Iran, Israel and the 2008 election


When presidential candidates compete in an election with an open seat in the White House, they are prisoners of events. The White House controls the agenda, and the candidates must adapt.

Vice President Richard Nixon was badly hurt by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s refusal to stimulate the economy in 1960 and lost the election to Sen. John F. Kennedy, who had promised to “get the country moving again.” Vice President Hubert Humphrey nearly beat Nixon in 1968, but only after a stubborn President Lyndon B. Johnson finally signaled a change in Vietnam policy near the end of the campaign. President Ronald Reagan’s recovery from Iran-Contra and numerous agreements with a Democratic Congress and with the Soviet Union immeasurably helped Vice President George Bush win the presidency in 1988.

And so it will be. The Republican Party has a two-sided albatross around its neck, an unpopular president who is trying desperately to keep an unpopular war going past Election Day so that its disastrous ending can be on the next president’s watch. The chemistry of this election is toxic for Republicans. To hold the Republican base, the candidates have to be upbeat about both the war and Bush, as the country increasingly turns against both.

Bush is unlikely to change policy in Iraq unless forced to, and he is most likely to only hint at troop pullbacks before the election. But will Bush temporarily change the chemistry by launching an attack on Iran?

The Bush world tends to follow its own quirky calendar. August is the month for gathering themselves together, the famous Bush vacations. Unfortunately for us, one of those vacations fell in August 2001, and therefore the warnings of an imminent attack were ignored. By Sept. 12, though, Bush was a national hero.

The Iraq War push started in September 2003, and as Bush adviser Andrew Card noted, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Right now, September is looking very bad for the administration, with negative reports from Iraq and festering anger at the war on Capitol Hill, even among Republicans.

Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be mobilizing his forces in a skeleton administration depleted by resignations toward confrontation with Iran. The neoconservatives, so hell-bent in their rush to war with Iraq, are now on the Iran warpath. So now we have a new Hitler-for-a-day. (Remember when Saddam Hussein was Hitler, or was it Kim Il Sung?)

What will be the reaction of congressional Democrats, especially Jewish Democrats who are deeply concerned about Iran’s threat to Israel? Does one support an administration that has managed to at least identify a serious enemy but can’t be trusted to do anything sensible about it?

The Bush administration is counting on these Democrats to be at least ambivalent about an attack on Iran. Tired of being called Defeatocrats, top Democrats would be tempted by a confrontation they could wholeheartedly endorse, at least in theory, especially one that is sold as bolstering Israel’s security. Unlike with the administration’s invention of the prewar Iraq threat, there is bipartisan agreement that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a major strategic danger.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) demand for a congressional vote on war over Iran is unlikely to impede Bush. In fact, if the White House calls that bluff as it did on the Iraq War, the vote might pass, and those Democrats who voted against it would be vulnerable. The party will once again split between its anti-war base and its leadership.

Leading Democratic presidential candidates will have a difficult time flat-out opposing an attack on Iran. They have been placing themselves to the right of the administration on Iran for some time and now may find it hard to backtrack. The two top candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, have been criticizing Bush for not being firm enough with Iran.

They would instead raise tactical questions or call for diplomacy, arguments that were easily dismissed in the run-up to the Iraq War. The most compelling and credible case against war with Iran will likely be made by military leaders disturbed by the state of American forces as a result of the Iraq War.

For the Republican presidential candidates, an attack on Iran may help in the near term, but they should be careful about what they wish for. Right now, the Iraq War is long past the rosy beginning stage and into full fiasco mode.

Anything that changes the chemistry will seem better than where they are now. The start of war is generally popular and causes a rallying effect around the incumbent and his or her party. But having another war to defend in November 2008 cannot be good for Republicans. War and fear of terrorism got them through in 2004, but voter fatigue is palpable. What won in 2004 may destroy their 2008 prospects.

From Israel’s standpoint, there must be a sense of vertigo. All along, Israel has seen Iran on the horizon. Israelis are now putting out the word publicly that they warned Bush not to attack Iraq and urged him to instead keep his focus on Iran.

Israel has the same dilemma as Jewish Democrats in the United States. Now that Bush and Cheney are focused on the right challenge, can they be trusted not to make the same hash of this that they have of everything else? Like the Democrats, having so long said that Iran was a greater threat than Iraq, what leverage do they have to influence how Bush deals with it?

Israel is also very concerned about the United States being seen as fighting a war for Israel, given how quickly American domestic opinion changes. That concern may underlie the release of its earlier warnings about Iraq. While Israel wants Iran weakened, it does not want to be blamed by American voters for another failed military adventure. Bush and Cheney, meanwhile, have an interest in using the protection of Israel as a way to de-fang potential Democratic opposition.

The Bush administration may or may not attack Iran. It foolishly invaded Iraq but after years of saber-rattling, made a deal with North Korea. In the long run, it would be better for the Republican ticket if the administration found a way to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions without war. It would be even better if Bush wound down the Iraq War before next November. Voters have short memories and can be forgiving when the main irritant is removed. Those two steps would make today’s one-sided Democratic edge a thing of the past.

It’s official: Jimmy Delshad elected new mayor of Beverly Hills


After a cliffhanger vote count, Jimmy Jamshid Delshad is preparing to claim two titles at his March 27 inauguration — mayor of Beverly Hills and top Iranian-born public official in the United States.

The milestone is being celebrated not only by his compatriots in Beverly Hills but also by the extended Iranian Jewish community of 30,000 in the Los Angeles area.

Delshad, 66, marked his all-but-certain victory on Saturday morning by attending services at three synagogues to thank congregants for their support. The first stop was at Sinai Temple in Westwood, where he had cut his political teeth by serving as president of the prestigious Conservative and traditionally Ashkenazi congregation from 1999 to 2001. He also visited Congregation Magen David of Beverly Hills and the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center.

Once the remaining absentee ballots were counted on Wednesday, Delshad hadreceived 22 percent of the ballots cast, overtaking his closest challengerby 171 votes. The Beverly Hills city clerk will certify the election resultsby next week, and Delshad will be inaugurated as mayor on March 27.

Beverly Hills is governed by a five-person City Council, which in turn annually rotates the job of mayor among its members in order of seniority. The mayor presides over council meetings, but the city’s chief executive is the hired city manager.

Delshad was initially elected as a city councilman in 2003 and this year served as vice mayor of Beverly Hills.

In the current election, voters had to choose among six candidates, half of them Iranian Jews, to fill two council seats, with Delshad assured of the mayor’s post if he placed first or second.

When the polls closed March 6, Nancy Krasne, a city planning commissioner and board member of the National Council of Jewish Women, was the top vote getter. However, since she has less seniority on the City Council than other members, she is not yet in line for the mayor’s job.

Delshad was in second place, ahead of incumbent Mayor Steve Webb by a mere seven votes. After the partial count of absentee ballots, Delshad had widened his lead over Webb to 86 votes.

At that point, Webb conceded and Delshad declared victory.

“I feel blessed to have been chosen by the people of Beverly Hills,” Delshad said in a phone interview. “As a Jewish youngster in Iran, I was a second-class citizen and kept running into closed doors.

Through my example, I hope to open doors in America for other people like me.”

The English-language Tehran Times, published in the Iranian capital, reported the election as a straight news story. Delshad said he had received congratulatory e-mails from some Muslims in Iran, especially from former neighbors in his native city of Shiraz.

Beverly Hills was an early destination for wealthy Iranian émigrés after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Today, Beverly Hills counts some 8,000 residents of Iranian birth or descent, primarily Jewish, among a population of 35,000, according to Delshad.

However, global and Middle Eastern issues played no part in the election campaigns, with Delshad and other candidates running on such local preoccupations as traffic tie-ups, water conservation and bringing advanced computer technology to city government.

Like every previous immigrant group, the Iranian newcomers were met with some suspicion and incomprehension upon their arrival, and not all frictions have been resolved. Veteran residents frequently complain about Iranians who buy large, handsome homes, only to tear them down and replace them with huge “Persian palaces” to accommodate the social needs of large, extended families.

Another flashpoint came during the election itself when, for the first time, ballot forms were printed in Farsi, in addition to English and Spanish. The city clerk’s office was deluged with complaints, with one resident sneering that the new ballot “looks like a menu from a Persian restaurant with an English translation.”

In both the housing and ballot controversies, Delshad has played his characteristic role as mediator, trying to explain the viewpoints of the Anglo and Iranian communities to each other.

Delshad has come by his American success story the old-fashioned way, by initiative, enterprise and hard work.

One of three brothers, Delshad left Iran as a 16-year-old in 1956, more than two decades before the shah’s downfall, lived in Israel for 18 months, returned to Iran and left his native land for good in 1959 to settle in the United States.

After working for some time in a small Minnesota town, “where there were hardly any Jewish girls to date,” he and his brothers bought a car and drove west, with no final destination in mind. The trip ended with his enrollment at CSUN, where he earned an electrical engineering degree.

To put themselves through college, the brothers formed The Delshad Trio, with Jimmy playing the santur, a dulcimer-like Persian stringed instrument. The trio played at bar mitzvahs and weddings, performing “Israeli music with a Persian touch,” said Delshad, who still plays the santur for recreation.

After graduation, Delshad joined a fledgling computer firm and then formed his own company, specializing in computer hardware for backup systems. He sold the company in 1999, when he was elected president of Sinai Temple. When his civic duties allow, he does consulting and has established an import company for food packaging materials.

Delshad and his wife, who was born in Kfar Vitkin while her American parents were staying in Israel, have a son and daughter, both graduates of Jewish day schools and now in college.

“Being Jewish is part and parcel of my life,” Delshad said.

Jewish Journal Contributing Writer Karmel Melamed contributed to this story.

What’s So Special About the Special Election?


On Nov. 8, the voters of California will have the chance to vote in a special election most of them did not want. That’s no reason to stay home. After all, whether we like it or not, the election will take place, and all of California residents will have to live with the consequences. Constitutional amendments once enacted are hard to remove, and regular initiatives also have staying power. To guide you through the state ballot initiatives, The Journal has called on two of its columnists: Raphael J. Sonenshein and Jill Stewart. Here’s the drill: Sonenshein summarizes key components of the bill. Then he makes his call on the measure while explaining why. Then Stewart answers with her own, and usually contrasting, analysis. Keep in mind that these are the opinions of our columnists, who have free rein to express themselves.

Proposition 73

What it does: A constitutional amendment that prohibits an abortion for a minor for 48 hours until the notification of a parent or guardian. Exceptions are made for medical emergencies, parental waiver or a judge’s order. Does not require the consent of a parent or guardian.

Raphael J. Sonenshein: The idea of parental notification has won some support across the ideological spectrum. This measure is not as extreme as some other measures, in other states, that are crafted to make abortion harder. But this measure is part of the subtle effort to restrict choice by dribs and drabs. Republicans hope that social conservatives will flock to the polls for this one, so that they can help Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pass his Big Four measures. The governor announced that he would kill somebody who got his daughter an abortion without letting him know but also has not listed 73 as one of his main measures. And one other thing: This initiative defines abortion in the constitution as the “death of an unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born.” That does it for me, because it opens up a whole range of new ways to limit choice. I’m voting no.

Jill Stewart: A phony issue in both directions. It will neither limit choice nor resolve the problem of young girls making a lonely decision without parents. Notification of parents has been supported by many liberal California voters in polls for years, and the concept is supported by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and other big Democrats. An abortion is a serious medical procedure that parents want to know about. The far-left and far-right have stolen this issue from the middle. For that matter, regardless of the wording, and regardless of the state constitution, girls can fake their age as easy as they can go down to Western Avenue and say, “Hi, can I buy a phony ID?” This initiative might provide a process that helps a few families — and even a few teenage girls — work through a difficult situation. But it’s not a major fix for a family-based problem.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 74

What it does: Extends teacher probationary period from two to five years, and makes it easier to fire tenured teachers.

Sonenshein: This is the first of the four ballot initiatives that the governor has adopted as his “reform” package. The others are Propositions 75, 76 and 77. From 1927 to 1982, California teachers had a three-year probationary period; it was shortened to two in 1983. The great majority of states have a three-year period. Only Indiana and Missouri have five years. A more sensible measure would be to go back to three years, where most states are, rather than way over to the extreme end. Incompetent teachers are not the problem most people cite in education. If there were a long line of credentialed teachers waiting for spots now held by incompetents, there might be a case. But when we are short of credentialed teachers, our main goal should be to get more and better teachers into the classroom. The governor is mad at the teachers because they are mad at him because he broke his school-funding pledge: This is not much of a reason to undertake this unproven plan. Send us a three-year measure — and don’t advertise it as the cure-all to student-achievement problems. On this one, I’m voting no.

Stewart: Insta-tenure was forced on state legislatures nationwide by powerful teachers unions as a job-protection move. Good teachers don’t need fake tenure — schools clamor for them, while the lemons quietly get shuffled from school to school. School officials in Los Angeles have told me they’ve spent nearly a decade trying to fire a dozen misfits (drunks, desk sleepers, no-shows) who had no business around kids. Teachers with two years of experience are green, still learning just to control their class; they don’t qualify as experienced professionals, nor would they in any career. The victims of this nonmeritocracy are children and their parents, who are never clued in to the game.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 75

What it does: Prohibits public employee unions from using member dues for political campaigns without written permission. Currently, a dues-paying employee who is not a member of the union can refuse to have dues put toward politics; this measure makes it the responsibility of the union to get permission from all dues payers.

Sonenshein: The balance of power in Sacramento rides on the battle between corporations and unions, and this measure would clearly skew the balance toward business. This measure is consistent with the governor’s theory that the only special interests are those that oppose him, namely public employee unions, and that big business is as pure as the driven snow. There is no clamor among union members for the “freedom” offered by this measure, and the latest poll shows a sizeable majority of union members against it. True reform means taking on both sides of the power equation, not just one. I’m voting no.

Stewart: The vast majority of teachers, I bet, have no idea their dues went to last year’s failed attempt to water down “three strikes and you’re out.” Union honchos back awful bills, and their me-first attitudes were a key factor in driving up the state’s over-spending, which led to the massive Gray Davis deficit. It should be up to union members to say, “I trust my union. Go ahead, and use my dues to pursue this specific political goal.” The default position should be not spending the money of these busy working folks. If a lot of workers don’t push that “spend” button, union leaders are more likely to clean up their corrosive act in Sacramento.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 76

What it does: Limits state spending to prior year’s level plus three previous years’ average revenue growth; amends Proposition 98 guarantee for education; gives governor power to reduce spending under certain circumstances.

Sonenshein: Anti-government conservatives have turned to states to cut public spending. But while Californians are considering this measure, Colorado’s Republican governor is begging his state’s voters to abandon a spending limit he once supported — because it has gutted public services. Once again, we need balance. The governor says we have only a spending problem, but we really have a spending > taxes = budget problem. But that’s only the beginning of what’s wrong with this turkey. California is already handicapped by its two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. During future budget deadlocks, this measure would allow the governor complete authority to cut nearly any spending. Because of the two-thirds requirement, the minority party and the governor could easily collude to block the budget, and then rewrite it as they please with no vote of the Legislature. So the budget for a largely Democratic state could be written by a Republican governor and a Republican minority in the legislature. If that’s not enough, the measure also significantly amends Proposition 98, the school-funding guarantee passed by the voters in 1988. Now, there may indeed be problems with Proposition 98, and these ought to be addressed openly with the voters. This measure, however, buries the school-funding cut in mathematical confusion, and the voters might not see it coming. I’m voting no, big-time.

Stewart: This law could work if it didn’t set up huge political confrontations between whoever is governor and a Legislature that is utterly incapable of slowing its spending. It will just move the fights to another date on the calendar. Here’s the underlying problem: There’s little extra money to play with each year because almost all spending is preset, locked in by big programs — including recent massive increases for education and social welfare. Most of which cannot be trimmed back without a new law — and legislators willing to make it happen. In Sacramento, spending is driven largely by huge unions that ghostwrite much of the legislation. Standing up to unions can break any Democrat, and it has. The only way to control spending in California is to vote against whichever legislator you just put into office.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 77

What it does: This constitutional amendment changes the way that the boundary lines of districts for members of Congress and the state Legislature are drawn. It transfers the job of redistricting from the state Legislature to a panel of retired judges, who would be selected with input from both major political parties. It also accelerates redistricting so that the process would begin immediately, rather than after the next census.

Sonenshein: It’s odd and self-serving for elected officials, once every 10 years, to draw the boundary lines for the districts from which they will run for reelection. There’s a nationwide movement to take this power away from politicians and give it to judges or to citizen commissions. When Schwarzenegger was popular, he was close to a deal with the Legislature to make this change but only after the 2010 census. This plan would have been an extraordinary victory, while also accounting for changing population patterns. When negotiations broke down, Schwarzenegger insisted that the new process take place right away, in 2006. This started to smell like the partisan machinations in Texas orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Yet Schwarzenegger confounded his critics by supporting a similar measure in Ohio that is opposed by Republicans, a taste of that much-missed bipartisan edge he once had. For their part, county election officials are horrified by this measure, because of the daunting logistics of getting new lines ready in time for the 2006 primary. I’m wavering because I like the principle, despite some questionable particulars. And I am offended by the anti-77 ads saying that “politicians will be in charge,” when that’s really not true. I’m leaning very reluctantly toward a “no” vote, in hopes that a better plan can be crafted to take effect after 2010.

Stewart: This is the most important measure on the ballot and long overdue. Because it so badly calls for a “yes” vote, and because so many Jewish Democrats are against it (see story by Bobbi Murray on page 16), The Journal is giving me an entire column to offer a counterweight (see page 17).

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 78

What it does: One of two dueling drug-discount plans, Proposition 78 establishes a voluntary drug-discount program.

Sonenshein: When it looked as though backers of drug discounts were going to get a mandatory discount program on the ballot, pharmaceutical companies created this voluntary alternative. Proposition 78 is modeled on a voluntary system in Ohio, which like many voluntary programs hasn’t attracted a lot of takers. There are no penalties if drug companies choose not to participate. Tens of millions of dollars in drug company money are supporting Proposition 78. And when voters learn that the drug companies are behind 78, support for it drops like a stone. The Proposition 79 folks should take all their limited money and just run ads that say, “The drug companies love 78 and hate 79 — you do the math.” I’m voting no.

Stewart: Another mess created by committee, because the legislature is so inept it can’t come up with its own workable plan. This one comes from the business crowd, and is filled with foolish Laws of Unintended Consequences to make it palatable to voters. It deserves a “no” vote.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 79

What it does: One of two dueling drug-discount plans, Proposition 79 establishes a mandatory drug-discount program.

Sonenshein: Modeled on a program in Maine, this measure requires drug companies to participate. If they don’t, they could find themselves excluded from the lucrative Medicaid program. This process could require federal approval. On the plus side for consumers, this measure benefits a larger income range than Proposition 78, meaning it aims to help more than just the poorest of the poor. It could be a solid program. One drawback, however, is the section making it a violation to profiteer by charging an “unconscionable price.” Opponents are now blasting the presumed litigation that would ensue from 79. It would certainly be better to craft a drug-discount program in Sacramento, but, realistically, it might be years before that happens. For that reason, I’m leaning “yes,” although I want to smack somebody upside the head for adding the profiteering section.

Stewart: At the risk of repeating myself, Proposition 79 is another mess created by committee, because the Legislature is so inept it can’t come up with its own workable plan. This one comes from consumer groups and unions, and it’s filled with foolish Laws of Unintended Consequences to make it palatable to voters. Guess what? It also deserves a “no” vote.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: Yes

Proposition 80

What it does: Subjects electric providers to further control and regulation by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC); mandates increasing targets for production of energy from renewable energy sources; limits the ability of large electricity consumers to change from one provider of energy to another.

Sonenshein: I was going to say that you need a doctorate to understand the ballot information on this one, but then I remembered I have a doctorate and still had to work pretty hard. The back story here is that California’s ill-fated experiment with electricity deregulation ran up against the Bush administration’s FERC and Enron — and we Californians got wiped out. The state has been inching back toward regulation ever since, with the PUC increasing its regulation of the electric-service providers. This measure would transform some of this new regulation from PUC policy into state law. Proposition 80 also would make it difficult for big institutions to shop for energy. I wonder whether something this complicated belongs on the ballot and whether its solutions are too rigid. I will probably vote “no.”

Stewart: Every time I see a law aimed at how and where to control consumers, I shudder. This law utterly misses the point about California’s energy problems. Here’s the real deal: We love our open spaces, and in pursuing this preference, we have chosen to stop or impede refineries and big power plants. As long as that is our choice, we will continue to pay far, far more for our power — as well as our gas — than folks in other Western states. The mishmash of fixes in Proposition 80 fails to address the systemic troubles. I know people like to have things both ways, but if we want to end the high prices and brown outs, we need to adjust our priorities. Proposition 80 isn’t the ticket. Unplug it with a “no” vote.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: Yes

Also on the Ballot: Measure Y

What it does: Authorizes the Los Angeles Unified School District to raise $3.985 billion from school bonds to build, repair and modernize schools.

From previous editions of The Journal

Vote “yes” on Measure Y: Stu Bernstein, executive board, Association of Jewish Educators. Can be found at: ” target=”_blank”>www.jewishjournal.com/home/searchview.php?id=14625

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: No

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist and can be reached at

Letters to the Editor


Election 2004

Jewish supporters of President Bush urged that he was more realistically and personally committed to Israel’s security than Sen. Kerry (“Four More Years,” Nov. 5; “Judgment Day,” Oct. 29). This message was set forth in The Jewish Journal by the likes of Ed Koch, Sen. Norm Coleman and Howard Winkler, among others. I suggest that the opportunity presented by Arafat’s demise will be the true test of this thesis.

If the Bush administration pursues a role in supporting the development of a responsible Palestinian leadership, and providing security and other incentives for Israel to relinquish the West Bank in preparation for Palestinian statehood, then Bush supporters will be vindicated. If, on the other hand, the administration continues its four-year-old policy of idle disengagement and squanders this opportunity, then Bush supporters will have been proven wrong.

So far, the silence is deafening.

Mark D. Licker
Alhambra

As you have heard by now, the exit polls on Tuesday proved to be wrong.

This is why I am convinced that many Jewish voters who traditionally vote Democrat voted Republican last week but did not want to admit it at the exit polls.

I know that around me, many people who are Democrats voted for Bush because they thought he was the best man to fight terrorism and not Kerry, who did not even vote for the first Gulf War. With Kerry, they thought we might have another Munich, which cost us 6 million Jewish people – including all of my father’s family. We survived because we were lucky enough to be smuggled into Switzerland in 1943 – because of the weakness of the “leaders.”

Jacques Kukurudz
Los Angeles

Gay marriage doesn’t matter if you are dead. Islamists kill gays. Bush doesn’t.

Bush wins and Arafat is all but dead. What a great week!

Nathan D. Wirtschafter
Encino

Many Jews who voted for Bush knew – or were in denial – that this is a failed presidency in every aspect of governance (“Four More Years,” Nov. 5).

They cannot cite one concrete step toward peace in the Middle East by this administration. Nevertheless, with their votes they placed Israel above the interests of America; four more years that will be worse than the first four for Americans and American interests.

One might call these deniers hypocrites. I call them traitors.

Bert Eifer
Woodland Hills

Three points in response to Rob Eshman’s editorial (“Continental Divide,” Oct. 29) about the Jewish vote forums, several of which I attended.

First, Eshman is correct that the community is politically divided. Exit polls will vary, but it’s clearly a new day for American Jewry.

Not just Russian, Iranian, and Israeli immigrants are migrating to the Republicans; many pro-Israel activists, moderate business people, “security” moms and traditionally centrist foreign policy Democrats now see the GOP as their home.

Second, the debates served a good purpose. At their best, they provided much more than talking points. The speakers gave expression to our instincts by informed and detailed evidence. The spirited discussions were far more entertaining and enlightening than another evening watching sitcoms, or even reading/watching self-admittedly biased news media.

Third, I must compliment the Republican Jewish Coalitions Larry Greenfield, in particular. I attended several of the debates in which he thoroughly outclassed his opponents. He calmly presented facts and thoughtful conversation that educated far more than some seasoned liberal politicians, who were not his match in debating about Israel, foreign policy or domestic affairs.

I appreciate that the Jewish community will remain politically involved – in both parties. Greenfield gave me hope that there is another generation of top-notch American Jews who can lead us with care and sophistication.

Dulce Hoffman
Los Angeles

I read the article “Why Kerry Lost” (Nov. 5) and had an immediate response. Kerry lost because the Democratic Party is lost. They lost their focus, their values, their ideals, their principles and they lost me, a lifelong Democrat. They lost me while bashing every Republican as a moron at dinner parties, they lost me at fundraisers for my kids’ school and having a principal get up and make rude remarks about Bush. They lost me when they ripped my Bush/Cheney sign off my lawn, and when they tore the sticker off my car. They lost me when they used Michael Moore, Ben Affleck and Susan Sarandon to promote their agenda. They lost me when Bruce Springsteen, Cher and Eminem told my children how to vote, without really telling the truth. They lost me with campaigns like Moveon.org, and Vote or Die and pushed an agenda – not the beauty of a true democratic election. They lost me when I saw they lost all the values, decency, manners and simple things like being civil to the opposition and open to other ideas.

When they find their way back to the type of Democrats I voted for, campaigned for and respected, only then, will they gain my vote back. Until then, I am a Republican.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Valley Glen

In response to Bill Boyarsky, I am gay and Jewish (“Patriot Paranoia,” Nov. 5). I voted for President Bush. Gay marriage doesn’t matter if you are dead. Islamists kill gays. Bush doesn’t. In fact, Bush has not been anywhere near the homophobe he is accused of being. After the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence vs. Texas, eloquently ruling that the outlawing by any state of gay sex between consenting adults unconstitutional, the press chased Bush through the Rose Garden for a “suitable” inflammatory quote – trying to bait him with comments such as the ruling upsetting the president’s right-wing religious base. To the disappointment of the left, the president replied with a paraphrase of Jesus from the Christian Bible that “one shouldn’t complain about the splinter in the other person’s eye when you have a log in your own….” He doesn’t get credit for that, does he?

They do not want a solution. They want “revenge.”

As for Muslims supposedly having any reason to worry in this country, I think the fact that half of those in Great Britain, when polled, said they would fight for bin Laden against Great Britain, is cause for concern here, including the fact that they have been raising money hand over fist for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, etc. Islam is a global threat. Period. Your whining on behalf of Muslims is nonsense. I have met too many of them in this country that wish Israel’s destruction and whose motives otherwise are too inscrutable for comfort.

If you should be “concerned” about anything, it is the growing anti-Jewish/anti-Israel violence on the campuses; that this violence is not being condemned or countered by the campus administrations; or the growing anti-Israelism within the Democratic Party (and why I am no longer a Democrat); and the galloping “pacifism” (except for Arabs killing Jews), socialism and lawyerism of the Democrats.

Mr. Boyarsky, I do not know what America you perceive and I feel no threat from the Patriot Act but I do from the left and its alliance with “radical” Islam. If you follow true-to-form, I will be accused of “racism,” I suppose. Before you do, I would inform you that during my first visit to Israel in 1992, my driver and I were attacked and nearly killed as they tried to put our car over a cliff. Racism or experience?

Jarrow L. Rogovin
Los Angeles

The series of articles appearing in the latest issues of The Jewish Journal left the uneasy impression that our community has become permanently divided, and perhaps even filled with outright hostility, over the issue of the elections.

A few months ago, for the first time in my 25 years as a community activist, I stepped down from my nonpartisan positions in the Iranian American Jewish Federation to take up a partisan position by joining the Bush campaign. I did that out of the conviction that the single most important challenge facing us as free people, in the next few decades, is the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism, and the deep belief that the policies followed by the president are the right ones.

Many of my community colleagues on the Democratic side undertook to do the same in the Kerry campaign, a fact for which they will always have my personal respect. Standing up for what you believe in is not just the essence of democracy it is indeed a requisite of community activism.

I believe that come now most of us will hang our partisan hats and go back to wearing the hat most dear to us, namely the one of community activist. We’ll go back to our Jewish community and work shoulder to shoulder, with the utmost in respect and sincerity, regardless of whom we’ve been supporting in the election, or what the outcome was, and do our best to build an even better community.

Once the campaigns are over they are over. What will remain is our Jewish community with its many challenges. This is a fact that I believe is well understood by all community activists. This is why they do what they do to begin with, and this is what will bring the whole community back around the same table like the shevet achim that we truly are.

Sam Kermanian
Former Secretary General
Iranian American Jewish Federation
Co-Vice Chair
Bush-Cheney ’04 California.

Dear Editor,

This is in response to recent coverage of the lawsuit concerning a portion of a quotation from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt to the Young Mens’ Christian Association that is inscribed on the wall of a courtroom of the Riverside County Courthouse. (“Lawyer Battling ADL on Christian Quote at Courthouse,” Jewish Journal, October 15) The lawsuit was brought against the Presiding Judge of the Riverside County Court, theCounty of Riverside and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to prevent the removal of the courtroom inscription. The quote is: “The true Christian is the true citizen.” It is carved into the lintel on the courtroom wall facing the judge, witness stand and jury box.

Although there was no basis for including ADL as a defendant in the lawsuit, we felt that while it was pending it was inappropriate to respond to questions on this issue. The lawsuit has now been dismissed and we believe the community should be aware of ADL’s involvement on this matter.

In July, we received a complaint from a member of the community about the quote. We wrote to Riverside County Superior Court officials requesting a meeting to discuss the issue. On September 1, ADL representatives met with Court officials. We discussed a number of ways to protect our nation’s tradition of separation of church and state without marring the beauty of the historic courthouse, including creating a removable cover or having an educational placard in or near the courtroom.

In our letter and at the meeting, we made it clear that ADL has a deep and lasting respect for the Christian faith – as we do for all faiths – and that we value the longstanding friendship between the Jewish and Christian communities. We do not view the separation of church and state as hostile to any one religion. To the contrary, it is a necessary pre-condition to freedom of religion. To that end, we were and remain troubled by the quotation and its location in a public courthouse. The quote, taken out of the context of the speech in which it was given, could be seen as an express endorsement of Christianity by the government. Non-Christian members of the community coming to the court might feel diminished in the eyes of the law. Indeed, the complaint we received expressed those very concerns.

At no time did ADL threaten litigation or file a lawsuit. Our approach toRiverside County officials was to find a mutually agreeable solution to protect our nation’s tradition of separation of church and state while maintaining the integrity of the historic building.

We remain resolute in our belief that only by maintaining the wall separating church and state can we guarantee the continued vitality of religion in American life and remain committed to pursuing the work necessary to accomplish our goals.

Amanda Susskind
Regional Director
Pacific Southwest Region
Anti-Defamation League

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When We Elected Lindbergh


“The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin, $26).

Reading “The Plot Against America,” I thought of two other demented visions of the country, Mad Magazine, and Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle,” a speculative history like Roth’s, about America after the Germans and Japanese have won the war, when collectors of Mickey Mouse memorabilia are looking for fakes. Mad may be a weird association, but this is nothing if not the weirdest time of our lives, and there is a great long Roth sentence in “The Plot Against America” that no writer born after the war is capable of writing with a straight face. It’s on the third page, “The men worked 50, 60, even 70 or more hours a week; the women worked all the time….” In the 1950s, Mad Magazine was a vaccine against the lies of official America; it gave commercial-free clarity about the manipulations we suffered, to those of us driven mad by the times, but with the terrible side effects of bitterness, irony, skepticism and, finally, disgust with the country — and then with our parents.

But Roth was born to a generation that believed in America, and although some of them were like the undertaker in the first scene of “The Godfather,” who also believed in America, but went outside the courts for justice — Roth’s parents love their country, or what they remember of it.

In the novel, after the fascist Charles Lindbergh’s election as president, they bring 7-year-old Philip and his 12-year-old brother, Sandy, to Washington, D.C., where they visit the monuments, out of love for the threatened promise. And for being a loudmouthed Jew, Herman Roth is thrown out of his hotel. It is impossible to imagine a Baby Boomer writing a book so critical of America and still write, without irony, about the sincerity of Herman Roth’s love for America, his faith in the promise he could already see was broken.

This is the most cynical time in American history. In such a time, endless injustice leaves little room for private emotions like sadness and disappointment, only frustration and outrage. No novelists since the pre-war generation, except the artists of outrage, the specialists in horror and crime, and those who understand the private worlds of the powerless and helpless, the fantasy and romance writers, have found the sources of emotional energy necessary to fill shelves with as many books as Roth has. This is why “The Plot Against America,” a book of social outrage in response to a country losing itself to fear, is the first of Roth’s novels to brush against genre, and why he had to write about today in the frame of pure imagination, and also why a fiction had to be narrated by Philip Roth and not David Kepesh or Nathan Zuckerman, his literary alter egos.

Zuckerman’s books include “American Pastoral,” “I Married a Communist” and “The Human Stain,” books about the changes in American history and how we live with them as private traumas. Roth follows Kafka and Orwell in 1984, who never named the specific politics that they abstracted to create parallel universes of pure allegory, so a novel about the Bush administration, to make something real out of our current unreality, had to be set in some other universe. A fictional character narrating a fantasy would have lost the novel’s special poignancy, the unexpected emotions of a coming of age story, so Philip Roth, real at least in name, narrates instead of Zuckerman.

The story isn’t too complicated. Philip is a precocious third-grader in 1940. He lives in a small apartment in Weequahic, N.J., with his father, mother, brother and 21-year-old cousin, Alvin, his parents’ ward. Everyone in his world is Jewish, and almost no one is religious. Everyone is patriotic: “Our homeland was America. Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything changed.”

Lindbergh is elected on a platform to keep America out of the European War. The East Coast establishment of the Roosevelts mock Lindberg’s appeal to the people who don’t live in the big cities, and are surprised at the landslide. The red states win.

The book follows the expected structure of a speculative history, the entertainment is the flow of differences between what really happened and what the book describes, every change ringing congratulations for our recognizing it. That Walter Winchell is the book’s political hero, the voice of opposition, is delicious only to readers who remember the name. I suppose that younger readers will recognize what remains of him in Howard Stern, already harassed away from commercial radio, as though his vulgarity is unique, as though the reasons aren’t political.

Life is normal, then it changes a little, and then everything changes: “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn’t been president or I hadn’t been the offspring of Jews.”

Herman Roth loses his job to anti-Semitism, gets a night job through Jewish gangster connections and protects his family. The government establishes the Office of American Absorption, and Sandy is shipped to live for a few months with a family of tobacco farmers in Kentucky as part of the Just Folks program, spreading Jews harmlessly around the country. Cousin Alvin runs to Canada to join the army in its fight against the Germans and comes back with a missing leg. Some Jews emigrate.

Your Letters


Hawaiian Gardens

We are surprised that The Journal allowed letter-writer Rabbi Julian White to characterize our organization as “nasty ‘stopmoskowitz.com’ antagonists” in his recent letter about Irving Moskowitz’s casino license (Letters, Sept. 3). We are actually stopmoskowitz.org, and White also got it wrong that our opposition to Moskowitz’s casino license was based on his efforts against Israeli-Palestinian peace. Our opposition was based on extensive evidence of Moskowitz’s economic and political damage to Hawaiian Gardens.

Jane Hunter, Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem Los Angeles

Goodbye Mr. Pickles

Mr. Pickles Kosher Deli located across from Costco on Washington Boulevard has closed and I feel our community has really lost something wonderful and needed. A kosher restaurant serving remarkable food in an area that never had kosher food before [allowed us] to bring our loved ones to eat in a manner consistent with traditional Judaism.

I feel that Mr. Pickles going under as a restaurant is a badge of shame on our Jewish community on the Westside/South Bay. We should not have let it happen! We should have encouraged our congregants to have eaten more meals at our restaurant. We should have held more meetings at our restaurant. I am so sad to hear of this closing.

Mr. Pickles will be missed.

Joanne Samuelson, Los Angeles

Durban to Beersheba

Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Dr. Harold Brackman would do well to note that the biggest barrier to Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan is the “supercharged ideological hatred” of Jewish religious nationalists (in Israel and abroad) and extremist Israeli settlers, not NGOs or even (for once) the Palestinian leadership (“From Durban to Beersheba,” Sept. 3). Blaming the Beersheba attack on a 3-year-old failed U.N. summit is an exercise in self-defeating self-delusion and the authors’ approach even manages to offend the memory of Sept. 11. Finally, it is frankly inexcusable for a rabbi ever to declare that “hope” is “destroyed.”

If our religious leaders do not encourage us to keep up hope, who will? Has Cooper forgotten the words to “Ani Ma’amin”?

Shawn Landres, Los Angeles

 

In their article, “From Durban to Beersheba,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Dr. Harold Brackman provide an important perspective how NGOs lead the demonization campaign that began at Durban. They also note that NGO Monitor is central in holding these non-governmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, to account for exploiting the rhetoric of human rights while perverting its substance. Please note that the NGO Monitor is not based in Geneva, as stated in the article, but rather is part of the Israel-based Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and funded by the Wechsler Family Fund. NGO Monitor’s material and resources are available at www.ngo-monitor.org.

Gerald M. Steinberg Editor, NGO Monitor

Simon Plosker, Managing Editor, NGO Monitor Jerusalem

Everything’s Relative

In Tom Tugend article “Everything’s Relative” (Sept. 3), he states that Dr. Einstein’s papers of 1905 lead to the discovery of a number of discoveries. Among these he mentions X-rays. Roentgen discovered X-rays in 1895. The paper concerning the photoelectric effect dealt with light rays knocking that “knock” electrons from the surfaces of metals.

Martin W. Herman, Rancho Palos Verdes

 

You have Einstein labeled as an atheist. But he wasn’t that at all. He was among the most spiritual of men. He rejected the biblical description of God, but did conclude that there was a grand creator or designer of the universe. The biblical picture of God was — and is — too simple-minded and limiting, compared to what the universe evidences. Einstein understood that.

Sandra L. Lerner, Las Vegas

Judy Gruen

I have really enjoyed Judy Gruen’s columns. It is a pleasure to read articles by a Jewish woman whose writings reflect her pride in her religion. Too many of your columnists scorn and ridicule our beautiful religion’s values. Let’s have lots more of Judy Gruen and others like her who put the “Jewish” in Jewish Journal.

Frederica Barlaz, Los Angeles

California Budget

Idan Ivri writes regarding our apparently budget-to-budget gap of $10 billion, “…higher taxes or cutting social services, there doesn’t seem to be a third option. California needs to either spend less or take in more revenue, despite the ongoing appeal of doing neither” (“California’s Budget, Compromised,” Aug. 20).

What Ivri and California liberals fail to acknowledge is one of the main reasons for the seemingly permanent budget shortfall: The Business Shortfall. A great deal of business has left California, is leaving California and will leave California. Putting a business into California means constantly having to deal with malignantly opportunistic and dishonest lawsuits.

Jarrow L. Rogovin, Los Angeles

Real Planning Guide?

Wouldn’t it have made for better reading (and guidance) had your “B’nai Mitzvah Planning Guide” (Aug. 13) included some of the following:

At birth — choose a meaningful Hebrew name. Make sure that you are members of a synagogue and make Jewish life and practice an important part of your family lifestyle.

Eight to 10 years ahead — enroll your child in a Hebrew school or Jewish day school.

One to three years ahead — have a meaningful conversation with your child about the importance of becoming bar or bat mitzvah, highlighting the link to their tradition and heritage that they are joining.

Special day onward — emphasize the importance of continuing your child’s Jewish education. Encourage active participation in the synagogue, teen programs and summer camps, and continue to make Jewish life and practice an integral part of your family’s life. Motivate your child toward giving a portion of his/her gifts to tzedakah.

Imagine had the article used the above values as its theme — what a different world this would be!

Name withheld by request, Los Angeles

Spiritual High

On behalf of the entire Academy for Jewish Religion family, I wish to express our deep appreciation to The Jewish Journal for the beautiful stories highlighting our accomplished students and graduates (“Midlife Calling” and “New Prayer Communities Seek Spiritual High,” Aug. 20). It is an honor and a privilege to have created a rabbinical, cantorial and chaplaincy school able to teach such dedicated, motivated and passionate individuals. Having achieved success in their “first” professions, they are now poised to make a profound impact on the Jewish community. We will all benefit as a result.

Rabbi Stan Levy, Chair Board of Governors Academy for Jewish Religion Los Angeles

Stem Cell Research

Dr. Charles Hyman seeks to reassure us that, despite Bush’s position on stem cell research, the work will get done abroad, and therefore shouldn’t be a factor in the election (Letters, Aug. 13). I am not at all reassured. First, the same ideologues who want to prevent the research in this country might very well strive to prevent the use in this country of any treatments created by stem cell research elsewhere.

My second and much greater worry is that outsourcing what might be the most promising new direction in medical and biological research could be disastrous for scientific research in this country, and not just in the medical area. All the fields of both biological and physical sciences are becoming increasingly interconnected; blocking stem cell research could have a “domino effect” on wide variety of areas of science and the technology by cutting off potentialities that we cannot even imagine at the moment.

Finally, from a tribal point of view, losing out to other countries in medical and scientific research and development would also be “bad for the Jews.” As in so many other fields of intellectual endeavor, we Jewish Americans are prominent in many of these arenas far out of proportion to our numbers. I cannot prove it, but I think that this fact contributes to our political clout as well.

Deborah Bochner Kennel, Los Angeles

Christian Nation

Cathy Young (“Texas GOP Pushes ‘Christian Nation,'” July 23), objects to the symbolic reference to America as a Christian nation. But the European religious landscape raises the question of whether such symbolic slights are Jews’ biggest problem.

The Texas platform contrasts with the new European Union Constitution, which, at France’s behest, omits any reference to God.

In this secular environment, French Jews are denied the right to wear kippot in school, denied the right to vote absentee if an election falls on a Jewish holiday and denied accommodations when exams fall on Shabbat. Several European nations have outlawed the production or even importation of kosher meat, and others are threatening to outlaw circumcision, as well.

These restrictions are supposedly pro-animals and children, rather than anti-Jewish, in motivation. But Jews cannot thrive where religion does not.

In places like Texas, religion is deemed a constructive activity that deserves respect (even when it’s a minority denomination). In places like France, it’s considered by many to be a nonconstructive, divisive activity that must yield before other goods, like “social unity” or the rights of animals.

Jews have less to fear from positive support for religion than from negative restrictions on it. The Christian resolution might make some Jews uncomfortable, but it does not make their religious practice illegal.

Mitchell Keiter, Los Angeles

Presbyterian Dialogues

Mark Pelavin’s essay on the need to renew dialogue with Presbyterian leaders makes me wonder if he has actually read the resolutions passed by this church (“We Must Renew Presbyterian Dialogues,” Aug. 13).

I have.

Certainly, most Presbyterians are as shocked as I am by what their leaders are doing. As they should be, because the behavior of these men is shocking.

The Presbyterian resolutions call for turning Israel into a Muslim/Palestinian state by demanding “the right of [Palestinian] refugees to return to their homeland.”

And while the formal resolutions did not brand democratic Israel as an apartheid state, the church’s official press release did. Moreover, the leaders of this church, notably Stated Clerk Clinton Kirkpatrick, have libeled Israel by accusing it of apartheid in numerous formal statements, the earliest at least four years old.

The leadership of the Presbyterian Church is quite deliberately working to destroy the Jewish state by demanding a right of return, by promoting divestment, by regularly publishing outright untruths about events in Israel and by demonizing Israel in programming and official statements going back over a decade.

I believe that the Jewish community will be best served not by talking with the Israel-hating Presbyterian leadership at the national level but by going directly to the millions of Presbyterian pastors, elders and individual Christians who understand that the Jewish state has a right both to exist and to defend itself.

Diana Appelbaum, Boston Israel Action Committee Newton, Mass.

Over Mourning

Bravo to Managing Editor Amy Klein for her courageous piece on mourning (“Over Mourning,” July 16). I agree with her on our need to move from a perspective of victimization to one of dignity and empowerment. Here’s to continuing the conversation and moving forward.

Love-Bombing of Jews Hitting Mark


U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania could hardly contain his delight as he addressed a packed ballroom at the Plaza Hotel while he was in New York for the Republican National Convention.

"Just know I love you!" the GOP senator, a Catholic, shouted to the largely Jewish crowd at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) Salute to the Republican Congress.

After kvelling about how thrilled he was to have been introduced before Republican Sen. Arlen Specter — his Jewish colleague from the Keystone state — Santorum commanded the crowd to go back home and sing the gospel of President Bush. After all, it could help in swing states like his.

"I will not be satisfied with 20 percent of the Jewish vote, I will not be satisfied with 30 percent, I will not be satisfied with 40 percent," he said as the crowd cheered. "George Bush deserves a majority!"

At that, the crowd began to chant, "Four more years! Four more years!"

Santorum was part of a round-robin of Republican lawmakers who are love-bombing Jewish audiences with testimonials about the courage of freedom-loving Jewish people. It’s a far cry from the "some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jews" tone struck by some Republicans of yesteryear and even from the tepid meet-and-greets with Jewish groups at the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia.

This year, Republicans went all out to welcome their Jewish brethren into the GOP fold in a city with a large Jewish population. It’s not just about votes. American Jews find themselves at the center of a new culture war, the one between secular and religious America, between the blue states and the red ones and the hawks and the doves. And the Republicans want them on their side.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) stated it most clearly.

"There is no Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there is only the global war on terrorism," DeLay said at the Plaza Hotel recently. "On one side stands the United States, Israel and dozens of [other] countries. On the other side stand Yasser Arafat, Al Qaeda and an Axis of Evil bent on the destruction of Israel. All the rest is a question of commentary."

DeLay had thrown down the gauntlet, and the crowd of 1,500 began to cheer. John Kerry, DeLay continued, thinks the war on terror "depends on France and Germany. George W. Bush thinks the war on terror depends on fearless American leadership. That’s the difference that defines them."

A day earlier, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman struck a similar note at an event sponsored by three Jewish groups. Their message was that a vote for Bush is a vote for moral clarity; multilateralism is just a fancy word for appeasement.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), like Giuliani a possible presidential candidate in 2008, also spoke at the event.

At every step, the Republicans message was clear: New York and Jerusalem are closer than you think. When Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center, America became even more inextricably linked with Israel. The Bush campaign has given the Jews a leading role in the central narrative of the 2004 campaign.

It’s a unique position for a traditionally Democratic constituency. But there’s some logic to it. Since Sept. 11, beleaguered Israel has become a symbol for the U.S. war on terrorism, with the Israelis standing in proxy for the Americans and the Palestinians wearing the face of the whole Arab world.

As such, Israel has become a kind of GOP mascot, one that also plays into Bush’s own religiosity. Israel resonates both in the Bible Belt and the Big Apple.

The Republican efforts may be working. Susan Canter, a registered Democrat who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, explained why she was backing Bush after having voted for Al Gore in 2000.

"He’s just so pro-Israel," said Canter, a lawyer. "There’s been no American president who’s ever come with such strong support for Israel…. I can’t think of not voting for him."

And of course there’s former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who has emerged as one of the most vocal pro-Bush Democrats.

"He knows that Israel faces international terrorism every day, and so do we, and that they are not willing to submit as other countries are, and he’s not going to run out on them," Koch said. "And it happens that international terrorism is threatening to both the United States and Israel. I mean, what they want to do is kill us!"

Koch seems to speak for those who are voting for a commander in chief as much as a president. Indeed, the Bush campaign seems to be taking pains to draw a direct line from Ronald Reagan, the man who toppled the Soviet Union, to Bush, leader in the war on terror.

The narrative conveniently skips Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, who was seen as no friend of Israel during his term from 1988 to 1992. In his failed re-election bid, the elder Bush received only 11 percent of the Jewish vote in 1992.

"Twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan spoke with moral clarity of the nature of the Soviet Union, and it had big-time political consequences," Mehlman said at the Jewish community event on Aug. 29. In a five-minute speech, Mehlman used the term "moral clarity" at least four times.

But even if they’re backing Bush on foreign policy, some Jews are concerned about the evangelical Christian right’s sway with the Bush administration. They did not take kindly to the display at Madison Square Garden during the convention’s first night, when the light and dark wood paneling on the speakers’ lectern took on the unmistakable form of a cross.

The National Jewish Democratic Coalition issued a press release the following day, calling it "the very height of insensitivity" for the Republicans to feature a cross at the center of the podium.

"This wooden cross must be at least 3 feet tall, and it sends a signal of exclusivity loudly and clearly," said Ira Forman, the organization’s executive director.

Others see no threat. "They still think I’m going to hell, because I have not accepted Jeeesus Chrast as mah per-son-al sa-vior," Jonathan Paull from Houston said, adopting a Texas drawl not otherwise evident in his speech as he mingled at the Jewish community event. "I don’t care."

The young attorney said he was voting for Bush because of "a political reality."

Still in New York, where progressive passions have long run high in the Jewish community, there is a core of Jewish voters that remains steadfastly anti-Bush. These Jews don’t cheer when Republicans invoke the mantra of Jewish persecution, and they don’t clap when Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said at the Plaza that "there is nothing they [the terrorists] want but your death and entire elimination from the planet."

Instead, they’ve been protesting. Standing outside the Plaza, a group called Jews for Racial and Economic Justice waved signs reading "elephants are not kosher" and chanted angry slogans peppered with Yiddishisms. "No war in our name, it’s a shanda, it’s a shame," they recited over and over.

As the election nears, Democratic Jewish leaders know they’re in a bind about foreign policy and have been trying to shift the debate away from Israel to trigger issues like abortion, education and the separation of church and state.

"I think it is a mistake to go after George Bush on Israel, because the Jewish community thinks he has been very good on Israel," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "So here’s what I tell Jewish voters: George Bush is good on Israel, but why vote for someone who you disagree with on everything else? Why let your loyalties to Israel be split from your loyalties on other issues?"

Schumer’s message could help stem some Jewish drift toward the GOP, but it’s hard not to see it as a concession of sorts, an admission by the Democrats that the Republicans have defined the terms of the debate so effectively that it’s not even worth competing on the same rhetorical battlefield.

This shift would have seemed improbable, almost farcical, four years ago, when Al Gore tapped Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as his Democratic running mate. Lieberman became the first Jew to run on a major party’s national ticket.

For some Jewish Democrats, Lieberman’s nomination was the culmination of its long relationship with the party — particularly since the Republicans had chosen as their candidate the son of a president who was unpopular with the Jews, and who also happened to be a cowboy and an evangelical Christian, who they feared would blur the boundaries between church and state.

It may just be a kind of provincial ignorance, but in the Jewish heartland of New York City, let’s face it, neither of these images played terribly well.

But in the intervening years, some of these same Jews have changed their minds. While few Jewish voters feel much passion for Kerry — even if they are planning on voting for him — Jews for Bush speak about their candidate with an almost religious fervor. It’s the kind of passion that gets them chanting, "Four more years, four more years!" at rallies, and makes this strange new marriage between New York sophisticates and a Texas cowboy seem almost beshert (ordained).

All this may seem like an awful lot of work to win just 4 percent of the voting public. But in today’s frozen political landscape, in which the electorate has hardened into blocks of stubborn Republicans and stubborn Democrats, the support of a well-placed fraction of the Jewish community can ripple and multiply into influence. In states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the election will be close, every vote counts.

"If you look at the states that are close, the change in the Jewish vote could actually throw the election into Republican hands," said Fred Zeidman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and a prominent Texas fundraiser who has been working with the Bush campaign on Jewish outreach. "So obviously, we are focusing on the Jewish vote in states that could change the election."

Since 2000, the RJC has opened branches in Florida, Southern California, Philadelphia and New York and is looking to start a Midwest regional office. Its membership has swelled to 12,000 from 2,500.

It’s also focusing on younger Jewish voters who may be less tied to party affiliations than their New Deal Democrat grandparents and civil rights era parents, said Greg Menken, 31, who directs the year-old New York RJC chapter.

Yet even as Republican Jewish events celebrated Jewish strength in the face of adversity, a strange kind of energy also coursed through the crowd. Whenever a speaker says words to the effect that "the very existence of the State of Israel is now under siege," the audience applauds. Of course, they’re applauding, because they agree with the speaker, not because they’re happy about the current state of affairs.

Yet at the same time, these Jews seem to show a certain pride, a sense of vindication that the Republicans are beginning to see how ugly things can get. Who knows how it’ll play. What’s bad for the Jews might turn out to be good for Bush.

Copyright Featurewell.com.

Bush or Kerry?


America’s Jews face a difficult choice in this year’s election. For many, the Bush administration symbolizes the kind of yahoo Republicanism — shaped by evangelical Christianity and the South — that grates on the sensibilities of a highly urbanized and socially liberal community.

Yet on the other side, we have a Democratic candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, whose foreign and defense policy record is, at best, questionable. Although he has been pro-Israel throughout his career, his wobbliness on the larger and related issue of the war on terror is cause for concern.

Kerry’s foreign policy proclivities, from what can now be gleaned, are largely those of the liberal Northeastern establishment, anchored in the media and academic elite. It is a policy shaped, more than anything else, by the 1960s experience with the Vietnam War, a general abhorrence of unilateral action and a deep unwillingness to confront adversaries.

The experience of Vietnam, particularly for a discontented veteran like Kerry, has created a mentality that is fundamentally hostile to U.S. assertiveness. This can be seen in his mid-1990s move to cut into CIA funding and his decision this year to withhold funds for the reconstruction of Iraq. And finally, it is manifest in his desire to fit U.S. policy in the terror war to fit the proclivities of our erstwhile European "allies" such as France and the new Spanish government.

When American foreign policy was focused primarily on the Cold War, Jews within the Democratic Party divided along ideological lines. A large proportion saw the struggle against communism as inherently flawed, while a significant portion favored the more hard-line approach pioneered by Harry Truman, followed by John Kennedy and most recently by Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

The hard-line Democrats reflected notions of an expanding, fundamentally optimistic nation that seemed capable of accomplishing what others — whether the British Empire, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union — could not achieve. Although Democrats became more oriented to government action in the 20th century, the traditional core of the party, including organized labor, never lost sight of American exceptionalism and the nation’s destiny.

Compare this now with the Democratic Party today. With the only Democrats of the old school — Lieberman and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt — out of the race, we now confront a Democratic Party that tends to favor a less aggressive, more accommodating view of the terror war. In these attitudes lie many grave dangers for the terrorists’ prime targets: the Jews and Israel.

Rather than identify with American greatness, Democrats like Kerry have become the party of American unexceptionalism — more likely to blame the United States for the world’s problem than even our worst enemies. Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, in particular, has supported such groups as the Tides Foundation, which has lent backing to groups such as Council for American Islamic Relations and the National Lawyers Guild, both of which have backed jihadists opposed to both America and Israel.

To be sure, it seems likely that a wealthy heiress like Heinz Kerry is simply too busy to know where her money goes. We also can not be sure that the couple shares all their same ideas; that would certainly not be a news flash. But her support for such groups does suggest, at the very least, a broader shift in Democratic attitudes toward the war on terror.

More troubling, however, oft-stated proclivity of Kerry and his backers to seek a closer accord with the European Union and the United Nations. Both have proven themselves to be strongly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Kowtowing toward Paris and Brussels — growing centers of Europe’s leftist and pan-Arabist anti-Semitism — will shift our policy focus in ways not friendly to either Jewish or Israeli interests.

This matters directly to Jews in a way far more profound than the arguments over Cold War policy. Although that conflict also impacted Jews, we are in the ultimate crosshairs of the terror war.

The conflict over terror centers in large part about the right to exist for Jews — or Christians or even dissident Muslims — in the Middle East and elsewhere. The terrorists who attack Israel also want to kill Jews everywhere. One does not have to favor the often-destructive policies of Ariel Sharon to know this is a basic truth.

Given these forces, the foreign equation should lead most Jews to support President Bush. But here the other side of our identity comes in: We are also Americans who would like to see a more unified country, with greater concern for the poor, the middle class and for outsiders in general.

In all these areas, Bush has been a horrific failure, particularly given his earlier self-identification as a "compassionate conservative." No president since Richard Nixon has done more to exacerbate divisions within the country.

Bush has failed on some of the basic elements of domestic leadership. He has made little effort to reach out to those who doubt his policies and done little to rally anyone but his own conservative base. Even worse, he has taken to pandering to that base, most notably with his endorsement of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Whole parts of the country — particularly many among gay people, working women, residents of the great cities — feel totally abandoned and alienated. Such divisions are always bad for the Jews; the last time the threat of anti-Semitism was greater was back in the divisive period around the Great Depression.

This domestic policy approach is likely to backfire on the Republicans, at least among Jews. We may have become notably more conservative on fiscal issues and foreign policy, but Jews have a peculiar stake in the idea of tolerance.

One does not have to agree with the extralegal marriages in San Francisco to see that the issue of gay marriage should be worked out at the state, or even community level. A proposed constitutional amendment seems totally uncalled for and unnecessarily divisive.

Similarly, many Jews are likely to remain concerned about other Bush administration foibles, such as the depriving of constitutional rights to U.S. citizens under Attorney General John Ashcroft or the gross abuses by Texas oil firms in the Iraqi reconstruction. The wisdom of tax cuts and changes in environmental laws may also bother some.

As a result, what could have been a major realignment election for Jews to move toward the GOP now seems unlikely. Although Bush will win some Jewish votes, Kerry seems certain to capture the vast majority, something that could help him in several critical states.

Yet this is not a result that should get anyone dancing the hora. The movement of Kerry-style Democrats into the White House might be good for our social values but could prove bad news for the kind of foreign policy that gives Israel a chance to exist and Jews around the world a greater sense of security.

Of Kerry and King


If I were John Kerry, I would spend every spare moment standing in front of a mirror, practicing the speech I’m going to give in October when U.S. soldiers capture Osama bin Laden.

The 2000 presidential election was a referendum on the future — who did Americans believe could lead them forward. 2004 is a referendum on the past –who do Americans believe can prevent Sept. 11, 2001 from happening again.

Democrats perceive Kerry, a Vietnam vet, as electable because he knows Americans are looking for someone to step into the role of Protector-in-Chief. He has military credentials, foreign policy experience and a diplomat’s diction. But Bush’s Osama in the hole could beat Kerry’s three of a kind in an instant. Capturing the Saudi terrorist mastermind is important, not least for the visceral sense of relief and revenge it will offer a grateful nation. Everybody knows this, so it wasn’t surprising this week when the Pentagon announced an increase in military personnel along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where bin Laden is thought to be hiding. There’s no guarantee of an October surprise, but such things have been known to happen.

The people gathered at Richard Ziman’s expansive Beverly Hills home the evening of Feb. 12 preferred to banish such thoughts. Ziman and his wife, Daphne, had been early supporters of Kerry (see story, p. 12), and this was their second fundraiser for the Massachusetts senator. Tickets were $1,000 or $2,000. The list of co-hosts included numerous entertainment industry notables whose politics ranged from the far-left all the way to the center-left. This was not Swing Voters Night. Kerry had just scored solid wins in New Hampshire and Iowa, and the poll numbers were looking strong in Wisconsin. About 300 upscale Democrats ate crudités and sipped wine in the foyer and living room, finding praise for a candidate whom many had just woken up to after wiping Howard Dean out of their eyes. The mood was closer to a victory party.

"A few months ago I didn’t think there was any hope," said a fundraiser with close Hollywood ties. "Now I do."

Kerry was not there — something many people were astonished to hear. If they had wanted to see Kerry, their $1,000 would have been better spent on a round-trip ticket to Madison, where you could see him — endlessly that week — for free. The candidate did call in, and Ziman, whose home is a way station for political hopefuls, seamlessly patched him into the Surround Sound.

"I wish I were there," Kerry said. "Everywhere I’m campaigning is so cold."

"We’re going to have a prolonged and tough fight," he went on, headlong into an attack on the president. "He’s calling himself a war president. They can’t talk about jobs, healthcare, the economy, so they’re going to try to use the politics of fear."

Kerry spoke for a bit longer — eloquent, hard-edged — and the crowd erupted in fierce applause. Comedian Richard Lewis, who has performed for Kerry at such events across the country, took the mike. "I forget that a president does not have to speak ESL," he said.

A few obligatory speeches — former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and state treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides — might have brought the energy down, but Dukakis, bright and self-deprecating as he is, only served to remind the faithful that this time, in Kerry, they have a real he-man. America loves a he-man.

Carole King then sat at Ziman’s piano and sang. She has also been campaigning for Kerry from the start.

"I was with him in Iowa when we saw the momentum turn," she said. She sang every song you know by heart from her "Tapestry" album, and standing an arm’s length from her, I and the dozens of others crowded around the piano probably would have voted a dead beagle into the Oval Office if that’s what she wanted. By the time she got to, "I Feel the Earth Move," the faces were ecstatic, as if people forgot that just three and half years ago this was the party of Al Gore.

The pods of conversation that formed and split and morphed afterward seemed to dare themselves to spurn cautious optimism for a full-fledged embrace. People offered their suggestion for vice president — Democratic candidate John Edwards and former U.N. Representative Bill Richardson were the popular choices — and allowed themselves to wonder aloud what kind of first lady Teresa Heinz Kerry would be.

But these liberals were almost all rich liberals, their idealism alloyed with enough weighty pragmatism to have gotten them rich in the first place. So Ziman and a couple of dozen others separated from the mix and entered a large den sealed by a wall of French doors, which they shut.

"That’s where the heavy hitting is going on," one Democratic activist said.

The president has a campaign war chest of more than $100 million. Because he wisely passed on public matching funds, Kerry can keep raising money. Jews, few in number but well-represented in terms of political contribution, will find the candidate turning the Westside and similar neighborhoods into an ATM if he hopes to go ad for ad with Bush.

I walked out onto the lawn, knowing full well that somewhere in a leafy Houston suburb someone was hosting the same kind of party with the same number of people to raise money and spirit for the president. There would be a view across the lawn to a landscaped pool and tennis court. There would be a popular entertainer inside, though certainly not Carole King — or the Dixie Chicks.

Kerry will get the money, and the enthusiasm, building slowly, will come. But his fate depends on whether, come October, he can convince voters that capturing Osama bin Laden is not the only thing that will make America a stronger nation.

Don’t forget to vote Tuesday.

Crystal Ball Sees


It seems like we’ve been on the verge of 2004 for ages —
presidential election years always seem to distort the space-time continuum —
but now it’s really upon us, and a lively year it is certain to be.

Congress and the White House are up for grabs, the war on
terrorism is sputtering and political leaders face a host of pressing domestic
problems that they did their best to duck in 2003. In addition, the Middle East
is its usual seething tangle, ready to ensnare policymakers here and around the
world.

Here are a few predictions for the coming 12 months.

• The Presidency: More Up for Grabs Than the Pundits Say

Today’s conventional wisdom is that improving economic news
and Saddam Hussein’s capture have made President Bush all but invincible. Guess
again. Many key indices point to the president’s reelection, but that
conventional wisdom could be upset in a moment by a down tick in the shaky
economy, new terrorist attacks, big new scandals or bad news in Iraq.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, pulling far ahead in the
race for the Democratic presidential nomination, could become a formidable
candidate if he learns to stop shooting himself in the foot and steers toward
the political center.

Some Jewish voters, concerned primarily about Israel, will
make the long-awaited shift to the Republican side, but don’t look for a mass
exodus to the promised land of the GOP.

• Congress: More Republican, More Partisan

A year ago, the Democrats were plotting strategies for
winning back one or both houses of Congress. Today, they’re trying to figure
out how to limit their losses.

In 2003, the razor-thin GOP Senate margin allowed Democrats
to block a few of the administration’s most controversial domestic proposals
and a handful of judicial nominees. November’s election will likely make it
harder for them to keep that up.

• The Budget: More Red Ink

Lawmakers passed several big tax cuts in the past two years,
then fled the scene of the crime, abandoning 11 of 13 appropriation bills.

In January, lawmakers will have to pass a giant “continuing
resolution” to keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year.
That pork-filled legislation is the opposite of the fiscal discipline both
parties piously promised.

Then it will be time to deal with next year’s budget. The
fiscal problems that gave Congress such fits this year will be that much more
severe, because they were just put off. Soaring defense costs could lead to
overwhelming pressure for domestic spending cuts.

However, with elections in November, lawmakers may once
again dodge the bullet, putting off the hard decisions until 2005, producing
bigger federal deficits and a bigger burden for the next generation.

• More Hype About Marriage

The Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on gay marriage
will propel so-called defense of marriage constitutional amendments to
political center stage. Conservative Christian groups will pull out all the
stops; gay and civil rights groups will fight just as hard on the other side.

The issue will become even more dominant, because of
politicians eager to divert attention from vexing issues — such as terrorism
and the retirement crisis — and it will continue to divide the Jewish community,
with Orthodox groups supporting the religious conservatives, defense
organizations and the Reform movement backing the civil rights advocates.

• More Movement Toward Public Funding of Parochial Schools

School voucher supporters are close to winning a big
skirmish in their war — a model voucher program for the District of Columbia.
That could ignite a flurry of new voucher proposals at the state and local
levels. The Supreme Court will rule in June on a case that could really open
the floodgates to new programs for parochial school funding.

The Bush administration will also continue using its
executive authority to give grants to religious groups that provide health and
services.

• More of the Same in U.S-Israel Relations

There’s plenty of potential for new U.S.-Israel friction,
but the Sharon government has a powerful protector: Yasser Arafat. As long as
Arafat is back at the helm of Palestinian government, Washington won’t really
turn the screws on Jerusalem, unless Sharon goes too far with his security
barrier and his proposal for “disengagement” from the Palestinians.

Less clear is the impact of a self-proclaimed protector of
Israel in this country: the Christian right. Televangelists and conservative
politicians such as Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have become avid backers of the
Sharon government and of the idea that Israel should not give up any land to
the Palestinians.

However, many of these new Zionists have been reluctant to
go against a Republican president when he pressures Israel. New conflict over
the fence and Sharon’s proposal could put that new friendship to the test.

• New Jewish Divisions Over Peace

Jewish doves, paralyzed by the resumption of Palestinian
terror in 2000, are coming back to life, but centrist Jewish groups here have
shifted to the right. In Israel, Sharon’s call for removing some settlements
will touch off a furious battle that will spill over onto the American Jewish
scene.

All of that means more polarization than ever in a Jewish
community that will continue to support Israel, but which has very different
visions for the Jewish State’s future.

Washington Watch


Clark Looks for Jewish Money

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who jumped into the crowded Democratic ring last week, isn’t Jewish, but his Jewish roots could figure prominently in his strategy for winning the 2004 presidential nomination.

The reason: Clark, a latecomer to the race, needs lots of money — and fast.

“He has to raise a ton of money,” said a top Jewish Democrat this week. “And he has to avoid gaffes for the next few weeks so he can put together position papers. You look at the top 100 givers in the party, and a very high percentage of them are Jews. A lot of them have been sitting on the sidelines so far. So they’re ripe for the picking.”

But to do that picking, this source said, Clark has to demonstrate that he is a credible candidate with a good chance of beating President George W. Bush next November. And he has to demonstrate a sensitivity to the hot-button issues that have a big impact on pro-Israel campaign contributors — a lesson another surprise frontrunner, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, learned the hard way recently.

“He’s intelligent, he’s articulate but he’s fallen on his face in the first days of the campaign,” said Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn. “He needs to be handled better; his learning curve has to be extremely steep. He doesn’t have the luxury of making mistakes.”

Clark will be pressed hard to explain his Mideast views in detail in the coming weeks; how he responds will have a significant impact on the flow of badly needed Jewish dollars, Kahn said.

Those views include a call for greater international involvement in solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and cautious endorsement of NATO peacekeepers for the region, both ideas that are regarded warily by most pro-Israel groups and vehemently opposed by some.

This week, the former NATO Supreme Commander and Democratic newcomer was burning up the phone-lines, touching base with potential contributors across the country. He was also aggressively working Capitol Hill, seeking endorsements — including endorsements from Jewish lawmakers.

He is also building a campaign machine that includes a number of former Clinton administration officials. On the Clark team so far: former National Service director Eli Segal, former Commerce secretary Mickey Kantor and Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.), a top White House aide during the Clinton years.

Clark is also basking in the glow of a successful fundraising forays to Hollywood, Silicon Valley and New York.

Clark reportedly hopes to raise up to $5 million before the end of the current reporting period next week, a total that would reinforce his standing as a serious candidate — and possibly convince some of his less-successful rivals to drop out.

“He needs money, he needs important backers and he needs something only he can provide: giving people an affirmative reason to support him,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist.

And that means courting Jewish campaign contributors who traditionally provide “the bulk of the money for Democratic candidates,” he said. “Because of that, I think he will rediscover his Jewish roots very quickly.”

In 1999 Clark revealed that while he grew up a Baptist and later converted to Catholicism, his father was Jewish.

“Our community doesn’t have a lot of generals,” Ginsberg said. If a general comes along and wants to be Jewish, who’s going to turn him away?”

Mixed News for Lieberman

The impending end of the quarter for campaign donations is touching off last-minute money blitzes in other Democratic presidential campaigns as well; the upcoming Federal Election Commission report card on contributions could prove critical for several.

This week supporters of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who continues to rank near the top in national polls, sent an urgent “Third Quarter Countdown” e-mail to potential contributors. The goal: to make sure the campaign “finishes the quarter with lots of momentum.”

The critical thing for Lieberman now: keeping up the appearance of momentum until after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, where he, Gen. Wesley Clark, Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.), Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) among others will slug it out.

“We have said from the beginning that Feb. 3 would be an important day for our campaign,” said campaign director Craig Smith in the e-mail to potential contributors. “This is the day we will start to win the nomination.”

That date marks the Arizona, Delaware and South Carolina primaries, among others, in which Lieberman is expected to run strong.

“He’s running an effective, steady, unspectacular race,” said a top Jewish politico here. “His strategy is clearly to hold until after New Hampshire and Iowa, when there could be utter confusion among the other frontrunners, and Joe will have his chance.”

Lieberman and several other Democratic contenders were buoyed by a new CNN poll showing them all gaining on or beating President Bush, whose job-approval ratings continue to sink in the face of job losses, the government budget crisis and mounting anarchy and terrorism in Iraq.

Less pleasing to the other Democratic candidates, including Lieberman: the fact that after only five days as an official candidate, Clark did better against Bush than any of them.

In the sample of 877 registered voters, 49 percent said they would vote for Clark, 46 for Bush, while the President beat Dean, Gephardt and Lieberman by slim margins.

Administration Accelerates Faith-Based
Push

The Bush administration’s faith-based initiative may be bogged down in Congress, but it is on the fast-track inside the executive branch, where the president is intensifying his effort to use already-existing authority to expand government help for religious institutions.

But that hasn’t produced a bonanza for Jewish social service providers; in a series of grants announced this week, no Jewish groups were among the lucky recipients, although at least one applied.

On Monday the Bush cabinet convened to report back to the boss about progress in opening up government health and human service contracts to religious groups.

The administration also announced a series of new regulations lowering barriers for religious group participation in grant programs — changes that critics say will lead to the improper use of government money for things like proselytizing.

And the Department of Health and Human Services announced $30.5 million in grants to support 81 community groups and faith-based charities, and another $24 million for programs that received funding last year under the administration’s “Compassion Capital Fund.”

According to an analysis by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, regulatory changes announced by the administration will provide up to $20 billion to religious groups that operate substance and mental health service programs.

Under the Compassion Capital Fund, the list of grantees includes interfaith, community and Christian groups but no Jewish social service providers, despite the fact that at least one — the Orthodox Union — applied.

Nathan Diament, the OU’s Washington representative, said that shows the faith-based initiative “will not be a political patronage program. Given how supportive we’ve been of the faith-based program, we would have been a candidate if there had been any interest in using this for political payoffs.”

Richard Foltin, legislative director for the American Jewish Committee, which opposes much of the administration’s faith-based thrust, said there were no surprises at the White House this week.

“What we’re seeing is the administration following through on what has always been a priority,” he said.

But Foltin conceded that by shifting the focus from legislation to executive action, the administration has made things much harder for opponents.

Options for opponents include court action against individual faith based programs and public education, he said; legislative efforts to roll back some of the President’s actions, as proposed by several liberal lawmakers, are unlikely to advance in the GOP-controlled Congress.

The administration has not given up on Capitol Hill, but shifted the emphasis from sweeping faith-based legislation to “piecemeal” changes in legislation reauthorizing existing programs, Foltin said.

That includes efforts to remove provisions prohibiting employment discrimination by religious groups that use government money in programs such as Head Start.

But Orthodox groups applauded the acceleration of the administration’s faith-based effort.

“We welcome these developments that will lower the barriers that prevent religious groups from participating on an equal footing in administering social service programs,” said Abba Cohen, Washington representative for Agudath Israel of America. “We’re very pleased that the administration is steadfast in moving forward.”

Prager Mulls Run for Senate in 2004


Prominent nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis
Prager may run for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democratic Sen.
Barbara Boxer, Prager told the Journal this week.

“I’m still only in the thinking and talking stage,” said the
outspoken Republican. “No exploratory committee has been formed. I won’t
announce that until I am close to being certain. I don’t want to disappoint
people who have invested hopes.”

Prager said he’s off to Washington next month to feel out
senators, in order to help him make his decision. Already, he said he has “good
responses” from conservative columnists Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett as well as
his listeners.

When Prager first broached the subject on his show in early
February, his listeners expressed support. “I also have commitments for the
serious kind of money it takes to mount a campaign,” he said.

“The Dennis Prager Show,” broadcast live weekdays 9 a.m. to
noon on KRLA 870AM, reaches 45 cities and is heard worldwide over the Web.
Despite an 18-year history with KABC, Prager jumped ship in 2000 after losing
his syndication deal with Jones Radio Network and signed with KIEV, which later
changed its call letters to KRLA.

Prager covers a wide range of topics on his show and speaks
often about relationships, religion, morality and international relations. An
ardent supporter of Israel, Prager had broadcast live from Jerusalem in the
spring of 2002 and shot a documentary, “Israel in a Time of Terror.”

When it comes to foreign policy, Prager is no isolationist.
“The United States is morally obligated to use force for good,” he proclaims.

Prager maintains that he is a “centrist –Â even a liberal,
in the JFK mold.” He was a Democrat until 1992 and considered running for
Congress, as a Democrat, some 20 years ago.

Prager eschews a descriptive label, and said he is neither a
conservative nor a moderate Republican. “I prefer to ask not ‘what is left and
what is right,’ but ‘what is wrong and what is right.'”

For Prager, one of his motivations in running is to garner a
larger audience — even though he would have to give up the show and his
syndicated column if he won the race. “In the Senate, I would be in an
influential position; people would pay attention to what I have to say,” he
said. “Also, if a Republican can win in a Democratic state like California, he
would have to be taken seriously as a contender for national office, such as
vice president.”

Prager also believes he could be a role model, for Jewish
and non-Jewish Republicans. “I would serve as an example of a politician who
does not have to compromise his principles. And finally, as someone who would
step down from office voluntarily; I do not believe in being a career politician.”

Prager, who endorsed Bill Simon’s bid for governor in 2002,
is targeting Boxer because he and other Republicans feel she is vulnerable.
“Unlike Diane Feinstein, Boxer has not made an impact, except for real
leftists,” he said.

Boxer campaign spokesman Roy Behr told The Journal, “A lot
of ex-candidates have said the same things, all of whom ultimately went on to
lose to Barbara Boxer. The reason is that she represents California’s
mainstream voters. She has stood up for California’s mainstream for 12 years in
the Senate, and this is the only reason that she has been elected and
re-elected by convincing margins.”

Boxer won her second Senate term in 1998 with 53 percent of
the vote.

Prager is also buoyed by political strategist and author
Arnold Steinberg’s contention that he is the one who can beat Boxer.

Jerry Parsky, who ran George W. Bush’s campaign in
California, and Lionel Chetwynd, the White House Hollywood liaison, are also
reportedly backing Prager, according to Dave Berg in The Washington Times on
Feb. 19.

Prager discounts any notion that Jewish voting patterns,
which favor Democratic candidates for national office, might mitigate against
his candidacy. “First of all, I don’t know if there is such a thing as a Jewish
voting pattern in California,” he said. “But if there were, now it would be
different. We are in a new world. There is greater receptivity on the part of
Jews to vote Republican.

“Moreover, I would be an exception to the norm. I have a
record of a lifetime of devotion to Jewish causes, and Israel.”

Prager may be right about shifting voter trends. In 2000,
the Republican ticket received 20 percent of the Jewish vote — more than Dole
won in 1996, and double that of George H.W. Bush in 1992. Perhaps surprisingly,
that 20 percent came despite Jewish excitement about Joe Lieberman’s nomination
as the first Jew on a major party ticket.

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew
Brooks said that a survey conducted by his organization shows that 48 percent
of Jews responding indicated they would consider voting for President Bush for
re-election in 2004. More significantly for Prager, the poll also revealed that
27 percent were more likely to vote for Republicans for other offices.

According to political consultant Allan Hoffenblum, “Prager
would likely give Boxer a run for her money. He would take away Jewish voters
who are concerned about the situation of Israel in the Middle East. And he is
not a typical right-winger; he is more of a libertarian than a hard-core
conservative.”

Prager would first have to win the battle for the Republican
nomination. Rep. Doug Ose (R-Sacramento), a moderate, is the only candidate so
far to announce the formation of an exploratory committee. Also expected to
toss their hats into the ring are Rep. Daryl Issa (R-Vista) and current U.S.
Treasurer Rosario Marin.

Prager told The Journal he’d run only “If I feel I have a
reasonable chance of winning — in the primaries as well as the general
election.”

He insists that in the end, his decision will be swayed by
his belief in not “whether I can win — since there is never that certainty —
but where I can do the most good.

“In the end, it will boil down to answering these two
questions: Am I cut out for this kind of life? And, can a politician run as a man
of his own conscience and not be forced into unacceptable compromises by
running?” Â

Valley Boys Battle for Hertzberg’s Seat


Concern for the future of Jewish political involvement runs high in Los Angeles, but not in the 40th Assembly District. The southern San Fernando Valley district will lose a highly influential Jewish representative when former Speaker Robert Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) is termed out this year. The contest for his seat, however, comes down to two ambitious, young Jewish policy wonks, both of whom seem poised for long careers in elective office.

The difficulty in the Democratic primary race is distinguishing between the candidates, Lloyd Levine and Andrei Cherny. Both are centrist Democrats with well-connected mentors; both grew up in the district, left for school and pursued political careers before returning to the Valley, and both campaigns share a similar focus on education and traffic concerns.

Connie Friedman, a businesswoman and longtime Jewish Republican activist, is also campaigning for the seat. However, registered voters in the district are overwhelmingly Democratic and the Democratic candidate is expected to win the seat.

Cherny, 26, has more experience in national politics than at the local level. Shortly after graduating from Harvard, the son of Czech immigrants went to work as a speech writer for then-Vice President Al Gore. He helped craft the 2000 Democratic Party platform and has written a book on public policy, “The Next Deal.” When he returned to the San Fernando Valley, Hertzberg hired him as a senior policy adviser and has endorsed his candidacy.

Levine, 32, has already written legislation for the Assembly while working on the staff of Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto). His campaign literature stresses his membership in The Executives fundraising group for the Jewish Home for the Aging and his work with The Jewish Federation’s of Greater Los Angeles’ Koreh L.A. literacy program.

Reared in North Hollywood, Levine graduated from UC Riverside and has worked as the legislative director for Longville. Levine’s father, Larry Levine, is an influential political consultant active with the Valley anti-secession group One L.A.

Like Cherny, Lloyd Levine is opposed to Valley secession. He said, “If I wanted to tell people I lived in a little city north of L.A., I’d move to Bakersfield.” Also like his opponent, he is committed to getting the secession issue on the ballot.

Levine and Cherny have substantive differences on some policy issues. For example, Cherny supports using state resources to improve highways and lessen traffic congestion along the 101 corridor, while Levine would focus on bringing rail lines into the Valley to achieve that goal.

Despite such differences, their most heated debate is over who is more of a Valley Boy. Since most of Cherny’s experience is in Washington, D.C., and Levine has spent time in Sacramento working for an assemblyman, each candidate accuses the other of carpet-bagging — moving into the 40th District just to run for the Assembly seat.

When the two met in Woodland Hills for a debate sponsored by The Executives, the breakfast meeting opened with each candidate joining the audience in “Hamotzi.” So whoever wins the 40th District Democratic primary when the man who published “Yiddish for Assemblymembers” leaves his Assembly seat, the Valley will have a qualified Jewish representative to replace him.

All of the Above for President


Unfortunately, it is once again one of those years when it is simply impossible to avoid discussing politics. The problem is that so many otherwise cordial people become so snippy when it comes to presidential elections. Being an independent with Libertarian leanings, I find the behavior of people in both major parties to be equally bizarre. How is it, I wonder, that simply because some political hack manages to capture his party’s nomination, millions of people will suddenly regard him with the awe usually reserved for those who can raise the dead?

Actually, so long as you’re not emotionally involved in all the partisan Sturm und Drang, the political races can be fairly entertaining. When you regard the combatants in the proper light, you can see how the entire process could be packaged as a TV show called “Who Wants to Be the President?”

Every four years, like a recurring charac-ter in a sitcom, up pops Pat Buchanan. What would a presi-dential campaign be like if we didn’t have old Pat to kick around? As I see it, his primary role is to make every other candidate look good. Half the time, he goes around doing his Archie Bunker impression, saying nasty things about large blocs of the electorate, and the other half he spends accusing the media of putting nasty words in his mouth. What amuses me is that the media insist on pretending he’s a serious contender when, obviously, all he really wants is to maintain his status as a TV pundit and overpriced public speaker. Perhaps because I have never understood rooting for a sports team simply because it is based, temporarily, in one’s hometown, I can’t comprehend the devotion that so many people feel towards their particular party. Allegiance to family, friends and country, I can fathom. But, a political party?! To suggest, as such devotion does, that one party is the fount of all wisdom and compassion, strikes me as sheer folly.

Inevitably, it leads people to regard followers of the other political faith as not merely mistaken, but evil. Speaking of faith, in this country, at least, there is far more rancor between the two parties than between the different religions. In fact, being the independent that I am, I can see that there exists not only a segment of the electorate we all know as the religious right, but a corresponding faction on the other side that we could refer to, but never do, as the religious left.

When you get right down to it, Pat Buchanan doesn’t strike me as being half as spooky as the other candidates. He, alone, is aware of the fact that he hasn’t a chance of being elected and is simply using the process to promote his own self-interests. It’s all those other people, the ones who actually believe they’re eminently qualified to be the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, who scare the heck out of me. In the best of all possible worlds, folks who entertain that sort of delusion don’t get elected, they get committed.

Questions of Character


Looking at our cover and our lead story by J.J. Goldberg, a stranger or even a casual reader is likely to assume that The Jewish Journal is a Republican Party newspaper. Not so, although we, like the rest of the country, have been intrigued with the spin McCain has produced on the presidential campaign: among Republicans, Democrats and Independents; and among Jewish voters, who fall in those three categories.

But there is another party running in the elections this year, the Democrats, and it seems only fair to give them a voice in our pages. The two Democratic candidates, Bill Bradley and Al Gore, would probably attract the interests of Jewish Californians, whatever the election. Their views on the Mideast, for example, generally will find favor among Jews in the Golden State.

Here is former Congressman Mel Levine, a leader in the campaign for Al Gore in California: “I have worked closely with Vice President Gore on issues involving Israel’s security and peace in the Middle East. I have witnessed firsthand both the depth of the Vice President’s commitment and the history of his leadership on these issues. He has long been in the forefront of numerous fights on behalf of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, Israel’s security and a secure and lasting Mideast peace.”

Not to be outdone, the California staff of Bill Bradley offered these words: “Bill Bradley believes that the security of the United States and the security of Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, are inexorably linked and that the U.S. has a strategic and, even more so, a moral imperative for supporting Israel. Bradley… as a Senator, challenged Presidents of both parties when he felt their actions jeopardized Israeli and U.S. security.”

On domestic matters, again, the policy preferences of Gore and Bradley — on education, health care, separation of church and state — resonate favorably among most American Jews. The two men differ, but more in terms of process than goals; of means than ends. They each favor federal support for education for more children, particularly among the have-nots; and more and better health care and coverage for more people (and especially the elderly); and they can be found drawing a firm line between separation of church and state.

During the course of this somewhat fierce campaign, each of the Democrats has developed a distaste for the other, issues aside. At the moment their speeches are directed against one another, rather than focused on their differences with the Republicans. And inevitably character and personality have begun to cast issues into the shade. This is perhaps more a by-product of primaries in our national election process than willful behavior on the part of the two candidates and their respective advisers.

Gore seems to have remade himself and his campaign from an early unsuccessful start. He has dumped the image of the earnest, plodding, sincere but dull candidate, and distanced himself physically and in every other way from the president. Today he projects an image of someone who is a fighter: fiery, aggressive, knowledgeable about politics and issues. A man with a record, and one with whom Jews particularly can identify.

Bradley has changed in the course of the campaign, but not as dramatically as his opponent. In some ways, Bradley offered himself as a candidate in the tradition of Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat who ran against Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. He projects an image of someone who is his own man, somehow outside of party politics and political machines.

But there are telling differences. Stevenson was witty and had a feel for language. He often wrote his own speeches and delivered them with great flair. Bradley’s speeches and responses to questions often are flat and project little in the way of charisma. He knows the issues and has done his homework, but until recently he has generated little heat.

Then he became angry. He accused Gore of changing the facts to suit the audience. He lashed out at him for lying. And he kept control of the campaign and the political decisions in his own hands, not always to his own advantage.

It is fair to say that on issues alone either one of the Democrats would attract considerable support among Jews. But the campaign has shifted from issues to personality, character and image. The blame — if that is the correct word — lies not entirely with us. The political process, and the length of the contest, almost dictates it.

We, in the national and local media, must report the story; but we also need to make it fresh. It is only a quick jump to converting a political campaign into political entertainment. Not a soap opera exactly; nor a docudrama. Somewhere in between. And so character — Who is Al Gore? Who is Bill Bradley? — imperceptibly becomes part of the decision we finally make when it comes down to the wire and we cast our vote. — Gene Lichtenstein

Preparing for the Worst


Mark Levin knows about as much as anybody about Jews in the former Soviet Union. But sitting in his office during a recent chat with reporters, he admitted he had no easy answers to the toughest question of all: When should Jewish leaders push the panic button and do everything possible to convince Russian Jews to get out while the getting is good?

The issue took on more overtones of urgency this week with a new wave of bombings in Moscow and growing U.S.-Russia strains over the NATO air war in Kosovo; the prospect that U.S. and Russian forces could clash over enforcement of an embargo on Serbia added to the sense of crisis.

“The political, economic and social conditions continue to deteriorate,” Levin, executive director of the National Conference of Soviet Jewry, said. “We do not believe we’ve reached the stage of mass exodus. But that doesn’t lessen our concern or our preparation for all possible scenarios.”

He conceded that the point at which Jewish leaders should actively promote a massive rescue effort is a blurry one, and cautioned against statements that could lead to panic among an aging, anxious Russian Jewish population.

But Jewish leaders across the spectrum are acutely aware that there is a danger they could wait too long in urging Russian Jews to head for the lifeboats.

The situation in Moscow grows more chaotic by the day. The economy continues its free-fall; big loans from the International Monetary Fund may stave off disaster for a few more months, but there is no longer much hope of serious economic reform by the battered, besieged government of President Boris Yeltsin.

Nationalists and retread Communists continue to infiltrate the political mainstream, capitalizing on the spreading economic misery and on Russia’s demise as a world power.

The extremists are poised to improve their position in the 1999 parliamentary elections. Predictions are risky, but it is not inconceivable that they could produce a candidate capable of replacing the retiring Yeltsin in 2000.

Bigotry and scapegoating are on the rise, with prominent officials openly voicing a conspiracy-minded anti-Semitism that echoes down the corridors of Russian history.

And U.S.-Russian relations are in a tailspin, pushed over the brink by Moscow’s support for the government of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and the rise of an ominous new anti-Western sentiment.

The new diplomatic strains have significantly reduced the ability of officials here to use their diplomatic leverage to protect minorities in Russia, especially the Jews. Many Russian Jews are making preliminary inquiries about emigrating, but few have done more than that.

So what are the options for Jewish leaders here?

Levin points to the most obvious: continuing to work with U.S. officials to keep the human-rights agenda a part of the U.S.-Russia diplomatic mix. Soviet Jewry groups have been surprisingly successful in that effort, but it will be significantly harder as U.S.-Russia relations erode.

Jewish leaders can make sure the refugee infrastructure is in place in case widespread, rapid emigration becomes necessary. That’s one reason Jewish groups have been so determined to preserve refugee slots that, in recent years, have not been in high demand. That could change overnight if the anti-Semitic talk in Russia produces anti-Semitic action; having extra slots available could save lives.

Leaders here can work to make sure that Russian Jews do not lose the automatic presumption of refugee status, a policy legacy of the refusenik era.