Middle East poised for impact of UK withdrawal from EU vote



In the run up to Thursday's vote in Britain on whether to exit the European Union, Israeli policymakers have studiously avoided comment, desiring not to be seen as interfering in the UK's internal affairs.

Israeli analysts nevertheless stress that Israel has a definite stake in the outcome, though they differ on whether a British exit (Brexit) would be good or bad for its interests.

Polls show that the race is too close to call, with the latest surveys pointing to a resurgence in support for remaining in the EU. An opinion poll for the Mail on Sunday taken June 17-18 showed 45 percent in favor of remaining and 42 percent in favor of leaving.

The stakes for Israel became greater on Monday when all 28 EU foreign ministers decided to endorse the French peace initiative, which began with a meeting in Paris earlier this month and which, according to French President Francois Hollande’s plan, will culminate in an international peace conference dedicated to relaunching Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to be held before the end of the year.

Israel adamantly opposes the French initiative, seeing it as a bid to impose a solution on it against its security and interests. ''International conferences like those that the EU's foreign ministers welcomed push peace further away because they enable the Palestinians to continue to avoid direct talks and compromise,'' the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement Monday.

Israel's hopes of staving off the initiative and its standing vis-à-vis the EU could be set back if Britain exits the body, according to Oded Eran, former Israeli ambassador to the EU and now a senior analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. ''It is preferable for Israel that Britain remain in the EU, where it is a voice of moderation'' in favor of Israel, Eran told The Media Line.

Because of Britain's close relationship with the United States, London tends to be more sympathetic to Israel than many other EU countries, Eran says. Economically, the EU is Israel's largest trading partner ''and it is important that it remain robust'' he says. In the security sphere, Britain is one of the most active members of the EU and NATO, he notes. ''We prefer to see a stronger Europe in its battle against terror and other threats,'' he says.

But it is in the coming diplomacy over the French initiative that Eran believes Britain's presence in the EU is acutely needed by Israel. In the run up to the planned conference, ''Britain's role is still very important for Israel,'' he said.

In Eran's view, the United States is not very enthusiastic about the French initiative and is likely to seek to foil it, possibly in favor of an American initiative, provided Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu facilitates this by showing some flexibility on peace issues. In this case, he believes, Britain would assist the US in trying to convince the French and other Europeans to make way for American moves. ''Britain would play the role of facilitator of the American efforts to enable Netanyahu to take a different track than the French initiative.'' However, if London exits the EU, ''Israel will lose a moderating factor, a voice that could help it avoid the French initiative if necessary.''

British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose political future depends on a vote to remain, is seen in Israel as a reliable friend. Defense and intelligence ties have reportedly been quietly but considerably strengthened under Cameron. During the Gaza conflict in 2014, his Conservative party for weeks withstood pressure from its Liberal Democrat coalition partners to condemn Israel's military campaign.

The international conference push is far from the first time that Israel finds itself at loggerheads with the European Union. The EU considers Israeli communities built on the territories captured by Israel during the 1967 war – commonly referred to as “settlements” — to be illegal while Israel disputes this. The EU says the settlements are an obstacle to peace, something Israel denies. Last November, the differences came to a head as the EU required goods emanating from the post-1967 areas to be labelled to that effect, rather than being marked ''product of Israel.'' The Israeli foreign ministry blasted the decision, terming it in a statement ''an exceptional and discriminatory step inspired by the boycott movement.''

Israel and the EU are also at odds over Israeli demolition of Palestinian structures, some of them EU-funded, in the Oslo Accords-designated “Area C” part of the West Bank, meaning under full – administrative and security – control by the Israelis. Israel maintains it is merely acting against illegal construction while the EU views the same building as vital to the Palestinian presence in an area it sees as crucial to Palestinian statehood.

In the view of Efraim Inbar, head of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, the EU stances on these issues reflect an ''anti-Israel'' orientation emanating from Brussels.

''If Britain leaves and the EU becomes weaker, it will impact positively on Israel,'' he told The Media Line. ''The EU as a whole is much more anti-Israel than its individual countries so if it is weakened that will be good.'' Inbar adds that a British exit, in so much as it can be seen to reflect heightened nationalism of individual European nations, could help boost sympathy for Israel. ''The EU is basically a post nationalist phenomenon while Israel is a nationalist phenomenon, so with each country being nationalist there will be a greater understanding of Israeli behavior,'' he says.

In contrast to Inbar, Alon Liel, the dovish former director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, says that Britain exiting the EU would be a negative development. ''The EU as an aggregate is much more pro-peace than its individual members. To have such a major country depart is weakening the Brussels machine,'' Liel told The Media Line.

The Palestinians for their part do not expect the British decision to have a significant impact on them, according to Ghassan Khatib, Vice President of Birzeit University in the West Bank. Regardless of what happens with the vote, there is a trend in European and within British public opinion of greater sympathy with the Palestinian cause, he says. The French initiative’s acceptance reflects this, he adds.

''These trends will continue in the EU and Britain whether Britain is in or out because there are objective reasons for them,'' Khatib tells The Media Line, citing Israeli behavior as being  foremost among them. ''Israel is doing the kind of thing that even friendly countries like Germany and Britain don't want Israel to do such as expanding the settlements and this is effecting negatively their support for Israel.''

In Amman, Sabri Rbeihat, the former minister for political development, says that supporters of the Jordanian monarchy want Britain to stay in the EU.

''There is a long historic relationship and a feeling that the British have an understanding of the area and its geography and history. Many feel the Jordanian regime was created and maintained by Britain,'' he told The Media Line. The EU without Britain ''would be an unknown, a question mark, there is a sense of uncertainty over what would happen and who would steer the EU.''

Center-left opposition rides a solid lead into Israeli election


Israel's center-left opposition is poised for an upset victory in next week's parliamentary election, with the last opinion polls before Tuesday's vote giving it a solid lead over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party.

Final polls published by Israel's Channel 10 and Channel 2 on Friday evening respectively predicted the Zionist Union would win 24 and 26 seats against 20 and 22 for Netanyahu's Likud, echoing earlier surveys which all gave the opposition a clear lead.

Polls in two of Israel's leading newspapers predicted the Zionist Union would secure 25 or 26 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, against 21 or 22 for Likud. All polls in the past three days have given the same margin of victory.

No party has ever won an outright majority in Israel's 67-year history, making coalition-building critical to the formation of a government.

Netanyahu's campaign focus on security issues and the threat from Iran's nuclear program has failed to inspire voters, who consistently say that economic issues, including soaring house prices and the high cost-of-living, are their chief concerns.

Because there are more parties on the right and far-right of the political spectrum, he had been expected to be able to cobble together a coalition more easily than the center-left, even if he narrowly loses the vote.

But there was positive news for the Zionist Union on that score too, with a poll of Israeli-Arabs showing the overwhelming majority would favor their united Arab party joining a center-left coalition government.

The survey showed 71 percent thought the Joint Arab List, which groups four Arab parties and enhances their electoral clout, should sign up with the Zionist Union, while 16 percent said it should support the coalition from the outside.

With the Joint Arab List expected to win 13 to 15 seats, it has become an important player in the election – it could end up being the third largest group in parliament, giving a powerful voice to Israel's 20 percent Arab minority.

If the Zionist Union, jointly led by Labour party leader Isaac Herzog and former justice minister Tzipi Livni, wins, it is expected to link up with the far-left Meretz party (five or six seats) and the centrist, secular Yesh Atid (13 seats).

With the Arab list on side too, it would need the support of just one more party with around five or six seats to cross the threshold of 61 and form a coalition.

That said, while the arithmetic is possible, it is still challenging. Israel's coalition-building is a messy and convoluted game that can spring surprises at the last minute.

POST-ELECTION BATTLE

When he called this election in December, Netanyahu looked to be in a commanding position and set for a fourth term. But the past three months have exposed vulnerabilities in his armor after nine years in power spread over three terms.

His much-criticized speech to the U.S. Congress on March 3 appears to have marked a turning point. Rather than giving him an electoral boost, with his face on primetime TV, polls turned against him shortly after the event.

He has relentlessly attacked Herzog, a man of small stature with a reedy, slightly high-pitched voice. But Herzog has countered with a quick sense of humor and sharp intellect.

With the conflict with the Palestinians barely mentioned, there are signs that voters are growing fed up with Netanyahu's hard-charging style of leadership. One poll published on Friday showed 72 percent of Israelis say a change is needed.

In the past two days, Netanyahu has talked more about economic issues and his ideas for bringing housing prices down, but it may be too little, too late. Earlier this week he said there was a “real danger” he could lose and he took a similar line in an interview on Friday, urging his supporters to vote.

“Don't stay at home and don't waste your votes,” he said on local radio, sounding as though he was suffering from a cold.

“I will not be elected if the gap is not closed and there is a real danger that Tzipi and Bougie will form the next government,” he said, referring to Herzog by his nickname.

Netanyahu’s popularity rises after U.S. speech, polls show


Israeli opinion polls on Wednesday showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got a slight boost in popularity after his U.S. speech slamming an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, but he is still running neck and neck with his leading rival in a March 17 election.

A survey published by Channel 10 television indicated Netanyahu's Likud party would gaining two seats to 23 compared with what he had a week ago. That would still leave him in a tie with Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union.

The country's Channel 2 television had Netanyahu's right-wing party up by one seat to 23, just behind Herzog's left-of-center list.

In separate surveys conducted by the channels on each candidate's individual popularity, Netanyahu was favored by 44 percent for the job of prime minister, up two percentage points from a week ago. Herzog's number declined by two percentage points to 35 percent, results by Channel 10 showed.

But Netanyahu was further ahead of his rival in a Channel 2 popularity poll, with 47 percent choosing him and 28 percent opting for Herzog. All the surveys indicated Netanyahu had more potential political allies with whom to build a new governing coalition after the election.

In Israel's parliamentary election system, the public chooses parties rather than individual candidates, and the head of the party with the most political allies is the one who usually wins a presidential mandate to form a government.

Israeli critics said that Netanyahu, seeking a fourth term in office, risked damaging Israel's strategic alliance with Washington by speaking in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, for the sake of wooing voters before the closely contested election.

Netanyahu came under strong criticism from the Obama administration for his speech, which Washington said had injected destructive partisanship into U.S.-Israeli ties.

Republicans, who control Congress, had invited Netanyahu to speak without consulting President Barack Obama or other leading Democrats. As many as 60 of the 232 Democratic members of Congress boycotted the address.

Netanyahu rejected Obama's charges that his speech had offered “no viable alternatives” to an international deal being worked out with Tehran, saying he had presented a practical alternative in Washington to a “deeply flawed” nuclear accord being negotiated with Iran.

Economy more than anything drove Jewish vote, poll data shows


The economy was the strongest determinant for Jews who voted for Barack Obama, according to an analysis of polling data.

“Not only do Jews hold fairly liberal to progressive positions on economic justice issues, their views on such matters emerge as the principal decision-making fulcrum in their choice for president, as well as for senators and congressional representatives,” said a report by Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring published Wednesday.

The survey showed that 68 percent of respondents voted for President Obama and 32 percent for Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, and that there were similar liberal-conservative splits on a range of issues, including the economy, abortion, gay rights, climate change and immigration.

However, a statistical analysis of the results showed that the predictive power of economic issues was the largest, according to Steven Cohen, a professor at New York University's Berman Jewish Policy Archive who analyzed the data with Samuel Abrams, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

“All of your predictions” about voting “could be done just by knowing economic justice alone,” Cohen told JTA.

Among other findings, by a 43 percent to 31 percent margin, respondents agreed that “Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently,” and by a 50 percent to 28 percent  margin, respondents wanted to preserve benefits under Medicare, the medical insurance program for those over 65 now facing Republican demands for cost reductions.

Cohen and Abrams ran a regression analysis on the data to determine the relationship between variables; the only other variable that came as close to views on the economy in predicting a voting outcome was views on climate change, Cohen said.

The analysis was drawn from research by YouGov, a company that targets respondents through market research.

Respondents self-identifying as Jewish numbered 2,067 and responded through email. The margin of error was 2 percentage points.

Workmen's Circle was established in 1900 as a Jewish labor rights group.

Computer woes force Likud to extend hours in primary vote


Polls will remain open past midnight in Likud Party primary voting following computer malfunctions at several polling stations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the chairman of the ruling Likud, made the announcement Sunday of the longer voting hours following malfunctions at several stations, including the 80 computerized voting systems at Jerusalem's main polling station at the International Convention Center.

The problems led to calls by party leaders to postpone the vote after voters were turned away at some polling stations or left without casting their ballots after waiting a long time.

The party's 123,351 members are voting to select the Knesset list ahead of the Jan. 22 national elections. The polls opened at 9 a.m.

Some 97 Likud candidates are competing for 25 realistic spots on the Likud's Knesset list.

Meanwhile, Yair Lapid, head of the newly formed centrist party Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, said Sunday that he had offered former Kadima Party head Tzipi Livni the second slot on his party's list, and promised that she would be a full partner in all major decisions.

“Splitting the centrist bloc is not good for Israel, and I am calling her to join forces and change the country together,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

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.” 

Mitt Romney narrowly wins Ohio in Super Tuesday split


Super Tuesday Republican primaries were a race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Republicans selected a Jewish veteran for Ohio’s senate run, and Dennis Kucinich lost his bid for reelection.

Ten states went to the polls Tuesday in what is the biggest election day of primary season.

“Super Tuesday” usually helps determine a frontrunner, but Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, won decisively in important southern states Oklahoma and Tennessee, and also picked up North Dakota.

Romney won his home state of Massachusetts and its neighbor, Vermont and as well as Idaho and Virginia.  Polls revealed Tuesday night that Romney narrowly defeated Santorum in Ohio.

The former Massachusetts governor faced only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on the Virgina ballot; Santorum and Newt Gingrich failed to place on the ballot.

Head to head with Romney in the state, Paul, a libertarian who rejects foreign assistance including for Israel, scored one of his most impressive outcomes this season: 40 percent to 60 Romney’s percent.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, won Georgia, the state he represented in Congress, keeping him in the race for now, although Santorum’s decisive wins in southern states Tennessee and Oklahoma seemed to dampen Gingrich’s prospect of a rally. It was too early to call Wyoming and Alaska, the ninth and tenth states voting on Tuesday.

The next primaries are in Alabama and Mississippi on March 13. 

Gingrich, Santorum and Romney each took time out of campaigning on Tuesday to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference on its last day, Santorum in person at the convention center in Washington D.C. and Romney and Gingrich via satellite.

All three took shots at President Obama for not making more clear a military threat against Iran should it not stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program.

AIPAC did not invite Paul, who opposes increased confrontation with Iran.

In Ohio, Dennis Kucinich ended a colorful political career when redistricting in the state forced him into a primaries match with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio.).

Kucinich, elected mayor of Cleveland in 1977 at the age of 31, emerged from obscurity 20 years later when the fiscal policies that had driven him from office in 1979 were vindicated.

Elected to Congress in 1996, he became one of its most liberal voices and one of its most consistent critics of Israel.

At the other end of the state, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) lost her Cincinnati area seat to Brad Wenstrup, a physician and Iraq War vet who had challenged her from the eight—a signal that the GOP is not moderating, considering Schmidt’s own reputation had been one of combative conservatism.

Statewide, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel easily beat off five challengers to secure the GOP’s nomination for U.S. senator.

Mandel, 34, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, and a Marine who did two tours of duty in Iraq, now faces Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Muslim Brotherhood says it leads Egypt’s vote count


The Muslim Brotherhood’s party said on Wednesday its alliance was leading in Egypt’s election, which would give the nation’s oldest Islamist group a powerful parliamentary platform to challenge the authority of ruling army generals.

State television said first-round results in Egypt’s first free election since army officers ousted the king in 1952 would be issued on Thursday, a day later than scheduled because of a high turnout in the largely peaceful poll.

One party said it doubted the alliance led by the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party had won 40 percent of the vote, as stated by an FJP source, but other parties provided estimates that were in line with the figure.

The results, if confirmed and repeated in the two remaining phases of a six-week election process, would position the Brotherhood to jostle for power with the military council that replaced Hosni Mubarak in February after a popular uprising.

The council, under increasing pressure to make way for civilian rule, has said it will retain powers to choose or dismiss a cabinet. But the FJP leader said on Tuesday the majority in parliament should form the government.

“The Brotherhood’s goal is to end corruption and start reform and economic development and that’s what attracted many to join it, including myself,” 28-year-old Ali Khafagi, who is head of the FJP’s youth committee, told Reuters.

Khafagi dismissed talk about the Brotherhood banning alcohol or forcing women to wear headscarves if it came to power.

“That could only be done by a mad group and the Brotherhood is not a mad group, but a decent logical group with a good understanding of the Egyptian people and Islam,” he added.

Progress towards democracy in the most populous Arab nation will help shape a region convulsed by popular uprisings against autocrats who, like Mubarak, often enjoyed Western support, in part for their role in fighting Islamist militancy.

Islamist parties in Morocco and Tunisia have come out on top in parliamentary elections in the past two months, although in both those countries they campaigned as moderates.

ISLAMIST PRINCIPLES

The generals, perceived by many Egyptians as clinging to perks and power, may face a new challenge from a parliament flush with the popular legitimacy gained from the big turnout.

The Brotherhood’s party, however, has already said it wants coalition partners. That might force it towards pragmatic policies and compromises on its Islamist principles.

Full results of Egypt’s first election since Mubarak’s fall will not be known until after voting ends in mid-January.

Two-thirds of 498 lower house seats will be allocated proportionally by party lists and a third to individuals. The FJP said early indications showed it was ahead in both races.

In the party list race, it was followed by the ultra-conservative Islamist al-Nour Party and the liberal Egyptian Bloc, the FJP said in a statement.

The cabinet resigned last week amid demonstrations against army rule in which 42 people were killed. On Friday the generals picked Kamal al-Ganzouri, a Mubarak-era premier, to form a new cabinet, which he has said will be ready this week.

Monday and Tuesday’s voting, the first of three rounds which will each be followed by run-offs, passed off mostly peacefully and only minor violations were reported in the election that was watched by international monitors, judges and other observers.

But violence broke out on Tuesday night in Cairo’s protest hub of Tahrir Square where protesters are demanding the military step aside immediately. Nearly 80 people were wounded.

Criticizing the authorities, reformist politician Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter: “Thugs are now attacking the protesters in Tahrir. A regime that cannot protect its citizens is a regime that has failed in performing its basic function.”

“VERY SKEWED”

A member of the liberal Egyptian Bloc alliance said the Brotherhood’s FJP had won 40 to 50 percent of votes in Cairo, with his own bloc running second with 20 to 30 percent.

But a much smaller liberal party, the Justice Party, said the Brotherhood’s estimates were “very skewed.” Spokeswoman Nora Soliman said the Brotherhood was strong in some areas but added: “All the numbers they came out with are presumptuous and are designed to create momentum for the second round.”

The once-banned Brotherhood did not start the anti-Mubarak revolt, but the political shift since then has propelled it closer to power, even though the army has yet to step aside.

In an implicit challenge to the military’s authority, the head of the FJP said parliament should form the government.

“A government that is not based on a parliamentary majority cannot conduct its work in practice,” FJP head Mohamed Mursi told reporters in Cairo’s working-class district of Shubra, adding that a coalition government would be best.

One member of the military council has said turnout in the election would exceed 70 percent. The FJP’s Mursi put it lower at 40 percent.

General Ismail Atman, an army council member, was quoted as saying the poll showed the irrelevance of the Tahrir protests.

The latest violence there erupted when unidentified youths tried to enter the square, a protest organizer said. Petrol bombs were thrown at protesters and guns were fired. Of the 79 wounded, 27 were taken to hospital, the state news agency said.

Youth parties have struggled to organize since the uprising, and some suspended their electoral campaigns this month to focus on the renewed protests against military rule.

“I wanted to vote for the youth, but no one is organized enough. That’s why I voted for the Brotherhood,” said Sayed Ismail, 38, who works in a Cairo garage. “I don’t want an Islamist party, I just want some organization. Enough chaos.”

Additional reporting by Marwa Awad in Alexandria and Yasmine Saleh, Shaimaa Fayed, Tom Perry and Tom Pfeiffer in Cairo; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Peter Millership

Doubt, fear as Egyptians head to polls


The distance between the speaker on the stage and the hundreds of spectators seated in front of him in the coastal city of Ismailia was not very far. But the gap between the thoughts and the enthusiasm of the two sides was unimaginably huge.

The talk in this street rally — something that could never have happened two months ago — was about the Egyptian revolution that forced Hosni Mubarak to resign as president of Egypt on Feb. 11.

The speaker was enthusiastically encouraging the audience to keep rebelling until the revolution becomes a full-fledged political movement able to make this populous Arab county, which was ruled by one man for the last 30 years, take off.

“The revolution isn’t complete yet,” the speaker told the crowd. “The people in each of the nation’s cities and governorates must take the revolution to their individual governorates and cities. Our country must be fully clean of the pits of the former regime.”

The speaker was Ahmed Maher, a civil engineer in his early 30s and one of the champions of the revolution that engulfed Egypt on Jan. 25 with the aim of ousting Mubarak — a former army general who, during his three-decade reign, devolved from a celebrated air-force liberator to become a despised despot.

Maher spoke about the need for more revolutionary work. For him, Egypt could now easily fall into the hands of either the Islamists or the remaining members of Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party.

His enthusiasm, however, was not shared by everybody in the audience. Some people kept mumbling, while others shook their heads in disagreement.

“Which work?” one of the attendees at the rally asked a friend after the rally. “We need to be clear on our future. Everything is obscure. When will these clouds go?”

This attitude may reflect the general condition in Egypt now that the revolutionaries have gone home, a new government has been installed and a process of constitutional reform has started.

While almost everybody in post-revolution Egypt is happy to be rid of Mubarak and his corrupt band of politicians-cum-businessmen, almost everybody is also totally unclear on the direction their country will take in the future.

Having seen their country thrown into extreme chaos after clashes between the demonstrators and policemen forced the latter to turn tail, leading to an unprecedented security vacuum, some Egyptians, the elderly in particular, blame the revolutionaries, most of whom youthful, for what they call the “destruction” of their country.

“I had really hoped that this revolution had never happened,” said Mohamed Qamhawy, a shop owner in Cairo. “True, Mubarak was corrupt, but at least people felt more secure.”

Security seems to be one of many things missing in post-revolution, post-Mubarak Egypt. On Jan. 28, at the climax of confrontations between Mubarak’s policemen and the hundreds of thousands of his haters who came out to demand his ouster, all of the nation’s police stations were suddenly empty. Jails were attacked, leading to the escape of thousands of inmates who spread fear everywhere.

Some of Qamhawy’s neighbors were robbed, and the shops of others were looted.

Egyptian cab drivers talk about masked men who meet them on highways and take their cars from them at gunpoint. In some areas, the sound of gunfire is becoming a common occurrence in a country that seems to have quickly descended into total fear and uncertainty, just one month after the dictator left.

Some Egyptians, however, look at this fear and point at behind-the-curtain plans that aim to destabilize Egypt and abort the revolution. They call these plans a “counterrevolution.”

Essam Sharaf, the prime minister of the caretaker government, said in a TV interview that there has been a “systematic” effort to spread chaos in Egypt and make Egyptians regret deposing Mubarak.

“The counterrevolution is true,” said Rifaat Al-Saed, the chief of the leftist Tagammu Party. “Some of Mubarak’s loyalists can’t reconcile themselves with the fact that their benefactor is gone.”

This is, perhaps, one reason that most Egyptians view a recent proposed package of constitutional amendments with a mixture of doubt and fear. The amendments, which mainly focus on the powers of the president and his tenure, are due to go before a national referendum on Saturday, March 19, when more than 40 million Egyptians are expected to head to the polls.

But some people fear that if the amendments are approved by a majority of Egyptians, a parliamentary election will follow to benefit none but the pits of Mubarak’s party and the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood.

“They’re the only organized powers in society now,” said Zakaria Abdelaziz, an Egyptian judge, during a recent gathering in Cairo. “A parliament majority by these two powers will be catastrophic for Egypt.”

The next parliament will have the authority to choose a group of experts who will write Egypt’s next constitution, and therein lies the danger, according to many. If the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak’s party make up a majority in parliament, they will choose people to write the constitution they like, not the one the rest of Egypt likes.

Even with this, a large number of the people who will head to the polling stations — the first democratic test for this country in modern history — have not made up their mind on the amendments. Some of them do not even known what the amendments are generally about.

“I can go to the polling station on Saturday, but I don’t really know whether to vote yes or no,” said Khalid Abu Shama, a trash collector from Giza. “What I want now is for this country to go back to normal. Everybody is tired. Everybody is fed up with fear and uncertainty.”

On Election Day, Jewish Dems face challenges


Several Jewish Democratic incumbents are fighting for their political survival as Americans head to the polls.

Lawmakers under threat Tuesday in a midterm election cycle that has seen a conservative/Republican resurgence include U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), John Adler (D-N.J.)  and Steve Kagen (D-Wis.).

Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) appears set to lose his bid to win New Hampshire’s open U.S. Senate seat, as does Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher , a Democrat.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) looks like she has beaten back a challenge from Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard.

The results may open up new leadership opportunities in both houses.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, is poised to become majority leader should Republicans retake the House, as is anticipated.

If Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) loses a hotly contested battle to conservative Tea Party-backed Republican Sharron Angle, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is likely to run for party leader in the Senate, where Democrats are expected to maintain their majority.

Jewish support of Obama is dropping, AJC survey finds


Jewish approval of President Obama is dropping, a new national survey found.

Some 49 percent of U.S. Jews approved of the Obama administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to a just-completed American Jewish Committee survey, and 45 percent disapproved.

An AJC survey conducted in March gave Obama a 55 percent approval rating to 37 percent disapproval.

It was the first time the AJC commissioned two surveys in the same calendar year.

In contrast, the view of how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is handling U.S.-Israel relations has improved. Some 62 percent of American Jews approved and 27 percent disapproved, according to the new survey. In March, 57 percent approved and 30 percent disapproved.

Overall approval of Obama’s performance as president dropped to 51 percent, from 57 percent in March. Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote in the presidential election two years ago.

American Jewish confidence in Obama’s approach to Iran also has fallen, with 43 percent approving of the administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue compared to 47 percent in March. Some 46 percent disapproved, up from 42 percent. Some 59 percent supported and 35 percent opposed U.S. military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Some 70 percent supported and some 26 opposed Israeli military action.

A series of questions regarding the Arab-Israeli peace process yielded results similar to previous surveys, showing continuity in American Jewish views of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.

Like the March results, the new survey found that 48 percent favored and 45 percent opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Regarding the dismantling of West Bank settlements as part of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, 6 percent said all should be evacuated, while 56 percent said some should and 37 percent said none should be dismantled.

A majority of American Jews, 60 percent, continued to support a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while 35 percent said Israel should compromise on the city’s status in a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

American Jews remained nearly unanimous, at 95 percent, in supporting a proposal requiring Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement. In March and in 2009, the figure was 94 percent.

Standing in the polls


Three Iranian Jews run for seats on Beverly Hills City Council


Beverly Hills voters head to the polls on March 6 to fill two vacant City Council seats, and among the six contenders vying for the spots are three Iranian Jews.

The candidates, incumbent Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad, business consultant Shahram Melamed and attorney Maggie Soleimani, have been stumping for votes in the Iranian community since last summer. It’s estimated that 20 percent to 25 percent of Beverly Hills residents are Iranian, many of them Jewish.

Nearly three decades after arriving in Southern California and adjusting to a new way of life, some successful Iranian Jews are venturing into the political arena. That half of candidates on the ballot for the Beverly Hills City Council races are from the Iranian Jewish community speaks to a shift among immigrants who were historically denied political participation in their native country.

“This community [Iranian Jews] truly appreciates the freedoms granted to it by the United States, and it sincerely wishes to pay back for what it has received,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. “I have no doubt that in this area, too, members of our community will prove to be worthy citizens who can contribute to their environment in the most positive way.”Jimmy DelshadDelshad is perhaps the best known of the three candidates. His successful grass-roots campaign in 2003 energized Beverly Hills’ Iranian Jews and catapulted him into office, making Delshad the first Iranian Jew elected to public office in the United States.

(Businessman Joe Sushani was the first Iranian Jew to run for the Beverly Hills City Council in 1996, but was unsuccessful in his bid.)

Prior to his term with the Beverly Hills City Council, Delshad served as the full-time president of Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles from 1999 to 2001 after selling a computer storage technology firm he founded in 1978.

If elected to a second term, Delshad said he wants to implement an initiative to bring a new digital infrastructure to Beverly Hills after seeing the successes of similar technology put into place in the Israeli city of Ariel.

The vice mayor is now hoping to tap the same voters who elected him in 2003, but this time he has to compete with candidates from his own community.

“It’s a misnomer that I’m going to lose some votes,” Delshad said. “Actually I’m going to get more votes from them because I was singularly trying to get the community to vote before, and now I have two other people trying to get the community to vote.”Shahram MelamedOne of the candidates wooing Iranian Jewish voters is Melamed, whose role as a Beverly Hills City planning commissioner has put him in the middle of often controversial development projects.

“As a planning commissioner my hands are tied. I’m only allowed to look at land use, so here I am trying to help the community but I can only use part of my skills,” Melamed said. “Some of my best skills are from my business background, education in finance and my training on Wall Street that is left unused, so I’m hoping to put it to use on the Council.”

Between 2000 and 2004, Melamed also served on the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission. In 1998, Melamed’s mother, Soraya, also made an unsuccessful run for a spot on the Beverly Hills School Board.

Melamed said he is looking to help both Iranian and non-Iranian city residents find common ground on various divisive issues, such as the construction of “Persian palaces,” a local pejorative term for mansions built in a Mediterranean revival or Middle Eastern style on small parcels of land.

“I have explained to many that our families are extended. That when we get together for small family gatherings, with 40 and 50 people in a living room, you need a more spacious one and a higher ceiling so that the noise doesn’t bother you,” said Melamed, who is a fourth cousin to this reporter. “Through dialogue we have to find common ground that satisfies both segments of the community. From talking to architects, I understand there are styles out there that can maintain the integrity of the City of Beverly Hills and at the same time address the needs of an Iranian American family.”Maggie SoleimaniAttorney Soleimani is taking a more conservative approach to the development issue. Positioning herself as a political outsider, Soleimani is appealing to voters frustrated with city officials who have approved numerous development projects around Beverly Hills.

“I have not been a part of the nasty and angry battles of the past,” Soleimani said. “I want to be a voice of unity, professionalism, healing the community and ending the division that has occurred over every single development project.”

Soleimani said one of the reasons she decided to run for City Council was to bring a stronger ethics ordinance prohibiting council members from appearing as lobbyists on behalf of real estate developers.

Current city codes forbid former council members from serving as lobbyists for one year after they leave office.

“I think it should be at least two years and I personally promise not to ever represent anyone as a client who has their case come before the council, if I am elected,” said Soleimani, who could become the first Iranian Jewish woman elected to political office in the United States.

Beverly Hills Mayor Steve Webb, Planning Commissioner Nancy Krasne and Lizza Monet Morales are the three other candidates running for the Beverly Hills City Council.

Proof of the Iranian Jewish community’s growing political muscle came in March 2005, when Beverly Hills Iranian Jews were able to cast ballots featuring Persian-language directions in Beverly Hills elections. They also received help from poll volunteers who also spoke Persian, Delshad said.

“Persians are beginning to realize that they can wield influence by participating in political life,” said H. David Nahai, a Century City attorney and political activist. “Many are also beginning to see that there is a unique sense of fulfillment in public service which private gain can never equal.”

California Jewish voters maintain liberal reputation


California’s Jewish voters upheld their liberal reputation in Tuesday’s election, despite a strong effort by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) to focus on the Bush administration’s pro-Israel record.

While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won reelection by nearly 55 percent of the popular vote, 52 percent of the Jewish ballots went to his Democratic opponent Phil Angelides, according to Los Angeles Times polling director Susan Pinkus.

Even in races in which Jewish votes aligned with the majority, the Jewish margin of support was much higher.

Democrat John Garamendi won the lieutenant governor’s race by garnering 49.5 percent of the total vote, but he received 74 percent of the Jewish vote.

Similarly, Democrat Jerry Brown was elected attorney general with 56.7 percent of the vote, but was supported by 75 percent of Jews.

Statewide propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E, authorizing multibillion dollar bonds to upgrade California’s infrastructure, transportation, housing availability, schools and levees, all passed, but Jewish support ran 10-16 percent higher than in the general population.

Two controversial and heavily funded propositions went down to defeat, but would have won easily if only Jewish ballots had been counted.

Proposition 86, which would have levied a stiff tax on cigarettes to fund new health programs, lost by 4 points, but won by 14 points among Jews.

Similarly, Proposition 87, which would have imposed taxes on California oil producers to fund alternative energy research, was defeated, winning support from only 45 percent of the overall voter. Sixty-two percent of Jewish voters supported the measure.

Jews constituted 5 percent of total votes, almost double their percentage of the California population, according to the Los Angeles Times poll released Thursday.GOP supporters found some cheer in the election of Steve Poizner, aJewish businessman from Los Altos, who beat Democrat Cruz Bustamante51:39 in the race for California insurance commissioner. Poiznerserves on the presidents’ council of the national Republican JewishCoalition, said Larry Greenfield, the RJC’s Californiadirector.

The Times did not poll voters by religion in this contest.

Political scientist and Jewish Journal columnist Raphael Sonnenshein of Cal State Fullerton termed the national election results “the most colossal wave of change going back to 1980.”

California was somewhat insulated from the political tsunami, thanks largely to the tone of Republican moderation set by Schwarzenegger, Sonnenshein said.

He believes that Jewish Republicans made a mistake by assuming that Jewish voters were motivated solely by the Israel issue.

“That was never true,” he said.

Andrew Lachman, president of Democrats for Israel-Los Angeles, said that both local and national results showed that Jews supported the Democratic Party more strongly than ever.”Surveys have shown that 70 percent of American Jews oppose the war in Iraq, and I believe that the Bush policy has made Israel less secure,” he said.

Local Jewish Republicans were less than happy with the election results but preferred to take the long view.

Winning Jews over to the Republican side “is a lengthy educational process,” said Bruce Bialosky, who founded California’s RJC in 2001.

“The younger generation is more open to joining us than older Jews, who have a lifelong commitment to the Democratic Party,” he said.

Bialosky defended the effectiveness of the full-page ads that RJC placed in Jewish publications in major cities, which triggered resentment from Democrats by portraying them as not supportive of Israel.

According to figures from the national RJC, he said, 35 percent of Jews supported Republicans in cities where the ads ran, compared to only 26.4 percent in cities without ads. These numbers have been questioned by Democratic analysts.

Dr. Joel Strom, immediate past president of the RJC’s Los Angeles chapter, was skeptical of the accuracy of polls on Jewish voting patterns, saying that most did not include the generally more conservative absentee ballots.

Strom agreed that large-scale changes in political loyalties are “a generational thing and perhaps we cannot expect a reversal in our lifetime.”

Measure ‘R’ contains curious ‘reform’


On November’s ballot, tucked among the local measures affecting only Los Angeles, is curious Measure R, a plan by the Los Angeles City Council to provide each of the 15 council
members an extra $570,000 in pay, by my own estimate roughly $1.25 million in subsidized health care per person for life and an extra pension windfall per person worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Council President Eric Garcetti, as chair of the city Elections Committee, assigned the measure the letter “R” for “reform.” But critics — including retired Department of Neighborhood Empowerment chief Greg Nelson, city ethics commissioner and journalist Bill Boyarsky and the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times — call it something else: a sneaky way to loosen the accountability of our public officials.

And here’s the kicker: The “proof” that purports to demonstrate the measure’s effectiveness? It doesn’t exist.

On the ballot, Measure R will be described by proponents as a law that improves term limits and city ethics rules. Many voters will assume it’s a good idea, since it’s backed by the League of Women Voters and Chamber of Commerce.

In truth, Measure R wipes out the limit of eight years, allowing our existing crop of 15 council members — and all subsequent ones — to stay in office 12 years. (Voters can try ousting them earlier, but the history of such efforts is not encouraging.)

Measure R did not arise from citizens. In fact, polls show that Angelenos oppose efforts to soften term limits. Nor would voters seek to hand each of our current council members an additional $1 million to $2 million in pay and perks.

Only history will tell the tale of how Measure R really came to be. What is known, however, is this: It was proposed in vague outline by the chamber and league on a Friday. The council — which can take months just deciding the color of recycling bins — backed it the following Tuesday.

I’ve seen a lot of self-interested moves by politicians. One was the clever move in 1990 by the City Council, also peddled as “reform,” to forever tie their pay raises to those of Superior Court judges. As a result, every time overworked judges get a pay raise, so do the 15 council members. That’s why they earn $149,000, the highest-paid council members by far in a major U.S. city. (New York City, a far costlier place to live, pays its council members $90,000; San Francisco, another more expensive city in which to live, pays $91,000).

Although Measure R is touted as ethics reform, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Ethics Commissioner Boyarsky — who is also a columnist for The Jewish Journal — have said it actually helps lobbyists cover their tracks.

Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce board member Ron Gastelum defended Measure R to me, saying the chamber and league proposed it because “it takes a council member the entire first term to really learn the business of the city,” and council members start running for other offices during their second term.

According to Gastelum, “after closely examining all these factors, we had to conclude that an additional term is needed.”

Except no “examination” happened. In an interview, Gastelum told me that neither the chamber nor league studied the achievements of legislative bodies limited to eight years, vs. those with 12. Moreover, they did not contact other cities or regions, nor did they define what “effectiveness” is.

Over the summer, league past president Cindy O’Connor admitted to the Tarzana Neighborhood Council that the league set up Measure R as “a carrot and stick.”

The carrot, she said, was their claim of an ethics crackdown. The stick, she said, was the unpopular term limits extension which could never pass alone.

Nelson says, “Measure R is really horrifying, because if you are lobbyist and you work on a contingency and don’t get paid until the issue you’re working on is over, you don’t, under this ‘reform,’ have to report that you are lobbying on the issue. So they are invisible! This is what Boyarsky and Delgadillo found unconscionable.”

Boyarsky, who cannot criticize Measure R because he is on the Ethics Commission, has nevertheless voiced extreme displeasure that it arose from backroom dealing and waters down city ethics laws.

“When I found out it eases regulations on lobbyists, I started asking all these questions of our [commission] staff,” he told me. “But that was all I could do. I am prohibited from criticizing ballot measures. My only consolation is I believe it’s going to lose.”

Would the City Council be more effective given 12 years instead of eight?
Nelson, who spent decades as an aide to fiery former Councilman Joel Wachs, says no.

“I realized it didn’t matter how much time council members have in office, the day I got this call from the Los Angeles Times,” he told me. About 15 years ago, before term limits, the newspaper asked Nelson to name the most important things the council had achieved that year.

“I couldn’t think of a single thing to put on a list for them,” he recalls. “The lesson is, given more time, the council is no more effective and no more interested in the big issues. I saw it firsthand.”

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist. Her website is

Dems and Don’ts


Last Sunday evening, in a Westwood office tower, I sat behind a one-way mirror and watched a group of about 30 voters — half Democrats, half Republicans –respond to images and opinions about Israel’s war in Lebanon.

Pollster Frank Luntz had arranged the session as part of his research to gauge American attitudes toward Israel. Luntz is the Republican opinion maven who helped fashion Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. His work for Israel is nonpartisan, he said, inspired by his devotion to a state whose leaders’ posture has long been that actions speak louder than words. Luntz has been trying to get Israelis to understand that, in the information age, what you do often matters less than what they say about what you do.

The details of what transpired at Luntz’s “Instant Response” session were off-the-record, but I can say that the overall results were as shocking as they were commonplace: the opinion of Israel among the Democrats was consistently 10 to 20 points lower than that of the Republicans.

For the study, respondents watched various Israeli representatives on a television prompter while holding dial devices in their hands. They turned the dial left or right, depending on whether they felt warmer or cooler to the speaker’s words, and the aggregate levels registered as two graph lines across the screen, red for Republicans, green for Democrats.

This research aims to reveal which words and phrases resonate with voters. A speaker who forcefully explained how Israel risks its own soldiers’ lives to present civilian casualties in Lebanon sent both graphs higher than one who simply said the deaths were regrettable.

I kept waiting for the green line — so to speak — to run alongside the red, for the Democrats to feel as cozy to Israel as the Republicans. They never did.The danger signs of such results stretch far beyond a research session. A Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg Poll in late July found, “a growing partisan divide over Israel and its relationship with the United States.”

While 50 percent of that survey’s respondents said the United States should continue to stand by Israel, Democrats supported neutrality over alignment, 54 percent to 39 percent, while Republicans supported alignment with the Jewish state 64 percent to 29 percent.

“Republicans generally expressed stronger support for Israel,” wrote the Times, “while Democrats tended to believe the United States should play a more neutral role in the region.”

Two rallies last week drove the point home. On Sunday, the extreme left-wing A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) turned out between 1,000 and 5,000 protestors on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, carrying signs accusing Israel of genocide and blaming “the occupation” for the death of innocent Lebanese. (The occupation of what, Kiryat Shemona?)

Two days before, about 100 protesters blocked the entrance to the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard calling for an end to the war.

Sure, these protesters — who, I’m going to assume, tend to vote Democratic — are not in the party’s mainstream. The mainstream still belongs solidly to people like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who told a group of Arab representatives last week in clear terms that he would never apologize for his support for Israel. And the House of Representatives’ July 21 vote supporting Israel in its war with Hezbollah passed on a 410 to 8 vote.

That’s the way it should be. For most of Israel’s history, America’s support for Israel was the result of a strong bipartisan consensus. It was a Democratic President, Harry Truman, whose recognition helped birth the Jewish state, and politicians from both parties — from John Kennedy to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton — have played key roles in strengthening it. Most historians agree that Israel’s chilliest reception at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. came when a Republican, George H.W. Bush, was president.

Yet the change in attitudes among some Democratic voters has sparked gleeful Republican e-mails and blog entries across the Internet, and provided talking points for any number of GOP hacks. They want to use Israel as a wedge issue to beckon Jewish longtime Democratic voters away from the fold.

But Luntz and others who care about Israel understand this fissure is no cause for celebration, that treating the State of Israel as the equivalent of flag-burning or the morning after pill is dangerous and foolish.

Eventually, inevitably, the pendulum swings. Voters will kick the ruling party to the curb, and Congress, and perhaps even the White House, will go to the Dems. People who truly care about Israel and not about scoring points on Crossfire need to figure out ways to close the gap, to make support for Israel neither Democrat nor Republican, but American.

The challenge is especially great here in Los Angeles, where liberal Jews make up substantially more than a minyan in the entertainment industry. People took Hollywood’s Marranos to task for remaining largely mute when actor Mel Gibson went on his anti-Semitic bender. But Hollywood’s silence has been positively deafening during the war Israel just fought.

A terrorist group invaded Israeli territory, lobbed in thousands of rockets, killed dozens of Israeli citizens and soldiers and emptied the country’s north. And Hollywood Jewry spoke out in a collective voice about as loud as a Prius in neutral.

These Democrats, who have the power to influence public and political opinion, are being carried along in a wave of liberal antipathy toward Israel. Steven Spielberg, who went public with a $1 million donation to support Israeli hospitals and social services affected by the war, is the notable, high-profile exception.

So what’s the solution? Step one is to stop politicizing Israel. Israel and, by extension, world Jewry, faces an enemy in Islamic fascism that hardly differentiates between Jew and non-Jew, much less Republican and Democrat.

Step two is to uncouple support of Israel from support of Bush, or of the Iraq War. As much as the president understands the danger of “Islamo-fascism,” he has greatly fouled our ability to fight that threat by launching and mishandling the war in Iraq and over-politicizing homeland security. But don’t punish Israel for Bush’s sins.

Step three is for Jews of all political stripes to find ways to come together in support of Israel. I suggest a red-and-blue coalition of American Jews lobby hard to eliminate America’s dependency on foreign oil.

“A stable, peaceful and open world order are being compromised and complicated by high oil prices,” wrote Fareed Zakharia in Newsweek. “And while America spends enormous time, money and effort dealing with the symptoms of this problem, we are actively fueling the cause.”

The technology exists to resolve our oil dependency and deprive the worst anti-Israel regimes of their billions in surplus (see “Winning the Oil Endgame” by energy expert Amory Lovins at oilendgame.com), and Jews can come together to spur politicians and corporations to implement it. It’s not red or blue. It’s pro-Israel, and it’s time.

Israeli Government Gets on With It


Israel is resigning itself to politics without Ariel Sharon.

Shock gripped the Jewish state last week when Sharon was hospitalized with a massive stroke, turning to fears for the worst when he underwent repeated surgery.

Doctors said it could take time to ascertain whether Sharon had suffered cognitive damage or permanent paralysis on the left side of his body from the Jan. 4 stroke. At press time, it also was not certain that Sharon would recuperate at all — his condition was such that it could deteriorate at any moment.

Still, a prognosis took shape whereby Sharon could survive but in a form of forced retirement. Sharon’s chief surgeon, Dr. Jose Cohen, said this week that Sharon had a “very high” chance of surviving.

“He is a very strong man, and he is getting the best care,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Cohen as saying. “He will not continue to be prime minister, but maybe he will be able to understand and to speak.”

As the prime minister lay in a post-operative coma Sunday, his temporary replacement, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, chaired the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“We hope that the prime minister will recover, gain strength and with God’s help will return to run the government of Israel and lead the State of Israel,” Olmert said.

While noting that doctors’ reports from Jerusalem’s Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem had given a “glimmer of hope” as to Sharon’s chances of recuperating, Olmert said matters of state were as robust as ever.

“We will continue to fulfill Arik’s will and to run things as he wished,” he said, using Sharon’s nickname. “Israeli democracy is strong, and all of the systems are working in a stable, serious and responsible manner. This is just as it should be and how it shall continue.”

With general elections looming on March 28, the 60-year-old Olmert has his hands full. But he received an early show of support with a weekend phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

There was also an internal reprieve from the Likud Party, which decided against resigning from the government, reversing a decision made before Sharon suffered his stroke last week.

“Now is not the time for such moves,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, one of four Cabinet members from the Likud, told Army Radio.

A Channel 10 television survey issued after Sharon was stricken predicted that his new centrist party, Kadima, would take 40 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the election if it is led by Olmert. But analysts suggested the showing reflected short-term public sympathy.

The political correspondent for the newspaper Ha’aretz, Aluf Benn, recalled the aftermath of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, when opinion polls showed his successor, Shimon Peres, as a clear favorite for re-election. In the end, Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Peres by the slimmest of margins.

“Instead of presenting himself as pressing ahead with Rabin’s path, Peres made the mistake of insisting that he was an autonomous candidate,” Benn said, suggesting Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem, was wise to portray himself as a reluctant stand-in for Sharon.

Yet the Channel 10 survey found that Peres, should he lead Kadima, would perform better than Olmert, taking 42 Knesset seats.

Though Peres quit the Labor Party last year to back Sharon, he has yet to formally join Kadima. But he voiced support for Olmert, who advanced the idea of a unilateral Israeli pullout from occupied Gaza prior to Sharon’s public embrace of the strategy.

“He supported the policies of Mr. Sharon and even occasionally was ahead of him,” Peres told Britain’s Sky Television. “The policies for peace, the continuation of the policies of Sharon, will have my full support.”

 

Our Faux Democracy


The average California voter doesn’t know what “redistricting” is. Many voters don’t even know what a “voting district” is. The aversion among California voters to such wonky issues goes a long way to explaining why Proposition 77, a long-overdue reform, is struggling.

Most Californians think that, when they vote, they do so within a community of interest, based largely on geography and community boundaries, known as a “voting district.” That was true years ago. But the advent of highly sophisticated computer software now allows the California legislature to painstakingly divide voters block by block. The Democratic Party and Republican Party use this technological power to divide voters, not based on communities of interest, but on party registration instead.

First, Republican and Democratic voters are carefully separated from one another using computer programs that extensively sort and track personal voter registration data. Then, the Democrats are grouped into phony and often bizarrely shaped “voting districts” of their own, and the Republicans into phony and often bizarrely shaped “voting districts” of their own.

Finally, during the spring primaries, the dominant party in one of these dishonest voting districts chooses a highly partisan candidate to spoon-feed to its corralled voters — usually a candidate with little interest in wooing voters from the other side of the aisle. After all, since the dominant party is guaranteed the win in such a rigged “voting district,” the candidates themselves need not be pragmatic types capable of talking to different sorts of voters.

This is not democracy. The California legislature stole our democracy while we slept. All districts in California are now rigged this way. That’s why, in California in the fall of 2004, not a single state legislative or Congressional seat changed party hands.

Because these phony voting districts are designed to stamp out competition between the two parties, the dismal election outcomes can now be widely predicted months before Election Day. As one wag described the untenable situation in California, “Voters no longer pick the candidate. Candidates pick their voters.”

Proposition 77 would halt this anti-democratic practice. The measure would hand the job of drawing up California voting districts to an independent panel of retired judges. It’s a good idea, but many California Democratic elected leaders — instead of doing the right thing — are doing everything they can to torpedo this long overdue reform.

Just like the dominant Republicans in Texas who grossly abused their gerrymandering powers, California’s dominant elected Democrats can see only as far as their next election victory. It’s exceedingly unlikely that Democrats would lose their grip on power in the Sacramento legislature, even if they had to compete in elections once again, because California is heavily Democratic no matter how the voting district lines are drawn. But at least voters would have a choice.

The state’s Democratic leadership is spending millions of dollars to defeat Proposition 77 to make sure there is no choice.

So far, Proposition 77 remains up for grabs. Its fate remains in play despite the Democratic millions. A poll released Oct. 28 by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Proposition 77 lagging 50 percent to 36 percent. That looks discouraging, but, as noted by Public Policy Institute of California research director Mark Baldassare, the same percentage of voters opposed Proposition 77 back in August, before the Democrats poured a king’s ransom into defeating it. Moreover, an unusually large number of people — 14 percent — are still undecided late in the race.

“With this many undecideds,” Baldassare said, “it is really hard to know where redistricting will end up. The numbers just are not moving, with that 50 percent opposed figure staying the same since August.”

His past polls indicate that roughly 60 percent of Californians think there is something very wrong about letting politicians pick and choose the voters and districts in which the politicians run for office. So if backers can just transmit their message to voters, Proposition 77 can win.

“In my previous poll, so many people felt it was wrong for the Legislature to have this control,” he said. “That fact, combined with the undecideds, makes me think this measure will come down to how people focus on the issue in these final days.”

So why is Proposition 77 in trouble at all? The problem is that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is embracing it and Democrats are demonizing it — and him. The governor’s approval ratings are low, and many Democrats are uncertain whom to believe.

“Voters are looking for cues, or clues, that tell them if this is a measure that might have a political motive, or is an honest effort at good government,” Baldassare said.

For his part, the governor needs to speak plainly and directly to all Californians, without rancor, to explain this wonky-sounding issue. Then, voters must do the rest. People in a democracy must arm themselves with knowledge, or face losing their democracy.

In fact, that’s already happened in California.

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist and can be reached at

Schwarzenegger Is Losing Jewish Vote


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

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

Chance given, chance blown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to reverse the decline?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gaza Settler Pullout Protest Draws 500


More than 500 demonstrators, mostly Orthodox Jews, gathered in front of the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles last weekend to oppose Israel’s planned, upcoming pullout of settlers from Gaza.

The two-hour Sunday afternoon rally drew the largest gathering yet of several recent anti-pullout events in Los Angeles. It took place in the Miracle Mile District near the Beverly-La-Brea and Fairfax neighborhoods, and slowed traffic on Wilshire Boulevard.

So far, the Israeli government has successfully resisted attempts to derail the Gaza pullout, saying the withdrawal ultimately will enhance Israel’s security and increase the chance for peace with the Palestinians. With some of the 9,000 Gaza settlers refusing to leave, the Israeli government has mobilized thousands of police and soldiers for what is expected to be an emotionally draining, forced removal, scheduled to start in mid-August.

Experts say, and polls show, that a majority of Israelis and American Jews support the withdrawal, which would turn Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority. But opponents at Sunday’s rally were adamant that leaving Gaza is wrong.

“This is not Palestinian land,” said one of the speakers, Avi Davis of the group Israel-Christian Nexus, a Jewish outreach group to Christian Zionists.

Listening to Davis was attorney David Palace, 30, who attends Beverly-La Brea’s Congregation Levy Yitzchok.

“I came here to protest Jews being put in dangerous situations,” Palace said, as he held one of his four children.

His father, Moshe Palace, said the pullout would decrease the distance between terrorists and cities in Israel proper.

“We’re not talking about Orange County to Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s more like what Santa Monica is to downtown Los Angeles.”

The three generations of the Palace family reflected the consulate crowd’s demographics, which though broad in age range appeared almost exclusively Orthodox. Several Chabads and other Orthodox shuls in Beverly Hills, Hancock Park and Beverly-La Brea supported the quickly arranged protest, allowing flyers to be distributed to their congregants.

The rally focused on the Gaza community of Gush Katif, was organized and sponsored by SaveGushKatif.org, the brainchild of Beverlywood mortgage broker Jon Hambourger.

“We pulled a police permit in half an hour even though it usually takes a week.” Hambourger said. “A sound system costs $1,500. We got it for free. Everything fell into place.”

The consulate protest was blessed with lower-than-expected temperatures amidst the current heat wave. Stacks of free bottled water did not interest the crowd listening to speakers denounce Israel’s planned Aug. 16 pullout from Gush Katif and other Jewish settlement areas.

Along Wilshire Boulevard stood a line of teenage girls and young women holding placards toward the cars driving past them. Horns honked at signs bearing phrases in Hebrew such as, “Don’t give the Arabs our homes.” The loud line included two vanloads about 20 road-tripping Orthodox girls and women from New York and Toronto, who took a break from three weeks of sightseeing to join in.

“We stopped all our fun. We wanted to show our support,” said 22-year-old trip leader Bracha Krausz.

The July 24 date was picked for the prayer-and-protest rally because it was also the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day on the Hebrew calendar and the start of three weeks of mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem’s first and second temples. By emphasizing Gush Katif as a religious issue, organizers tapped into a broader sense of outrage in the Orthodox community.

The consulate protest’s turnout surpassed other recent, middle-of-the-week Gush Katif events in synagogues, which had been attracting no more than 250 people. These included a June 23 event at Beverly-La Brea’s Torah Ohr with Knesset Member Benny Elon. Six days later, a crowd of about 200 attended a Gush Katif “evening of solidarity” across the street at Congregation Shaarei Tefila.

“I tried to push it in my synagogue, said Shaarei Tefila’s Rabbi Nachum Kosofsky. “It just seemed like the people who were the most ideologically driven came. I wish it was different. Even people who are very pro-Israel, to them it’s a not a simple issue.”

A planned SaveGushKutif worldwide event on July 19 did not materialize in Los Angeles, though its cancellation partly fueled the quick creation that same week of the July 24 event.

Whatever the crowd size, the rhetoric at Gush Katif events ranges from somber to furious. During the question-and-answer session at the Torah Ohr event, one man said that Israeli Arabs were, “sucking the blood out of [Israel]…. These Arabs are basically Nazis…. One Arab less, one loaf of bread more!”

At the Shaarei Tefila event, Rabbi David Eliezrie of Yorba Linda focused on the internecine strife: “Jews fighting fellow Jews — the images of, God forbid, a civil war.”

Outside the consulate, a man gave a reporter a prayer asking God to “destroy our enemies completely and utterly wipe them off the face of the earth….”

But this sentiment appeared isolated as most in the crowd seemed more determined than vengeful.

Chavi Shagalov, a mother of four, said it is unwise to give away land.

“For years and years, the Jews have been chased by the Romans, the Greeks, or gone into exile while some stayed in the land,” said Shagalov, as her two toddlers swirled around her. “We live in exile and there’s no knowing what there’s going to be tomorrow.”

 

Twice Upon a Time


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The adoring crowd, a beaming Antonio Villaraigosa, a message of inclusiveness and leadership — the image could have been from four years ago, when Villaraigosa’s campaign for mayor energized much of Los Angeles.

But this time, Villaraigosa also got the more votes than the other guy, and then some, scoring an astounding 59 percent, to make incumbent James K. Hahn a one-term mayor.

Under a clear night sky, framed against a canopy of downtown skyscrapers, Villaraigosa projected energy and hope amid cheers that drowned out question marks and rumblings of unease in his very different, second-time run for mayor.

Across town in Hollywood, incumbent Mayor James Hahn got his first taste of political defeat, without ever admitting defeat. His campaign was the quixotic victim of perceived insufficiencies: a candidate with not quite enough money, too little charm and, to critics, a shortage of achievement, purposefulness and ethical fiber.

Polls had suggested a Villaraigosa win, but the 19-point spread stunned politicos. Villaraigosa led among Jews and Latinos; Valley residents, Eastsiders and Westsiders — pretty much the entire city (and 48 percent of African Americans) chose Villaraigosa. Jews accounted for 17 percent of the total vote and 55 percent of them chose Villaraigosa. For Valley Jews it was 54 percent; 58 percent on the Westside, according to L.A. Times exit polling.

Straightaway, Villaraigosa sought rhetorically to knit together a disparate metropolis that is frequently disengaged and clannish.

“We are all Angelenos tonight,” he said at midnight. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. It doesn’t matter whether you grew up on the Eastside or the Westside, whether you’re from South Los Angeles or Sylmar. It doesn’t matter whether you go to work in a fancy car or on a bus. Or whether you worship in a cathedral or a synagogue or a mosque. We are all Angelenos and we all have a difference to make.”

This was vintage Villaraigosa, the hard charger of four years ago, who inspired excitement and loyalty even while losing to Hahn. The 2005 Villaraigosa campaign, however, differed tellingly from that of 2001; it was more bruising to Hahn and exceedingly cautious in staking out what Villaraigosa intends to do.

By Election Night, no one needed polls or returns to deduce the winner. The Villaraigosa event had the air of a multicultural coronation, with table after table of free tamales, Korean noodles, sushi and barbecue. Two blocks of Boylston Street were cordoned off. The press had its own filing patio; VIPs had a private indoor shindig. The stage setup resembled a presidential campaign rally, with a huge American flag as backdrop and an arch of red, white and blue balloons.

By 9:30 p.m., the streetscape swelled and bobbed with celebrants even as a line of well-wishers stretched around the block, waiting to get through four security screening stations.

At Hahn headquarters, at Element in Hollywood, no metal detectors were needed; this, in contrast, was a party searching not for weapons, but a pulse, looking more like a decently attended art-gallery opening than a political rally. The TV screens steadfastly refused to show anything but the Hahn-for-Mayor logo. There was no press filing area; reporters took interview subjects to a smoggy outdoor smoking patio on the side. Straight back from there, in a private area, anyone could catch glimpses of a calm and genial Hahn standing under a pepper tree, waiting it out with family members and his closest supporters. The party room itself could have seated the audience for a small dance recital, but the bar was long enough, sporting at least five shelves of spirits.

Bobbi Fiedler, the Republican former school board member and former member of Congress, looked like she needed a trip to the bar. She refused to call Hahn’s defeat, but her face foretold enough. She called Hahn “a man who has been working hard getting the job done as opposed to tooting his own horn.”

Hahn backers also included Evelyn Fierro, a San Pedro public affairs specialist and self-described liberal Latino, who had supported Villaraigosa in 2001. She lauded Hahn’s decision to fire black Police Chief Bernard Parks, a move that angered many black Hahn supporters in South Los Angeles.

Hahn had “the guts to stand up to people and bring in the best police chief [Bill Bratton, who is Anglo] in this country,” Fierro said, “knowing it was questionable politically. But he did what was best for the city. And this is how they’re rewarding him.”

Over and over again, Hahn was portrayed by the faithful as underappreciated, especially, they said, when compared to the more photogenic Villaraigosa.

“Our television society is taken by a flashy smile and charismatic personality, and can’t quite accept somebody who is low-key, smart and hardworking,” Fierro said. “Mayor Hahn deserves a second chance and the only reason he won’t make it is that he’s a low-key personality. What does that say about the citizenry of Los Angeles? How shallow can you be?”

But you didn’t have to love Hahn to fault the Villaraigosa of 2005, said David Hamlin, a public-relations consultant with ties to L.A.’s progressive community.

“I think you’d have to conclude that the guy everyone was excited about has decided it’s more important to win than to lead,” he said.

City Controller Laura Chick, in contrast, gave city voters, including Jewish ones, credit for deducing the better choice. She’d endorsed Villaraigosa in 2001, but backed Hahn for reelection early on, when Hahn looked unbeatable and before others entered the race.

“I thought Jim Hahn would be elected to a second term,” said Chick in an interview during the Villaraigosa bash, “and I wanted to show him that he could have confidence that I would be at his side.”

Instead, she lost confidence in Hahn, accusing him of resisting changes to city contracting practices, which had come under fire amid allegations that private firms made political donations to improve chances of winning city business. Recent voter-approved changes to the city charter, Chick added, “made the mayor of Los Angeles the No. 1 person on the firing line of accountability. What Jim has done is try to distance himself from that accountability…. The mayor’s staff, the mayor’s commissioners, the mayor’s general managers were opposing [reforms], and the mayor did nothing to change that.”

As for Villaraigosa, Chick gives an edge to the 2005 vintage over the Villaraigosa of 2001.

“He is a man who has been tempered and mellowed and humbled by the taste of defeat,” Chick said. “He’s also had hands-on city experience for two years as council member and understands much better the dynamics of city politics and the problems facing us.”

Villaraigosa’s success among Jewish voters in polls leading up to Election Day was no surprise to Chick.

“The Jewish community has always been interested in progressive reform and Antonio is a leader in those kinds of politics,” said Chick, who is Jewish. “And the Jewish community has tasted firsthand being the underdog. It identifies with Antonio as a member of a minority ethnicity with shared experiences.”

“But maybe, most importantly,” she added, “the Jewish community is very involved in civic life in Los Angeles, involved in giving back. I think they have identified in Antonio an elected official who can maybe correct some inequities that stand in the way of our city being truly great.”

Jews also need to be pragmatic about building coalitions in a city with a declining Jewish presence, noted Attorney Andrew Friedman, at the Villaraigosa rally.

“Twelve years ago, there were seven Jewish city council members,” Friedman said. “Today there’s only three. If we want our agenda to be accomplished, we must build bridges to all the other minorities.”

For some left-of-center progressives, Villaraigosa’s inclusiveness strayed too far right for comfort. Villaraigosa’s backers included property owners who oppose unionizing security guards, a top priority on labor’s agenda. Some property owners, in fact, made a point to side with Villaraigosa over Hahn. In the end, Villaraigosa’s fundraising swamped Hahn’s, though the mayor had his millions, too, as well as the backing of the County Federation of Labor.

All told, it was topsy-turvy and melancholy season for the powerful political apparatus of the County Federation of Labor. On Tuesday, most of the rank and file ignored their leadership’s directive and voted for Villaraigosa, who, after all, made his name as a labor stalwart. The result was a bizarre mirror image of 2001, when much of the labor leadership had enthusiastically backed Villaraigosa, but a plurality of union members voted for Hahn. Notably missing from the Hahn party was County Fed leader Miguel Contreras, an architect of labor’s rise in Los Angeles, who died this month at 52 of a heart attack. Contreras was a close friend of Villaraigosa’s, but had backed Hahn because Hahn delivered on his commitments to organized labor.

Villaraigosa’s “just win” strategy sounds defensible enough to Democrats who ponder the Al Gore or John Kerry administrations that might have been. But the alternative in Los Angeles was not George W. Bush, but an ideologically compatible fellow Democrat, who was enough of a coalition builder to earn the simultaneous support of labor and the Chamber of Commerce.

Hahn never did persuade enough people that Villaraigosa was too risky to elect. But Villaraigosa’s flirtation with the moneyed establishment put a scare into some longtime leftwing supporters who probably voted for him anyway. Members of the moneyed establishment, for their part, probably still regard Villaraigosa as slightly scary, but at least they went to bed Tuesday night knowing they had backed the winner. Hope and opportunity can work in mysterious ways.

Villaraigosa still has his true believers, of course, including Jewish attorney Julie Gutman, who felt devastated by the 2001 loss to Hahn.

“Antonio is a consensus-builder,” she said, “a unifier. He brings people together. He has the energy, leadership and vision to make Los Angeles the best city in this country.”

David Finnigan contributed to this article.
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Villaraigosa Gets Hertzberg Boost


The final act of Hertzberg-for-Mayor played out last week, with Bob Hertzberg endorsing challenger Antonio Villaraigosa. And although there was some unexpected drama, the endorsement itself proved anticlimactic: Villaraigosa already had surged to a comfortable double-digit lead in two polls.

In the end, it was hard to tell whether Hertzberg provided Villaraigosa a much-needed boost or succeeded mainly at hopping on board with the front-runner.

Hertzberg, a businessman-attorney and former state Assembly leader, was the last to endorse among the three major candidates who didn’t make the May 17 runoff. And like the others, Hertzberg went for Villaraigosa over incumbent Mayor James Hahn.

Ostensibly, Hertzberg’s support was the most critical, given his strong third-place finish, just behind Hahn. Hertzberg, who is Jewish, pro-business and lives in the Valley, polled well with voters who could make the difference: Jews, pro-business moderates and Valley residents.

But if opinion polls are to be trusted, most of these voters already have made up their minds. A Los Angeles Times’ poll last week put Villaraigosa 18 percentage points ahead. The Eastside city councilman held the edge in the most coveted, erstwhile Hertzberg constituencies. Overall, Hertzberg supporters favored Villaraigosa over Hahn 52 to 28 percent in the poll.

In contrast, Hahn led only among Republicans and self-described conservatives. And Villaraigosa never expected to claim those two categories, whether or not they’d previously supported Hertzberg. Another poll, by Survey USA, had Villaraigosa ahead by a hard-to-believe 32 percentage points.

So last week’s carefully staged gathering was cheated of potential magnitude from the outset, although Hertzberg and Villaraigosa made the best of it. The setting, a biotech plant in Sylmar, fairly shouted “Valley” and “high-tech” — natural Hertzberg themes. The featured supporters, seeded with board members of the Anti-Defamation League and Valley secessionists, also had a Hertzberg flavor.

The week’s most effective Villaraigosa endorsement, however, was the news that Los Angeles won’t house the new stem-cell research institute, because of flawed paperwork. In Sylmar, Villaraigosa referred to that stumble as “yesterday’s debacle,” chastising Hahn for “this city’s failure to fill out an application.”

Hertzberg was his ebullient, irrepressible self throughout, enfolding Villaraigosa in breath-defying hugs, clapping a bear paw on his shoulder repeatedly and even stepping on Villaraigosa’s lines when the candidate paused to address the Spanish-language media in Spanish. Yes, Hertzberg can do Spanish, too. County Supervisor Gloria Molina was on hand to referee and, at the formal announcement, to introduce both Hertzberg and Villaraigosa as her “brothers.”

The political circus slightly overwhelmed 61-year-old Linda Morfoot, who lost her sight from retinitis pigmentosa. She was at Second Sight Medical Products Inc. to work with equipment that gives her limited visual awareness of objects around her, which on Thursday included top politicos and a horde of reporters. She smiled politely as Villaraigosa held her hand and noted that the host company was “not just a great place of biotechnology and job creation, but giving people second sight.”

But it was Villaraigosa who got blindsided when he opened the floor to questions. Two television reporters immediately pounced, concerned only with a letter Villaraigosa had written nine years ago requesting that President Clinton review the case of Carlos Vignali, the convicted drug-dealing son of a political supporter.

This ill-conceived letter was the very thing Hahn had used four years ago to raise doubts about Villaraigosa. The issue hadn’t surfaced since, but the Hahnies are desperate, and in Sylmar, the Hahn campaign couldn’t have lobbed a more effective irritant into an occasion that was supposed to be about something else. As it happened, Hertzberg and Molina also had written letters requesting the pardon (as had, seemingly, scores of other politicians and officials, including Archbishop Roger Mahony).

Had Villaraigosa personally urged Hertzberg and Molina to write their letters? the reporters demanded to know.

No, replied Hertzberg and Molina.

Villaraigosa seemed taken aback. He stammered momentarily, then offered: “I took responsibility for my actions. Jim Hahn has refused to take responsibility for his.”

Villaraigosa was referring to his oft-repeated catechism about ongoing corruption probes of the Hahn administration. (So far, no member of the Hahn administration has been charged with wrongdoing.) The reporters accused Villaraigosa of dodging the question.

By this point, Villaraigosa press aide Nathan James was doing his darnedest to cut things short. Within moments, Villaraigosa was virtually hustled out a side door, as though he really did have something to hide. The scene would make good footage for a Hahn attack ad; it’s probably already in production.

Hahn himself resumed the assault at Sunday’s second-to-last mayoral debate, held at the Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles. He accused Villaraigosa of writing the first letter on behalf of the drug dealer, whom, he said, had perpetrated the worst drug crime in Minnesota history.

If Hahn can successfully frame this race in such terms (i.e., Villaraigosa will do to Angelenos what he tried to wreak upon hapless Minnesotans), then Hahn wins again. But the consensus among political observers is the tactic will feel stale four years after Hahn first used it, with Villaraigosa, the former and respectable state Assembly leader, now sitting respectably on the City Council.

At the Museum of Tolerance, Villaraigosa reiterated his contrition over writing on Vignali’s behalf. Then he launched his return broadside into Hahn.

Overall, contrary to most assumptions, Hahn came across as the more relaxed warrior, while Villaraigosa displayed little of his vaunted charisma.

If Hahn does begin to make inroads — and he’s never lost an election — a fully engaged Hertzberg could matter. In Sylmar, Hertzberg pledged his every ounce of energy, his every big idea, or, as he put it: “Any way I can make that contribution, Mr. Antonio, I will, to make L.A. a great place.”

Hahn’s camp dismissed the endorsement, noting that Hertzberg and Villaraigosa had once roomed together in Sacramento, when both served in the Legislature. In fact, the endorsement could have been a close call, because Hertzberg and Villaraigosa had a falling out near the end of Villaraigosa’s term as Assembly speaker.

Besides, the person who mortally wounded Hertzberg-for-Mayor was Villaraigosa, not Hahn. Last year, when Hertzberg entered the race, Villaraigosa was on record saying he would not run. Hertzberg had planned a broad-based campaign that would play for Villaraigosa’s core progressive supporters, said campaign consultant John Shallman in a recent interview.

Villaraigosa’s late entry forced Hertzberg strategically to the political right, Shallman said, because Hertzberg couldn’t realistically win away the Villaraigosa faithful from Villaraigosa himself. So, Hertzberg shifted smoothly in midstream, connecting with moderate Jews, other moderates and Valley residents, but ran out of time and money to further expand his base or deepen his support.

Thus, when Hahn’s troubles opened the door for a Hertzberg candidacy, it was Villaraigosa who closed it again. And if Hertzberg wants to run again, Hahn will be termed out in four years; Villaraigosa could be around for eight. So if Hahn could win and Hertzberg could help make it happen, there’s a logic for Hertzberg to go with Hahn, despite their sharp exchanges in the primary.

But for now, Hahn looks like a loser, and Hertzberg doesn’t like Hahn nearly enough to back him, win or lose. And maybe, just maybe, Hertzberg thinks Villaraigosa would make a better mayor.

New Study Breaks Down 2004 Election


 

Newly compiled information suggests that a few more Jews voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry last November than originally reported, and highlights several areas where Republicans are gaining momentum within the Jewish community.

The analysis by the Solomon Project, a think tank associated with the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), shows that the Massachusetts senator received 77 percent of the Jewish vote, to President Bush’s 22 percent. That’s a slight change from the 75 percent Kerry was said to have received in polls released soon after the vote.

The new information, released Tuesday, is based on a broader sample of exit polls that incorporates both the national poll released in November and a state-by-state poll that was not widely released.

The wider survey finds that Bush fared particularly well with Jewish men, garnering 28 percent of their votes, compared to 16 percent of Jewish women. In particular, he captured 35 percent of Jewish men younger than 30.

The new report could put to rest lingering questions about the extent of gains Bush made within the Jewish community. Many Republicans expected Bush would do well among Jews — especially in such targeted key states as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — because of support for his Middle East policy.

In the end, Bush won more than the 19 percent of the vote he received in the 2000 election against then-Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), the first Jew on a major party national ticket.

“There’s been some small movement in the Jewish community toward the Republicans, but nothing really dramatic,” said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst.

Rothenberg said he found the report’s methodology “kosher,” but Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he is wary of exit poll analysis because the results on Election Day seemed to inflate Democratic strength.

“I think any credible person would look at this as somewhat revisionist history,” Brooks said. “I don’t think this passes the credibility threshold in terms of statistical accuracy.”

The report does confirm the potential for greater movement of Jewish votes to the GOP in the future.

Republicans have been targeting young Jewish voters and the Orthodox, who have become more politically active in recent years, and are considered more likely to vote for the GOP because of their more conservative positions on social issues.

The analysis uses a wide set of polling data on Jews taken in the weeks and months before the election to understand voting trends within subgroups of Jews.

While no analysis of Jewish votes has had enough Orthodox participants to garner a reliable result, Tuesday’s report suggests that Bush may have received half or more of their votes.

Three independent polls had Bush winning at least half of the Orthodox vote, but each had a sample size of only between 49 and 70 people.

A report by the American Jewish Committee last summer, taken of Russian Jews, suggested Bush may have received more than half of their support as well.

A poll by the Mellman Group, which did surveys for the Kerry campaign, found that 47 percent of Jews who attend synagogue every week supported Bush, compared to 48 percent for Kerry. The Democrat did substantially better among Jews who attended synagogue once a month or less.

“We know a lot more about different types of Jewish voters than we did a few days ago,” said Ira Forman, research director of the Solomon Project and the NJDC’s executive director.

Forman said the information highlighted for him that Democratic efforts to court Orthodox and Russian voters were inadequate.

The core of Democratic support within the Jewish community remains women, the analysis found. Kerry received 82 percent of the vote among Jewish women. That Democratic trend ran across the generations, as 90 percent of women older than 60 voted for Kerry and 88 percent of Jewish women younger than 30 backed him.

Despite the support Bush got for his Israel policies, Rothenberg said it’s hard to move ethnic groups from one party to another.

“It’s hard to change people’s inclinations and pre-existing voter preference,” he said. “If they’ve chosen one way for 20 or 30 years, they tend to do it again.”

But, he said, the Jewish vote will remain important if the election hinges on certain states where disproportionately large numbers of Jews live.

“It’s all about what states people are in and how many people you need to move,” Rothenberg said.

 

Jewish Vote Polls Miss Big Picture


A new poll claims 75 percent of Jews favor John Kerry.

Anna Greenberg said her findings prove President Bush has made “literally no progress” among Jewish voters.

“Something smells here,” responded Matt Brooks.

Democrat Greenberg’s poll was funded by the pro-Kerry National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), and the NJDC published her poll. It predictably shows that Jews overwhelmingly back Kerry.

Republican Brooks heads the pro-Bush Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). Nearly two years ago, the RJC did its own poll by a Republican-for-hire operative. The RJC poll showed Bush making dramatic gains among Jewish voters.

What’s behind the spin?

Backers of these sponsored polls want a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. If Jewish voters believe there is a surge among their peers for Bush, that makes it socially acceptable for them to vote Republican. And if they believe their fellow Jewish voters are sold on Kerry, that validates their historic propensity to vote Democrat.

Polls, we strategists know, measure not reality but how voters perceive reality. For a poll, reality is the instant the picture is taken. Before and after the proverbial photograph, it can be a different story.

That’s why serious studies of Jewish voters require much more than a quickie snapshot. More likely, a high-definition videotape. You can stop the tape at any point but then rewind or fast forward.

In other words, is Jewish opinion changing?

Polls showing Bush’s strength among Jews were taken during the year or two following Sept. 11. Meanwhile, the Greenberg poll was taken in the days leading up to Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention.

As you read this, Republicans might or might not get a bounce from their convention. If it’s enough of a bounce, then Bush will improve among Jewish voters.

Regardless, the bottom line is that Greenberg’s poll of Jews occurred while Kerry was leading nationally. Her Jewish numbers would reflect that political environment.

But there’s more to the story. Polling of Jews is difficult. That’s because in any national sample, Jews might comprise perhaps 3 percent of the vote. Thus, a 1,200 sample might produce 30 or 40 Jews. That’s hardly a reliable number to draw an inference. Therefore, polling Jews with any statistical reliability requires that rare poll of only Jews, qua Jews.

There are various methods. The most common is a Jewish-surname approach. Obviously, this is imperfect.

Greenberg rejected this Jewish-surname approach by sending e-mail invitations to a list she purchased from a vendor. But it’s unclear if her methodology is superior or not without its own faults. In effect, she asked for Jews willing to be polled. But what is the nature of the vendor list? Are Jews who self-identify different than those who do not?

More importantly, Greenberg’s sample is biased in favor of Jews who are computer literate. I believe Israel is a more important issue among some older Jews who don’t know from computers. Therefore, my own guess, and it’s just that, is that Greenberg’s sampling, in effect, systematically excluded the more conservative Jews whose support for Israel undergirds their support for Bush.

All of which brings me full circle to Jews, Israel and politics, because Bush’s close relations with Israel are central to this polling debate.

Personally, I believe Bush deserves Jewish support. Professionally, he will show improvement among Jewish voters over his results four years ago. But his results will not be transformational.

The reasons why are not found in a snapshot poll, but in looking at this big picture.

First, many Jewish voters are soft on Israel. Simply put, when it comes to his support of Ariel Sharon and Likud, Bush is to the right of many American Jews. For awhile, Sept. 11 was a wakeup to some Jews, but now they have regressed to the nonjudgmental mean — the problem is “extremists on both sides who don’t want peace.”

Second, many Jewish voters do not believe Israel’s existence is precarious, so they regress to the nonjudgmental mean — “Kerry and Bush are both good for Israel.”

Consider that in 1973, a besieged and weakened Richard Nixon was fighting for his post-Watergate political survival. Yet, he overruled the State Department and Pentagon to order an immediate airlift that saved Israel. Nixon then admired Golda Meir as much as Bush now admires Sharon.

But Jews don’t celebrate Nixon for saving Israel. They remember him for his dark moods revealed in audiotapes, where he complained about his Jewish media critics.

Third, many Jewish voters continue this double standard: Democrats are good; Republicans are bad.

Kerry initially said Jimmy Carter would be his point person on the Mideast. Carter is anti-Israel. Moreover, Carter’s failure to support the shah of Iran helped start the Islamist revolution that now threatens the world.

Similarly, after the first Persian Gulf War, Yasser Arafat was discredited and isolated. But President Bill Clinton resurrected him and even brought him to the White House. But the large majority of Jewish voters that favors Democrats looks the other way.

It’s the same inconsistency of those Jewish voters who have opposed high defense spending, although many of the weapons systems relate to defense of Israel.

Bush is not for Israel because it will get him Jewish votes, but because he believes it’s the right thing to do.

But I’m not sure his core beliefs on Israel and reshaping the Middle East count for much among many Jewish voters. Like many Americans, they oppose and I support the Bush doctrine of preemptive war.

The points we discuss here are not polemics. They help explain why Jewish voter behavior cannot change quickly.

It is much more socially acceptable than a generation ago for a Jew to be a Republican. But the reality remains that most Jewish voters are liberal. They don’t think Republican.

In summary, major factors that shape Jewish political opinion are more important than a snapshot provided by any poll. My personal opinion that Bush deserves Jewish support is scarcely relevant. My professional opinion is that Bush cannot be reelected without increased Jewish support.

Candidates Eye the Jewish Vote


Now that it’s down to John Kerry versus George W. Bush, American Jews — prominent in swing states in what could be a close election — can expect plenty of attention.

"Anything that moves a few hundred or a few thousand voters one way or another in any state can cause a seismic shift," said John Zogby, a pollster who says the closeness of this election is leading opinion-gatherers to focus more than ever on small groups like Jews.

The fight will mirror the larger battle for the election, where Kerry will emphasize domestic issues and President Bush will stress his foreign policy and security record.

Among Jews, Democratic strategists say they will stress health care, the economy and the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Republicans say they will stress Bush’s strong pro-Israel record and his war against terrorism.

Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Kerry’s only serious rival, was expected to announce his withdrawal from the race on Wednesday. Edwards did not win any primaries Tuesday.

Jewish activists in both parties already are targeting swing communities.

"There’s probably going to be about 10 real battleground states and in a number of those places there’s a large Jewish community," said Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, making note of Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri.

Marc Racicot, the former Montana governor who chairs the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, said he was optimistic that Bush would do better than the 19 percent he earned from Jews in 2000, because of the president’s strong pro-Israel record.

"We understand they have been inclined to support Democrats," Racicot said of Jewish voters in an interview with the JTA. "But we feel the president’s policies and his values in regards to the Middle East lead to the possibility to be much more successful in the Jewish community."

Bring it on, say the Democrats.

"Things have not looked as good for Democrats in the Jewish community for a number of years," said Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Kerry’s strength among Jews was reflected in exit polls on Tuesday, where he polled better among Jews than among non-Jews in four out of five states with reliable Jewish exit poll data.

Forman said his party would emphasize what all pro-Israel activists agree is Kerry’s exemplary voting record in 19 years in the Senate. He suggested that the Democrats’ strategy would be first to say that Bush and Kerry were equals on Israel, "and then we pivot to all the major domestic issues."

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella organization of local Jewish community relations councils and national groups, agreed that Jews are likelier to vote this year on domestic issues.

"On issues specific to Israel, we’re talking about a win-win situation," said Rosenthal, one of 40 Jewish organizational leaders who met with Kerry over the weekend in New York. "Jews will be looking at protection of privacy, at civil liberties protections, at health care, women’s rights."

Forman said the party also would emphasize Bush’s backing for the amendment banning gay marriage.

"Every time they play to their conservative base — and they’ll have to play a lot this year — they totally alienate the Jewish community," Forman said.

Republicans agreed that Kerry was strong on Israel but suggested that Bush was stronger and that Kerry could be vulnerable on national security, where Bush has aggressively advocated tougher measures in the USA Patriot Act.

Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster who will publish his own survey of American Jews next week, said this election season promises to be an interesting one.

"For the first time in my lifetime, a significant segment of the Jewish vote is up for grabs," he said in an interview. "The Jewish community is the most interested in national security of any voter sub-group, and that plays to Bush’s advantage. The Jewish community is still liberal on social issues and that plays to Kerry’s advantage."

Luntz said his polling suggested Kerry would perform well among Reform and Reconstructionist Jews and "those who say they are just Jewish." Bush will make gains among Orthodox and Conservative Jews and those Jews who are more active in the community, he predicted.

In a survey of American Jews published in January by the American Jewish Committee, 51 percent identified themselves as Democrats, 31 percent as Independent and 16 percent as Republican.

Is America Ready for a Jewish President?


Is America ready for a Jewish president?

According to a Gallup Poll released this month, as well as other polling data, the answer is a resounding yes.

Despite this polling data, some Jews are fearful that "America is not ready" for a Jewish president. Or in a variation on that theme, they suggest inferentially, because Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) — the candidate in question — is Jewish, "he can’t win."

Funny, though, the facts suggest precisely the opposite. The Gallup Poll concluded that nine out of 10 Americans would vote for a qualified candidate, regardless of religion. Americans are embracing the candidacy of Lieberman with such enthusiasm that he continues to lead in the national polls.

Because of our history, American Jews have had reason to worry about anti-Semitism and scapegoating, but we have also worked to break down barrier after barrier in virtually every aspect of American life.

Today, we have the opportunity to break down perhaps the most important barrier: that a Jew cannot be elected president of the United States. And ironically, the skepticism on this issue comes not from non-Jews but from Jews.

Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, who, by all accounts significantly strengthened the Democratic ticket and assisted the ticket in winning not only the popular vote but competing (perhaps winning) in the southern stronghold of Florida, has garnered the support of a broad range of Americans who believe he is the best candidate for the presidency in 2004. He is leading in national polls among non-Jews and Jews alike, but the idea of a Jewish president seems to scare some Jews.

Leaders throughout America, including leading non-Jewish political leaders, actively embrace Lieberman’s candidacy. In California, several of these leaders are Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Rep. Calvin M. Dooley (D-Fresno), Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Walnut Creek) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Modesto).

And Lieberman is leading in the national polls. He is leading in states as diverse as California, New York, Michigan and South Carolina. He is rightly seen as the Democratic candidate most likely to beat President Bush, because he combines a strongly progressive social record with a record of leadership on national security and homeland defense.

Yet, we hear in our own community the question: Is it good for the Jews?

The answer is unequivocally yes. We have Jewish officeholders at all levels of our government — local, state and national — and their leadership has helped to insure not only Jewish inclusion but respected leadership throughout America. When a highly capable and respected leader who is Jewish seeks the office of the president, he should be judged on his merits.

Today’s polling numbers, contrasted with those as recently as 1960, suggest that America is, indeed, ready for a Jewish president. In 1960, when American voters were polled on whether they would vote for a Catholic presidential candidate, only 71 percent said yes, while 21 percent said no. John F. Kennedy won.

Today, the same question about a Catholic candidate garners a response rate of 92 percent yes and only 4 percent no. Interestingly enough, those are substantially the same numbers the pollsters get when asking if people would vote for a Jewish candidate for president.

Obviously, this polling is not exact. But in light of the 1960 benchmark, it is compelling. Other types of polling reinforce this conclusion.

And although no one should vote for Lieberman — or anyone else for that matter — simply because he is Jewish, it would be distressing if members of our community elected to vote against the senator out of fear because he is Jewish, despite their view that he is the strongest and best candidate.

Just as Jackie Robinson inspired not only African Americans but all Americans of my generation as a "revolutionary in a baseball uniform," Lieberman is right now doing the same thing: breaking down another important barrier that will open doors for Jews and for members of all other minority groups, who will have an easier time traveling down this path, because he was courageous enough to lead.

As Lieberman has said, "Have faith in America."

Americans today will support the candidate they prefer on the merits. That is how the choice should be made.


Mel Levine served as a Democratic Congressman from California between 1983 and 1993. He is now a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and is assisting Sen. Joseph Lieberman in his presidential campaign.

The Party Line


Nearly 30 political parties are vying in Israel’s Jan. 28
general elections.

According to the latest polls, about 15 parties stand a
chance of getting at least 1.5 percent of the vote, the threshold for getting
at least one of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

Following is a guide to the leading parties in the race:

Likud: The odds-on favorite, with a projected 32 seats in
the next Knesset, according to weekend polls. In 1999, when party leader
Benjamin Netanyahu lost the premiership to Ehud Barak, Likud won 19 seats in
the Knesset, considered a major defeat at the time. Now, under the leadership
of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the party consistently has led in the polls,
despite recent allegations of corruption against party officials and members of
Sharon’s own family.

Traditionally, the party has opposed any territorial
concessions to the Palestinians and has also balked at supporting the eventual
creation of a Palestinian state. As prime minister, however, Sharon has agreed
to make “painful concessions,” but only after the Palestinians completely
renounce terrorism. Sharon backs the creation of a national unity government
with the Labor Party.

Labor: Labor has the largest number of seats — 25 — in the
current Knesset. But, according to the latest polls, the party will get only 19
seats in the next Knesset — a devastating blow for the party that led Israel
for the first 30 years of the country’s existence.

With much of the Israeli electorate turning rightward, party
leader Amram Mitzna’s stances have appeared too dovish to rally greater
support, according to the polls. Mitzna has called for building a fence to
separate Israel from the West Bank, a project already begun by the Sharon
government, but which has not moved as swiftly as some would like. Mitzna also
calls for abandoning Jewish settlements, those in the Gaza Strip first. He also
has expressed willingness to negotiate with whomever the Palestinians choose as
a leader, including Yasser Arafat. Last week Mitzna declared that he would not
join a national unity government with Likud, but he faces strong opposition on
this issue from other members of his party.

Shas: With 17 seats in the current Knesset, this fervently
Orthodox-Sephardi party might soon lose its place as parliament’s third largest
party. Polls show Shas losing votes to Likud, and according to the latest
polls, it will win only 10 Knesset seats this time around. Along with seeking
support for Orthodox causes, the party seeks generous state funding for poorer
Israelis. A member of past coalitions led by Labor and Likud, Shas adopted a
hawkish stance toward the Palestinians after the intifada began in September
2000.

Shinui: This dovish and secular party is the Cinderella
story of the current election campaign. Under the leadership of former
journalist Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, the party is expected to leap from six to 15
Knesset seats, making it the third strongest political force in the next
Knesset. Lapid’s main agenda is anti-clerical. He calls for the creation of a
secular national government, with no religious parties in power. He is
considered liberal on economic issues, and center-right on the Palestinian
issue.

Meretz: When Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo accords
and one of Israel’s leading doves, recently left Labor to join Meretz, this
leftist party hoped the move would boost its chances in the elections. However,
recent polls show it will lose three of its 10 Knesset seats. Under the
leadership of Yossi Sarid, the party calls for Jerusalem to become the shared
capital of both Israel and an eventual Palestinian state. It also calls for the
disbanding of most all settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

National Union-Israel Our Home: Led by Avigdor Lieberman, a
former director of the prime minister’s office, this hawkish bloc stands to
grow from seven Knesset seats to nine, primarily because of its clear stance
against any concessions to the Palestinians.

The National Religious Party: This pro-settler party is
expected to retain its current five seats in the next Knesset. Considered the
main political force behind the settlement movement, the party opposes any
territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

United Torah Judaism: This fervently Orthodox bloc, which
includes the Agudat Yisrael and Degel HaTorah parties, is expected to retain
its current five Knesset seats. The party opposes drafting yeshiva students and
strongly objects to any changes in Shabbat laws. It has been flexible on the
Palestinian issue, but in recent years adopted a more hawkish stance.

Yisrael Ba’Aliyah: This immigrant-rights party, which held
four seats in the outgoing Knesset, will have to settle for three in the next,
according to polls. Apart from fighting for the rights of new immigrants, the
party adopts a hawkish stand on the Palestinian issue.

One Nation: This workers-rights party seeks to close the
economic gap between the haves and have-nots. It currently has two Knesset seats,
and polls say it will have three in the next parliament.

Green Leaf: This party advocates legalizing marijuana. Polls
say it will make its debut in the Knesset with one seat.

Herut: This nationalist party is expected to retain its sole
Knesset seat after the elections. Led by veteran legislator Michael Kleiner,
formerly of Likud, Herut also features the candidacy of Baruch Marzel, a former
member of the outlawed Kach movement. The party is courting the fervently
Orthodox community — a move that prompted members of the Ashkenazi community to
urge co-religionists not to vote for any “non-religious” party.

Hadash-Ta’al: The latest coalition in the Israeli Arab
sector, combining Hadash, under the leadership of Mohammad Barakeh, with Ahmed
Tibi’s Ta’al movement. The two parties have four Knesset members in the
outgoing Knesset; the polls anticipate three in the next.

United Arab List: A coalition of the Islamic Movement and
the Arab Democratic Party, strongly influenced by moderate Islamists. It is
expected to lose one of its current five Knesset seats.

Balad: A nationalist, pan-Arabist movement, chaired by Azmi
Beshara, who calls for turning Israel into a country of “all its citizens” —
that is, for it no longer to be a specifically Jewish State. Beshara is
currently the only member of the party serving in the Knesset, but Balad is
projected to win two additional seats.  

Scandal Could End Sharons Career


Even if he is reelected, the financial scandal dogging him
could spell the end of Ariel Sharon’s political career.

Sharon is accused of taking an illegal loan from a South
African friend to pay off other illegal loans to his past political campaigns.
The prime minister has not been able to explain away the allegations against
him, and more potentially embarrassing details keep surfacing.

The latest polls indicate that Sharon’s Likud Party may be
able to hold its lead over Labor in the Jan. 28 election. However, if
additional revelations about how Sharon and his sons raised funds catch up with
him later and force him to resign, the beneficiary might well be former Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna.

Polls taken in the wake of the initial revelations showed
Likud plummeting to as few as 27 seats and Labor climbing to as many as 24.
That appeared to indicate that what had once seemed a one-horse race is now
wide open.

Sharon called a news conference to defend himself against
the allegations, but the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme
Court Justice Mishael Cheshin, forced radio and television stations to cut Sharon
off in midsentence when he judged that Sharon had veered too far into election
propaganda.

That might have rebounded to Sharon’s favor. The latest
polls, taken after Cheshin’s action, showed Likud rising again to 32 seats and
Labor falling to 20. Moreover, with a right-wing religious bloc winning an
estimated 63 seats in the 120-member Knesset, Sharon not only would win the
election but would be able to dictate coalition terms, according to the polls.

Some pundits accused Sharon and his advisers of deliberately
forcing Cheshin’s hand by switching from a response to the allegations to a
clear political attack on Labor and Mitzna. The tactic, they said, allowed
Sharon to portray himself as a victim of Labor, the left-wing media and the
liberal-leaning judge, while avoiding the need to answer tough questions.

Whether it was a deliberate strategy or not, events worked
in Sharon’s favor. “Sharon was able to rekindle the Likud tribe’s fire,” as one
pundit wrote. The public slighting of Sharon induced Likud activists to offer
their support, and the polls’ results seemed to reflect Likud’s newfound
energy.

The problem for Sharon is that he has yet to answer any of
the potentially incriminating questions arising from the affair.

Briefly, the facts of the case are these: As part of his
report on the 2001 elections that brought Sharon to power, the state
comptroller located an illegal contribution of more than $1 million to Sharon’s
1999 campaign for Likud leadership. Rather than face a fine of four times that
amount, Sharon undertook to pay the money back to the donor, an American-based
company called Annex Research.

It should be noted that Israeli election law sets strict
limits on the size of Israeli campaign donations, and does not allow donations
of any kind from abroad.

To repay Annex Research, Sharon’s son, Gilad, secured a bank
loan and offered to mortgage the family farm as collateral. When that proved
impossible, Gilad Sharon used a $1.5 million loan from his godfather, South
African businessman Cyril Kern, to raise a loan from a second bank to repay the
loan from the first bank.

Gilad Sharon paid back Kern’s loan seven months later, while
the outstanding loan from the second bank is due on April 30.

On the basis of these facts, police opened an investigation
of Sharon and his sons on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The
state prosecution asked South African authorities for cooperation in
investigating Kern.

For his part, Kern said the money was a personal gift, not a
political donation. “I can do what I like with my money,” Kern told the Sunday
Times of Johannesburg. “I helped a good friend, and I have been paid back. I am
happy I did that.”

Sharon reportedly telephoned Kern last week to apologize
that he had been dragged into the scandal.

Some questions in the case that investigators and
journalists are asking:

Who is involved in Annex Research, and why won’t Sharon
say?

Is Annex Research a shell company for channeling funds
from dubious sources?

Why did Gilad Sharon use Kern’s money to raise a loan from
a second bank to pay off the first bank, rather than using it as collateral or
capital for the first bank?

Why was the Kern money transferred to Israel via banks in
Austria and the United States?

Did Kern really make the loan or was he a conduit for
funds from more dubious sources?

Was the use of the Kern loan a case of using one illegal
donation to pay back another?

Does Kern have business interests in Israel, in which case
the loan could be seen as a possible bribe for preferential treatment?

What collateral remains for the second bank loan after
Gilad Sharon repaid Kern’s money?

How did Gilad Sharon make enough money in seven months to
repay the loans, when his business had been suffering from cash flow problems
and the Israeli economy is going through a period of deep recession?

Did the prime minister mislead Israeli authorities when,
as part of the investigation, he failed to mention the money from Kern?

Did Sharon mislead the Israeli public when he said he
didn’t know how his sons had repaid Annex Research?

Ma’ariv newspaper added a new twist this week, claiming that
Kern had tried to interest Israeli businessmen in huge gold and diamond deals
in South Africa and had kept Gilad Sharon informed. That might imply that Kern
has business interests in Israel, making his financial aid to the Sharons
suspect.

There is a precedent for such suspicions: One of the main
reasons for President Ezer Weizman’s resignation in mid-2000 was the revelation
that his benefactor, Edouard Saroussi, a French businessman, had business
interests in Israel.

The Labor Party is campaigning heavily on the corruption
issue. Ironically, though, if Sharon wins the election but ultimately is forced
to step down because of the scandal, it’s not Labor that will benefit.

Under the recently abandoned system of direct election of
the prime minister, the prime minister’s resignation would have sparked new
elections. However, under the current system of voting only for parties, Sharon
would simply be replaced by another Likud member who has the confidence of the
Knesset — such as his party rival Netanyahu, for example.

Exchanging Sharon for Netanyahu, who is more hard-line and
less inclined to cooperate with Labor, would be a net loss from the point of
view of the left. From a purely partisan point of view, then, Labor’s
corruption-based campaign against Sharon and his sons may prove to be
counterproductive.

The Good Fence


Secretary of State Colin Powell spent a week in the Middle East and managed to extract from Israeli and Arab leaders concessions that were promising and far-reaching — for 1991.

That was when another Republican secretary of state, James Baker, flexed the muscle that another President Bush had built up in waging a war against Arabs, and convened a Middle East peace conference in Madrid.

Is this a case of, as our friends the French would have it, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, or is it more like a bad meal coming back up on you?

While Powell was finessing "progress" toward a solution, the Israeli body politic, according to polls, had already decided on one.

It’s called a fence.

According to a recent poll published by Ma’ariv, over 70 percent of Israelis support putting up a fortified electronic barrier between the West Bank and Israel. The fence would follow the contours of borders largely agreed to by both sides in previous negotiations.

The Israelis would be on one side of the fence, Palestinians on the other. That means Israel would have to evacuate Jewish settlements that are not largely contiguous with the Green Line — meaning about 40,000-60,000 settlers.

It also means Palestinians could do what they want on their side. They could declare a state and organize it and eventually negotiate with their neighbor. Or they could declare holy war and hit targets outside Israel, risking more retaliation. Given Yasser Arafat’s track record, he might just choose to do both simultaneously.

Supporters say the fence would put an end to the suicide attacks that have debilitated Israel’s economy and morale.

There is just such a fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and since it was erected not a single suicide bomber has passed over the border from Gaza. To most Israelis, that alone is a winning argument.

Hundreds of former Israeli army officers have signed a resolution in support of the fence. From a security standpoint, they say, the fence is the best interim solution, until the sides can reach a political settlement.

Who opposes the idea? The hard right and the far left — which may be as good an indication as any of the plan’s quality.

The right doesn’t want to give up on settlements. Its view is that Jews have a right, going back to the Bible, to the lands of Judea and Samaria. But the cold facts are that the only way Israel can retain Gaza, Judea and Samaria and remain a Jewish state, is to banish the 3 million Palestinians who live there, or create an apartheid-like regime.

The right also says that Israel without Judea and Samaria would create a fragile, narrow-waisted country. A Palestinian army with Iranian-supplied weapons could muster in Tulkaram, some 7 miles from Netanya. This is correct, but it’s also true that Israeli forces would destroy that army long before the threat became a reality.

The generals who signed on to the fence idea know it is much easier to protect a country contained within secure borders than one spread out on both sides of a porous border.

The far left sees the fence as a barbed wire garrote around the Oslo dove. It would indicate that, at least for now, Shimon Peres’ new Middle East vision of regional trade and travel is a pipe dream.

True, as both Peres and Ariel Sharon point out, you can’t build a fence high enough to keep out mortars or Scuds. But that is what Merkava tanks and F-16s are designed to do. What they can’t do is keep 16-year-old Palestinians girls with backpacks full of explosives out of Israel. A fence can do that.

The most convincing argument against a fence is that the Palestinians would see any pullback, even of settlements that never should have been built in the first place, as a sign of weakness. Emboldened by this "victory," the Palestinians would press their terror campaign even harder.

Proponents of the fence argue that the terror campaign would come to a full stop at the new border. The separation could lead to a nasty divorce or a good-faith mediation, but at least it would be a separation.

It may not be the perfect answer, it may not be the only one, but it is worth serious exploration. As we rally for Israel on April 21 at Woodley Park, let’s hope the Israeli government spokesmen who address us there go beyond vague calls for support, and speak to the specifics of this promising first step.

The New Jewish “Vote” ?


The Super Tuesday election inspires these thoughts on what constitutes “The Jewish vote.”

It’s no secret that Jewish voters are turned off to Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Now we know how turned off they are.

Exit polling by the Field organization reported the voter breakdown among Jews (who represented a mere 5 percent of the California electorate) as follows:

Vice President Al Gore: 47 percent.

Former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley: 23 percent.

Arizona Senator John McCain: 21 percent.

Bush: 4 percent.

Four percent for the governor is a huge rejection for the presumptive Republican nominee, and a bad omen for November. The number is far below the estimated 12&’173;15 percent of Jews now regarded as hard-core Republican, and which most middle-of-the-road GOP candidates have come to rely upon. Bush père and Bob Dole enjoyed this low-grade support and you know where it got them.

It wasn’t that Bush hasn’t been trying. On the Friday before Super Tuesday, former Secretary of State George Shultz vouched for his candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides in a conference call for Jewish journalists. On Monday, Bush himself went to the Simon Wiesenthal Center where he made a plea for ethnic and religious tolerance. None of it helped.

Though the Bush campaign has bogged down over support by Bob Jones University and the Christian Right, it was never intended that way. There are Jews visible in every department of the Bush campaign, especially finance. Karl Rove, the Bush chief strategist, said last fall that his plan would be based on the golden (rather than iron) triangle of Latinos, Catholics and “suburban” voters, suburban constituting a kindly euphemism for the stable middle class, including Jews. It’s an open question if Jews are receptive to a Bush message if he moves back toward the political center.

As it is, John McCain’s Jewish vote was nothing to write home about, 2 percent less than McCain’s support (21 vs. 23) among voters at large. He courted Jews relentlessly, but his overreaction to the Bob Jones University incident, his evidence of Bush’s supposed anti-Catholicism, backfired. In the end, Catholics went for Bush, and Jewish independents either went for Bradley or back to the safety net of Al Gore.

Members of the pro-Israel Republican crowd, like Rosalie Zalis, were at McCain’s early private “victory party” at the Beverly Hilton Hotel Tuesday evening, but there was nothing to celebrate.

Could Zalis support Bush? “I think Al Gore’s got people around him who are more dedicated to what’s good for Israel,” she said by way of an answer. “And I like Tipper Gore.”

While the Jewish vote had real integrity on the national election, state and local races were another matter. Looking at a host of Tuesday’s races, it’s hard not to see, again, that we are a people whose influence changes with the occasion.

Take the astounding upset victory of State Senator Hilda Solis (D-El Monte) over incumbent Congressman Matthew Martinez (D-Alhambra) in the 31st District. Martinez was one of the first Latinos to win support from Congressmen Howard Berman and Henry Waxman about a decade ago, as Berman-Waxman, forging a new progressive politics, brought in the most progressive ethnic representatives they could find. Times change. Today, Solis has the respect and money from Jewish backers, and Martinez, deemed an ineffectual placeholder, is out the door.

I spent a good part of Tuesday evening at the victory celebration for Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl, who handily defeated Assemblymember Wally Knox for the State Senate seat vacated by Tom Hayden. Though observers kept calling this a squeaker, Kuehl won 50:29 percent.

The Victorian on Main Street was filled with Kuehl supporters: women, gays and lesbians, health care and education reformers, environmentalists and just plain voters who appreciated a new park in Encino. Many of them were Jews.

“I’ve been more than a good vote. I’ve been a leader,” Kuehl told me. This is undoubtedly so. She’ll be a terrific senator from a district that includes about two-thirds of the readers of this paper.

But this begs a question. At some point in this campaign, the Knox/Kuehl race had some parts of the community debating who was “better” on Jewish issues and consequently for the Jewish community.

Wally Knox, to give credit where it’s due, did a great job representing the institutional interests of the Jewish community, pushing through legislation, for example, giving assistance to Holocaust survivors in their insurance claims. It was good work, even if it wasn’t a great vote-getter. I predict he’ll have a job in Sacramento, or Washington, soon enough.

Finally, West Hollywood City Councilmember Paul Koretz defeated Amanda Susskind by 3 percent for the West Los Angeles Assembly seat vacated by Knox through term limits.

Koretz ran for the 42nd seat eight years ago, coming in second after Knox in a field of five. Koretz had the support of every major political insider, including Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Governor Gray Davis, and a solid history of success, including helping West Hollywood outlaw small handguns. He’ll serve the district well.

As for Susskind, her loss will one day lead to gain. Susskind, an energetic, experienced city attorney, came far with no name ID and no institutional support. She’ll run again, and win.


Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal.


Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.