the nature of my marriage. 

There is a difference between passion and numbers.

The Jewish right had deep passion to get rid of the president. They pulled out all the stops and spent fortunes of money. I am quite certain that Sheldon Adelson has made better investments in other aspects of his career. Yet even though in politics passion counts for a lot, and the passionate can make a lot of noise, in the end, they could not deliver the people and, at least on Election Day, numbers count.


Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at jewishjournal.com/a_jew.

Fighting over every percentile: Arguing about the Jewish vote and exit polls

President Obama’s Jewish numbers are down, but by how much and why?

Get ready for four more years of tussling between the Jewish community’s Republicans and Democrats about the meaning of Obama’s dip from 78 percent Jewish support cited in 2008 exit polls to 69 percent this year in the national exit polls run by a media consortium.

Is it a result of Obama’s fractious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Or is it a natural fall-off in an election that was closer across the board than it was four years ago? Does it reflect a significant shift in Jewish voting patterns toward the Republicans?

A separate national exit poll released Wednesday by Jim Gerstein, a pollster affiliated with the dovish Israel policy group J Street, had similar numbers: 70 percent of respondents said they voted for Obama, while 30 percent — the same figure as in the media consortium's Jewish sample — said they voted for Mitt Romney.

Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the $6.5 million his group spent and the $1.5 million an affiliated political action committee spent wooing Jewish voters was “well worth it.”

“We’ve increased our share of the Jewish vote by almost 50 percent,” he said, noting that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 Republican nominee, got 22 percent in that year’s exit polls to Romney’s 30 percent this year.

Brooks said that his group’s hard-hitting ads, which attacked Obam on his handling of both Israel and the economy, helped move the needle. “There’s no question we got significant return on our investment,” he said.

Democrats insisted that the needle didn’t wiggle so much, saying the more reliable 2008 number for Obama's shae of the Jewish vote was 74 percent, a figure that is based on a subsequent review of data by The Solomon Project, a nonprofit group affiliated with the National Jewish Democratic Council.

“Right now 69 or 70 is the best number we have for this cycle, and 74 percent is the best number we have for four years ago,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a consultant to Jewish and Democratic groups, including the NJDC. “You can intentionally use a number you know has been corrected just for the purposes of comparison, or you can use the data.”

The 2008 numbers, like this year’s, are based on the 2 percent of respondents identifying as Jewish in the major exit poll run by a consortium of news agencies — altogether, between 400-500 Jews, out of a total of over 25,000 respondents. The Solomon Project review, by examining a range of exit polls taken in different states as well as the national consortium, used data garnered from close to a thousand Jewish voters, a number that reduces the margin of error from about 6 points to 3 points.

Whether the 2008 percentage was 74 or 78 — or some other number entirely given the margins of errror — both Republicans and Democrats agreed that Obama’s share of the Jewish vote had declined. Rabinowitz conceded that the Republican expenditure, which dwarfed spending on the Democratic side, might have had an impact.

“What yichus is there in the possibility of having picked up a handful of Jewish votes having spent so many millions of dollars?” Rabinowitz asked, using the Yiddish word connoting status.

Gerstein said his findings suggested that the Republican blitz of Jewish communities in swing states like Ohio and Florida had little effect; separate polls he ran in those states showed virtually the same results as his national poll of Jewish voters. Gerstein’s national poll of 800 Jewish voters has a margin of error of 3.5 percent; his separate polls of Jewish voters in Ohio and Florida canvassed 600 in each state, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

He also noted that there were similar drop-offs in Obama’s overall take — from 53 percent of the popular vote in 2008 to 49 percent this year — as well as among an array of sub groups, including whites, independents, Catholics, those with no religion, those under 30. The only uptick for the president in the media consortium’s exit polls was seen among Hispanic voters, likely turned off by Romney’s tough line on illegal immigration.

“You see a lot of things that are tracking between the Jewish constituency and other constituencies when you look at the shift in Obama’s vote between 2008 and now, “ he said.

The NJDC president, David Harris, attributed what shift there was to the economy.

“American Jews are first and foremost Americans, and like all Americans it’s a difficult time for them,” he said. “The Democratic vote performance has decreased somewhat.”

Gerstein said that the mistake Republicans continued to make was to presume that Israel was an issue that could move the Jewish vote.

“They’ve got to do something very different if they’re going to appeal to Jews,” he said. “The hard-line hawkish appeal to Israel isn’t working.”

He cited an ad run in September in Florida by an anti-Obama group called Secure America Now that featured footage from a press conference in which Netanyahu excoriated those who he said had failed to set red lines for Iran, which was seen as a jab at Obama. Gerstein said that of the 45 percent of his Florida respondents who saw the ad, 56 percent said they were not moved by it, 27 percent said it made them more determined to vote for Obama and only 16 percent said i made them more determined to vote for Romney.

Israel did not feature high among priorities in Gerstein’s polling, a finding that conformed with polling done over the years by the American Jewish Committee. Asked their top issue in voting, 53 percent of Gerstein’s respondents in his national poll cited the economy and 32 percent health care. Israel tied for third with abortion and terrorism at 10 percent.

Gerstein’s national poll showed Obama getting strong overall approval ratings of 67 percent of his respondents, with strong showings on domestic issues like entitlements — where he scored 65 percent — and majority approval of his handling of relations with Israel (53 percent) and the Iranian nuclear issue (58 percent.).

But the RJC's Brooks said he was confident Republicans would continue to accrue gains, saying that with the exception of Obama’s strong showing in 2008, his party has steadily increased its proportion of the Jewish vote since George H. W. Bush got 11 percent in 1992.

“Our investment is not in the outcome of a single election,” he said. “It’s ultimately about broadening the base of the Republican Party in the Jewish community.”

As Obama takes second term, Israelis wonder what the future holds

Most Israelis were asleep as the polls closed in America and voters waited for the results, but on one rooftop in central Tel Aviv a party with loud classic rock music and flashing lights was going strong.

It was the pro-Obama election-watching party of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party. Deviating from a solidly anti-Obama consensus in Israel — a poll showed Israeli Jews preferring Republican challenger Mitt Romney over the president, 59 percent to 22 percent — Meretz’s young members drank, talked and danced around a projection screen alternating between CNN and Israeli news coverage.

For members of Israel’s embattled left, the party was a chance to celebrate liberalism. Attendees wore bright green shirts reading “My heart is leftist” or sporting Obama paraphernalia from 2008. A cheer rose as an Israeli TV station presented a photo slideshow of the president’s life.

“We identify with the progressive values Obama represents,” said Tomer Reznik, 23, chairman of the Young Meretz group. “On one hand he supports Israel, and pushes Israel with the other hand.”

Hours later, past 3 a.m. local time, when the results began coming in from Florida and Ohio, two Israeli political diehards sat at the back of the popular American bar Mike’s Place alongside small groups of American tourists and expatriates.

“I saw the four debates,” said Asaf Chen, 27. “Romney hasn’t been president and he came with lots of promises. Obama had four years to do things and he didn’t exactly do it.”

After it became clear that Obama won the election, Israeli officialdom reacted quickly.

“The security relationship between the United States and Israel is rock solid, and I look forward to working with President Obama to further strengthen this relationship,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement of congratulations. “I look forward to working with him to advance our goals of peace and security.”

President Shimon Peres also offered his congratulations.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has praised Obama more than Netanyahu, said he has “no doubt that the Obama administration will continue its policy — whereby Israel’s security is at its very foundations — as well as its efforts to tackle the challenges facing all of us in the region; all the while continuing to strive for further progress in the peace process.”

The Palestinian Authority’s official news service, Wafa, reported that PA President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Obama and encouraged him to continue pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Political analysts, however, warned that there could be obstacles ahead for the two leaders. Netanyahu’s relationship with Obama has been rocky, with public spats over a freeze on West Bank settlement building and the fight against Iran’s nuclear program punctuating the last four years.

During the campaign, Netanyahu was seen as favoring Romney, and that could open up Netanyahu to attack in the Israeli campaign leading up to the Jan. 22 election.

“Left-wing parties will say Netanyahu committed himself to Romney, and now it’s going to deteriorate the relationship between Israel and the U.S.,” said Avraham Diskin, a Hebrew University political science professor.

But public pressure from Obama could strengthen Netanyahu’s hand in the Israeli contest, which the incumbent is predicted to win.

“If he’s too rough with Netanyahu, it will be counterproductive,” said Bar-Ilan University professor Shmuel Sandler. “It will make people rally around Netanyahu. People don’t like when someone from outside pressures us.”

In any case, Israeli analysts said Obama is unlikely to rock the boat of mostly positive U.S.-Israeli relations during his second term, both because he has been chastened by his failure to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front and is likely to be preoccupied with domestic concerns.

“Obama at the beginning of the first term is not Obama now,” Diskin said. “Obama was a great believer in all kinds of solutions, and the reality was quite disappointing. Concerning Iran, the Muslim world, the Palestinian Authority, he’s much more sober today.”

Tensions could flare between the two countries should Obama attempt to pressure Israel to make concessions in return for U.S. action on Iran, Sandler said. But Sandler said that any U.S. pressure will come only next year or later, as Obama first must set up his new administration and deal with domestic battles.

“In the two months that remain for him, he’ll be too busy with confirmations, forming his government and the economy,” Sandler said. “He’s not a strong president who can do whatever he wants. He has a divided country.”

RJC urges unity after Obama win, notes GOP’s Jewish gains

The Republican Jewish Coalition called on all Americans to “come together to craft real solutions to the very serious problems our country faces today” after President Obama won re-election.

In a statement released by Executive Director Matt Brooks, the RJC noted what it called a significant erosion of support for Obama among Jewish voters, with exit polls saying that Obama garnered about 69 percent of the Jewish vote, down from an estimated 74 percent to 78 percent in 2008.

“In five of the last six national elections, Republicans have increased their support among Jewish voters and they continue to make inroads in the Jewish community,” Brooks said. “One clear take-away from the outcome of this election is that the Jewish community spoke loudly and clearly regarding their concerns about the policies of the Obama administration.”

The chairman and president of the National Jewish Democratic Council released a statement saying they were “thrilled” with Obama's reelection.

“In his first term, President Obama signed historic legislation into law, appointed outstanding Supreme Court justices and reflected Jewish values at every turn — all while being Israel’s most important friend and most persistent advocate in the world,” the statement by Marc Stanley and David A. Harris said. “We know that he will continue to build on his outstanding foreign and domestic record in his second term, and that he will continue moving our country forward.”

A host of other Jewish groups also offered their congratulations to the president.

“President Obama has made it clear during the past four years that he and his administration are strongly committed to solidarity with Israel in confronting the many security challenges that she and our own nation face,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement.

The statement noted that both candidates for president were “firmly supportive of the U.S.-Israel relationship” and that the commitment is reflected in the newly elected Congress.

“The election once again demonstrated that the solidarity between the U.S. and Israel transcends partisan politics,” AIPAC said.

Election 2012: What no president can do

As I write this, I still don’t know who’s won the presidency. But by the time you read this, barring an Electoral College tie, you certainly will know.

Which means that while I’m still in suspense, you’re probably reading articles like “What Four More Years of Obama Means” or “What America Will Look Like Under Romney.”

So, here’s my dilemma: How can I discuss what’s on everyone’s lips if I don’t know the winner?

After all, it’d be foolish to underplay the results. As right-wing commentator Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post, the stakes this year are enormous:

“An Obama second term means that the movement toward European-style social democracy continues, in part by legislation, in part by executive decree. The American experiment — the more individualistic, energetic, innovative, risk-taking model of democratic governance — continues to recede, yielding to the supervised life of the entitlement state.”

A Mitt Romney victory, on the other hand, “could guide the country to the restoration of a more austere and modest government with more restrained entitlements and a more equitable and efficient tax code. Those achievements alone would mark a new trajectory — a return to what Reagan started three decades ago.”

While we often hear that any given election is the “most important in our lifetime,” Krauthammer believes that this time it might actually be true, because at stake is “the relation between citizen and state, the very nature of the American social contract.”

Let’s allow, then, that regardless of which camp you’re in, the ideological stakes are indeed enormous. But what about the personal stakes? Can we overplay those?

Here’s what someone wrote on this subject four years ago, right after Barack Obama won:

“It struck me that no matter who runs the White House  — even after a historic victory that my grandchildren will talk about — they still won’t be able to help me with the most important things in my life: how I raise and educate my kids, how I deal with my friends and community, how ethically I lead my life, how I give back to the world, how I grow spiritually, how I stand up for Israel and the Jewish people, how I live an eco-friendly life — in short, how I help my country by taking personal responsibility for my own little world.”

That someone was yours truly, in a Journal column titled “Yes, I Can.”

The point I was making is that no matter who ends up in the White House, “99 percent of our happiness is in our own hands.”

I wrote that “while we await universal health care, we should take better care of our bodies and our health and save the country billions.

“While we await a better education system, we should read to our kids every night and teach them the values that will make them productive citizens. 

“While we await government action to fight global warming, we should go green in our own lives.

“While we await a fix to the economic meltdown, we should learn to budget and spend within our means, and, for those of us who can afford to help, have the kindness to help those who have fallen through the cracks of our debt-ridden safety net.”

In fact, since I wrote those words, I can say that President Obama (just like President Bush before him) has had very little to do with my happiness, the mitzvahs I have done or the progress of my kids.

Said another way, for all the enormous importance on who wins the White House, the winner will never come to your house to help you raise your kids.

He won’t set your Shabbat table and ask your kids what they learned this week.

He won’t help you become a better husband, a better citizen or a better Jew.

He won’t make you call your grandmother, visit the sick, get on the treadmill or feed the poor.

He won’t help you fall in love and meet your soul mate.

This isn’t to say that presidential policies — like universal health care and tax increases — don’t impact our lives. They do. But the reality is that most of the important things in our lives have little to do with the government, and these are the things that usually make us the happiest and most fulfilled. 

Yes, the country will go in a different direction, depending on who wins, but we are always in control of our own direction.

It’s worth remembering all this as you jump for joy because your man won, or as you drown in your sorrows because he lost.

The winner in the White House has a lot of power, but he doesn’t have the power to make you a winner in your own house.

Americans vote after long and bitter presidential campaign

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney battled down to the wire on Tuesday, mounting a last-minute Election Day drive to get their supporters to the polls in a handful of states that will decide the winner in a neck-and-neck race for the White House.

Capping a long and bitter campaign, Americans began casting their votes at polling stations across the country. At least 120 million people were expected to render judgment on whether to give Obama a second term or replace him with Romney.

Their decision will set the country's course for the next four years on spending, taxes, healthcare and foreign policy challenges like the rise of China and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

National opinion polls show Obama and Romney in a virtual dead heat, although the Democratic incumbent has a slight advantage in several vital swing states – most notably Ohio – that could give him the 270 electoral votes needed to win the state-by-state contest.

Romney, the multimillionaire former head of a private equity firm, would be the first Mormon president and one of the wealthiest Americans to occupy the White House. Obama, the first black president, is vying to be the first Democrat to win a second term since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Whichever candidate wins, a razor-thin margin would not bode well for the clear mandate needed to break the partisan gridlock in Washington.

Romney voted at a community center near his home in a Boston suburb, before dashing off for a pair of last-minute stops, including in Ohio. “I feel great about Ohio,” he said when asked about a state that is considered a must-win for him.

Obama, settling into his hometown of Chicago, made a final pitch to morning commuters in battleground states that have been an almost obsessive focus of both campaigns seeking to map out their paths to victory. He also made a surprise visit to a Chicago campaign office.

“Four years ago, we had incredible turnout,” Obama told a Miami radio station in a pre-recorded interview. “I know people were excited and energized about the prospect of making history, but we have to preserve the gains we've made and keep moving forward.”

He called into a hip-hop music station in Tampa, Florida, in a final outreach to African-American supporters, saying that voting was “central to moving our community forward.”

Fueled by record spending on negative ads, the battle between the two men was focused primarily on the lagging economic recovery and persistently high unemployment, but at times it also turned personal.

BOOSTING TURNOUT

As Americans headed to voting booths, campaign teams for both candidates worked the phones feverishly to mobilize supporters to cast their ballots.

Polls will begin to close in Indiana and Kentucky at 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT) on Tuesday, with voting ending across the country over the next six hours.

The first results, by tradition, were tallied in Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, both in New Hampshire, shortly after midnight (0500 GMT). Obama and Romney each received five votes in Dixville Notch. In Hart's Location, Obama had 23 votes to nine for Romney and two for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

The close presidential race raises the prospect of a disputed outcome similar to the 2000 election, which ended with a U . S. Supreme Court decision favoring George W. Bush over Al Gore after legal challenges to the close vote in Florida. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have assembled legal teams to deal with possible voting problems, challenges or recounts.

The balance of power in the U.S. Congress also will be at stake in Senate and House of Representatives races that could impact the outcome of “fiscal cliff” negotiations on spending cuts and tax increases, which kick in at the end of the year unless a deal is reached.

Obama's Democrats are now expected to narrowly hold their Senate majority, while Romney's Republicans are favored to retain House control.

Amid uncertainty over the U.S. election outcome, no major moves were expected in global financial markets while investors waited for the result. World stock markets edged slightly higher, and U.S. exchanges opened up modestly.

Despite the weak economy, Obama appeared in September to be cruising to a relatively easy win after a strong party convention and a series of stumbles by Romney, including a secretly recorded video showing the Republican writing off 47 percent of the electorate as government-dependent victims.

But Romney rebounded in the first debate on Oct. 3 in Denver, where his sure-footed criticism of the president and Obama's listless response started a slow rise for Romney in polls. Obama seemed to regain his footing in recent days at the head of federal relief efforts for victims of superstorm Sandy in the New York-New Jersey area.

The presidential contest is now likely to be determined by voter turnout – specifically, what combination of Republicans, Democrats and independent voters shows up at polling stations.

Weather could be a factor. Much of the nation was dry and mild, though rain was forecast later on Tuesday in the Southeast, including Florida, an important swing state.

Obama and Romney raced through seven battleground states on Monday to hammer home their final themes, urge supporters to get to the polls and woo the last remaining undecided voters.

'WE KNOW WHAT CHANGE LOOKS LIKE'

Obama focused on Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa, the three Midwestern swing states that, barring surprises elsewhere, would ensure that he reaches the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Romney visited the must-win states of Florida, Virginia and Ohio before finishing in New Hampshire.

After two days of nearly around-the-clock travel, Obama wrapped up his final campaign tour in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday with a speech that hearkened back to his 2008 campaign.

“I came back to ask you to help us finish what we've started because this is where our movement for change began,” he told a crowd of some 20,000 people. Obama wiped away tears as he reflected on those who had helped his campaign.

Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, ended Monday in Manchester, New Hampshire, the city where he started his campaign last year. “We're one day away from a fresh start,” the hoarse-sounding candidate told a crowd of 12,000.

Obama ridiculed Romney's claims to be the candidate of change and said the challenger would be a rubber stamp for a conservative Tea Party agenda. “We know what change looks like, and what he's selling ain't it,” he said in Columbus, Ohio.

Romney argued he was the candidate who could break the partisan gridlock in Washington and said four more years of Obama could mean another economic recession.

The common denominator for both candidates was Ohio. Without the state's 18 electoral votes, the path to victory becomes very narrow for Romney.

Polls have shown Obama with a small but steady lead in the state for months, sparked in part by his support for a federal bailout of the auto industry, which accounts for one of every eight jobs in Ohio, and by a strong state economy with an unemployment rate lower than the 7.9 percent national rate.

That undercut the central argument of Romney's campaign – that his business experience made him uniquely qualified to create jobs and lead an economic recovery.

Romney's aides hoped an 11th-hour visit on Tuesday could also boost his cause in Pennsylvania, a Democratic-leaning state that he has tried to put in play in recent weeks.

Obama fought back through the summer with ads criticizing Romney's experience at the private equity firm Bain Capital and portraying him as out of touch with ordinary Americans.

That was part of a barrage of advertising in the most heavily contested battleground states from both candidates and their party allies, who raised a combined $2 billion.

The rise of “Super PACs,” unaffiliated outside groups that can spend unlimited sums on behalf of candidates, also helped fuel the record spending on political ads.

Obama voted in October by taking advantage of early voting procedures. Vice President Joe Biden stood patiently in a long line Tuesday to cast his ballot in his home state of Delaware.

“Oh, I'm feeling pretty good,” Biden said when asked if he had any prediction, according to a pool report.

Asked whether this would be the last time he would vote for himself, he said with a grin: “No, I don't think so.” The 69-year-old former U.S. senator, who twice ran unsuccessfully for the White House before becoming Obama's running mate, has not ruled out another run in 2016.

Sandy-affected voters in N.Y., N.J. can choose polling place

Voters in New York and New Jersey affected by superstorm Sandy will be permitted to vote at any polling place in their respective states using a provisional ballot.

“Just because you’re displaced doesn’t mean you should be disenfranchised,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, a day before Americans went to the polls to pick their next president.

Some polling places were completely unusable due to the storm, and some voters had sought shelter far from their polling places.

President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney held final campaign rallies in key states on Monday and appeared on Monday Night Football.

Polls show Obama, a Democrat, and Romney, a Republican, in a tight race. The Jewish vote was being seen as especially important in swing states, especially Florida.

Security could intimidate, so Sinai Temple moves polling places outdoors

Polling places often move around from year to year, but normally not on Election Day itself, as happened to the polls at Sinai Temple this year.

On Nov. 6, when the day began, 14 booths were positioned inside the West Coast’s largest and oldest Conservative synagogue. But after two trained volunteers, working with Election Protection, a nonpartisan election-monitoring organization, reported that the synagogue’s security guards were, as they do every day, using metal detector wands to screen each person entering the building, poll workers relocated the booths to a fenced-in courtyard outside the Temple, just off Wilshire Boulevard.

“It can be intimidating,” said Brian Link, one of the volunteers, said, explaining why the polling places had to be moved to comply with election law.

A second volunteer, Melody Chen, in 2008 had volunteered with Election Protection in Charlotte, N.C. She staffed a hotline that year, similar to one she and Link called Tuesday morning to report security procedures at Sinai Temple.

In North Carolina four years ago, Chen said, “there was one polling place where every African-American voter was told that their registration was not valid.

“It just blows your mind, in this day and age,” she added.

Nobody appears to have been turned away from the polls at Sinai Temple, Link said, but there was a bit of commotion when one voter set off the metal detector.

The offending item: a pocketknife.

“It got a little weird,” Link said, noting that it took some consultation with multiple members of the security personnel before the voter was allowed to enter. “But it all turned out OK.”

Moving the polls out of doors required some flexibility on the part of voters. Voters in wheelchairs had to be dropped off on a side street and then transported along the sidewalk into the polling place; once inside the fenced-in area, they had limited room to maneuver, leading one older man to consider casting a provisional ballot at one station because the pathway to the other was a bit cramped. He eventually cast his ballot at his designated polling place.

A few synagogue security guards were positioned outside the polling place; others were seen carrying walkers for handicapped voters, and they appeared to be cooperating with election workers.

Around 11 a.m., Tommy Brown, a 14-year veteran staff member with the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder, was affixing additional signs directing voters away from the synagogue’s main entrance on Beverly Glen and toward the relocated polling station around the corner. He said he would position lights and portable heaters near the tables to insure the six volunteers monitoring polls wouldn’t get too cold after nightfall.

Sinai

Tommy Brown, who works for the Los Angeles County registrar, was assigned to redirect voters to the relocated polling place at Sinai Temple on Nov. 6.

“If anybody’s not comfortable, we’ll probably bring out some County workers to man the polls,” Brown said.

But on this unseasonably warm Election Day morning, shaded from the sun by the large synagogue building, voters didn’t seem to notice – or care about — the change in location.

Walter Dishell, a member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple who came with his wife and daughter to the polls, remembered that the polling places had been inside the Sinai Temple building the year before.

A Republican, Dishell downplayed any intimidation a security measure might cause.

“That wouldn’t have bothered me, and I’m more than willing to show my license,” said Dishell, referring to new laws being passed in some states requiring voters to show a valid photo ID in order to vote. Republicans advocate such laws as a way to combat voter fraud; Democrats see such measures as potentially disenfranchising low-income and elderly voters who may be less likely to have photo ID.

“I just heard my daughter say that they still had the woman who lived in the apartment before her on the voter rolls,” Dishell added. “She hasn’t lived there for seven years. That concerns me.”

But the voters out at the polls – Dishell included – seemed rather cheerful, even if they didn’t know how the election would turn out.

“I’m standing here, and I’m just as uncertain as I’ve been for the last few days,” Ronald Leibow said shortly after casting his ballot. “If I had to put a penny on one side of the line or the other, I’m assuming Obama will win, but if it goes the other way, I won’t be surprised.”

Moments after Leibow left the courtyard, a class of 19 four-year-olds from Sinai Akiba walked in. Their three teachers had escorted them out the door of the building and around the corner in order to view the polling place.

The kids had conducted a mock election in their classroom earlier in the day, one of the teachers said.

“Oreos or Chips Ahoy,” she said. “I don’t know who won. We haven’t counted the votes yet.” 

From Boca to Delray, Florida’s much-discussed Jewish voters finally have their say

At approximately 10 a.m. on Election Day, a black sedan pulled up to the polling station at the J.C. Mitchell Elementary School.

“He threw Israel under the bus,” said the car's driver, a chatty silver-haired man, as he helped an elderly woman from the back seat.

“You vote your way and I'll vote mine,” she replied, her eyes rolling as he set up her walker and oxygen tank and steered her toward the entrance. “I'm voting for the president.”

Little could better encapsulate the drama unfolding among Jewish voters here in South Florida as the final day dawned on what has been a bitter presidential campaign pitting the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama, against Republican Mitt Romney.

As in past elections, the bulk of the Sunshine State's more than 600,000 Jews are expected to support the Democrat. But Republicans have shelled out millions to peel off some of that support — mainly by impugning the president's record on Israel — and on the eve of Election Day they were brimming with confidence.

“We're gonna win,” said Sid Dinnerstein, the Republican Party chairman in Palm Beach County, where as of late October, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 100,000. “My Christian friends say to me, 'How could even 1 percent of Jewish people vote for this guy?' ”

For Obama and Romney, Florida is a big prize. According to a New York Times analysis, if Obama wins here, Romney has to sweep all the other battleground states to pass the 270-vote threshold necessary to win the Electoral College and the presidency.

In 2008, Obama won here by less than 3 percentage points, but he won support from approximately three-quarters of Florida Jewish voters, the bulk of whom reside in the state's three most populous counties — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. An American Jewish Committee survey in September found 69 percent of Jewish registered voters in Florida backing the president, with 25 percent for Romney and the rest undecided.

At the Bagel Tree cafe in Delray Beach, there was little evidence to suggest that the president had lost his strong support among the state's Jews.

“If Romney gets in, he will not be president, he will be king,” said Sandy Richter, who was sipping coffee with four friends, all of whom were supporting Obama. “He's a tyrant.”

Across the restaurant, a parallel group of five men finishing their lunch said that they, too, were supporting the president.

“I just don't like to lose any more of our freedoms,” Alvin Wolff said. “My family should be able to do with their body what they want to do with it. I should be able to marry anybody I want to marry. I should be able to pray or not pray when I want to.”

The Bagel Tree is located next to the large and overwhelmingly Jewish King's Point retirement community, the residents of which Dinnerstein called “the most hardcore liberal Jews, maybe in America.” Only one patron on Tuesday admitted to supporting Romney.

“I have eight great-grandchildren in Israel,” said the Romney backer, a woman who declined to give her name but identified herself as pro-choice on abortion and as a Medicare beneficiary. “Obama sat for 20 years in his church with that Rev. Wright. And I feel — I mean I know — he's an Arab lover.”

Such sentiments, however, were rare — or at least rarely voiced — among the Jewish Floridians who were interviewed. Still, for all the solid Jewish backing of the president, there was a palpable lack of enthusiasm for the candidate who electrified the country four years ago with his talk of hope and change.

Even many of the Obama backers agreed with Dinnerstein's prediction that the president would fall short of the level of Jewish support he enjoyed in 2008. In interviews Tuesday with more than a dozen Jewish voters, Obama was not infrequently described as the lesser of two evils.

“I voted against Romney,” Victor Barth said. “I don't think we had too much of a choice. I took the better of the two evils.”

Barth and his wife, Rhoda, cast their votes for Obama on Tuesday afternoon at Temple Emeth, a Conservative congregation in Delray Beach located barely a mile from a mammoth billboard showing an Iranian missile aimed squarely at Israel. The caption: “Friends don't let friends get nuked. Stop Obama.”

“Terrible,” Rhoda Barth said. “It is shameful. It should not be up there.”

“My biggest problem with both parties is the money they spent on this campaign could have floated a Third World country,” Victor Barth said. “It's a crime.”

Jewish Obama supporters tended to emphasize Obama's stands on social issues — notably abortion rights and gay rights — as well as his policies toward the poor while dismissing charges that the president has been insufficiently committed to the security of Israel. Romney's Jewish supporters talked mainly about the Republican's commitment to Israel and, secondarily, his ability to steer the economy out of the doldrums.

Debbi Klarberg, a Boca Raton resident who described herself as “very pro-Israel,” said she had some reservations about the president on that front — but not enough to change her vote.

“Basically his values represent who I am as a person,” she said. “I guess my beliefs are more in line with Democratic values.”

Orthodox Jews, however, appear more inclined to back Romney over the president, polling suggests. Orthodox voters are believed to have given a majority of their votes to the Republican nominees in the previous two presidential elections.

At a kosher restaurant Monday night in Boca Raton, three Orthodox patrons said they were supporting Romney, largely because of Israel.

“I'm voting for Romney, I'm not hiding it,” said a woman who declined to give her name. “The main thing is Romney is better for Israel than Obama is.”

Eytan Marcus, an Orthodox critical care physician who spent part of his childhood in Israel, said there was little difference substantively between Obama and his predecessors on support for the Jewish state. Rather it was Obama's subtle favoring of the Arab states that he feared had emboldened them politically.

“He's enabled the Arab nations,” Marcus said. “He didn't do anything for Israel, but he strengthened the Arabs. It tips the balance.”

Republicans have hammered the president on the issue of Israel in billboards, print advertisements, mailings and robocalls that seem to have disgusted and fatigued Jewish voters of all persuasions. Even cellphone numbers haven't been immune this year. And perhaps more pertinent, many voters claim to be ignoring the persuasion efforts.

“I had to take the phone off the hook, I had to turn off the answering machine weeks ago,” said one Jewish voter in Boca, who nevertheless expressed regret that it had cost her the thrill of having Barbra Streisand's voice on her machine. Streisand is one of several celebrities who recorded calls on behalf of Obama.

As the final day of voting rolled around — Floridians had more than a week to cast their ballots this year — there was a palpable sense of relief that the end was finally in sight. At the Bagel Tree, nearly everyone had cast their votes prior to the actual Election Day. There was one exception, though.

“I'm voting after cards,” Fran Reisfield said. “We're playing canasta first.”

Marty Kaplan: My Chris Christie hypocrisy

I was against Chris Christie before I was for him.

If Obama wins, when all the exit polling gets sorted through, it’s those images of the Democratic president touring the hurricane damage arm-in-arm with the Republican governor that may turn out to have given him his advantage.  If that happens, then the election will have been determined by two things I find it uncomfortable to grapple with as historical forces: by luck – bad luck in this case, as in Sandy – and by the awkward upside of hypocrisy.

And if Romney turns out to win, luck and hypocrisy will still have played a bigger part in the outcome than civics classes – do such things still exist? – would care to admit.

Like many Democrats, until last week I was not a fan of Chris Christie.

When Karl Rove fired nine U.S. Attorneys for refusing to buckle to his political muscle, I recalled that Christie, a top fundraiser for George W. Bush and New Jersey counsel to his presidential campaign, had been named U.S. Attorney in 2001 with zero experience in criminal law.

In 2010, when Governor Christie called a press conference to blame bungling federal education bureaucrats for preventing New Jersey’s winning a $400 million Race to the Top award, I wasn’t surprised when Christie fired his Education Commissioner for warning him before the press conference that his charge against the Obama administration was false. 

This year, when Christie said he’d veto a gay marriage bill, I thought it was cowardly for him to say he’d prefer a referendum, and appalling how he justified it: “people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South.”

When Christie called a reporter “stupid” and called a former Navy SEAL at a public event an “idiot,” I didn’t think it was refreshing Jersey straight talk – I thought it was bullying.

When in his Republican National Convention keynote he excoriated Obama for “absentee leadership,” and when on the campaign trail he asked, “What the hell is he doing asking for another four years?,” he struck me as a partisan hack in the worst Rudy Giuliani tradition.

But oh my, when Sandy struck, and Christie praised the president for his crisis leadership and management competence, and put his own body on the line in photos and footage attesting to Obama’s bipartisanship, I found it effortless to turn on a dime and say about Chris Christie, “Now there’s a real leader.” 

And when Christie smacked down Steve Doocy on “Fox & Friends” for asking when Romney would get his own disaster tour, and when Rupert Murdoch whined about the valentine that Christie had treacherously given to Obama, I really felt the glow of kinship for Christie warming my Newark-born heart.  Even the political calculation now being ascribed to Christie – that his Obama love gives him big bipartisan cred for his own 2016 presidential bid – didn’t diminish my budding Christie bromance.

If Mitt Romney had flip-flopped on Christie the way I did, I’d have called him a hypocrite, an Etch a Sketcher, a revisionist and no doubt, somehow, a liar.  But because it confirms the narrative I’m invested in, I have no difficulty in suddenly discovering the virtues of Christie’s blunt outspokenness, and his ability to put partisanship aside for the good of country. 

The brain is wondrous organ, and the political brain is especially nimble.  But as Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains in “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” rationality is not the default setting of our wiring.  The brain has a confirmation bias, which can transform any new data, however contradictory, into evidence for something we already believe is true.  This accounts for the tragic uselessness of facts in political discourse.  The brain can also convince itself that a brand new narrative, utterly at odds with what we believed before, is no different from what we’d been thinking all along.  In you, it’s hypocrisy; in me, it’s insight.

Kahneman is especially unsettling on the huge role that luck plays in our lives.  As their supporters tell it, the Romney story is about character, effort, merit – not about being born a member of the lucky genes club – and the Obama story is about values, vision, resilience – not about reverse discrimination.  Good luck gave Romney a single credible primary opponent who one debate night forgot the third item on a list.  Bad luck brought misery and tragedy to millions last week, but also an exquisitely timed opportunity for Obama to comfort and to lead, and for Christie, whatever his motive, to throw away the obstructionist GOP script.

Every political victory or loss is the consequence of innumerable factors and the work of innumerable hands.  Money, sadly, is a big part of it.  So is storytelling – our species’ appetite for narrative, fiction and self-delusion.  And so, too, is luck.  I don’t think Sandy was part of God’s plan, no more than I think climate change is divine in origin.  But to me it’s inescapable that the 2012 election has as much to do with things in no one’s plan as it does with anything that money can buy.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

A response to stiff-necked playwright David Mamet

This piece is a response to “A note to stiff-necked people” by David Mamet which first appeared on JewishJournal.com on Nov. 1.

David Mamet recently asked the following questions of “Jews planning to vote for Obama.”  Herewith, my responses.

Are you prepared to explain to your children not the principles upon which your vote is cast, but its probable effects upon them? 

Yes.   My children will be struggling with climate change for their entire lives, which is one major reason I am voting for Obama.  I live in New York, and I do not want to see a Hurricane Sandy every year.

Irrespective of your endorsement of liberal sentiments, of fairness and “more equal distribution,” will you explain to your children that top-down economic policies will increasingly limit their ability to find challenging and well-paid work, and that the diminution in employment and income will decrease their opportunity to marry and raise children?

I would explain that, if there were any evidence of it.  I’m not sure what “top-down economic policies” you are referring to.  The “trickle down economics” of the last Republican administrations have widened the wealth gap, caused middle-class wages and savings to fall, and led to the financial crisis by aggregating risk at the top.  Moreover, the Republican refusal to invest seriously in education means that China is going to kick my children’s collective butts in the coming century.  For these reasons, the best vote for my children is a vote for Obama.

Will you explain (as you have observed) that a large part of their incomes will be used to fund programs that they may find immoral, wasteful and/or indeed absurd? And that the bulk of their taxes go to no programs at all, but merely service the debt you entailed on them? 

I will.  The largest shares of the federal budget are the military (spending which Romney wants to increase), Medicare, and Social Security.  All the rest is window-dressing.  As for the debt, Romney’s absurd additional tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% — including you, Mr. Mamet – cannot be paid for and will increase the burden on my children.

Will you tell your children that a liberal government will increasingly marginalize, dismiss and weaken the support for and the safety of the Jewish state?

If I told them that, why would they believe me instead of the Israeli generals who said that the Obama administration is the most pro-Israel in American history?   Really, what’s causing the marginalization of the Jewish state is the right/far-right alliance in the Israeli government which is undermining Israeli democratic ideals.  I will tell my children how I lived in Israel for three years, and how I continue to care about the state now – which is why I support the majority of Israelis who want peace, not more confrontation.

Will you tell them that, in a state-run economy, hard work may still be applauded, but that it will no longer be rewarded?

Yes.  Fortunately, only conspiracy loons on the far-right believe that the U.S. economy is state-run. 

Will you explain that whatever their personal beliefs, tax-funded institutions will require them to imbibe and repeat the slogans of the left, and that, should they differ, they cannot have a career in education, medicine or television unless they keep their mouths shut?

No, since this is demonstrably untrue.  Please provide a single example.

Will you explain to them that it is impossible to make a budget, and that the basic arithmetic we all use at the kitchen table is not practiced at the federal and state level, and to suggest that it should be is “selfishness?”

No, since this also is untrue.  First, as economists (rather than playwrights) understand, the  federal government is not a household.  Household debt is very bad; government debt is sometimes bad, sometimes good.  What is “selfishness” is to increase that debt so that the wealthiest 1% of Americans can enjoy a tax cut, can pay no taxes whatsoever on overseas income, and pay no taxes upon inheriting millions of dollars.

Most importantly, will you teach them never to question the pronouncements of those in power, for to do so is to risk ostracism?

Of course I will not teach that.  I personally have been ostracized from parts of the Jewish community for my support of a moderate Zionist organization, J Street.  However, I would rather be ostracized than abandon my love of Israel and the Jewish values on which I grew up.

Are you prepared to sit your children down and talk them through your vote on the future you are choosing for them?

Of course.  As a gay man married to my partner, I will explain how Mitt Romney wants to destroy their family and make it impossible for them to be the legal children of their two fathers.  I will explain how a small handful of neo-conservatives are making a ‘deal with the devil’ with fundamentalist religious know-nothings who believe that rape is sometimes a good thing and that evolution is a “lie straight from hell.”

Please remember that we have the secret ballot and, should you, on reflection, vote in secret for a candidate you would not endorse in public, you will not be alone.

Fortunately, I am not a hypocrite.  I do not do one thing in private and another in public.  For the sake of my children, my country, my Jewish people, and the world in which I live, I am proud to be voting Obama.

Last pushes for Jewish votes in Ohio, other swing states stir emotions

The family wedding. The entrance to the local synagogue. The future of Israel. Your precious grandchild.

In the final days of what has been a close and bitterly contested election, it’s not so much that nothing is sacred in the fight for the Jewish vote. It’s that little that is sacred has not been put to use.

Efforts to pick up Jewish votes in states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia have stressed themes of Jewish vulnerability and of threatened Jewish values. Jewish voters said at times they were taken aback by the tone.

Ruth Sudilovsky-Pecha said she gasped when she read an open letter in the latest edition of the Cleveland Jewish News in which Josh Mandel, the Republican vying to unseat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), was excoriated by some of his wife's cousins.

In the letter, nine members of the Ratner family, a prominent Ohio clan that made its fortune in real estate, recalled their happiness when Mandel, the Ohio treasurer and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, married into their family. But they noted their dismay over his opposition to same-sex marriage and allowing openly gay people to serve in the military. They cited a family member who married a same-sex spouse and also served in the military.

“This family is sprawling and diverse, but it has always believed strongly in the values of equality and inclusiveness,” said the letter, which appeared as a full-page ad in the paper. “Your discriminatory stance violates these core values of our family.”

“I was like, ‘whoa,' ” Sudilovsky-Pecha, 48, a social worker who lives in Solon, a suburb of Cleveland, said after leafing through the paper, the last before the election. “I may agree with them, but you’ve got to wonder what Shabbos dinner and Pesach is like.”

The family feud permeated the pages of the Jewish weekly and reflected the intensity of the election debate. In more full-page ads, two other Ratners, real estate magnate Ron and his wife, Susan, endorsed Brown and President Obama, while on a later page, two more Ratners and a dozen Mandels joined several hundred Ohio Jews in endorsing Mandel.

Another ad taken out in the paper by the Defend Israel Movement, which gave its address as a post office box in Israel, likened Obama to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who appeased Hitler.

Such rancor was largely absent from a Nov. 1 debate organized by the Orthodox Union at Green Road Synagogue, an Orthodox shul in this affluent Cleveland suburb of 12,000. But the caliber of the speakers reflected the importance attached to Ohio by the campaigns: Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff, acting in a personal capacity, argued for Obama, while Tevi Troy, a former deputy secretary of health and human services, made the case for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whom he now advises.

The surrogates adamantly disagreed on a number of topics. Troy said that Obama sought to “create daylight” between the United States and Israel, while Lew said the president had defended Israel to a degree that few predecessors had and imposed tough sanctions on Iran.

Lew also faulted the Romney campaign for pledging to reduce the deficit without offering specifics.

Troy countered that Obama pursued a “unipartisan” strategy in advancing his own fiscal reforms, preferring to ignore Republican advice and contributions. Lew, in the single instance he raised his voice, vehemently denied the point.

Troy and Lew, however, reserved much of their passion for their wrap-ups, when each spoke of the joys of being an Orthodox Jew serving in a senior government position.

“I enjoyed their personal experiences as Orthodox Jews, their commitment to their work,” said Rebecca Miller, a retiree who attended with her daughter. “It made me proud.”

Outside, as the audience members headed into the night, the intensity returned. A Democrat argued with a few Jewish Republicans who had gathered earlier near the entrance carrying an “Obama, Oy Vey” banner over whether Romney would roll back abortion rights.

Holly Litwin, a teacher at the Conservative movement-affiliated Gross Schechter Day School who attended the debate, said she was exhausted by weeks of robocalls, campaign mailings and postings throughout her suburban Cleveland neighborhood.

“I’m shocked by the personal attacks on the integrity of individuals,” said Litwin, of Shaker Heights, who recently moved to Ohio from Oregon, a solidly Democratic state that is not subject to such intensive campaigning.

Litwin was mailed a DVD, “Dreams From My Real Father,” which presents a conspiracy theory alleging that Obama has covered up his true origins as the illegitimate son of a black American communist.

“I had a visceral reaction,” she said. “I took it as if it was contaminated and deposited it in the recycling.”

Stanley Stone, a textile business retiree, said he also has been subject to a stream of fliers and phone calls from Republicans and Democrats in recent months.

Saying that Obama “inherited a lot of problems,” Stone said he wasn't buying Republican claims that the president's strategies had failed to revive the economy.

Fred Taub, a Cleveland Heights resident who writes and speaks against boycott and divestment efforts targeting Israel, said he was supporting Romney.

“Two reasons — the economy and Israel, he said. “I can’t afford Obama, and he's snubbed Israel too many times.”

But Taub also said that his Republican Jewish friends were weary of the material targeting Jewish voters.

“I don’t look anymore, you get sick of hearing the complaints from both sides — and I think most people have decided,” he said.

Sudilovsky-Pecha said that Republican ads had raised questions in her mind about Obama.

“I'm not a hundred percent convinced Obama's as strong a supporter of Israel as I would like him to be, but he's not as weak a supporter as Republicans paint him,” said Sudilovksy-Pecha, who has family in Israel. “But as a social worker, I can’t imagine living in country led by Romney with his ‘47 percent.’ ”

She was referring to a secretly recorded fundraiser appearance in which Romney dismissed Obama’s voting base as the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay income tax and, he claimed, are dependent on the government. The Obama campaign has bombarded swing states with ads featuring the remarks, for which Romney has expressed regret.

A September survey of 238 Jewish registered voters in Ohio by the American Jewish Committee found 64 percent saying they would vote for Obama, 29 percent supporting Romney and 7 percent undecided.

Ohio isn’t the only battleground state where Jewish votes are being sought aggressively.

The Emergency Committee for Israel, a political action committee that has been criticizing the president and other Democrats on Israel since 2010, has been doing robocalls in Wisconsin, Ohio and Virginia.

The first round of ECI’s calls spliced together disparate statements by Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — some of them made years apart — and presented them as a “debate” between the two leaders, thus suggesting that they disagree on the need to confront Iran’s nuclear program.

But the Obama statements were not about the nuclear issue, and the statement excerpted from Netanyahu was taken out of context from a speech in which he praised Obama’s commitment on the issue. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker columnist called the robocall “an Orwellian descent into falsehoods and misrepresentation.”

A second ECI robocall, also using spliced quotes to create a “debate,” focused on differences between Netanyahu and Obama over Israeli settlements and building in eastern Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, in the week before Election Day, Jewish Democrats and Republicans both made their final pushes.

In a National Jewish Democratic Council video, Barbra Streisand emphasized what she predicted would be a rollback of women’s rights under Romney.  “Mitt Romney does not share our values, I know Barack Obama does,” she said.

The Jewish Council for Education and Research — the pro-Obama political action committee behind a series of popular and profanity-laced pro-Obama videos featuring celebrities such as Sarah Silverman and Samuel Jackson — released a G-rated musical video, “Call your Zayde,” urging young Jews to phone their grandparents in swing states and tell them to vote for the president.

The Obama campaign released a video of Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor, explaining his support for the president’s reelection. Koch and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz both wrote separate Op-Eds making the case for Obama’s reelection, defending his commitment to Israel and touting his positions on domestic policy issues. Footage of Koch and Dershowitz criticizing or questioning the president’s Middle East approach previously had been featured in anti-Obama videos.

The Republican Jewish Coalition released a video, which the group is running as a TV ad in Florida, featuring Bryna Franklin, a former chairwoman of Democrats Abroad-Israel, assailing the president’s record on Israel and the economy. With Jerusalem’s Old City in the background, Franklin urges American Jews to “switch sides and vote for Mitt Romney for president.”

A young Republican activist’s final plea before election day

The upcoming 2012 presidential election is the most important of our generation.  In the past four years under the direction of our current president, the United States has become a morass of economic volatility and disappointment.  In 2008, President Obama was an unknown quantity, an idea, a man with a reputation not yet established; today, we can begin to judge him on his body of work, and he is clearly inept at leading this country. The consequences of his poor decision-making and ineffective policies have nearly crippled this country and led us deeper into recession. On November 6, we have the opportunity to decide whether we want to continue down this path of disappointment or make a change.

This election is especially important for us young people of this country as the outcome will have a significant effect on the rest of our lives. As a powerful voting force, we must choose to participate fully in the democratic process by letting our voices be heard.  American youths have been particularly hard hit during the last four years, with recent unemployment rates rising in October of 2012 to 12.0% for citizens aged 19-29 years old.  Perhaps even more alarming, over half of recent college graduates will find themselves unemployed or underemployed upon completion of their degree. To add insult to injury, the average student’s debt is at all-time high of $26,500 (http://www.ticas.org/) and tuition costs continue to escalate to historic levels. These trends will only continue to worsen if we don’t take a stand and demand a change; we cannot sit back and allow our lives and the lives of our children be afflicted by another four years of incompetent government.

As a junior in college and a young Republican activist who has spent the last few months campaigning for Governor Romney on colleges across America. I have experienced and witnessed firsthand the fear that’s building in the hearts of college students. We have been made to believe that our college educations will offer us greater opportunities for success upon graduation.  Yet, with the current administration in office, finding a job—never mind a career—after graduation seems but a farfetched dream.  At a time when one third of America’s youth have had to resort to living with their parents for lack of successful employment, it is time to demand independence.  The Republican Party wants to empower young people to join the workforce, not divest them of their future.  The Democratic Party wants to continue down the same path of devastation that it has for the last four years. Please, do not underestimate the impact that eight years of botched governance can have on the future of this nation.

This is a call to action for the young people of this country.  In retrospect, the 2008 election cycle amounted to little more than a political American Idol—a popularity contest with the young and sexy contestant capturing the hearts and hopes of America. The youth of this nation were among Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters and our votes made a difference in that election. Now, it is time to support the candidate who has more than just a catchy tune—we need substance. We need a president with the skills and experience to truly turn this country around—and that man is Mitt Romney. It is clear that the Republican Party has suffered from a public relations crisis and its brand may not be the cool or “in” thing. Voting for Mitt Romney may not seem like the popular choice, but it is the right choice.  During his time in the private sector, he turned failing companies into successful businesses; he has the ability to turn the current economy around as our nation’s next president.  Our time is now and our votes are the powerful way in which we fulfill our duty as American citizens. It is time for the youth of America to stand up and make a decision about their leadership that is based on facts, reputation, and common sense, not on popularity or empty promises. In 2008, Obama sold our generation a bag of fool’s gold and now we have the opportunity to prove to our country that we are smarter than that—we won’t be fooled again. On November 6, 2012, vote Mitt Romney—together, we can be the difference we want to see in our country.


Josh Nass is a conservative talk radio host who frequently appears on HuffPost Live as well as MTV, NPR and Fox News.

Streisand urges Jews to reelect Obama [VIDEO]

Barbra Streisand, in a National Jewish Democratic Council video, urged the reelection of President Obama, saying Mitt Romney “does not share our values.”

Streisand, who had already endorsed Obama, released the video Friday through the NJDC. She emphasized women's rights in her message, saying Obama “has taken our country forward by expanding women's rights and fighting for social and economic justice,” whereas “Gov. Romney would take us backwards and is as extreme as it gets when it comes to a woman's right to choose.”

In addition to noting the candidates' sharp differences on abortion rights, Streisand also cited differences in policies on health care and tax policy, praising Obama's approach and saying that Romney's proposed policies would hurt the poor and middle class.

She referred to advances for gays under Obama and said the president had implemented “the strictest sanctions ever” on Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“Mitt Romney does not share our values, I know Barack Obama does,” Streisand concluded.

The choice: Obama or Romney?

Either way, you’re going to have to suck it up.

Whether you pick Obama or Romney, you are voting as much for imperfection as for promise.

This is not an election of love and enthusiasm — that was so 2008. But 2012 is not about desire — it’s about duty.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, after four years of Obama and two of Romney, there are very few unknown unknowns.

If you choose Obama, you are going to have to swallow a recovery far more tepid than promised. You are going to hope he will focus on jobs, jobs, jobs — and not find another 800-pound distraction like health care to vacuum up his time, energy and political capital. You are going to have to ignore his previous inability to get major legislation through Congress, his “unwillingness,” as The New York Times editorial endorsement of Obama chided, “to throw himself into the political fight.” You have to find reason to believe him when he says that this time, he will not let Simpson-Bowles, or a strong version of it, wither and die.

If you choose Romney, you are going to have to ignore the fact that nonpartisan analyses have said his deficit and jobs plans don’t add up.

“Romney’s tax cut plan doesn’t work,” wrote The Daily Beast’s David Frum, a George W. Bush speechwriter. “I’m a Republican, I support Romney, etc. But you can’t cut that much in such a stagnant economy and expect to break even. Even with a deductions cap, it just won’t happen.”

You are going to have to overlook the fact that they don’t really qualify as “plans” by your own definition of the word. You are going to have to believe he will stand up to the Grover Norquists and the Ralph Reeds and the Todd Akins — and even the Paul Ryans — when it comes to issues such as new revenues, women’s rights, civil rights.

To choose Obama is to trust that the 2012 model will reconnect with the 2008 vision. To choose Romney is to trust that Massachusetts Romney, the Romney of the general election and Denver debate, will slam the White House door on Primary Romney.

To vote for Obama is to acknowledge that, no, he probably doesn’t have Israel in his kishkas — but you have evidence that he has guided Mideast policy through difficult times and come to Israel’s defense where it matters, according to people like Ehud Barak and former Mossad director Efraim Levy, most.

To vote for Romney is to acknowledge that he has a true sense of devotion to Israel, but that he may very well bring back some of the same misguided foreign-policy crew that crippled the United States in the Iraq war and wants to write blank checks to a bloated military.

You can appreciate Romney’s intelligence when it comes to business, but you have to ignore the stunning ignorance — or disingenuousness — of the man who discounted “the 47 percent.”

You can value Obama’s commitment to extending student loans, health care and the social safety net, but you have to believe that, after the economy is stabilized, he won’t kick the issue of entitlement reform down the road.

You can appreciate Romney’s commitment to deficit reduction, but you have to believe he won’t really double down on disproven trickle-down theories.

To vote for Obama is to hope that he is more like Bill Clinton than Jimmy Carter. To vote for Romney is to hope that he is less like George W. Bush and more like George H.W. Bush — or like Bill Clinton.

“Republicans want you to think that, rhetoric aside, Romney is a pragmatic manager of the economy, while Democrats claim that he is an ideologue tilting against your most sacred beliefs,” Jewish Journal Senior Political Editor Shmuel Rosner writes in his book “The Jewish Vote.” “Democrats want you to think that, rhetoric aside, Obama is a pragmatic defender of Israel, while Republicans claim that he is an ideologue tilting against your most sacred beliefs.”

A cautious Obama voter is hoping the president will do what he says. A cautious Romney voter is hoping the governor will do, in many cases, the opposite of what he says. Either way, hope for the best.

And, above all, vote.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

So, who are you voting for?

For Miriam, an outspoken woman in her 80s who wouldn’t give her last name, there isn’t the slightest possibility she will vote against President Barack Obama on Election Day. 

“Maybe we all don’t have to worry about becoming pregnant, obviously,” Miriam said, addressing the five other women, ages 60 to 90, who had stayed after their Tuesday morning exercise class at the Westside Jewish Community Center to speak with a reporter. “But what if a 15-year-old does become pregnant in high school? Should the child have a baby that she does not want and perhaps ruin her life? Absolutely not! And therefore, what the hell do I care what a Republican says?” 

A day later, and a dozen miles north, Linda Stern sat at a table at Nagila Pizza, a kosher joint on Ventura Boulevard in Encino. Stern voted for John McCain in 2008; this year her family donated to the campaign of the Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. 

A member of Valley Beth Shalom, Stern said she will be voting for Romney on Nov. 6 because she believes he’ll boost the economy and because he’s said he won’t cut military funding. 

“I’ll be thinking about who’s going to protect this country, and maintain what makes this country great,” she said, “and who will support our friends and not support our enemies.” 

As different as these two women are — one lives in the Valley, the other in the city; one is a Republican, the other a Democrat; one looks to be at least 35 years younger than the other — the two women share a common trait: Neither is a single-issue voter. 

“I know people who cast their ballots solely on abortion issues,” Stern said. “I am definitely a broad-spectrum voter. But shouldn’t we all be?” 

Miriam, meanwhile, may fiercely disagree with the Republicans’ strict anti-abortion platform, but that’s hardly the only reason she’s voting for Obama. She extolled the president’s health-care overhaul bill for providing access to affordable insurance for 32 million Americans who currently lack coverage, a law Romney has said he would repeal as soon as he’s elected. Miriam also she said she has serious concerns about the integrity of the Republican challenger. 

“I can’t vote for a president like Romney, charming as he is, although that doesn’t sit well with me; handsome as he is, and that doesn’t sit will with me; who says one thing and then says another when it’s expedient,” Miriam said. “How do we know when he’s ever telling the truth?”

Whether any single issue can determine how Jews will cast their ballots in 2012 is a question at the center of a public debate within the Jewish community (see sidebar). Israel, Iran, jobs, the economy, reproductive rights — any one of these is the bottom-line issue for at least some Jews in this contentious election season. In a quest to reveal what is on the minds of Jewish voters this year, at least in Los Angeles, we canvassed the streets and attended many recent Jewish events throughout the region. 

As it turns out, most Jewish voters appear to be deciding with multiple factors in mind. 

“I think the economy is a big issue,” Adeena Bleich said on the evening of Oct. 22 at a presidential debate-viewing get-together at the Jewish Federation building on Wilshire Boulevard. “My husband was out of work for almost two years, so that’s one of the things I’ll be thinking about.” 

Bleich works at a management company in West Los Angeles that services volunteer and professional associations, and she came to watch the debate with a co-worker. She said she’s also considering the differences between Romney and Obama on health-care policy, looking at the candidates’ relationships with Israel, and scanning their actions and policies for evidence that they “genuinely care about the American people.” 

A registered Democrat, Bleich grew up in Connecticut and said she’s been a multi-issue voter since even before she could vote. “I remember when I was a little girl, my parents would sit us down and explain why we were voting for a particular candidate,” she said. 

On-screen at the front of the room, the debate between Obama and Romney kept coming back to the subject of Israel. Jenny Root, Bleich’s co-worker, said she would also be voting based on a range of issues, but as for Obama and Israel, she said she believes the president’s description of his visits to Yad Vashem and Sderot in 2008 — which went over well with the vocal Democrats in the crowd — was irrelevant. 

“That was during his candidacy, not during his presidency,” the self-described moderate Republican said. 

Bleich, for her part, noted that the two candidates seemed to be espousing very similar policies on Israel. 

“They are,” Root conceded. “But Obama’s been blowing off Bibi for years.” 

As he has throughout the campaign, Romney attacked Obama during this third debate for allegedly wanting to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel. In their multimillion-dollar effort to persuade Democratic Jewish voters to abandon the president, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has enthusiastically taken up the argument that Obama, who has a frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been less friendly to Israel than a President Romney would be. 

But a national poll taken in September by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) showed the vast majority of American Jews plan to vote based on economic concerns, outnumbering 4-to-1 Jewish voters who will consider Israel or the Iranian nuclear threat while casting their ballots. 

That same poll also found that American Jews can be expected to continue their decades-long record of turning out at the polls in disproportionately high numbers and supporting Democratic candidates at rates higher than any other group of white voters. Sixty-five percent of those polled by AJC said they will vote for Obama this year, while only 24 percent said they will vote for Romney. 

Despite such poll results, Republican Jews have worked hard this year to make Obama’s perceived unfriendliness to Israel into as much of a political liability for the president as possible. 

With $6.5 million in funding from Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and others, the RJC has made large purchases of airtime, targeting a few swing states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and, of course, Florida — running ads that hammer home the message that some Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 have been disappointed by his performance and claiming that no Jew who cares about Israel should trust the president.

How effective these ads are depends upon the individual. “We’re inundated,” said Rabbi Yocheved Mintz of Congregation P’nai Tikvah, a Reconstructionist/Renewal community of fewer than 100 families in Las Vegas. Mintz, who received her rabbinic ordination from the Academy of Jewish Religion and now sits on the board of the Los Angeles-based nondenominational seminary, is a committed Obama supporter. She called the RJC spots “vitriolic.” 

“You wake up in the morning, and you’ve got ads,” she said. “Between shows, constantly, it’s nonstop.” 

Beyond the advertisements, the RJC has been working to make person-to-person contact with Jewish voters and has custom-built a database of Jewish voters in swing states for this election. Using its database, the RJC has marshaled Republican Jews in uncontested states to make phone calls into swing states in the hopes of swaying some small — but potentially significant — percentage of the Jewish voters who live there. The goal, as explained in e-mails to Los Angeles RJC members, is not to win in Los Angeles, but to “win from Los Angeles.”

That Republicans won’t win the presidential race in California, let alone in Los Angeles, is practically a given. As for the Republicans who have been intimating that 2012 could be the year the party makes significant inroads into the Jewish community nationally, Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, isn’t buying it. 

“The Log Cabin Republicans,” Bauman said, referring to the organization of gay Republicans, “make a lot of noise, make it seem like they’re a major fighter in any given election. But gay Republicans, just like Jewish Republicans, make up less than one-third of the vote, and that’s going to be the same this time.”

At Reform synagogues, Bauman said he hears “about 90 percent support” for Obama, but support for Romney is markedly higher in more observant Jewish communities. At the two Valley synagogues Bauman regularly attends, he said, the breakdown is very different. 

“When I go to Adat Ari El, which is Conservative, it is split slightly more Democratic than Republican. When I go to Shaarey Zedek [an orthodox synagogue], it is substantially more Republican,” Bauman said, “though I always find it humorous that all the Democrats come up to me and quietly tell me they’re Democrats.”

My Single Peeps: Jered F.

When Jered, 35, first tells me, “I came from a very indulged upbringing, and it kind of put me at a disadvantage,” I start to laugh, because it sounds like something Mitt Romney would say after getting caught for being obscenely rich during the years when his wife claimed they ate pasta and tuna fish in a basement apartment. 

But Jered’s not trying to spin. He continues, “I thought I needed a lot of things I really don’t need, and I was constantly seeking fulfillment in things that wouldn’t make me feel fulfilled.” He grew up in a home with two housekeepers, wore only designer clothing, and by age 10 he had traveled the world. “I kind of pursued unhealthy relationships to try to re-create my childhood. I didn’t realize it was a disadvantage until my late 20s,” when he was working in real estate. “There was a moment when I turned around and had everything I needed in life — and most of what I wanted. I got to a point when the real estate bubble burst and my mother cut me off. I had nothing. I was shoveling horse [manure] on my friend’s ranch for $10 an hour.” 

He asked his mom for help, but she denied him. “I fought tooth and nail to get to a place where I’d never have to ask anyone to help me — and I thought, what do I need?  What’s a need and what’s a want?  And why do I want the things I want?”

He took a job at a limousine company to get a paycheck. He ended up loving it. “Three months later, I started my own business,” named Fetch Me.

“I’ve never been as successful and independent as I am now. I’ve been in stages of my life where I’ve looked for a savior from without, but I think I’m coming at the dating world from a healthier place than I did when I was younger.  But the bottom line is, I just have a really, really rich life, full of wonderful people and experiences, and I’d love to chronicle it with somebody. I’d like to have somebody I could experience things with now and look back later on with.  Make memories with somebody. Wouldn’t we all?”

I should probably mention at this point that Jered’s gay — sorry, ladies. He suffered when he came out of the closet — his mother stopped talking to him. “She’ll deny it to anyone else, but that’s exactly why.” Ironically, when his brother became an Orthodox Jew, she stopped talking to him, too.  He and his brother remain very close.

Ideally, he’d like to find a Jewish guy. “Age doesn’t matter. If he’s got a career and he’s built like a linebacker, I wouldn’t hold it against him. I like tall guys — and I’m 6 feet. I’ve been with guys who I’ve supported and with guys who’ve supported me — but it definitely helps you have a more comfortable life if your combined income is decent. It doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure helps. I’m looking for someone who’s compatible with me personally, is supportive of me professionally, where we can have faith in each other in all aspects, and someone who seriously, actually, wants to have kids. I’d love to have my own biological kids, but I just feel really guilty about it. I’m not completely opposed to the idea, but I think at this point I’d rather adopt.

“I meet attractive, successful, colorful men everyday, but I just haven’t yet met one who conveys staying power.  And at this point in my life, I’m not interested in a three-monther or a two-weeker, you know?  I want someone who’s not afraid of forever. Because it’s not a scary thing. It’s a beautiful thing.”


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.