Rabbis for Romney


Many political organizers talk about themselves as reluctant activists, but when Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg said it wasn’t his intention, initially, to establish the group Rabbis for Romney, it’s hard not to believe him.

“I don’t hate Obama, and I don’t glorify Romney,” said Rosenberg, a 64-year-old Orthodox-ordained rabbi who leads Congregation Beth-El, a conservative synagogue in Edison, N.J. “I just know what I have, and I’m not happy with what I have, so I’m willing to throw the dice with someone new.”

Rosenberg, who said he is a registered Democrat who voted twice for President Bill Clinton, launched Rabbis for Romney in September with little more than an organization name and a solicitation e-mail. Even today, aside from a list that he won’t share of what he says are 100 rabbis’ names, the group doesn’t have much of a presence on the Web or on the campaign trail.

Its entire reason for being, Rosenberg said, is not so much to oppose the re-election of President Barack Obama as to oppose the members of Rabbis for Obama who have endorsed him.

“I don’t think there should be rabbis for anybody,” Rosenberg said. “But then 613 rabbis decided they were going to make a whole to-do in the press, and that’s wrong.”

Those 613 Rabbis for Obama helped reignite a long-running debate about whether Jewish clerics should take positions on political issues.

But unlike those rabbis, who all have made their names public, and who include some pulpit rabbis, next to nothing is known about the majority of the Rabbis for Romney group.

Rosenberg, who said he received hate mail in response to organizing Rabbis for Romney, would not release the names of the rabbis who have contacted him to join the group, but he did disclose that every rabbi on his list of about 100 is male. Eighty percent of the Rabbis for Romney are Orthodox-ordained; the rest are Conservative, he said. Some work for synagogues, others as educators, and still others are retired. None lives on the West Coast, but some live in Israel, Rosenberg said. 

Although the group is called Rabbis for Romney, at least some of its members appear to be inspired more by antipathy for Obama than by love for the Republican nominee.

Rabbi David Algaze of Havurat Yisrael, an Orthodox synagogue in Queens, N.Y., is co-chairman of Rabbis for Romney. Speaking to The Jewish Star of Long Island, N.Y., Algaze reportedly said the “main purpose [of Rabbis for Romney] is to counter the impression of Rabbis for Obama.”

Calling Obama “one of the most hostile” presidents toward Israel and the Jews, Algaze told The Jewish Star that “Romney will do even better for Israel. We saw his presentation of [God] and values rather than the atheistic and other values of Obama.”

Rosenberg was less sanguine than was Algaze about Romney — “I don’t know the guy, I never went out to dinner with him” — but was no less opposed to Obama’s re-election.

“I don’t trust Obama,” Rosenberg said. “I’m not saying he’s been bad to Israel; I’m not one of those guys. I just don’t like his apologizing to the Arab world. I don’t like him dealing with extremist Muslims. He’s not my cup of tea.”

And though Rosenberg said he hoped Romney, if elected, would take a different tone in his interactions with Israel than Obama has, the rabbi acknowledged that such talk is, at this point, purely speculative. Nevertheless, Rosenberg said the Republican could count on his vote. 

“With me, Romney is going to be a better president because, economically, he knows something about business,” he said. 

Where’s the tough love for Obama?


When it comes to criticizing Israel, liberal supporters of Israel routinely quote the Jewish value of self-criticism. Try telling a pro-Israel critic the following:

“Israel is already being criticized beyond all proportion by much of the world community; it is being demonized and boycotted by a global movement trying to eradicate the Zionist project; it is surrounded by enemies sworn to its destruction; and it already has plenty of criticism and dissent within its own country. Should we, as Diaspora Jews, pile on the criticism and join the feeding frenzy — or should we push back against these exaggerated attacks and make Israel’s case to the world? Why give our enemies more ammunition to hurt us?”

The typical answer you’ll get is: “Because self-criticism is one of the highest Jewish values! It’s not just a right to criticize Israel, it’s an obligation! That’s how we improve. Israel needs our public criticism. It’s the highest and deepest expression of our love for the Jewish state.”

I understand that sentiment: We can’t grow in life without getting some tough love.

But what I don’t understand is this: Why won’t liberal critics of Israel use the same argument for President Obama? If self-criticism is such a noble value, why won’t they show the same kind of “tough love” for the president and criticize him as loudly as they do Israel?

I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen liberal supporters of Israel get all aggressive when criticizing Israel’s policies, but then, as soon as the subject turns to Obama’s policies, they suddenly get all defensive.

Apparently, not all self-criticism is created equal.

This is a shame, because the president could use a lot more criticism from liberals, especially on issues that liberals care deeply about.

In a recent post on the Atlantic Web site titled “Why do Liberals Keep Sanitizing the Obama Story?” Conor Friedersdorf pleads with liberals to “stop ignoring President Obama’s failures on civil liberties, foreign policy, and the separation of powers, treating them as if they [don’t] even merit a mention.”

Friedersdorf takes to task several prominent liberal writers, among them Jonathan Chait, whom he calls “the latest to write about the president as if his civil liberties abuses and executive power excesses never happened.”

Referring to a long assessment of Obama by Chait in New York Magazine, Friedersdorf writes:

“Apparently it isn’t even worthy of mention that Obama’s actions in Libya violated the War Powers Resolution … and the legal advice provided to him by the Office of Legal Counsel.

“Perhaps most egregiously, Chait doesn’t even allude to Obama’s practice of putting American citizens on a secret kill list without any due process.

“Nor does he grapple with warrantless spying on American citizens, Obama’s escalation of the war on whistleblowers, his serial invocation of the state secrets privilege, the Orwellian turn airport security has taken [and] the record-breaking number of deportations over which Obama presided.”

Seriously, how often do we see prominent liberal writers publicly criticize the president for some of these vexing actions, which certainly can’t be blamed on the previous president?

“Why is all this ignored?” Friedersdorf asks. “Telling the story of Obama’s first term without including any of it is a shocking failure of liberalism.

“What does ‘better than the Republicans’ get you if it means that executive privilege keeps expanding, the drones keep killing innocents and inflaming radicals … the Pentagon budget keeps growing, civil liberties keep being eroded, wars are waged without Congressional permission, and every future president knows he or she can do the same because at this point it doesn’t even provoke a significant backlash from the left?”

Friedersdorf says it just won’t cut it “for smart writers and prestigious publications to keep writing big think pieces about Obama’s tenure that read as if some of its most significant, uncomfortable moments never happened.

“Civil liberties and executive power and war-making aren’t fringe concerns. … They’re central to the Obama narrative, and the American narrative, as the president himself would’ve affirmed back when he was articulating lofty standards that he has repeatedly failed to meet.”

So, given all these liberal failures, why are Obama’s liberal supporters “sanitizing” his story? Even before this election season, why have so many of them been reluctant to publicly criticize their president and give him the kind of “tough love” he needs?

Well, here’s one possibility. It’s not that they think Obama is perfect and can do no wrong. Rather, it’s that they see how Obama is already being criticized beyond all proportion by much of the conservative community, and they say to themselves:

“Why should we pile on the criticism and join the feeding frenzy? Better to push back against these exaggerated attacks and make a strong case for our side. Our opponents are so much worse than we are — why give them more ammunition to hurt us?”

Why? For the same reason you criticize Israel — because self-criticism is one of the highest Jewish values! Because self-criticism is not just a right, it’s an obligation!

Because if your beloved Israel deserves your tough love, then so does your beloved president.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Emergency Committee for Israel: Bad for the Jews


The Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), a far-right Republican pressure group, knows that it is still too early to roll out its full “Obama hates Israel” campaign.

However, considering all the money in its coffers, it has found a cause that serves its purpose just as well: assailing the “Occupy Wall Street” movement as anti-Semitic.

No matter that its evidence is the presence of a total of three lunatics in the Wall Street crowds in contrast to thousands of Jews (see this video). It makes sense for ECI to libel a movement that threatens its wealthy donors’ interests far more than Obama threatens Netanyahu’s.

That is because ECI is not really about Israel. It is all about defending the political and economic interests of its millionaire donors by electing Republicans. That means smearing Democrats who might raise its sponsors’ taxes. And it means lying about the Occupy Wall Street movement which defends working people and excoriates the 1 percent Theodore Roosevelt called “malefactors of great wealth.”

How do we know that ECI’s supposed devotion to Israel is nothing but a pretext for its defense of the GOP? (See this J Street paper on ECI.)

Because the Emergency Committee for Israel consistently attacks Democrats as anti-Israel while praising Republicans as virtual members of the IDF.

To date — in addition to its incessant sniping at the president — it has run ads for one candidate and against four. Most recently, it launched a campaign to elect Bob Turner, the Republican candidate for Congress in New York who successfully campaigned to win the seat formerly held by Anthony Weiner. ECI filled the airwaves with a video purporting to show that the Democratic candidate, Orthodox Jew David Weprin, was no friend of Israel because, as a Democrat, he was associated with President Obama.

In 2010, ECI ran similar ads against Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak and three incumbent House members: Rush Holt of New Jersey, Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio and Glenn Nye of Virginia. Needless to say, all the candidates ECI targeted were Democrats.

And now, the group is virulently and incessantly attacking the people who are demonstrating against economic policies that exploit working people in favor of people who live off their capital gains. Not exactly a surprise.

But it is still rather disgusting. The group, in its never-ending exploitation of Israel to advance Republicans and right-wing economics, repeatedly sends the message that all American Jews care about is Israel. No matter what the issue, the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Commentary crowd, and pretty much all neocons, convey to the public at large that American Jews are only concerned about an imagined Jewish angle, as if we are some kind of unique enclave who live in America but aren’t really Americans.

Even if ECI and its allies believed its propaganda and were not simply exploiting genuine concern about Israel and anti-Semitism to advance a GOP agenda, it would be wrong to convey that impression.

That is because it reinforces the most virulent anti-Semitic canard that still circulates in this country: that American Jews are disloyal citizens whose primary allegiance is to Israel and not America.

God knows, there are organizations that do indeed put Israel first, but — despite their loud voices and political clout — they represent a tiny minority of American Jews. (According to an American Jewish Committee poll, only 3 percent of Jews cast their votes based on Israel rather than on American issues.)

ECI knows all that but doesn’t care. So what if it reinforces the ugly view that American Jews are bad Americans, so long as it succeeds in moving some votes and money toward the Republicans? Making Jews look bad is not something it worries about.

Obviously it doesn’t worry one of ECI’s three board members, Rachel Decter Abrams, wife of the disgraced former Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams. (Like Abrams, the other two board members are right-wing Republican activists: William Kristol and Gary Bauer.)

On October 18, Abrams wrote a blog post celebrating the return of Gilad Shalit. However, rather than simply express joy and relief at the release of the Israeli soldier, she published a call for genocide against Palestinians. Read it.

Then, to make sure that the post would be seen well beyond the readers of one blog, Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist, tweeted it. It is no surprise that Rubin, a former Commentary writer, has no problem with Abrams’ call for genocide. But shouldn’t the Washington Post have a problem with Rubin?

And today a Beirut newspaper headlined the story of Abrams’ blog and Rubin’s endorsement of it. The headline reads: “Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin promotes call for Palestinian genocide.” This story will have legs and its legacy will be an ugly one.

To put it simply, these neocons are bad for everyone — but especially for Jews. It is almost as if reinforcing the ugliest and most libelous stereotypes about Jews is their goal.

To its credit, J Street has condemned Abrams and called on the ECI to kick her off their board. But I would not go that far simply because I think that Rachel Decter Abrams and her call for genocide fits in well with ECI. She belongs there, along with Kristol and Bauer.

As for Jennifer Rubin and the Post, they represent a different kettle of fish. One thing is certain: If the great Katherine Graham, publisher of the paper when it brought down Richard Nixon by exposing Watergate, were still around, Jennifer Rubin wouldn’t be. Does she really belong at the once-great Washington Post?

No, she doesn’t. She belongs back at Commentary.

But the Emergency Committee for Israel is just another Republican organization, and we do have a two-party system. They are entitled to be right-wing Republicans — just so long as no one believes they represent Jews.

Voice of reason in a sea of insanity, Jewish Dodgers, Prager, archaeologists, politicians and peace


Food Issues

Rob Eshman’s article about food issues is a voice of reason in a sea of insanity (“Food Issues,” April 11).

Much of the meaning behind the holiday is in its simplicity, as Rob indicates. Changing one’s diet for seven or eight days obviously extends beyond the seders. Unfortunately, it is getting swept under the table with the increasing availability of processed foods just like what we eat the remainder of the year.

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to choose between our day-to-day excessive commercialism or changing our lives for a week and truly appreciating the simplicity and freedom that we normally associate with Pesach.

Ed Rivkin
Cherry Hill, N.J.

Ziman and Lee

I realize that bad news always travels faster than good news — especially with today’s technology(“Four Questions,” April 18).

But the simple and difficult question you asked — is it true — still needs to be answered.

Whatever the answer is, it will say a lot about everyone involved. As you wrote, there will probably be multiple versions of what was exactly said. I think seeing all of them, or at least the generally accepted versions, will be quite revealing.

Philippe Shepnick
via e-mail

Two facts stick out from the Daphna Ziman controversy: She is a strong supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton that included Ziman’s hosting fundraisers for her, and she gratuitously connected Sen. Barack Obama with the Rev. Eric Lee’s alleged vitriolic remarks he has vehemently denied.

She then sent out her version of what he said in an attempt to persuade as many as she knew in the Jewish community to oppose Sen. Obama. Pure and simple, it was just another political hit piece. Hopefully it has not worked.

George Magit
Northridge

Jewish Dodgers

I enjoyed Robert David Jaffee’s history of Jewish baseball players on the Los Angeles Dodgers (“Dodgers Hit Grand Slam in History of Jewish Players,” April 18).

However, I would like to correct him regarding one of the players that he stated was “hailed by some as Jews even though they are not.”

Scott Radinsky is the son of a Jewish mother and Polish father. He considers himself a Jew much in the way Mike Lieberthal identifies himself.

Ephraim Moxson
Co-Publisher
Jewish Sports Review
Los Angeles


Period slide show set to Jimmy Durante’s 1963 Sandy Koufax tribute “Dandy Sandy”

Marriage Equality

I am grateful for your publishing the article highlighting Jews for marriage equality (“Battle for Gay Marriage Rights Gains Jewish Support,” April 11).

As a Conservative rabbi, I signed the petition, and I stand fully behind the work of the commission and its desire to bring equality and justice to the many gay and lesbian couples seeking to enter into the sanctity of marriage with all of the rights and privileges that come with that covenant.

Judaism has constantly evolved, and I agree fully with Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a pioneer and leader on this issue, when he teaches that this is a landmark time in the state of Judaism, a time that will require the will and commitment of dedicated Jews to bring yet another group of outsiders into the fold of Jewish life.

Some of the arguments made today against bringing homosexuals into the mainstream of Jewish life are the same arguments made 20 years ago in the Conservative movement regarding women. We overcame those hurdles, and we have started to overcome the current hurdles. Because we are all created in the image of God, all Jews deserve full access to the Torah and equal rights in civic life, as well.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

Dennis Prager Ad

Yes, Dennis — I’m a Democrat that fights for carbon dioxide emissions control (Advertisement, April 18).

Had you and your Republican ilk been fighting for that, rather than fighting for more oil around the world, our dependence on your black gold may not be such that we’d need to be sucking it out of places where we are so resented for our presence alone.

Corporate evil — that is what you do not fight!

Kenny Halpern
Oxnard

As a respected nationwide figure and a proponent of moral belief systems, I consider Prager to have a heavy responsibility to present meaningful, well-analyzed arguments.

After reading his ad, “I Used to Be a Democrat,” I was sorely disappointed with the weakening of his own position by the juxtaposition of evil and CO2 emissions.

The implication that being against destroying the earth is tantamount to considering that is more important than nazism, communism and terrorism is absurd and totally unfair. These two hideous problems are not comparable, and one should not have to choose between them to be righteous.

Diane Rowe
Santa Monica

How sad it was to read this full-page ad and realize that Dennis Prager would rather be associated with a presidential aspirant who actively sought the endorsement of the Rev. Hagee and all the hate and bitterness he represents and stands for then remain identified with the true inheritors of the Lincoln legacy, the contemporary progressive movement.

And when he goes on to say that Republicans are for the preservation of liberal values, well, he might as well consider going to an open mike night at the Comedy Club!

Saul Goldfarb
Oak Park

Web Editor: The Prager ad did not appear online @ JewishJournal.com

Passover Ponderings

As I participated in seders this year, I imagined the early years of the Jews in Egypt. They didn’t come as slaves but came looking for subsistence. They came looking for the opportunity to feed their families.

The few, the proud, the Jews for Ron Paul


Jim Perry, a 22-year-old Libertarian, made a name for himself in college when, shortly after moving to New Hampshire to live free or die, he strapped a gun to his side and marched into a local Borders book store and proceeded to rip up a copy of his Massachusetts income tax return.

That sort of fighting spirit is a job requirement in his new post: executive director of the group Jews for Ron Paul.

Paul’s candidacy was dismissed early on due to his support from ” target = “_blank”>The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) pointedly did not invite him to participate in its candidates’ forum. His reported support from extremist groups hasn’t helped win him favor among Jews.

Still, Paul commands a loyal, albeit small, Jewish following. This Jewish support has followed the same pattern as Paul’s backing from other groups — coming from out-of-the way places on the Internet and taking mainstream media and political organizations by surprise.

In addition to Perry’s” target = “_blank”>Zionists for Ron Paul — an outfit launched by Yehuda HaKohen, an American immigrant to Israel, and some of his friends back in the United States.

Some of Paul’s Jewish supporters believe that it would be best for Israel if the United States kept out of Jerusalem’s affairs. There are also those who believe that American aid to Israel is dangerous because it feeds the perception that Jews wield too much influence over U.S. foreign policy.

“Many of us believe the current relationship between the United States and Israel is a very unhealthy relationship, like that of a man and concubine, or a slave and master,” HaKohen said.

While traveling from Washington to New Hampshire to campaign earlier this month, Paul provided a statement to JTA explaining his position on Israel.

“I support free trade and friendship with all nations, meaning that my administration would treat Israel as a friend and trading partner. Americans would be encouraged to travel to and trade with Israel,” Paul said.

“Our foreign military aid to Israel is actually more like corporate welfare to the U.S. military industrial complex, as Israel is forced to purchase only U.S. products with the assistance. We send almost twice as much aid to other countries in the Middle East, which only insures increased militarization and the drive toward war.”

In fact, combined U.S. aid to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and other friendly Arab nations is roughly commensurate with the $2.4 billion military aid package Israel currently gets.

“We have adopted a foreign policy that has left Israel surrounded by militaristic nations while undermining Israel’s sovereignty by demanding that its foreign and defense policies be essentially pre-approved in Washington,” he added.

Paul is an obstetrician from the small town of Lake Jackson, Texas, who served in Congress in the 1970s and 1980s as a Libertarian, then worked as a doctor before returning to Congress in 1997 as a Republican. He’s fiercely pro-life and opposed to gun control, believes American monetary policy must be reconnected to the gold standard and advocates an isolationist foreign policy.

Paul’s campaign manager, Lew Moore, deflected questions about Paul’s support from neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups

“Ron Paul has beliefs that resonate with people. He empowers an individual’s right to free association. A lot of people like that,” Moore said. “He does not believe in foreign aid going to any nation, but that does not have anything to do with individual groups.”

Moore said he has visited the Web site of Jews For Ron Paul, but hasn’t worked with the group and doesn’t know anything about the size of its membership. The Paul campaign, he added, was disappointed but not surprised that Paul hadn’t been invited to speak at the recent Republican Jewish Coalition forum. The campaign manager also said that he knew of no Jewish groups that had asked Paul to speak.

The RJC’s spokeswoman said that Paul’s isolationist stance contradicts her group’s belief in strengthening U.S. ties with Israel. Paul’s consistent record of voting against aid to Israel was a factor in the group’s decision not to invite the candidate, Suzanne Kurtz said.

For Jews for Ron Paul’s Perry, an Orthodox Jew, there is a connection between his own religious beliefs about personal responsibility and the Libertarian philosophy underpinning Paul’s candidacy.

“It’s the idea that people are meant to be equal and free in a just society. Those are the same things that draw me to be an observant Orthodox Jew,” said Perry, who commands an Internet forum whose advisers include political and law professors spanning the country.

“I believe Judaism puts strong emphasis on individual meaning, personal responsibility,” he said, adding that God “calls us to take responsibility for our own actions.”

HaKohen acknowledged that Paul’s followers include groups that might make Jews uncomfortable, but he sees the campaign as an effort to broadly redefine the American political landscape.

Despite his enthusiasm, HaKohen is not getting his hopes up about the GOP candidate’s chances.

“I can see how people might dismiss him,” HaKohen said. “He’s not gonna win.”

Are Jews Becoming Republican?


The debate over whether American Jews are turning to the Republican Party is not likely to be settled when the votes are counted on Nov. 5.

With midterm congressional elections just days away, Republicans cite a variety of reasons why this year’s polls may not show the political shift they have been predicting for the past year. But Democrats say the election will be the best sign yet of where Jews stand on the political spectrum.

It’s hardly a new debate. For years, Republican Jewish leaders have touted increasing support from the Jewish community, while exit polls continue to show that most Jews vote Democratic. Still, with a Republican president who is strongly pro-Israel and Republican voices in Congress taking the lead in support of Israel and the U.S. war on terrorism, the issue has garnered notice in mainstream media. While several indicators hint at a trend, little information exists to make a definitive assessment. That makes Election Day an important test for both sides of the argument. Any Jewish movement toward the GOP would strike at one of the Democrats’ strongest voting blocs at a time when Congress is almost evenly divided.

Jews make up only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, but they are valuable in elections because of their high voter turnout and their geographical disbursement, said Norman Ornstein, an election analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

“You have a lot of Jewish votes in a number of pivotal states and ones that are contentious,” Ornstein said. Plus, Jews often are political leaders and key fundraisers.

The habits of Jewish voters have been a curiosity for years.

“It’s a puzzle,” said Ken Goldstein, assistant professor of political science and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin. “Given their education levels, income levels and color of skin, Jews should look like Republican voters” — but, historically, they haven’t. During the 1990s, for example, Democrats won at least 73 percent of the Jewish vote in House races. Within the last two decades, Jewish support for Democratic congressional candidates peaked at 82 percent in 1982, according to The New York Times. The high point for the GOP was the 32 percent of the Jewish vote in House races in 1988.

But Matthew Brooks, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) executive director, points to an RJC survey, showing that 48 percent of Jews surveyed said they would consider voting for President Bush for reelection in 2004. The poll also found that Bush’s performance moved 27 percent to say they were more likely to vote for Republicans for other offices.

Despite such figures and articles describing a GOP tilt among Jews, Jewish Democratic leaders say the perception is wrong.

In the past, Jewish voters have feared that voting Republican would mean embracing a conservative domestic agenda, such as opposition to abortion and support for school prayer. Now, some say, closer ties between the Jewish community and right-wing Christian supporters of Israel has opened some doors.

Ira Forman, National Jewish Democratic Council executive director, says that especially during times of Mideast crisis, Jewish voting patterns reflect concern for Israel more than domestic agendas.

Given strong Israel support by Bush and congressional Republicans, it has created a perception of a Jewish-GOP embrace.

But, Forman contends, Jewish voters most often don’t have to make that choice. More often, he says, they’re deciding between pro-Israel Democrats and pro-Israel or neutral Republicans. When both candidates are either pro-Israel or neutral, Jews lean toward the Democrats because of domestic issues.

Forman also says that Jewish votes for GOP candidates don’t necessarily reflect a shift rightward.

A Gallup Organization study found that the partisan slant of the Jewish vote has remained stable over the past decade.

No poll has enough Jewish respondents to mark a trend. But, extrapolating from its polls in the past 18 months, Gallup found that some 50 percent of Jewish voters are Democrats, 32 percent are independent and 18 percent are Republicans. That mirrors Gallup polls taken between 1992 and 2001.

Frank Newport of Gallup said patterns of party identification are very stable.

Goldstein says this Election Day may not resolve the question of Jewish voting habits, since many of key races are in states with small Jewish populations. He believes the presidential race in 2004 will be a more important indicator.

But Democrats counter that even that won’t be a fair judge, because Bush’s Mideast policy and his handling of the war against terrorism have made him popular with Jewish voters. Jews may vote for other Republicans because they support Bush, not because they’ve had a real change of heart, Forman says.

All of which means that the debate is likely to go on after November, come what may at the polls.

Opportunities Ahead — Maybe


Talk to Jewish Republicans these days and you hear a palpable sense of coming out of the wilderness.

After an agonizing eight years — with Bill Clinton in the White House and Jews snapping back to their traditional allegiance to the Democrats — things may be changing, they believe.

Since the heady days of Ronald Reagan, Jewish Republicans have routinely predicted their party was on the verge of dramatic gains among Jewish voters, only to be disappointed at the polls. This time those predictions could have more credence — but only if the party and their president don’t blow it.

Here are some factors that will determine whether the new Bush administration boosts Jewish Republicans’ fortunes — or just leads to more frustration and disappointment.

President George W. Bush and Compassionate
Conservatism

Bush is an attractive politician who talks the talk of moderation, inclusiveness and bipartisanship. His compassionate conservatism was an easily lampooned campaign slogan, but it could prove to be a compelling political asset for the Republicans — if voters see it creatively and assertively implemented.

That means working hard to make sure the focus on faith-based and private-sector solutions to social ills aren’t simply used as an excuse for cutting federal programs and casting recipients adrift.

Bush surprised many by suggesting a kind of school voucher clearly aimed at improving the education of those in the worst schools, not just giving government handouts to affluent private and parochial school parents. The Jewish community could be attracted to that kind of approach — if it continues.

John Ashcroft

His nomination as attorney general was a major blow to the image of inclusiveness and compassion Bush has tried to project.

Ashcroft, through his willingness to play the race- and gay-baiting card for political gain, has infuriated African Americans and gays; his conservative views on church-state issues have worried many Jews.

Ashcroft has promised to enforce even laws he does not favor.

If he rigorously lives up to that promise and makes genuine and sustained efforts to reach out to the minorities who were offended by his nomination, his presence in the administration will not preclude growing Jewish support for the Republicans.

But if he plays mostly to his former colleagues on the congressional right, he will do the GOP cause enormous harm with minorities and the centrist swing voters who ultimately decide elections.

Israel

The new Bush administration has said the right things about support for Israel’s security.

At the same time, it has indicated a determination not to become overinvolved, which will be welcome news to some pro-Israel forces.

A somewhat less involved, less intense president might be a relief after the hyperinvolved Bill Clinton; Bush, with his corporate CEO detachment, and Secretary of State Colin Powell, the competent military professional, might be just the ticket.

But American Jews are not likely to pat Bush on the back for simply walking away from the effort to bring peace to the Jewish state, an effort most still regard as vital.

And American Jews will judge him for the durability of his pro-Israel rhetoric when the next regional crisis comes along, and administration policymakers — many of them holdovers from the last, unfriendly Bush administration — are pulling in the opposite direction.

Congress

Administration advocates of inclusiveness and compassion will face stiff resistance from GOP congressional leaders who want to take advantage of their narrow control over both branches of government to push an ultra-conservative agenda on issues such as abortion, gun control, civil rights and school prayer.

If Bush cedes leadership to hardliners such as House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), he can kiss goodbye any Jewish shift to the GOP in 2002.

Attractive New Candidates

It’s time for the Jewish Republicans to take advantage of some of the new blood in the party.

The party boasts some attractive younger politicians — such as Rep. Eric Cantor, the new congressman from Richmond, Va. Cantor could serve as a prototype for new-style Jewish Republicans: unapologetically conservative on issues from gun control to homosexual rights, but also much better able to present those views without the bitterness and extremism Jews hear from the Christian right and their supporters in the party.

Style isn’t a substitute for policies Jews like — but without it as a launching pad, the Republicans have no chance at all.

Outreach

There’s no question the Republican party would like to expand its political base, and many see Bush as the ideal leader to drive that change.

But it’s not clear if a Jewish community that has repeatedly spurned the Republicans figures into those plans.

Going after Hispanic or Asian American voters may be a much more attractive prospect to Republican leaders; both of these communities are less wedded to the Democratic party, and both may be turning more conservative as they become more prosperous.

And don’t forget Arab American and Muslim voters, who swung in the GOP direction on Nov. 7. Their domestic conservatism is a natural fit with the Republican party, a fact GOP leaders are working hard to exploit.

Jewish money still matters to GOP candidates, but the party is getting that anyway; it’s far from clear if the party has any serious intention of investing precious resources in reaching out to stubborn Jewish voters.

After the Election


For a few strained hours last week, I was afraid we’d be witnessing the Jewish version of Elian Gonzalez, Part II. Could Jewish blood pressure withstand the tension of the Palm Beach vote taken hostage?

As hours of electoral anxiety passed into weeks, I worried that the world would soon know how the Chosen People behave when the food comes late, let alone when an election result is held up. I feared that Fox News would send Joan Rivers to cover the re-vote protest, that Saturday Night Live would point out the ironic casting of Jesse Jackson as Moses. Frankly, I was ready to die of embarrassment.

Yes, my own mother was temporarily unhinged by the thought that her absentee ballot might have been thrown away like a receipt from Bloomingdales. But soon, like the rest of us, she simmered down.

“I don’t trust any of them anyway,” my father said. That’s when I knew the nation was going to be all right. My father makes his political pronouncement every four years, as the Republic is transferred to the next generation of scoundrels. It’s a tradition, like the losing candidate’s concession speech. It assures me that, in our family, healthy cynicism has been restored and everyone is once again well behaved.

And decorum was very much the issue last week: how to behave when the eyes of the planet are upon you. The Election 2000 Cliffhanger has been a national civics lesson, but for Jews it is something else, like taking off control-top pantyhose and letting yourself breathe naturally. Regardless of who ultimately “wins,” (would you want such a blessing?) it has taught American Jews, as well, that all the world really is just one big condo project, and that we feel right at home.

Joe Lieberman is one part of the comfort factor, but only one. The affable, Torah-quoting son of a bakery truck driver himself has been a tonic. The first Jewish vice-presidential candidate brought Orthodox Jews back into the Democratic column. He gave young activist Jews a place for their political hopes. Prof. Kenneth Wald, head of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Florida, tells me that the AIPAC offices were raided of eager staffers, gone to Gore-Lieberman.

But Lieberman is a career politician, concerned with far more than proving that there is no secret obsessive anti-Semitism lurking in the hearts of mainstream America.

Through his relentless day-after-day campaigning along the Condo Coast, he put the Sunshine State, whose governor, after all, is the GOP candidate’s brother, into play. In doing so, he set up the Jewish vote for what it has traditionally hated the most: attention to itself as a political force.

Over many years, I’ve seen this parochial fear of public disclosure in action. In every election cycle, a candidate or a race emerges in which Jewish votes are regarded as “swing.” In Los Angeles almost eight years ago, for example, 50 percent of Jewish voters punched out the chad for Republican Mayor Richard Riordan (as had an equal number of Jews in New York supported Mayor Rudolph Guiliani).

Like the “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry gives his father a Cadillac, we like being close to power, but we don’t want anyone to see us pulling into the driveway.

Underlying this reluctance to get too comfortable is the lingering conviction that we will somehow handle power wrong. For all our pride at Jewish involvement in American civic and economic life, many feared that if Gore-Lieberman won, the Jews would be blamed for any Wall Street reversals.

That’s why the events of last week provided real threshold tests of our civic engagement tolerance.First came the newspaper stories asserting the undeniable: Jewish votes for Pat Buchanan provided conclusive evidence that the butterfly ballot did not fly. Then came the political analysis showing that Broward and Palm Beach Counties were heavily weighted with Jewish Democrats; the fate of the nation rested on residents who moved South but vote North.

Finally, there were the votes of Aliyah Americans, the Jews of Haifa and Tel Aviv, giddily hoping to repay Bill Clinton’s pro-Israel foreign policy with a vote for Al Gore. Florida Jews kicked off their shoes and settled in for the long American vote count.

It feels good.

American Jewish commitment to the political system is intense, loyal and strong. Our love of democracy verges on religious devotion, extending even to the archaic punch card ballot and the Electoral College. From Florida this week, my friends sent e-mail assertions that they personally would volunteer to oversee the presidential recount. Whatever it took, they were there. Just two weeks ago it was clear to me that Jews were no longer a swing vote, that our place had been taken by Latinos, Asians and, yes, Arab Americans.

Shows how much I know.

The fact is, the whole nation is swinging. But we can still carry the tune.

Jesus Day Flap


The dust-up over Jesus Day is turning into a firestorm. Thanks to the Internet, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush cannot shake continuing criticism for the role that his religious faith might play in his presidency.

Bush, the governor of Texas, signed a proclamation calling June 10, 2000, Jesus Day in Texas. The American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) said the proclamation violates the “spirit and intention of the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Bush’s proclamation stated that “throughout the world, people of all religions recognize Jesus Christ as an example of love, compassion, sacrifice and service.”

Bush has previously been criticized for remarks he made stating that only Christians go to heaven and his naming Jesus as the political philosopher or thinker with whom he most identified. After the signing, Bush officials and some Jewish groups engaged in heated back and forth. The matter might have been dropped by all sides were it not for the Internet. A paragraph taken from news reports on Jesus Day has been flying from e-mail to e-mail. The paragraph relates only the fact that Bush signed a Jesus Day proclamation, but fails to bring up the pointed criticism of liberal Jewish groups, the Bush response, or the larger national context.

The principal problem with the Jesus Day proclamation, said AJCongress Executive Director Phil Baum, “is not that it acknowledges the important civic contributions of a particular faith, but that it assumes the profound regard in which the teachings and person of Jesus Christ are held by the Christian community are the norm for all the residents of the state of Texas.

“Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, members of other faith groups and nonbelievers, all of whom are entitled to equal respect, would have difficulty responding to the governor’s call to practice civic responsibility by ‘following Christ’s message’ on June 10,” said Baum.

AJCongress notes that while such proclamations have become “customary and routine” – saying that Congress and many states have, for instance, issued proclamations commemorating the life and teachings of the late Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Schneerson – “all such statements are offensive and erode the protection afforded minority beliefs” by the First Amendment.

A spokesperson for Bush’s office provided a number of examples of other recent Bush proclamations concerning religion.

They included proclamations honoring the 100th anniversary of the Baha’i faith in North America and the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa, “a community of Sikhs committed to defending and upholding their faith.”

Bush also has signed proclamations declaring Honor Israel Day and a week of Holocaust remembrance, and honoring the Austin Chabad House.

A Bush campaign spokesman said that while Bush is “sensitive” to AJCongress’ concerns, “he does not fully share them.”

“The governor recognizes the importance of the separation of church and state,” said Ari Fleischer. But he said “it is a long American tradition” and “an appropriate function for governors to issue proclamations honoring groups both religious and secular in nature for important events, adding, “It doesn’t mean the governor endorses those causes.”

AJCongress called the proclamation “a recent and egregious example” of the common practice by elected officials “to seek to accommodate the religious view of their constituents by issuing proclamations endorsing or commemorating the view or practices of various sectarian groups or denominations.”

Eric Fingerhut is a staff reporter for Washington Jewish Week.