The views of Israelis voting in Tuesday’s election


Israelis turned out in large numbers for a parliamentary election on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu seeking a fourth term but facing a strong challenge from the center-left opposition.

Nearly six million people are eligible to vote, with turnout expected to be slightly over 60 percent. Polls close at 10 pm (2000 GMT) on Tuesday.

Following are comments from ordinary Israelis who were heading to the ballot box or had just voted.

Netanyahu's main challenger is Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union, who is partnered by Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister and peace negotiator with the Palestinians.

Other leading candidates are Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home party; Moshe Kahlon of the centrist Kulanu; Yair Lapid of the centrist, secular Yesh Atid party; and Avigdor Lieberman of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party.


Sarah Zadok, 38, a teacher from the town of Yonaton near the Syrian border, who was voting for Bennett:

“I care less about Netanyahu's prospects than I do about the safety of Israel. I hear the fighting next door and I'm aware of the dangers facing us. In Bennett I see real leadership and a plan.”


Alon Gal, 49, a manager at a high-tech firm from Mevaseret Zion near Jerusalem:

“I'm voting for the right but am in a dilemma over which party. I'm not keen on Netanyahu's conduct, his arrogance, but on the other hand, I don't inadvertently want to help bring a left-wing government to power.”


Dedi Cohen, 39, a lawyer from Tel Aviv:

“For the first time in my life, I'm going to be voting Labour, that is the Zionist Union. Previously I voted for centrist parties, but now the risk of Netanyahu building the next government is too big. How long has he been in power? Nine years? It's too much. Enough.”


At a cafe in Kfar Tavor, near the northern city of Haifa:

Yuval Weisler, 27, an engineering student, said he voted Yesh Atid, as he has done before.

“I think Lapid has the right approach to economic policy, I like the way he's helped the middle class, and I'm worried what would happen if the right-wing grows stronger than the center bloc.”

“I'm expecting the left to win, and it's important to balance that out with a party that's more centrist.”


Katya Malicov, 27, a college student in health administration:

“I voted Lapid because we need to reinforce the center-left bloc. There are a lot of extremists in Israel, Bibi is way too extremely right-wing, so is Bennett. And I think Herzog is too far left.”


Gali Shacham, 66, a retired local government worker from Kfar Tavor.

“Last time I voted for Lapid, and before that, Kadima. This time I chose Emet (Herzog).”

“We have but one country and I can't stand Bibi anymore. He's shutting off the only lifeline Israel has to the outside world – our friendship with America.”


Arik Kastiel, 49, a truck driver:

“I'm a Likud voter. There's nobody better than Netanyahu, nobody stronger.”


Etti Revach, 47, Haifa port warehouse worker:

“I'm a right-winger, and Likud is the house I grew up in so I voted for Bibi, he's the best spokesman Israel has.”

She says her views are more akin to Jewish Home though, and the reason she stuck by Likud is “I'm worried Bibi is going to lose.”


Stav Mizrahi, 29, a physical education teacher. Says she voted from Herzog, having voted for Lapid last time.

“We must change the government, and Herzog needs more mandates. Bibi isn't leading us in the right direction, neither diplomatically or economically.”


Moshe Goldring, 69, a physician from Kfar Tavor. Has always voted for the far-left Meretz party, and same this time.

“We need their influence. Labour has taken on Livni and she's a Likudnik at heart.”

“Netanyahu is the worst thing that ever happened to Israel.”

“We need to make peace with the Palestinians, without that we will never have security. I worry that my grandchildren will have to fight another war unless we finally take steps for peace.”


Lily Goldring, 62, psychiatrist, Kfar Tavor. Voted for Herzog.

“I like Livni, her voice isn't heard enough.”

“The main thing is we don't want Netanyahu to win. We need peace so we can all just live together equally.”


Shira Mor, 35, a social worker from Herzliya.

“I voted Meretz because of their social platform, they are a very socially minded party looking out for the rights of minorities. I wouldn’t want them as prime minister but it would be good to have a far-left party in government to balance out the other sides.

“I debated between voting for the Zionist Union, or what I call a 'not Bibi' vote, and Meretz, and in the end I went with my heart. But if Bibi is reelected then my heart will have a very heavy conscience.”

Breaking (NOT): GOP hopes Jews vote for GOP


There may be chaos in the world, with an Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the specter of war in Ukraine and a seemingly endless cycle of violence in Gaza, but the earth continues to turn, the sun continues to shine, and Republicans continue to think Jews are about to turn Republican. Some things never change.

The Hill newspaper trots out another installment in the longrunning series suggesting that this may finally be the time that Jews break with the Democratic party. In fairness to The Hill, the frame it presents is, no doubt, quite accurate — “Republicans believe that the deepening crisis in Gaza could ultimately loosen the grip that the Democratic Party has traditionally held upon American Jewish voters.” And to prove it, they proceed to quote a number of Republicans (two, to be precise), saying that this may indeed be the time that Jewish voter disgust boils over about Israel and sends them into the Republican camp. (Surprisingly, neither of these Republicans is Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose never-diminishing optimism typically makes an appearance in these stories. Perhaps he was on vacation.)

To be clear, I don’t doubt that many Republicans believe that Jews will, indeed, start voting Republican. By the same token, I’m sure my rabbi believes I’ll start showing up regularly for services and my wife thinks I’m going to start cleaning around the apartment. Hope springs eternal.

And, to be sure, it is indeed possible that Jewish votes may start to go Republican. As the article notes, from the 2008 to the 2012 presidential elections, Obama’s percentage of the Jewish vote, according to exit polls, dropped from 78 percent to 69 percent, a more significant drop than in his overall level of support. It’s also the lowest percentage of the Jewish vote to go Democratic since 1988.

That said, there have been false dawns before — when George W. Bush ticked up from 19 percent to 24 percent from 2000 to 2004, some observers hailed it as a sign that the long-awaited shift was under way. Before that, between 1976 and 1988, the Democratic candidate only broke 70 percent once. But the long trend persists — no Republican has reached 40 percent of the Jewish vote since Warren G. Harding in 1920. As Tevi Troy, the former Jewish liaison to the younger Bush administration ruefully tells The Hill (well down in the story), “I have been around many blocks and I’ve heard it so many times: ‘Now is the point that it’s all going to change.’ And it never happens. It’s like ‘Waiting for Godot.’”

Conservative columnist Philip Klein, of the Washington Examiner, dispenses with the latest outbreak of GOP optimism quite nicely: Jews don’t vote only on Israel, Jewish views on social and economic issues are more aligned with the Democratic Party, and Jewish views on Israel actually line up pretty well with the priorities of Obama and most other Democrats (i.e. support for a two-state solution).

He also points out, quite rightly that the factor most likely to push Jews towards the GOP is not Israel but demographics — Orthodox Jews vote Republican at a much higher rate than non-Orthodox Jews and are also growing at a much faster clip than any other portion of the Jewish population. (I would, however, quibble with his point about intermarriage — studies have indicated that intermarried, unaffiliated Jews vote just as Democratic as other non-Orthodox Jews.)

So someday, Jews may indeed start to vote more Republican. But if that happens, it probably won’t be Israel that drives the shift. And it probably won’t become apparent for many years to come.

On Election Day, Israel’s undecided voters face moment of truth


Israelis are almost never shy about offering their opinions, especially when it comes to politics.

The problem is that this year, many of them aren’t sure what their opinions are.

As Election Day approached, a large proportion of voters – 15 percent – remained undecided, according to polls. Some of them still were unsure even as they headed for the polls on Jan. 22.

But vote they did: By 4 p.m. Israel time, turnout at the polls stood at 46.6 percent – an increase of 5 percent over the last election, in February 2009.

Israel’s multiplicity of parties presented Israelis with a dizzying array of choices: 32 were in the running, and up to a dozen were expected to land seats in the Knesset. But with so many parties running on similar platforms, and after what many considered a lackluster campaign, many voters said they were disillusioned with their choices.

“No one seems good,” Stephanie Daniel, 28, told JTA. A women’s studies student in Tel Aviv, Daniel said she had vacillated between Hatnua, a party focused on negotiations with the Palestinians and led by former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, and the left-wing Meretz party. In the end, Daniel said, she chose Hatnua because it advocates for environmental issues.

Her dilemma was not uncommon among young Tel Avivis. As they entered or exited their polling locations, many said they felt torn between the three center-left parties: Hatnua, Labor and Yesh Atid.

“I did a questionnaire on the internet” about who to vote for, said Elian, 27, a political science student at Tel Aviv University. She said that because she was a “social democrat from birth,” she chose the traditionally socialist Labor. But Elian said she saw the appeal of both Livni and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, a political newcomer.

“Tzipi [Livni] can lead a state better than Shelly” Yachimovich, the Labor chairwoman, Elian said.  “Yair Lapid is new, and he talks a lot, but Shelly is more my ideology.”

Uri, 31, a Tel Aviv event planner, also found ideology guiding him as he deliberated between Labor, Hatnua, Yesh Atid and Meretz. “There was social pressure,” he said. “One friend feels this way, another that way. But everyone knows on the inside” whom they support.

He ended up voting for Meretz, he said.

Uncertainty lingered on the right, too. Gilad Konforty, 30, an MBA who recently became Orthodox and now studies in a yeshiva, was trying to decide between two Orthodox parties, the Sephardic Shas and the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism. He went with UTJ.

“They better represent Jewish values and Jewish character,” he said. While Shas has, at times, cooperated with left-wing governments, UTJ “doesn’t move around, they don’t capitulate, they don’t compromise,” he said.

With the right-wing Likud-Beiteinu list widely expected to beat its center-left competitors, some right-leaning voters chose pragmatism over ideology and voted for the party they figured would best be able to influence a Likud-led coalition.

Guy, 33, a Jerusalemite who works in the technology industry, said he chose the pro-settler Jewish Home Party and its Modern Orthodox chairman, Naftali Bennett, over Likud because he wants “to put another kippah in the Knesset.”

“They’ll work together anyway” Guy said. Bennett will “push the government a little to the right. I think he has more concern for the religious sector.”

With so many new parties, voters faced the prospect of a large number of first-timers making it into the Knesset.

“There are a lot of new parties that have talked but have not done anything,” said Yaakov, 47, a banker from Tel Aviv also vacillating between Shas and UTJ. “The old parties didn’t prove themselves.”

Dor Midler, 21, a first-time voter, said she was voting for Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and his list of political neophytes.

“I just left the army, and he’s the best for young people,” she said. “He’s something new. I’m optimistic. At some point, it has to be OK.”

Uri, the Tel Aviv event planner, said the flood of information available to voters today rendered decisions more difficult.

“You open Facebook, you can see everything that happens,” he said. “Before, it would be that my father votes Likud, so I vote Likud. Now you can see the party platform, what they’ve done, what they haven’t done.”

This year Likud failed to produce a formal party platform.

Dina, 76, a Tel Aviv resident who lost a husband and son in Israel’s wars, said she’s disappointed with Israel’s entire political system.

“Wherever there are Jews, there are never just two parties,” she said. “There are too many parties.”

Dina said she was a faithful Labor voter for decades until 2006, when she felt that the party wasn’t effective and cast a protest vote for the Pensioners’ Party. She said she’s voting cautiously for Livni after flirting with a return to Labor.

Neither party excited her, though there would have been one politician she said would raise her spirits – Shimon Peres, the 89-year-old former Labor prime minister who is Israel’s current president.

“He loves the state,” Dalia said. “There’s not one job he did where he didn’t succeed. He’s the lighthouse of the state.”

Security could intimidate, so Sinai Temple moves polling places outdoors


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The offending item: a pocketknife.

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

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

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

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

Sinai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election day snapshots


Beverlywood

Nettie Price voted for Obama in 2008, and in the past the registered independent has voted mostly a straight Democratic ticket. But not this year.

Standing outside her polling place at Castle Heights Elementary School in Beverlywood, Price said this time she voted a straight Republican ticket, based on one issue: economics.

“Obama had four years to fix things. I voted for him four years ago, but no way in hell would I vote for him again,” said Price, who runs an adult basketball league.

She voted no on Proposition 30 and on most propositions that would raise taxes, but voted to change the “three-strikes” law.

Her husband, a retired high school football coach, is a longtime Republican, and he voted that way this election. “I’m sick of big government — it doesn’t work,” he said.

Price said all her friends and neighbors are Democrats, so she doesn’t usually talk politics.

But with her vote cast and the late-morning crowd light outside the school auditorium, Price wasn’t shy about her views.

“I think Obama did a horrible job — just horrible,” she said.


Pico Boulevard

To Sol Berger, which candidate or measure he voted for isn’t as important as the fact that he gets to vote.

The 93-year-old Holocaust survivor grew up in Poland, and he has seen what nondemocratic regimes can do.

“I know the difference,” Berger said, as he waited for his ride outside of Congregation Mogen David on Pico Boulevard near Roxbury Drive, where he had just cast his ballot.

Berger said he’s voted in every election since he and his wife, Gertrude, moved to the United States in 1950. Sol survived the war by disguising himself as a Polish laborer and escaping with a partisan unit to the forest. Most of his family did not survive.

He was a Zionist from the age of 15, he said, and tried to get to Palestine before the war but wasn’t able to get out.

“I vote for anybody who wants to defend Israel,” Berger said. “And I always like to vote for Jewish representatives.”

Berger is a speaker at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and at the Museum of Tolerance, and he lectures at colleges and high schools as well as at churches and synagogues. A few years ago, he was invited to speak at the University of Krakow, and the day after the election, he was scheduled to speak to the Los Angeles Police Department.

But today, he’s voting.

“I love this country. This country gave me opportunities I could never have anyplace else in the whole world,” Berger said.


Beverly-Fairfax

Smack in the middle Beverly-Fairfax area, with its mix of Orthodox Jews and young hipsters, the Pan Pacific Park Senior Center was buzzing even in the late-afternoon lull of  Election Day. While early-morning hours had seen long lines, as the sun blazed down at around 2 p.m., elderly couples shuffled in, and men in black hats and long coats rushed by.

Adam, a 34-year-old development officer on paternity leave, put on his sunglasses and pushed a stroller as he came out of the gym onto the blindingly white concrete. His month-old daughter stayed asleep while he voted.

Adam, who declined to give his last name, is an Obama supporter, but is frustrated, once again, about this election.

“I never feel that the choices in presidential elections are as good as they should be,” he said.

 “I felt Obama was the best candidate for this election. I don’t think Romney represents the people as much as Obama does,” he said.

Carl Miller, a 29-year-old small-business owner, also voted for Obama. He’s relieved the grueling election season is over.

“I’m just glad we were spared some of it since we’re not in the swing-state crossfire,” he said.

He said he could go down a list of why he voted for Obama, but it comes down to direction.

“He is pretty diametrically opposed to Romney, and I’m much more comfortable with the direction Obama is taking this country,” Miller said.

Miller said he had initially been vociferously advocating for Proposition 37, which would require labeling for genetically modified foods. But after he did more research, he wasn’t satisfied with the way the law was written. “So I swung the other way,” he said.

A 63-year-old CPA with a long gray beard and wearing a black hat declined to give his name but said he voted for Romney.

“I believe we’ll be in deep trouble if Obama stays in,” he said. “He’s weak on foreign policy, he is not a supporter of Israel, and he’s a spendthrift who overpays but doesn’t produce results.”

And for Adam, the 34-year-old, the birth of his first child has affected how he thinks about politics.

“I think now more than ever about how important it is to create the world you would like to see your child grow up in,” he said.


San Fernando Valley

What convinces Jewish voters to back a particular candidate? Some brandish endorsements from prominent Jewish leaders, others recruit Jewish surrogates to trot out pro-Israel talking points, still others create specific campaign materials aimed at Jewish voters.

But for many Jews, the deciding factor can often be the advice or urging of someone close to them.

Margie Feld, who cast her ballot late Tuesday afternoon at Shaarey Zedek, an Orthodox synagogue in Valley Village that is her usual polling place, acknowledged that Howard Berman got her vote in large part because she had heard her friends and neighbors talking about him.

“It’s just who we hear about all the time – Berman this, Berman that,” she said.

Those pro-Berman friends didn’t just win over Margie Feld; they also got her husband’s vote. Jeff Feld said he had, until recently, been planning to vote for Berman’s opponent, Brad Sherman, but like many men and women across the country, he eventually voted the same way his wife did – and not just in the that heated Berman-Sherman congressional race.

“When she forces you to match up her ballot with yours, you know it’s gone too far,” Jeff Feld said with a smile.

It was the first time casting a ballot in a presidential election for Ben Bernshtein, and on his way out of Shaarey Zedek in North Hollywood, the 19-year-old college student wouldn’t say whether he voted for Romney or Obama. But he did know where he’d be watching the results come in: the Alpha Epsilon Pi house at California State University, Northridge, where he’s studying film, hoping to become an actor.

“You know the saying, ‘Two Jews, three opinions’? Well,” Bernshtein said, “this is going to be like 20 Jews, 50 opinions.”


Westwood

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

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

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

Nobody appears to have been turned away from the polls at Sinai Temple while they were indoors, and the polls were even more visible and accessible after being moved.

In the mid-morning, a class of 19 4-year-olds from Sinai Akiba walked in with their three teachers. The kids had conducted a mock election in their classroom earlier in the day, one of the teachers said.

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

So, who are you voting for?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prop 32 – The final piece of election reform


The voters of California have put in place two elements of major reform to our election process.  The first was taking the redistricting process out of the hands of special interests and career politicians.  The second was an attempt to stem the highly partisan elections by giving voters in primaries an opportunity to vote for all the potential candidates.  The third and final reform that will clean up the election process is to put a stop to special interests spending hundreds of millions of dollars to taint the elections.  That is what Proposition 32 does and why it deserves your support.

Proposition 32 restricts special interests (particularly corporations and unions) from contributing directly to candidates or committees affiliated with the candidates.  It also goes on to restrict government contractors of any kind from making contributions to candidates.  It is pretty straight forward.

Ask yourself this question – has the state government in California been operating well?  The budget of the state has neither been balanced nor on time in a dozen years.  Because it is now the law that legislators pass a timely budget or lose their pay, they did that this year for the first time in a decade.  But the budget is only balanced with the assumption of the passing of Prop 30 to garner new revenues (from you) and an assumption that certain Californians will have huge profits from their sale of Facebook stock.  Is this really a way to run a government?

The local governments are in worse shape.  Stockton, Mammoth Lakes and San Bernardino, which have all declared bankruptcy, are just the tip of the iceberg of local governments on the precipice.  Many question when an even larger city, like Los Angeles, may have to enter bankruptcy because of being unable to meet its obligations.

The reason for this mess at the state and local level is abundantly clear.  It is what has come to be called “Crony Capitalism.”  The special interests give huge money to their favored candidates during the election.  Then once those politicians get into office they hear a knock on their door.  They are reminded of who gave them the money to get into office and asked to return the favor by protecting the projects or salaries or rich benefits of the patron saints. 40% of the legislation passed is written by lobbyists and just handed to the politicians to vote into law.  And who ends up paying for these boondoggles?  You and I do.  But we don’t have a say as the politicians cut backroom deals (often ones they don’t wish to participate in) against our interests. 

Think about it — government contractors win a contract and they can turn around and give a contribution to the very politicians who gave them the contract.  Sometimes they are so brazen that they make the contributions before the vote because they know no one is really watching them.  The press that used to look over their shoulders has gone out of business in this new age of electronic journalism.  The only newspaper watching the state legislature is the Sacramento Bee, and they don’t have the resources to keep an eye on all of them and the governor.  It is no wonder that the taxpayers are the losers in this entire process. 

You may have seen ads against Prop 32.  If you notice who supports those ads, it is the very special interests that are breaking the financial backs of our governments.  They want to protect their gravy trains which come out of your hard-earned paycheck.  They will tell you they are out helping you, but they are only lining their own pockets. 

After over a decade of financial disaster, it is time for the residents of California to take back control of their government.  We have taken the steps to stop politicians from protecting their seats from redistricting and stopped the wildly partisan election process.  Now we need to take the final step to stop the graft and corruption that is bringing our government to its knees financially.  Vote Yes on Prop 32 and change the course of California.


Mr. Bialosky was a presidential appointee to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

In battleground state Ohio, Jewish voters favoring Obama handily, AJC poll shows


An American Jewish Committee survey of Jewish voters in Ohio, a battleground state, has the community favoring President Obama in similar numbers to polls elsewhere.

The survey released Wednesday by the AJC has Ohio's Jews favoring Obama 64 percent to 29 percent for Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate.

With a 6.4 percent margin of error, the numbers are commensurate with two other AJC polls last month that had Obama beating Romney 69 to 25 percent among Florida Jewish voters and 65 to 24 nationally.

As in those polls, the economy and health care topped voters' concerns.

The phone survey of 238 registered Jewish voters in Ohio was conducted Sept. 13-30 by QEV Analytics.

Republican Jewish Coalition begins $5 million TV ad campaign


The Republican Jewish Coalition launched a $5 million television advertising campaign aimed at Jewish voters in swing states.

The campaign started Wednesday and runs through Nov. 5 in cable and broadcast TV markets with sizable Jewish populations in Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The first RJC ad is a shortened version of one of the group’s “buyer’s remorse” videos, which featured disillusioned Obama voters.

“This ad highlights the 'buyer's remorse' felt by many in the Jewish community, who voted for Obama four years ago, but are now disillusioned with his economic policies and his policies toward Israel,” the RJC’s executive director, Matt Brooks, said in a statement Wednesday. “These ads, and the stories of the people in them, give voice to the nagging doubts that many Jewish voters feel about President Obama. To underscore that point, numerous polls have shown an erosion in Jewish support for the President.”

Unreleased Gallup survey data found 70 percent of Jewish voters saying they would support Obama to 25 percent for Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The data, which were reported by Buzzfeed, is from Gallup’s daily tracking polls from July 1 through Sept. 10 and is based on a sample size of 828 registered Jewish voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

In July it was reported that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and other RJC board members would be funding a $6.5 million effort by the group to woo Jewish voters, including the TV ad campaign. Earlier this month, the RJC began a voter outreach effort in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and launched a new billboard campaign in South Florida featuring the slogan “Obama … Oy Vey!!”

So, how many Jews will vote for Mitt Romney?


Here is a truism we all already know: Jews are news. The fact is, no matter how tiny the American Jewish community might be — between 1.5 and 2 percent of the population — the battle for Jewish votes will be extensively reported and analyzed.

Over the last several decades, Democratic identification overall has fluctuated both up and down, from 36 percent at the high points, in 1988 and 2008 (according to Gallup poll tracking), to lows of 31 percent in 2010. Among many traditionally Democratic groups, such as white Southerners, Catholics and others, the trend has been fairly consistently downward, even as other groups, mainly Hispanics,  became more reliable supporters of the party. However, while others were changing affiliations, Jews’ political leanings remained largely the same.

There are many explanations for the unique political behavior of the Jewish voter, most focusing on the relatively liberal views of Jews on almost all social issues, while others suggesting that the “rural, overwhelmingly Christian and Southern” nature of the GOP is a turn-off for Jewish voters. The Washington Post’s conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin framed it thus: “They don’t sound like us, they don’t talk like us, and they don’t understand us.”

Whatever the reason, in almost every election cycle of recent years, Republicans have attempted to make a new case for the “this time, it is really coming” argument — namely, that a new wave of Jewish Republican voters is about to appear. However, as I outlined in 2009 in a long piece in Commentary Magazine, “The story remained what it has been over the course of the past seven national elections, with Jews voting for Democratic candidates by colossal margins.”

Will 2012 prove any different? Last August, New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow made a case somewhat reminiscent of the Republican claims of 2004 and 2008: Relying on data from the Pew Research Center in 2010, Blow argued that “the number of Jews who identify as Republican or as independents who lean Republican has increased by more than half since the year [Barack Obama] was elected. At 33 percent, it now stands at the highest level since the data have been kept. In 2008, the ratio of Democratic Jews to Republican Jews was far more than three to one. Now it’s less than two to one.”

In response to criticism from some quarters, Blow nevertheless repeated his claim a few weeks later in another column, in which he argued that “Obama’s approval rating among Jews in 2010 averaged 58 percent. This percentage was the lowest of all those representing his enthusiastic supporter groups except one, the religious unaffiliated.” Blow’s claim that Obama’s loss of support among Jews should be attributed to the president’s positions on Israel was furiously debated (many of Blow’s critics were associated with the dovish J Street lobby, and relied on many polls in which Jews rank the topic of “Israel” as fairly low in their voting priorities). Nevertheless, the question remains: Do Jews — as one might conclude from the Pew numbers — now trend Republican more than they have in the past?

To help make all this a numbers-based type of discussion, we gathered data available from four sources: the American Jewish Committee (AJC) annual surveys of Jewish opinion, Gallup surveys, the study on Jewish Distinctiveness in America by Tom W. Smith (from 2005 — we needed those to get a glimpse of previous decades) and the Pew Research Center studies. The result was quite revealing: While Pew studies suggest that the GOP is gaining somewhat among Jewish voters (that’s the basis for the Blow post), the other data seem to suggest that Jews don’t really trend Republican, but rather independent — like the rest of the electorate. In other words, the Democratic Party is losing, while the Republican Party is not necessarily gaining.

Even if Jews aren’t yet moving in droves over to the GOP camp, the data might still be considered bad news for the Democratic Party. When a Republican candidate for the presidency is getting more votes from Jewish voters, it is not usually Jewish Republican voters. As one study showed, “The average non-Jewish Bush voter identifies as a weak Republican, while the mean Jewish Bush voter is an independent-leaning Republican.” Another study, this one of the 2008 election, found that “among Independents, we see even more of a pronounced split, with Obama garnering just over 36 percent, McCain close to 30 percent and undecided at 30 percent.” Clearly, the more independent the Jewish voter, the more likely he is to choose a Republican over a Democratic nominee.

To better understand this, one must consider a follow-up on the “leanings” of independent Jewish voters. Back in 2004, a study found that “after asking independents which party they ‘leaned’ toward, 64 percent of all Jewish voters identified as Democrats, 16 percent as Republicans and 20 percent as independents.” If that is still the case, then Democrats have less to worry about, as most “leaners” tend to behave in a way similar to that of party partisans. But Republicans can hope that the Pew 2010 study is a sign that Jewish independents now trend Republican.

This is exactly what the most recent AJC study also suggests. This survey posed two questions relevant to the question of Jewish party identification. The first question is the one the AJC people included in previous polls: “In politics TODAY, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent?” The second one is a new one for AJC polls: “[IF INDEPENDENT/OTHER] As of TODAY, do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party/Democratic Party?”

The second question is the one that’s making the difference. Of the 26 percent Independents responding to this poll, 15 percent, when pressured to “lean” toward one of the parties, chose to lean GOP. Taken together, GOP voters plus those leaning toward the GOP amount in this poll to 27 percent, not far from the 29 percent registered by Pew — and a reflection of a possible rightward trend. 

Having said that, not one serious pollster or political operative expects the Jewish vote to be divided in favor of the 2012 Republican candidate or to be equally distributed. The question is not about who will be winning the Jewish vote, but rather, whether the GOP can outperform its past performances with Jewish voters. Pollster Jim Gerstein answered this question last November by saying the following: “Our latest poll of American Jews simulated an election between Obama and Romney, and perhaps presents the clearest picture of where the Jewish vote may be headed. The initial vote shows Obama leading 63 to 24 [percent]. When we allocated the undecided voters by party identification — a common practice among political pollsters when trying to map out the outcome of a race — the vote was 70 to 27 [percent].”

So what does this mean for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney?

It is important to note at this point that in reality, for Jewish votes to be of any significance come Election Day, the margin between candidates has to be very small — very, very small — and in very specific areas.

Take Ohio. Jews in this state comprise 3 percent of the vote; in 2004 George W. Bush took the election by 2.1 percent of the entire Ohio electorate. This means that even in the closest of elections, you need every single Jew to vote as one bloc to make a difference. That is never going to happen, as even the most optimistic (among Republican operatives) and the most pessimistic (among Democratic operatives) put the percentage of Jewish voters in play no higher than 15 to 18 percent, which could potentially be added to the 22 to 26 percent who voted for John McCain in 2008.

In February 2012, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life published a new analysis of party identification by religion. The bottom line, as far as Jewish voters go, was pretty clear: “Even Jewish voters, who have traditionally been and remain one of the strongest Democratic constituencies, have moved noticeably in the Republican direction; Jewish voters favored the Democrats by a 52-point margin in 2008 but now prefer the Democratic Party by a significantly smaller 36-point margin.”

Yet a May 2012 AJC survey of American Jewish opinion (which actually contained nothing Earth-shattering) found support for Obama among American Jews to be slightly higher than it had been half a year earlier, but still not very high. As Ron Kampeas of the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) reported at the time: “The AJC’s new findings are similar to those of the Public Religion Research Institute in March. That poll showed Obama scoring 62 percent of the Jewish vote, as opposed to 30 percent for a GOP candidate.”

Romney, according to the AJC survey, could get as much as 33 percent of the Jewish vote. That’s nice compared to Republican performances in previous election cycles, but not the meltdown of Jewish support for Obama that some Republican operatives predicted about a year ago. Forty percent of Jewish Americans do not approve of Obama’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations. But this is a significant improvement compared to the September 2011 survey in which 53 percent registered in the “disapprove” column. 

A June 2012 Gallup poll on the current tendencies of Jewish voters (and accompanying analysis by Jeffrey Jones) makes clear that “Obama remains the favorite of Jewish voters but appears to be running a bit weaker among them than he did in 2008, given the 10-point drop in Jewish support for him compared with a five-point drop among all voters. Nonetheless, for those who have a short memory, maybe it is worth pointing out that 10 months ago, Gallup was saying the exact opposite — that Obama’s numbers are down among Jews proportionally to the president’s decline among other groups:

“There is little sign that President Obama is suffering disproportionately in support among Jews; 54 percent approved of his job performance from Aug. 1-Sept. 15, 13 percentage points higher than his overall 41 percent approval rating during that time, and similar to the average 14-point gap seen throughout Obama’s term.”

True, comparisons can be tricky. A year ago, the question was about presidential approval, and this time it is about voting preference. Even trickier is that Gallup compares Obama of June 2012 to Obama of October 2008. What happens if one compares June 2012 to June 2008? Suddenly, Obama doesn’t look like a loser: Back in 2008, Jewish voters hesitated during the summer, and it was only in the fall that they made up their minds to support Obama in far greater numbers than previously registered. This might — or might not — happen again this coming November. Time will tell.

Assuming that around 75 percent of American Jews voted for Obama in 2008 (very few knowledgeable observers still believe the 78 percent exit poll number of 2008), how high can Romney climb? If the Jewish swing votes in play are no more than 18 percent — the most ambitious estimate I’ve heard from American sources in the know — Romney’s ceiling is 43 percent. But for him to get to that number, one needs to give him the votes of every single undecided Jewish voter. Realistic? Not quite.

If Romney gets half the votes of undecided Jews, he’ll be at 34 percent. That is, if you agree with the estimated 25 percent Jewish Republican voters, and the estimated 18 percent of Jewish votes in play. If you go by the exit poll (22 percent of Jews voted McCain in 2008) and add to it the lowest estimate of votes in play (I heard 12 percent), the Romney ceiling is a much lower 34 percent, and the likely Romney achievement (if he gets half of the Jewish votes in play) will be at around 28 percent of the Jewish vote. When was the last time that any Republican nominee got 30 percent or more of the Jewish vote? Reagan in 1984. It would be no mean feat if Romney were able to get more votes than McCain, George W. Bush (twice), Dole, George H. W. Bush and repeat the 1984 Reagan vote.

Writer Sara Miller contributed to this report.

Egyptian election promises uncertainty for ties with U.S., Israel


The Egyptians stunned even themselves in the vote to elect their next president — and observers are warning that the U.S. and Israel should be ready for continued uncertainty in their relations with Egypt.

Two finalists emerged following the roller-coaster first round at the polls last week: Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Shafiq, who had been appointed prime minister in 2011 in the final days of the regime of deposed President Hosni Mubarak. Each took less than a quarter of the vote to reach the runoff, with three eliminated candidates splitting most of the remainder.

Morsi and Shafiq present strikingly different outlooks for Egypt’s future: Shafiq is stressing law and order, and at least a partial return to the days of the Mubarak regime. Morsi is promising governance based on Islamic values.

The runoff election is set to occur sometime before the end of June.

The two finalists — one an erstwhile Mubarak ally, the other a representative of the Islamist movement that was its bitter rival — are expected to make for a polarizing election. For the many Egyptians who supported the revolution against Mubarak but are wary of further empowering the Muslim Brotherhood, the runoff presents a dispiriting choice.

But whatever the results of the election, many observers expect that the country will be getting a government more inclined than its predecessors to play to the Egyptian street — a state of affairs that could lead to rockier relations with the United States and Israel.

“The individual result is probably not dispositive to U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relations or relations with Israel,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at The Century Foundation, a think tank based in New York. “Those relations are going to change regardless because public opinion matters as it didn’t in the past.”

As an example, Hanna cited Egypt’s noninterference during Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, to the extent of maintaining strict controls on the Gaza-Egypt border.

“The government will not be able to take an affirmative role in terms of buttressing Israeli policy in relationship to Hamas,” he said. “The knock-on effect would be massive protests in the streets.”

Even Shafiq, the candidate better known to the West and with an established relationship with Israeli and U.S. interlocutors, would not be able to resist populist suspicion of Israel, said David Schenker, a senior analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Under Morsi, the 1979 Camp David Accords with Israel are likely to come under review, he predicted.

“We still don’t know if they will put the treaty to a referendum or push to renegotiate,” Schenker said of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Popular suspicion of the accords is likely to be exacerbated as the two largest blocs in parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Democratic Alliance for Egypt and the Islamist Bloc, aligned with harder-line Salafists, compete for the Islamist vote.

“Regardless of who is president, you will have ongoing competition between the Brotherhood and Salafists, which will push the Brotherhood to the right,” he said.

Schenker noted that even during the transition, under the West-friendly military, the relationship with Israel already has been affected. Egypt has effectively cut off natural gas supplies to Israel, a program that was unpopular with Egyptians. And last Sukkot, the first after the revolution, Egypt suspended the export of palm fronds, one of the four species needed to celebrate the holiday.

The key goal for the United States in the short run will be to preserve its interests and to promote a stable transition to democracy, whomever is elected president, said Schenker, who served as a senior Middle East policy official at the Pentagon under President George W. Bush.

“We’ll want assurances about access to the Suez Canal, the peace treaty with Israel, political pluralism, protection of women and minorities,” he said.

In the short run, at least, the continued preeminence of the military — in the form of the SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces — likely guarantees the perpetuation of the peace treaty, which affords Egypt $1.3 billion in U.S. assistance annually, as well as the good will of the international community.

It is not clear what powers Egypt’s president will have — a new Egyptian constitution has yet to be drafted. Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that whoever wins will have some impact on how relations with the West go forward.

“The key question with Morsi is not how he will act in times of normal relations but how he will react in a time of crisis,” Alterman said. “Mubarak was dependable. It is unclear any leader of Egypt will be so dependable.”

The U.S. and Israel might have to accommodate a more hostile rhetoric, at least in the interim, while cultivating the new leadership, said Joel Rubin, the director of policy and government affairs at the Ploughshares Fund, a body that promotes peace initiatives.

“Israel and America will both have to accept there might be language coming out of the Egyptian parliament and leadership that is new playing to the crowd,” he said. “It’s not in our interests to see the relationship go in the wrong direction.”

Egypt holds first round of voting in presidential election


Egypt is holding its first round of balloting for its first presidential election since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak during an uprising more than a year ago. 

The balloting began its second day Wednesday. Nearly 50 million Egyptians are eligible to vote. 

Results for the election are expected May 29. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held. 

While the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party now holds control of the parliament, the presidential election includes contenders from other factions of Egyptian politics. 

The top contenders for the race are two Islamists that include Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi and Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fouth. The other contenders are two officials from the Mubarak era—Ahmed Shafik, the former prime minister, and Amr Moussa, the ex-foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general. 

Following Mubarak’s ouster, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has maintained governing power over Egypt in order to ensure a smooth transition to the new government in parliament and the new president.

Netanyahu to seek early election in 4 months


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he supported an early general election in four months’ time, a ballot polls say could strengthen his hand as Israel confronts Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“It is preferable to have a short election campaign of four months that will swiftly return stability to the political ranks,” Netanyahu said in a speech to a convention of his rightist Likud party.

The next national vote was not due until October 2013, but new legislation that might force ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the military and an upcoming budget debate have threatened to unravel a governing coalition of religious and nationalist parties once seen as one of the most stable in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu said he wanted to avoid pressure from coalition partners who were beginning to destabilize the government. He did not specify a date, but a party official earlier said September 4 was the probable date for the ballot.

“With the start of the government’s fourth year we have seen many signs that the stability has begun to waver and political instability always brings extortion (and) populism which harm security, the economy and society. I will not allow a campaign of a year and a half that will harm the country,” Netanyahu said.

A Netanyahu victory two months before the U.S. election would give him leverage over Barack Obama on the Iranian and Palestinian issues while the U.S. president is still engaged in his own campaign and wary of alienating pro-Israeli voters.

Netanyahu and Obama have had a thorny relationship and the right-wing Israeli leader has come under pressure from Washington not to take unilateral military action against Iranian nuclear facilities suspected of being part of a project to produce nuclear weapons.

Iran says its nuclear program is purely civilian. Israel is believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power.

Opinion polls show Likud will easily come out on top of the national ballot, giving Netanyahu a renewed mandate to tackle what he has described as the most important challenge facing his country – the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Parliament was due to convene on Monday and vote on a coalition-backed resolution of dissolution. Netanyahu and his government would remain in office until a new administration is sworn in after the election in four months’ time.

Israeli leaders have insisted the election campaign would have no impact on their decision-making on Iran.

“Netanyahu does not hide his intention to strike Tehran’s nuclear sites before they become immune to attack,” commentator Ron Ben-Yishai, referring to Iranian efforts to put its atomic facilities deep underground, wrote in Israel’s popular Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

“Hence, his decision to call early elections when his position on this issue is so clear and consistent shows confidence that Israel’s public is behind him, thereby granting more credibility to the Israeli threat,” he wrote.

Netanyahu has been urged by Washington and other world powers to allow beefed-up international sanctions on Iran to bite. He has voiced pessimism about the outcome of international nuclear talks with Iran due to resume in Baghdad on May 23.

While opinion polls have shown strong support for Netanyahu’s leadership, they have also indicated a wide majority of Israelis either oppose an Israeli strike on Iran or would favor an attack only if it were carried out with U.S. agreement.

Some former Israeli security chiefs have criticized Netanyahu’s hawkish stance. His former internal security chief, Yuval Diskin, accused both him and Defence Minister Ehud Barak of having a “messianic” policy toward Iran.

On Friday, Barak said Iran’s nuclear strategy could eventually allow it to build an atomic bomb with just 60 days’ notice. The remarks elaborated on long-held Israeli concerns that Tehran is playing for time as it engages in negotiations aimed at curbing its uranium enrichment.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis; editing by Andrew Roche

Opinion: Voters vs. Sherman, Berman


Always interested in the gritty and unpredictable side of participatory politics, I dropped in on Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, both of whom are vying to represent the newly reconfigured 30th congressional district, as they each hosted community meetings at San Fernando Valley schools last week.

These events were much different from The Jewish Journal debate that took place on Feb. 21 at Temple Judea between these two as well as the Republican in the race, Mark Reed. For that, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, reporter Jonah Lowenfeld and I talked at length in advance and exchanged e-mails to prepare our questions. But, as I learned at the community meetings, we missed some of the subjects that trouble people who are as worried about paying their mortgages as preventing Iran from making a nuclear bomb.

These are the issues that will shape the campaign, with the candidates reaching the voters in the 30th West Valley district through mailings, social media and public meetings.

[For more on Howard Berman and Brad Sherman visit

Likud voters electing party chairman


Members of Israel’s Likud Party went to the polls to elect a party chairman and a new Central Committee, more than a year before scheduled national elections.

Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday is expected to be elected party chairman for the fifth time in 18 years.

He is being challenged by party hardliner Moshe Feiglin of the Jewish Leadership faction of the party.

Feiglin is working to garner more than 24 percent of the vote, which is what he polled in the 2007 contest.

Up to 130,000 party members are eligible to vote at 150 polling places throughout the country. Polls will close at 10 p.m.

As of 1 p.m. on Tuesday some 4,500 Likud members, or 3 percent of those eligible to vote, had cast ballots.

Party leaders worried that bad weather would hamper the turnout, which would work in Feiglin’s favor. After casting his ballot Tuesday morning, Netanyahu called on Likud members to come out and vote.

Several polling stations in the West Bank, where Feiglin, who is a resident of the West Bank, was expected to poll well, sent voters home after not receiving the necessary materials, according to complaints from the Feiglin camp.

Election results are expected to be announced early Wednesday morning.

Proposed circumcision ban not merely a parochial concern


Circumcision, or “brit milah,” has long been the stuff of cheap jokes and comedy. But in recent weeks, what used to be nothing more than harmless fare has taken on a much more serious tone. So-called “intactivists” on the fringe left of American politics have pushed the radical notion that infant circumcision is an act of genital mutilation, so unacceptable in fact that it ought to be illegal.

That such a notion should have garnered enough signatures to have qualified for a popular referendum in San Francisco (and potentially elsewhere) is deeply troubling. For even if, as expected, it will be defeated in the end -– like most such California ballots—that will offer scant comfort to the millions of Americans, Jewish or otherwise, who for good reasons circumcise their sons at birth. For to them – to us – it defies comprehension that in this land of liberty and justice for all, serious consideration can be given to outlawing the fundamental practice of Jews since the beginning of Jewish history.

We thought we had left such things far behind in our long journey through eras and lands of religious bigotry and cultural intolerance.

Proponents of the ballot argue that there is a state interest in opposing the consequences of circumcision. But to carry any weight, only state interests of the highest order and greatest clarity should be permitted to override religious liberty claims. And given the substantial medical evidence that circumcision has positive benefits, that standard cannot be met here.

The referendum has been couched as a vote on male genital mutilation. To frame our age-old practice as genital mutilation is manipulative and misleading, as it precludes any other interpretation of circumcision. To portray the issue, as the intactivists have, via a supposedly humorous cartoon featuring Foreskin Man battling Monster Mohel is worse than a bad joke. It is deeply offensive and beyond the pale of civilized discourse.

The concern, however, goes far beyond the right to circumcise Jewish or Muslim children.

Far more troubling and ominous is what would appear to be a gathering assault on the religious freedoms enjoyed by faith minorities in this land that so proudly celebrates the separation of church and state.

There are many examples: There are growing efforts to forbid adherence by Muslims to their Sharia law. Some hospitals and medical care facilities have adopted end-of-life policies that would violate the deeply held principles of minority faiths relating to life and death. Some corporate employment policies do not allow for “conscience clause exemptions” based on religious belief. There are ongoing challenges to accommodation of religious practices such as Sabbath eruv construction.

The list goes on.

Such crucial concerns should not be seen as merely the parochial concerns of some Jews. To the contrary, like the First Amendment that so critically ensured every citizen’s right to free exercise of religion, they reflect the long tradition of recognizing that the price of liberty, as Andrew Jackson said, is eternal vigilance. As long as the practices of any minority faith are threatened, we are all of us – religious or non-religious – at peril of the loss of our fragile freedoms in a world of increasing homogeneity and conformity.

And thus, to ignore or downplay the significance of anti-circumcision activist groups that would presume to oppose others’ faith or practices, no matter how frivolous or outlandish it might appear, would be not just folly but a clear and present danger to all of our freedoms. And thus the time to oppose them, in concert with all freedom-loving Americans, is now.

Rabbi Basil Herring is the executive vice president and Rabbi Joel Finkelstein is vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, a Modern Orthodox association.

Jews’ view of the pot initiative? Mixed


Marijuana is everywhere. Smokers come from every walk of life — from the college student to the cancer patient, from the wealthy older couple to the heroin addict who started out just smoking weed.

Jews care about this issue because Jews, like every other group, can be found among those who use, who dispense, who grow, and also those who disdain this all-pervasive drug. In fact, the halachah of pot is not entirely clear.

The Talmud states that the law of the land is the law. But when it comes to pot, what does that mean? State and federal rules on marijuana are rapidly changing. California has legalized medical use and decriminalized recreational possession of small amounts, but many smokers still rely on the black market. And marijuana remains completely illegal under federal law, although enforcement is inconsistent.  Now, Californians face Proposition 19 on the Nov. 2 ballot, a measure that would allow possession, purchase and taxation of marijuana for adult recreational use.

The Jewish perspective on pot is ambivalent, and observant Jews could plausibly take either side of Proposition 19, according to Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of ethics and Jewish law and rector at the American Jewish University. On one hand, Judaism “is very insistent on responsibility for our actions,” Dorff said, meaning that becoming extremely intoxicated on any substance is forbidden. Any drug that harms the body is also forbidden because “in the Jewish tradition, God owns our bodies, and we have a fiduciary relationship to take care of [ourselves],” Dorff said.

On the other hand, marijuana may be more akin to alcohol — a drug that observant Jews may take in moderation — rather than tobacco, which the Jewish tradition frowns upon as dangerous and highly addictive, Dorff said. Where marijuana falls on that sliding scale is an “empirical question,” he added, and the answer may affect how Jews vote on Proposition 19. Schools, synagogues, drug control experts and law enforcement all have a role to play in providing that answer and determining the boundary between the law and making a responsible individual choice.

Cities Rule

The most distinguishing feature of Proposition 19 is how much authority it delegates to cities. Possession of up to 1 ounce would be legal statewide, but California already has made possession of that amount an infraction on par with a speeding ticket. The real meat of Proposition 19 is that cities would become free to make their own rules on regulating and taxing the commercial sale of marijuana to adults over the age of 21. 

“I think they’re trying to make sure cities can opt out, like with liquor stores [or] medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Kyle Kazan, a former Torrance police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which supports the measure. “You can zone it away.”

Story continues after the jump.

Opponents, however, see the delegation of authority to cities as a “legal nightmare,” which has become one of the catch phrases of the No on 19 campaign.  “You’re going to have 550 different versions of this law, city by city,” said Rodney Jones, chief of the Fontana Police Department and a Proposition 19 opponent. County sheriffs will have a particular problem, Jones said, because they cross city lines and will be responsible for enforcing small differences in rules on marijuana.

But Kazan said police already handle similar complexity in enforcing various city ordinances on the sale of liquor.  And if the initiative had set a single rule for marijuana sales statewide, supporters worry that “the other side would say, ‘How dare they have a one-size-fits-all solution?’ ” said Hanna Liebman Dershowitz, an attorney and member of the legal committee of Yes on 19.

The Case for Talking to Kids

Even if only a few cities authorize sales, both sides agree that Proposition 19 almost certainly would increase overall use of marijuana in California.  It would be more widely available in stores than it is on the black market now, and it would not be stigmatized as illegal. And unless governments levy huge taxes, it would also likely be much cheaper. The real debate is whether the inevitable increase in use will be more harmful than the status quo.

Drug war veterans have long argued that marijuana physically damages the brain and other organs, but the data on that are inconclusive. “ ‘Reefer Madness’ isn’t true,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. “The [idea that] everyone who picks up a joint has their life ruined is absurd,” he said. 

But that doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless, Humphreys said. “I don’t deny that some people use marijuana and they’re fine, but if a million people pick up regular marijuana use, probably at least 10 to 20 percent will have significantly adverse experiences in life, maybe do badly in school, maybe get in a car accident.” Legal marijuana would be particularly harmful to high school students who are already on the verge of flunking out, he said.

Nobody knows exactly how much usage will increase, but Humphreys predicts the state could add anywhere from 1 million to 3 million new smokers. Vulnerable groups, such as teens and the poor, are particularly likely to smoke more, he said, because they have less disposable income and will be more attracted by the lower price.

Jason Ablin, head of school at Milken Community High School, has worked with high-school students for 20 years, but he’s not convinced that the status quo of criminalization is an effective deterrent, either.

“I think if kids are going to use drugs and alcohol, they’re going to find ways to acquire them — they do it with alcohol already,” Ablin said. “We have a lot of double standards with marijuana use. The association with marijuana is counter-culture, so that becomes a lot more damning than, say, alcohol,” he said.

For Dershowitz, that association is patently unfair. “As we look inward [following] Yom Kippur and the New Year, we also need to look outward to reflect on our actions as a society,” she said. Dershowitz is particularly troubled by the social and legal stigmas that follow a young person who is busted by law enforcement for marijuana, even now that the penalties have been reduced. “We should abhor a system that erases other people’s chances to turn toward the good simply because they’ve chosen an action that we singled out for disdain.”

Instead of focusing on heavy-handed scare tactics and criminalization, Ablin prefers to engage kids in a broader public policy discussion about the way society treats drugs in general. “Because I work in schools, I have a lot more confidence in kids to critically think through problems,” Ablin said. “You’re not getting anywhere with kids by talking at them. [You’ll do] much better work by listening to them.”

Poll suggests surge in Jewish support for GOP


A poll based on a small sample suggests that Jewish identification with Republicans has surged.

The Pew Research Center poll breaks down party support by religion. It shows that 33 percent of U.S. Jewish voters identify or lean toward Republicans this year, up from 20 percent in 2008 and 26 percent in 2006. The poll reports that Jews identifying or leaning toward Democrat are at 57 percent this year, down from 64 percent in 2008 and 62 percent in 2006.

The overall poll canvassed over 3,000 American voters; 2 percent of these, or about 60, identified as Jewish. Mainstream pollsters regard numbers below 250 respondents as unreliable.

The principal finding of the poll published this week and conducted in late July and early August showed a sharp decline in the percentage of Americans who regard President Obama, a regular church-goer, as Christian, from a high of 51 percent in October 2008 to 34 percent in the latest poll.

The debates won’t matter


Let me hedge my bet.

At the vice presidential debate, the talking points Sarah Palin’s handlers have been stuffing her head with will come out of her mouth so butchered that even Republican voters will say, like Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness”: “The horror, the horror!”

Or, at one of the remaining presidential debates, a contemptuously smirking John McCain will finally become so enraged by having to share a stage with Barack Obama that he will pop his notorious cork right there in front of a hundred million Americans.

Or maybe Obama or Joe Biden will goof or gaffe or otherwise give such a bloody bit of chum to the media sharks that the gazillionth replay of the sound bite will drive every swing voter in the country away from them. But I don’t think so.

Sure, cable yakkers will declare after each debate who won on points, and who on body language; who played Nixon, and who played Kennedy; who won their focus groups of undecideds, and who flatlined with them.

But my guess is that the prestige press headlines will continue to play it safe, as they did after the first debate — “candidates clash” (New York Times), “differ sharply” (Los Angeles Times), “quarrel” (Washington Post) — and that on television, it will be concluded that no one delivered a knockout blow, which will require audiences to remain in suspense, and therefore to keep tuning in, until the photo-finish end.

This election won’t be won or lost at the debates. Nor will it be determined by the two campaigns’ “ground games” — their get-out-the-vote efforts. Nor, unfortunately, will its outcome even depend on how many Americans wake up on Election Day intending to vote for one candidate or the other.

Instead, my fear is that the Electoral College results will hang on the swing state voting systems’ vulnerability to sabotage.

It’s already happening.

In El Paso County, Colo., the county clerk — a delegate to the Republican National Convention — told out-of-state undergraduates at Colorado College, falsely, that they couldn’t vote in Colorado if their parents claim them as dependents on their taxes.

In the towns of Mount Pleasant and Middleton, Wisc., Democratic voters received a mailing containing tear-out requests for absentee ballots pre-addressed to the wrong addresses. Both mailers were sent by the McCain campaign.

Florida, Michigan and Ohio have some of the country’s highest foreclosure rates. “Because many homeowners in foreclosure are black or poor,” The New York Times says, “and are considered probable Democratic voters in many areas, the issue has begun to have political ramifications.”

If you’re one of the million Americans who lost a home through foreclosure, and if you didn’t file a change of address with your election board, you’re a sitting duck for an Election Day challenge by a partisan poll watcher holding a public list of foreclosed homes. In states like New Mexico and Iowa, the number of foreclosures is greater than the number of votes by which George W. Bush carried the state in 2004.

In the 2006 election, according to the nonpartisan Fair Elections Legal Network, black voters in Virginia got computer-generated phone calls from a bogus “Virginia Election Commission” telling them that they could be arrested if they went to the wrong polling place; in Maryland, out-of-state leafleters gave phony Democratic sample ballots to black voters with the names of Republican candidates checked in red; in New Mexico, Democratic voters got personal phone calls from out of state that directed them to the wrong polling place.

Does anyone think this won’t be tried again in 2008?

The reason behind Alberto Gonzales’ attempted purge of U.S. Attorneys was that some of them wouldn’t knuckle under to Karl Rove’s plan to concoct an “election fraud” hoax that would put Republicans in control of the nation’s voting lists.

“We have, as you know, an enormous and growing problem with elections in certain parts of America today,” Rove falsely told the Republican National Lawyers Association, an evidence-less problem crying out for a draconian solution. Does anyone think that Rove’s move from the White House to Fox has dampened Republican ardor for this ruse?

And if all of that doesn’t alarm you, consider the new report on electronic voting systems from the Computer Security Group at the UCSB, which concluded that “all voting systems recently analyzed by independent security testers have been found to contain fatal security flaws that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the voting process….

Unless electronic voting systems are held up to standards that are commensurate with the criticality of the tasks they have to perform, the very core of our democracy is in danger.”

And did I mention that on Election Day, some polling places in minority precincts in battleground states will be shocked, simply shocked, to discover that so many people want to vote that it will take hours of standing in line to vote? That is, of course, unless they run out of ballots.

So while the presidential and vice presidential debates will make for swell political theater, the likelihood is that victory will be determined not by how the debates move a small percentage of undecided Americans off the fence, but by the voting experiences of a few thousand voters in a few swing states on Nov. 4.

Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said, “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”

I think he had it half right.

Those who decide who cast the votes also decide everything.

O.C. Election Set for Rosh Hashanah


Jewish groups are expressing anger that government officials, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have scheduled a special election in Orange County to fall on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year for Jews.

The Oct. 4 election is to fill the congressional seat left vacant when Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) accepted the chair of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

Area Jewish leaders estimate that more than half of Orange County’s 80,000 to 100,000 Jews live in Cox’s former 48th District, which includes Irvine, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, among other cities. Cox has held the seat since 1988.

Holding the election during the Jewish New Year will disenfranchise scores of Jewish voters who would otherwise go to the polls, said Shalom Elcott, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Orange County. Elcott, who co-authored an Aug. 16 letter to Schwarzenegger urging him to reschedule, said O.C. Jews had been marginalized.

“Somebody made a conscious decision that the Jewish vote doesn’t matter,” he said.

On Oct. 4, many Jews will be in synagogue with loved ones in “contemplative prayer and not in voting booths,” said Rabbi Marc Dworkin, director of the American Jewish Committee, Orange County chapter. He called the timing of the election for the 48th District “outrageous, more than insensitive.”

Officials characterize such criticisms as unfair, contending that they were simply hamstrung by limited scheduling options. Local officials also pledged to pursue remedies, such as distributing more absentee ballots.

In an interview Thursday, Orange County Registrar of Voters Steve Rodermund said he had been aware that the primary would fall on Rosh Hashanah, and that he discussed the matter with his staff as well as with staffers for the Orange County Board of Supervisors

Rodermund said he advocated the chosen date as the best alternative available, given the need to fill the empty seat and the constraints posed by the holiday season and the statewide special election on Nov. 8. The Oct. 4 election for Cox’s seat is a primary, where voters choose who will represent their political parties. The next and final step, the general election, is scheduled for Dec. 6.

Schwarzenegger ultimately is responsible for setting election dates, but his office said he merely deferred to the wishes of local officials. When asked whether Schwarzenegger could have chosen a different date or whether he now regretted scheduling the primary on Rosh Hashanah, a spokeswoman said she had no comment. Once set, the election date cannot be changed, she added.

To the extent that the governor’s office has not sufficiently responded to local Jewish groups to explain its position, the Schwarzenegger braintrust has made a political miscalculation, said Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.

“This can turn a relatively small snafu into a much bigger one,” said Sonenshein, who has recently written articles about how Schwarzenegger’s transformation into an “AM talk radio Republican” has eroded his support in the Jewish community. “One of the great things about saying, ‘We screwed up,’ is that people are quite understanding of screw-ups, especially if you’re trying to fix them,” Sonenshein said.

Larry Greenfield, California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said it was “unfortunate” the primary fell on Rosh Hashanah. He plans to send e-mails to his organization’s estimated 500 Orange County members telling them that his group will work with the governor’s office and registrar of voters to ensure high Jewish participation.

That’s the stated goal of the Orange County Registrar Rodermund, too. Ideas under consideration include setting up some polling places where Jews could cast their ballots early, said Rodermund, who added that he looked forward working closely with area Jewish groups.

“We were really constrained by what the law allows,” Rodermund said. “Our objective now is to work with the Jewish community to ensure that we minimize this impact to the maximum extent possible so they can exercise their right to vote.”

Although disappointed about what happened, Joyce Greenspan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, Orange County/Long Beach, said she would work to mitigate the damage. The ADL, she said, plans to assist in the distribution of thousands of absentee ballots in synagogues and at other Jewish agencies.

 

Think American, Not Mexican on Antonio


 

As Antonio Villaraigosa campaigns for mayor in the Jewish community, he will face the same big question asked by all non-Latino voters: Are you too Mexican?

The question is especially important to Jews, because our community’s long-time relationship with Latino and African American Los Angeles has been a powerful force in the city’s history.

Actually, it’s doubtful anyone will ask Villaraigosa this question outright at a public meeting. The question will be voiced in the comparative anonymity of talk radio and the blogosphere. But, if past election campaigns mean anything, Villaraigosa’s ethnicity will be lingering somewhere in the back of the minds of even those who don’t follow the blogs or listen to talk shows.

His opponent, Mayor James Hahn, turned Villaraigosa’s ethnicity against him four years ago with a television ad that made him out to be an associate of south-of-the-border drug dealers. Since then, Hahn has compiled a record to campaign on: beating Valley secession; hiring our excellent police chief, William Bratton; and standing up for the impoverished, politically weak, largely Latino, immigrant victims of the brutal Rampart- scandal cops. However, with his reputation damaged by allegations of misdeeds by associates, the fear of losing may persuade the mayor to return to the same questionable tactics he used against Villaraigosa in 2001.

If he does, he’ll be hoping a majority of voters share a misconception of Los Angeles life in general and take a gloomy, narrow view of race relations here.

Being a glass-half-full kind of person, I take a hopeful view. Despite having covered two riots and innumerable dustups, I know that various ethnicities in Los Angeles can find common ground and share common American values.

A reminder of that occurred last week with the death of the famous African American attorney, Johnnie Cochran, graduate of Los Angeles High School, which was then almost all-white. He grew up, as Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten wrote, in a city where, despite residential racial segregation, “interracial contacts and friendships flourished…. [Cochran’s] closest personal friends were white and Jewish. It simply never occurred to him that those friendships were in any way precluded by his abiding concern for the African American community.”

Another reminder was at a March 19 dinner, where the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research honored Larry Aubry, an African American community leader who, in many roles, has been a fighter for civil rights and for collaboration among Los Angeles’ ethnicities. I remember him particularly from the tough days before, during and after the ’92 riot, when, as a member of the Los Angeles Human Relations staff, he courageously hit the streets day and night, a peacemaker in an incredibly tangled and explosive situation.

The library itself is an example of multiethnic cooperation on the left. It was founded during the McCarthy era by Emil Freed to house his and others’ collections of leftist political material. Its files tell the story of Jewish-Latino-African American cooperation in battles for civil rights and labor rights from the Great Depression onward.

But cooperation does not occur only on the left. The most important cooperation, as I was reminded last week, occurs in the broad center.

I was in Sacramento, participating in a Latino Legislative Caucus’ academy for elected officials. The program was conceived by one of Los Angeles’ most unappreciated politicians, Richard Polanco, who represented the city in the state Assembly and state Senate for many years.

Polanco came up with a political strategy that elected so many Latinos to the Legislature in the 1990s that the Assembly got a Latino speaker, Cruz Bustamante, in 1997. Villaraigosa was also speaker, and the office is now occupied by Fabian Nunez. Polanco himself was Senate majority leader before term limits retired him.

I followed the strategy when I was at The Times, and it was a real education in the nature of Latino California.

California had been fed news stories of Latino gang members, illegal immigrants storming the border, school dropouts and impoverished, broken families. Polanco understood that large numbers of Latinos were as he was — middle-class Californians with strong family values and educational and economic drive. They had the same interests as the rest of California: better schools, safe neighborhoods, good jobs.

He and his colleagues recruited Latino candidates from the middle class. They delivered this message and won in predominantly Anglo districts.

It was, and is, a very American story, familiar to anyone with immigrant roots. Upsetting as it may be to ethnic nationalists or leftist theorists, most people aspire to the good old American middle-class dream.

That was Villaraigosa’s dream as he moved up the economic and professional scale. No, he’s not too Mexican. If you were a left-wing radical, you’d say he’s too American.

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

 

Bush Win Inspires Local GOP Leader


George W. Bush wasn’t the only Republican to win big on election night. Larry Greenfield, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) of Southern California, also fared quite well.

Surrounded by a crowd of 250 Jewish Republicans partying at Beverly Hills’ Level One club, a beaming Greenfield looked more like a giddy teenager than a 42-year-old man in a dark suit. As news of the Republican triumphs came in, RJC members hugged and high-fived Greenfield, who has become the public face of Southern California’s Jewish Republicans.

For months, in a series of debates throughout the state, he had argued that Jews should and would embrace the GOP, a party that he said fought hard for Israel and promoted personal and economic freedom over government intrusion. Occasionally, Jewish audiences greeted Greenfield’s message with jeers. More often than not, they listened; a few even told him after his speeches that they might “do the unthinkable” and vote Republican, he said.

Working the Level One crowd like a seasoned politician, Greenfield was suddenly cornered by an Israeli man with a thick accent. Extending his hand, the Israeli immigrant thanked Greenfield for his tireless work on behalf of Jewish Republicans.

“You are brilliant and very good for our cause,” the man said. “I think many more Jews will become Republican.”

That already appears to be happening. An L.A. Times exit poll found that 20 percent of California’s Jews voted for Bush this time around, up from 15 percent four years ago. Nationally, the Times said the president won at least 26 percent the Jewish vote, up from 19 percent.

The increase in the Jewish vote for Bush parallels the growth of the RJC of Southern California. Founded in 2001 with about 200 members, the chapter now has 1,000, making it the largest RJC in the country.

Greenfield plans to build on that momentum. In the next year, he said the RJC of Southern California would host the first statewide meeting of California’s eight RJC chapters in Newport Beach. Greenfield also said his group would step up its lobbying efforts on behalf of Israel and increase its outreach to the Southland’s Jewish community. Within a decade, the Republican said he thought up to half the country’s Jewish vote would go Republican.

“We’ve only just begun,” Greenfield said.

If he sounds a tad boastful, Greenfield supporters would argue that his efforts on behalf of local Jewish Republicans had earned him that right.

In recent months, Greenfield participated in 40 debates from San Diego to San Bernardino to Santa Monica. In preparation, he said he spent upward of 200 hours poring over newspapers, political journals and position papers.

Fueled by an almost messianic need to share with his fellow Jews what he sees as the Republican Party’s commitment to liberty and national security, Greenfield showed a willingness to go anywhere at almost anytime to help nonbelievers see the light.

“He’s indefatigable. He seems to work day and night and is willing to travel to speak for the cause at a drop of the hat,” said Dr. Joel Geiderman, incoming regional chair for the RJC of Southern California. “He’s gotten our name out there in a very positive way.”

For all his enthusiasm about President Bush, Greenfield said he was not surprised his Jewish brethren voted predominantly Democratic. Still, Greenfield said he saw his role as planting the seeds of compassionate conservatism that would one day take root among Jews.

During the dog-day campaign grind, Greenfield gave up more than just sleep in his quest to convince Jews that their future lay with a party headed by a conservative born-again Christian. Greenfield, a Berkeley- and Georgetown-educated attorney, said he sacrificed a hefty lawyer’s salary and a social life to help lead the local Republicans.

It was worth it, he said, because America and Israel’s future were at stake. Failing to fight the good fight in these turbulent times would have been nothing less than negligent, he said.

Donna Bojarsky, a Democratic public policy consultant who advises such celebrities as Richard Dreyfuss, said Greenfield is “one of the most articulate and passionate people the Republicans have out here in L.A. in recent memory.”

“People are shocked by how effective Larry’s been and the community’s response to him,” said Democratic activist Lee Wallach, adding that Greenfield tended to play “loose and fast with the facts.”

Rick Entin, a 44-year-old Pacific Palisades real estate investor and lifelong Democrat, said Greenfield “really opened my mind to a broad range of political thinking, especially as it relates to foreign policy.”

Entin, who met Greenfield seven years ago when both became Wexner Heritage Foundation Fellows, said he voted for Bush — the first time Entin ever voted for a Republican presidential candidate. The president’s willingness to confront anti-Semitism at home and abroad and publicly condemn Yasser Arafat impressed Entin. Still, he said he might never have voted Republican if not for Greenfield’s persuasiveness.

Although he denied harboring any aspirations for higher office, Greenfield has long had an interest in politics. At Berkeley, he gave the commencement speech to political science majors and spoke about the importance of protecting liberty, even citing John F. Kennedy. In the mid-1990s, he chaired a local American Israel Public Affairs Committee leadership committee and traveled around the country on behalf of United Jewish Appeal and Israel Bonds talking about U.S.-Israeli relations.

Greenfield’s heightened visibility in the Jewish community and gold-plated Rolodex of contacts would seem to make him a natural for politics. Dr. Richard Sherman incoming president of the RJC’s L.A. chapter said, “Larry has the strong beliefs, is very determined and hard working, the good qualities of a politician.”

However, critics say Greenfield has several kinks to work out.

While Greenfield prides himself on his ability to have respectful exchanges with those disagreeing with him, detractors say he occasionally becomes overheated and combative during debates. At Sinai Temple, for instance, Greenfield — his eyes bulging and voice tinged with agitation — intimated that Sen. John Kerry and the entire Democratic Party had lurched to the anti-Israel radical left. Greenfield also said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the Americans invaded, a stance putting him at odds with both high-ranking U.N. and U.S. weapons inspectors.

Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who squared off against Greenfield and Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg at Sinai, said he thought Greenfield took some cheap shots.

“He took whatever question there was and tried to paint it with a broad brush and blame everything on the Democrats,” Waxman said. “I thought he was a little off target.”

On target or not, Greenfield said he has no intention of fading away like yesterday’s campaign literature. There’s too much to be done, too many Jews to try to proselytize. As he sees it, his work has just begun.

But first, Greenfield said he wanted some much needed R & R. With a glint in his eye, the Beverly Hills bachelor said he hoped “to find a sweet girl to take to Maui.”

Social Issues Still Divide Jews, GOP


Call it the tale of two Mellmans.

Mark Mellman, one of John Kerry’s top four advisers, launched a talk with Jewish Democrats in Boston last month with a drasha (short sermon) on the meaning of Tisha B’Av, the Jewish fast day that happened to fall during the party convention. Then, with nary a comment from the crowd, Mellman glided into the case for the Massachusetts senator.

Contrast that with the introduction this Sunday for Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman at a similar Jewish event.

"One of us, Ken Mehlman — let me repeat that, one of us, Ken Mehlman — is running the Bush-Cheney campaign," said Morris Offit, a Republican and the president of the New York federation, barely containing his grin as he emphasized Mehlman’s Jewishness.

The contrast could not be starker between the run-of-the-mill references to Yiddishkeit in Boston and the frissons of glee in New York at the mere mention of a Jewish name. It illustrates how far Jews have come in the Republican Party since the 1970s — yet how far they have to go to equal Jewish Democrats in number and influence.

For every gratified reference to the packed rooms Jews have filled at the Republican convention, for all the invariable "we couldn’t fill a phone booth 20 years ago" jokes, there has been an acknowledgment that the status of Republican Jews in the party and the Jewish community is not anywhere near that of Jewish Democrats. The elephant in every Jewish ballroom at the convention is last month’s survey showing that Jewish preferences for Democrats have hardly budged since 2000, when George Bush scored less than 20 percent in exit polls. The poll was commissioned by Democrats, and no one here was buying into it entirely. But they still were setting expectations lower than a few months ago, when they believed Bush’s unprecedented closeness to Israel and his efforts against terrorism would win the Republicans levels of Jewish support seen only at the start of the Reagan era.

"Getting 30 percent of the Jewish vote would be an accomplishment," Republican pollster Frank Luntz said at an American Jewish Committee (AJC) panel Monday. Reagan won close to 40 percent of the Jewish vote in the 1980 election.

The stakes are high this year in an election so close that it could come down to a few thousand votes in swing states — particularly in states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, where the Jewish vote could make the difference.

The problem, Republicans say, is the gulf between the GOP and the Jewish community on social issues.

"On issue after issue, on the economy and foreign policy, you are seeing more and more alignment between the Jewish community and the Republican Party — with the huge caveat of a social agenda," Luntz said. "Until this point the Republican Party has been unable to communicate an acceptable social policy."

It won’t help Republicans that this year’s platform slams abortion repeatedly — referring to late-term procedures as "brutal," "inhumane" and "violent" — that it describes expanded stem-cell research as "the destruction of human embryos" or that it supports a federal amendment banning gay marriage.

Instead, Republicans repeatedly stressed Bush’s record on Israel and against terrorism, so much so that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani — GOP stars and moderates who could have served as salves to the Jewish community on domestic issues — instead advised Jewish audiences to simply forget about the social agenda for now.

"You’re never going to find a candidate you agree with completely," Giuliani said Sunday at the event sponsored by AIPAC and the UJC. "You’ve got to figure out what’s important."

In an extraordinary move for a mayor whose bread and butter is economic and social issues, Bloomberg advised Jews at the event to regard Israel as "the one issue that matters."

The few attempts to sell Bush’s domestic policies ultimately underscored the social gap between the community and the administration.

David Frum, a contributing editor at National Review, suggested that presidents have little influence over social issues — although, with an aging Supreme Court, the next two appointments to the bench could be crucial in determining the availability of abortion.

Daroff, the RJC’s deputy executive director, said that Bush’s school voucher program could help Jewish day schools. But that means little to the overwhelming majority of Jews who send their children to public schools.

The GOP’s difficulty in appealing to Jewish social sensibilities was especially evident at the RJC’s keynote Monday night gala. During a speech-fest by about 20 members of Congress, Coleman was the only one to mention domestic policy — and then only in a half sentence about Jews and Republicans sharing concerns about education and prosperity.

Instead, speaker after speaker focused on Israel and terrorism, lauding Bush’s record in isolating Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and in rejecting a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees or a return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Moreover, the gloves were off in attacking Kerry’s Israel record, despite assurances months ago from party leaders that the GOP would emphasize that while Kerry might be good on Israel, Bush was better.

"Our opponents in the coming election fail to grasp the importance of America’s relationship with Israel," Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Senate majority leader, told the UJC-AIPAC event.

Mehlman, the campaign manager, assailed Kerry for calling Arafat a "model statesman," though the quote was ripped from its context — in the very same sentence of his book, Kerry called Arafat a thug — and made in 1997, when Arafat’s international reputation was considerably better than today.

Yet, Mehlman’s role as campaign manager was not the only sign of increased Jewish influence in the GOP.

The convention as a whole went out of its way to outdo Democrats in emphasizing the party’s pro-Israel credentials, from two mentions in Giuliani’s keynote speech Monday night to Vice President Dick Cheney’s scheduled appearance at an RJC event Thursday, which the group called "indicative of this administration’s commitment to reaching out and including the Jewish community."

Still, there was considerable anxiety at the failure to make greater strides, anxiety reflected at times in a hectoring tone from non-Jewish Republicans.

"Don’t the Jewish people get where they stand with the U.N.? Do the Jewish American people take a lot of confidence in the support of Europe?" Sen. Gordon Smith (R.-Ore.) asked the AJC group, his voice tinged with impatience.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-.Penn.) urged people at the RJC event to get out the vote for the Republicans.

"I will not be satisfied with 40 percent of the vote," he said. "George Bush deserves a majority of the Jewish American vote."

Such warnings had an effect.

"Show the Democratic party they do not own the Jewish vote," Michael David Epstein, vice chairman of the RJC’s legislative unit, said Monday at the group’s event. "If we do not, the next Republican president may not have in his heart what this president has in his heart."

All told, it may be a while before GOP leaders can comfortably discuss lesser Jewish holidays such as Tisha B’Av.

"We’re not asking everyone to be a Republican," said the RJC’s Daroff. "We’re doing baby steps: Someone here will vote for the president this year, and in two years he’ll see your roof won’t fall down if you vote Republican in the House."

Bang the Press Slowly


“I will concede that conservative Jewish Republicans like myself are in the minority, especially out here on the Left Coast,” reader Gillee Sherman e-mailed me. “But we are growing in numbers every day, and this election should see a huge improvement for Bush in the Jewish community.”

Maybe she’s right, I thought. I was in a receptive mood, grateful for Sherman’s e-mail. That is, until I read the next paragraph, where Sherman stuck in the knife: “In conclusion, I would like to see if you will leave behind the left-wing bias that has to be institutionalized at The Times and cover both candidates.”

What? Give up the bias that nurtured me — and fed my family — through 30 years at the West Coast’s most influential center of left-wing thought?

Impossible, Gillee. I’m brainwashed. I’ve gone through too many liberal indoctrination sessions in The Times employee cafeteria, where I was forced to read the entire collected works of Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Michael Lerner and other left-wing theorists.

I’m kidding. All they served in The Times cafeteria was second-rate food, and nobody made you eat there. And I’d rather have been fired then read the lefty theorists who write in the style of Chairman Mao.

But I understand Sherman’s tactics. She was trying to make me feel guilty in hopes that I would write about her Republicans. The game is called “banging the press” and it worked.

I made an appointment to see Larry Greenfield, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Southern California, who is working hard to switch the predominantly Democratic Jewish community to the Republican side.

Greenfield, who grew up in Encino and graduated from UC Berkeley, has been with the coalition since March, after working as an attorney, business executive, financial adviser and vice president of the Jewish Community Foundation.

He has a tough job. A recent statewide poll of all Californians by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California has Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) ahead of Bush 49 percent to 38 percent.

But the Republicans have a strategy, heavily influenced by the recall election in which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican moderate, ousted Gray Davis.

“The Republicans are streaking toward the middle,” Greenfield told me as we chatted in the coalition office on the seventh floor of a West Los Angeles office building.

He sees Schwarzenegger building a moderate Republican coalition, one that will be more appealing to Jews than the anti-abortion, right wing, prayer-in-the-schools bunch that have been the public face of the California Republican Party for several years.

Recent events give some credence to Greenfield’s hopes. The big crowds greeting Schwarzenegger when he campaigned in suburban shopping centers during the budget battle may have scared the Democratic left and the Republican right into falling into line behind him.

California’s top Democratic politician, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, sees the danger. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton reported that she told journalists in Boston, “My greatest fear is that [Kerry strategists] come to the conclusion that we don’t have to worry about California. California is a tremendously volatile state. Look at the recall, and you can see how volatile California is … you lose California, you lose the [presidential] election.”

If Feinstein’s fears are valid, the predominantly Jewish vote will be an important part of the Republican equation.

To balance out my coverage, that evening, I stopped by an event in Encino sponsored by Valley Democrats United and the Valley West Democratic Clubs. It was a dinner for former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a tour promoting his recent book, “The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies That Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity” (Carroll & Graf Publishers).

This was days before Kerry’s successful acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Even so, the substantial crowd of Valley Democrats who had come for cocktails and dinner were deep into the campaign.

Elizabeth Kaipe reported that meet-ups and other social events had been going well. Russ Lynn, president of the Valley West Democrats, said, “Our club has seen a huge increase in membership … [there is] an enormous sense of frustration that has driven people into our club.”

The fact that the audience had turned out and paid $45 per dinner to hear Wilson was a strong indication of disapproval of the Bush foreign policy and of the administration’s conduct of the war.

Republicans are charging that skepticism about the war means that Democrats are soft on national security, a charge that will be at the heart of their campaign to win the Jewish vote. The Republican Jewish Coalition’s Greenfield said, “The Jewish community has raised concerns about his wing of the party on national security.”

In Jewish political dialogue, this is code for being soft on Israel. As Democrat Ed Koch, who doesn’t speak in code, charged: The Democrats have a left wing which has “an anti-Israel philosophy, reviling that democratic state which shares the values held by a majority of Americans.”

Kerry, whose position on Israel is the same as Bush’s, sought at the convention to immunize himself from such attacks and to take the offensive on the national security issue. But he’ll be up against such skeptics as my reader, Gillee Sherman, who wrote, “I work in an office where five other Jews beside myself will be voting for Bush, along with my father who was a Democrat for over 40 years.”

According to the polls, Sherman’s office mates and dad don’t add up to enough for Bush in California’s Jewish community. But early polls can be misleading in this volatile state.

How many more Jews such as Sherman are out there? The answer to that question could be one of the most interesting political stories of the next three months.


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

Europe Held Key in U.N. Fence Ruling


When it comes to action at the United Nations, Europe — considered by many observers to be the organization’s moral bellwether — often decides the course.

That was the case again this week as the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that Israel comply with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that it must tear down its West Bank security barrier and compensate Palestinians affected by its construction.

The next question is whether the U.N. Security Council, whose resolutions are binding, will take up the issue.

The United States has indicated it will veto a Security Council resolution, but the Palestinians have said they’ll push it anyway.

The Israelis say they’re not worried about the Security Council because they know they can depend on a U.S. veto.

“The Security Council is the least of our worries,” said Arye Mekel, Israel’s deputy permanent representative at the United Nations, noting that a U.S. veto likely would obviate the threat of sanctions there.

For Israeli officials, the whole process points to the weakness of the Europeans.

In meetings with European diplomats this week, Israeli officials said they’ll make that point.

“If this is the position of the Europeans and the U.N., we will not be able to give them a role in carrying out the ‘road map,’ so they are creating a situation which is unacceptable to us,” Mekel said Wednesday.

The European Union and the United Nations are official partners, along with the United States and Russia, in the so-called “Quartet,” which is sponsoring the road map plan to get the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track.

Arguing that it might politicize the international court and divert the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, European countries abstained from the General Assembly resolution last December asking the court to judge the legal consequences of Israel’s fence.

On July 9, the court ruled that the fence was illegal and ordered Israel to dismantle it.

Israel dismissed the court — which said international legal guarantees of self-defense were not relevant to Israel’s struggle against Palestinian terrorism — and said it would disregard the advisory opinion.

Again on Tuesday, Israel slammed the U.N. resolution. After Tuesday evening’s vote, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, told delegates, “Thank God the fate of Israel and the Jewish people is not decided in this hall.”

The vote was 150 in favor of the resolution and 6 against, with 10 abstentions. Joining Israel and the United States in voting against were Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Paulau. Abstaining were Cameroon, Canada, El Salvador, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

While the vote was widely expected, it was postponed twice as the Europeans sought to inject a modicum of balance into the Palestinian-led resolution.

In the end, the Europeans, unanimously supported the resolution after certain modifications.

The Palestinians began circulating the draft resolution early last week. Exploratory discussions between the Palestinians and Holland, which holds the rotating E.U. presidency, began Monday afternoon.

By Tuesday, intense discussions were under way, as the Europeans appeared split in their view.

After a two-hour break Tuesday evening, additions were made to the latest version that apparently appeased European concerns.

The first called on the Palestinian Authority to take action against those “conducting and planning violent attacks” and on Israel “to take no action undermining trust,” including attacks on civilians and assassinations of terrorist leaders.

But Mekel criticized the resolution for not making significant reference to Palestinian terrorism, for not specifically noting Israel’s right to self-defense and for making the ICJ opinion, not the road map, the main signpost in the peace process.

He said the resolution would allow the Palestinians to condition progress on the road map on Israel’s dismantling of the security barrier.

In analyzing the Europeans’ role in the vote, one Israeli diplomat reserved his harshest judgment for the French.

“Pardon my French, but we’re talking here about the French connection,” he said. “They did everything they could this week to guarantee European support for the resolution.”

French officials could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, in discussion July 16 surrounding the resolution, the Palestinian U.N. representative, Nasser Al-Kidwa, called on countries to impose sanctions on companies involved in the fence’s construction.

“Israel will have to choose what to declare itself — officially, morally and legally as an outlaw state, or to reconcile itself with a new reality and comply,” Al-Kidwa said.

Even as it resigned itself to the resolution’s passage, Israel hoped the debate would shed light on the situation.

Blasting the debate as hypocritical, Israeli officials noted the events of last weekend, in which the Palestinian Authority police chief was kidnapped by terrorists from P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s own Fatah faction. That set off a round of musical chairs during which Arafat tried to install his cousin in a top security position.

“These are the guys that want to tell the international community what is the rule of law?” Mekel said.

Jewish organizations swiftly blasted the U.N. move.

“Today the General Assembly has built a barrier — a barrier to progress in the peace process,” the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement.

The Palestinians will use the resolution to “avoid their responsibility” under the road map to dismantle terrorist organizations, the group said.

“The war on terror cannot be won by closing one’s eyes and wishing terrorism away, as the ICJ and the General Assembly have,” the statement said. “If the ICJ opinion applies to all states, then terrorists have won the battle. If only to Israel, then anti-Semites have.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, for its part, denounced the ruling. Noting that Israeli officials cite a tremendous decline in terrorist attacks because of the fence, the group demanded that the General Assembly seek a ruling from the World Court to designate suicide bombings a “crime against humanity.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said it would meet with U.N. diplomats this week in an effort to prevent even nine affirmative votes necessary to pass a binding resolution at the Security Council.


Your Letters


Political Correctness

Jane Ulman’s attempt to deconstruct the story of Purim is another revolting exercise in political correctness (“Viva Vashti,” March 5).

Those who really care about the plight of women need to concentrate their energies on dealing with some very horrific realities: There are countries where women are enslaved — both as labor slaves and sex slaves, killed at the whim of a family member, denied the most basic human rights and even brutally mutilated. Except for a few lonely and courageous voices, there is very little protest over these heinous situations.

Oops, I forgot. Forgive me. Please don’t call the politically correct thought police! We are not supposed to be “judgmental” about other cultures; we are only allowed to trash our own Bible and our own sanctums.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman, Van Nuys

Jewish Exceptionalism

For more than 60 years, Jewish voting patterns have defied one of the rules that govern most voters: People vote for their own economic interests.

The Los Angeles Times exit poll still shows Jewish exceptionalism. Looking at Proposition 56, a measure to lower from 66 percent to 55 percent the majority needed to pass tax bills, we find strong evidence of Jewish exceptionalism. Forty-seven percent of Jews voted for Proposition 56, compared to: 33 percent of Anglo Catholics, 42 percent of Latino Catholics, 27 percent of white Protestants, 41 percent of black Protestants and 35 percent of Asians. Jews are still more willing than other communities to pay for government programs to help others.

The economic self-interest rule of American politics seems to be trumped by an older Jewish rule: “There will never cease to be needy people in your land, which is why I command you: Open your hand to the poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Rabbi Allen S. Maller, Temple Akiba of Culver City

Both Sides

Thank you for publishing William S. van der Veen’s letter to the editor, “Gaza Withdrawal” (March 5). I appreciate that you print both sides of an argument and feel that this higher standard which you set for yourself makes for a more educated public. Once again, thank you.

Dick Wrigley, via e-mail

Carin Davis

I have been reading Carin Davis’ columns all year. I greatly admire her writing style and use of humor. Carrie Bradshaw has nothing on her. Keep up the good work.

Jackie Taus, via e-mail

Different Reasons

There is a difference between Queen Esther marrying a non-Jew and a Jewish person nowadays intermarrying (“Keeping Jews in the Flock,” March 5). Esther was on a mission to save the Jews at that time. A Jew nowadays who intermarries does it for personal reasons.

Name Withheld Upon Request, Los Angeles

Retraction Sought

You owe an apology to me, my children, friends and associates (“What Jews Need to Know About Jesus,” Feb. 20). Since I attempt to be observant, I suppose my family is what is called “ultra-Orthodox.” Without sources, Jack Miles indicts all of us who, he alleges “called for the execution of Yitzhak Rabin.”

I suggest a prominent retraction at your earliest opportunity so that I can continue reading your paper and recommending it to others.

David J. Leonard, Los Angeles

Editor’s Note:

Jack Miles’ only point with regard to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin was that some Israelis applauded the deed and others decried it. The label applied to those who applauded it was a secondary matter and could have been left out altogether.

That said, in the ever-changing political landscape of Israel, not all of the ultra-Orthodox are also ultranationalist, but some have been. Charedim (black hats, Chasidic communities) are ultra-Orthodox. Chardalim (knitted yarmulkes, settler communities) are in general both ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist. The two groups are distinct, but some of their views overlap.

In retrospect, Jack Miles’s reference to “Israelis who called for the execution of Yitzhak Rabin and who applauded Yigal Amir when he did the deed” would have been more accurate had he not identified them by any label or else characterized them as either “ultranationalist” or “ultra-Orthodox, ultranationalist.”

Who Has Kerry’s Ear?


Now that he’s running for president, Sen. John Kerry’s openness to a broad range of Jewish opinion is making some in the pro-Israel community nervous — and others hopeful.

The very quality that attracted Jewish voters to him as a longtime Massachusetts senator is now earning the candidate closer scrutiny across the Jewish spectrum.

Kerry’s Jewish supporters accurately cite his solid voting record in the Senate and his frequent readiness to meet leaders of Washington’s main pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

They also say he emulates President Clinton’s activist philosophy when it comes to Middle East peacemaking, an approach that won broad Jewish support during the Clinton presidency.

Detractors inevitably — and just as accurately — mention Kerry’s closeness to critics of U.S. foreign policy who say U.S. Middle East policy is a dog wagged by Israel’s tail. They include the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson.

The variegated palette of advice Kerry has drawn upon over the years — and the fact that he ultimately keeps his own counsel — has made pinning down the candidate’s positions that much harder.

It’s one thing to see all sides of a question when you’re one voice out of 100 in the Senate, some pro-Israel officials in Washington say. When you’re the Democratic frontrunner, it’s another.

Now, as Kerry’s views, both foreign and domestic, are put under the microscope, the question abounds, as one pro-Israel official put it: "Where is he getting his advice?"

On the one hand, Kerry’s campaign has recruited Wilson, who has likened the legality of Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990 to that of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Wilson also has said that close U.S.-Israel ties hinder U.S. engagement in the Arab world.

On the other hand, Kerry’s top foreign policy adviser is Rand Beers, a former top Bush counterterrorism adviser who made headlines last year when he quit because he said the war in Iraq was doing major harm to the war on terrorism.

Beers’ views on Israel are unknown, but he has said he believes the Saudis should do much more about support in Saudi Arabia for terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah.

And Kerry’s closest adviser, according to a profile published over the weekend in The New York Times, is his younger brother, Cameron, who converted to Judaism two decades ago when he married Kathy Weinman. Weinman’s family is active in the Detroit-area Jewish community and remains active in the Boston Jewish community.

Both Kerry brothers said they were surprised and pleased to learn last year of their own Jewish connections — through their paternal grandparents.

"The pattern of how he does things is to get as many opinions as he can," says Candy Glazier, a Kerry supporter from Longmeadow, Mass., who also is on AIPAC’s executive committee.

"He’ll listen to every side of the story, and he’ll make the final decision."

Seeking such diversity of opinion is in stark contrast to President Bush, who is much more likely to make foreign-policy decisions by relying on his advisers. These advisers include security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney — all of whom are seen as solidly in the pro-Israel camp.

Israel advocates across the political spectrum are quick to say that Kerry’s voting record is "stellar."

On the domestic issues Jews care about, Kerry’s record is unchallenged. He actually may be one of the few leading legislators who excites Orthodox and Reform Jews alike.

"He’s very good at navigating the waters of the diversity of the Jewish community — the Orthodox, the Reform, the Jewish defense organizations," said Nancy Kaufman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) in Boston.

On his Boston staff, Kerry employs Joan Wasser, a graduate of the city’s Jewish day school system who is well-respected among Jews and who runs Jewish community outreach for Kerry. Her formal responsibilities are policy advice on education and senior issues, both areas of pronounced concern to the Jewish community.

Kerry’s record on church-state issues lands him solidly on the liberal side of the Jewish community. He opposes government aid to religious schools and for faith-based charities.

But his status as a powerful Democrat who has taken on teachers’ unions as overly powerful endears him to Orthodox Jews who advocate for greater parental voice in the schools.

Most outstanding for all sides has been Kerry’s lead role in trying to push through Congress the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which encourages employer flexibility in areas of religious observance. For Jews, this translates into easing Sabbath and holiday observance, and promoting acceptance of religious attire, such as yarmulkes, in the workplace.

"He has shown great sensitivity toward religion and religious minorities and religious observance," said Abba Cohen, who heads the Washington office of Agudath Israel of America, an organization that awarded Kerry its Religious Freedom Award in 2000.

Cohen said he was especially impressed that Kerry took on the workplace freedom initiative himself, not at anyone’s behest.

The senator was outraged after reading in a local newspaper that two devout Roman Catholic women were forced to work on Christmas.

"It’s definitely worthwhile saying he introduced the legislation on his own," Cohen said.

Yet it is that notion — on his own — that is now unnerving some pro-Israel activists who wonder how Kerry comes to his policy decisions.

For example, Kerry’s vision of how to jumpstart the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process has taken some in the pro-Israel community off guard. Particularly, Kerry cites negotiations in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 as a starting point for returning to the table.

"That’s not where we want to be," said one Jewish organizational official in Washington.

Taba represented the last-ditch effort by the Clinton administration and Israel’s Ehud Barak government to salvage the peace process after the launching of the Palestinian intifada.

The outline for a deal envisioned there, which would have set Israel back to its pre-1967 borders, alarmed many. It was vague about the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and critics said that it gave away too much to the Palestinians as a starting point for negotiation, rather than its culmination.

Another concern for pro-Israel activists is that, in private, Kerry is reported to have expressed dislike for Ariel Sharon, Israel’s two-term prime minister.

Some worry that Kerry might be taking advice from Yossi Beilin, the left-wing Israeli politician whose informal peace proposal, the "Geneva accord," mirrored the Taba talks.

People close to Beilin say the Geneva negotiators have met with Kerry no more than any other leading U.S. legislators — and they note that Kerry did not sign onto a non-binding "sense of the Senate" resolution this session that cites the Geneva proposal as positive.

Still, supporters of the Geneva initiative give Kerry high marks and note with approval the closeness to his campaign of Alan Solomont, a top Boston Jewish philanthropist who raises funds for Kerry and who is prominent in the Israel Policy Forum, which backs greater U.S. engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"An engaged president and an engaged United States is what would provide the greatest amount of security to Israel," said Ken Sweder, a past president of the Boston JCRC, who accompanied Kerry on a visit to Israel in 1986

For his part, it is likely that Kerry — who demonstrates an impressive command of foreign-policy issues — arrived at Taba as a launching point on his own.

That tendency to go it alone worries some admirers who wonder if Kerry will heed their advice as president.

"He has made statements that have been disturbing and indicate a lack of real understanding of some of the issues relating to Israel," said Cohen of Agudath Israel. Nonetheless, he calls Kerry’s record of support for Israel "exemplary."

Kerry’s suggestion that he would consider former President Carter and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker as Middle East envoys has especially worried some in the pro-Israel community. Both Carter and Baker are unpopular among many pro-Israel activists. A top Jewish Kerry supporter, New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, told the Forward recently that Kerry has backed down from his intentions on appointing the pair envoys.

That has not stopped anonymous opponents from circulating e-mails citing the Baker and Carter references as a reason not to support Kerry.

Kerry’s supporters say the candidate will survive such attacks as it becomes clear that while he listens to a broad range of opinion, in the end he relies mostly on pro-Israel opinion, diverse as it is, in his assessments of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

"I’m one of the people who call on his office," said Glazier, of AIPAC, "and he’ll come and meet with us personally. Most people will send their foreign policy adviser, but John takes quite a lot of time to take questions."

World Briefs


Kerry Wins Jewish Support

Exit polls from Tuesday’s primaries show that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won the Jewish vote in Arizona and Delaware. In Arizona, Kerry captured 43 percent of the Jewish vote, followed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who garnered 23 percent. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean received 14 percent and retired Gen. Wesley Clark got 12 percent. In Delaware, Kerry won 40 percent of the Jewish vote, followed by Lieberman with 29 percent, Clark with 11 percent and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) with 10 percent.

Israeli-Palestinian Summit Seen?

Israeli and Palestinian officials met to prepare a possible summit between the two sides’ prime ministers. Ariel Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, met Wednesday with Hassan Abu Libdeh, his counterpart in Ahmed Qurei’s office. Until now, Qurei has rebuffed invitations to meet with Sharon, but the United States, the chief backer of the “road map” peace plan, has stepped up pressure on the Palestinian Authority premier to hold a summit. No date has yet been set.

P.A.’s Blackmail Charge

Yasser Arafat’s security adviser accused Washington of blackmailing the Palestinian Authority over an attack on U.S. diplomats. “I think the Americans are using this isolated case in order not to be involved, in order to blackmail the Palestinian Authority,” Jibril Rajoub told reporters in Ramallah, apparently alluding to American threats to make USAID funding to the Palestinians conditional on solving an Oct. 15 attack on a U.S. Embassy convoy in Gaza, which killed three guards. A U.S. official said Washington does not believe the Palestinian security services had cooperated sufficiently in the investigation. Palestinians also have been angered by a USAID requirement that would-be aid recipients in the West Bank and Gaza Strip repudiate terrorism.

North Korea Investigation Urged Over GasChambers

Institutions in the United States and Israel dedicated to Holocaust remembrance are urging the United Nations to investigate reports that North Korea is operating gas chambers to kill and conduct experiments on political dissidents.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is asking U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to appoint an international tribunal to probe charges first reported by the BBC and the London “Observer.”

According to defectors from North Korea, prisoners and their families undergo horrible tortures, chemical experiments and suffocation in gas chambers, while scientists take notes. The prisoners, who may number 200,000 in 12 centers, include critics of the regime and religious Christians. In Jerusalem, directorate chairman Avner Shalev of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial, said that “The chilling images of the murderers coolly watching their victims’ death agonies are all too reminiscent of Nazi barbarism,”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, commented that “If even a portion of these allegations are true, the world is no longer facing an axis of evil, but the very root of evil.” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

AMIA Prosecution Begins Wrap-Up

Prosecutors in the AMIA bombing case began closing statements Tuesday.

The prosecution demanded life prison for five local defendants accused of playing a role in the 1994 bombing of Argentina’s main Jewish community center, which killed 85 people. In addition, the prosecution accused the government of former

President Carlos Menem, as well as Argentine police and intelligence officers, of blocking the investigation. The prosecution’s statements are expected to continue through Thursday.

Hillel Draws Crowd in Moscow

Dozens of young Jewish leaders gathered in Moscow on Wednesday for an annual Hillel conference. The Jewish student organization, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in the former Soviet Union this year, currently operates 27 centers serving student communities in seven countries in the region. The group says it aims to increase the involvement of young Jews in Jewish communal life and challenge students to examine their Jewish identity and learn about their heritage.

Jewish Academics Gather

More than 200 Jewish academics from the former Soviet Union, Central Europe and Israel are meeting near Moscow.

The annual Jewish education conference came as Sefer, the Moscow Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization, celebrates its 10th anniversary this month. The event includes two dozen sessions on a variety of topics ranging from biblical and talmudic studies to Jewish psychology and demography to Jewish arts and history in the Soviet Union.

State Wants Money to Explain Israel

The United States wants $25 million to explain its policies to the Muslim world. In the proposed 2004 national budget, the State Department cites the Arab-Israeli conflict as an area of divergence.

The program, “Partnerships for Learning,” is the “dominant theme” of its cultural exchange strategy. It calls the program a “vehicle for positive dialogue and constructive action, particularly in the Islamic world, between the U.S. and other countries, especially where divergent views on specific policies — Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, corruption, human rights, rule of law, debt relief, terrorism, proliferation issues — often undermine overall good relations.”

Nazi-Looted Painting Auctioned Off

A Nazi-looted painting was auctioned at Christie’s in London for $164,000. Proceeds from this week’s sale will go to the Jewish National Fund. “Garden Path to Summer House,” by Max Slevogt, was returned to Peter Alexander, the son of its prewar owners. Alexander died childless in 1999 and left instructions in his will that the painting should be sold, with the proceeds to go to charity.

The impressionist work fetched $55,000 more than the auction house had expected.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Why I Voted For Arnold


First a disclaimer: I have never met Arnold Schwarzenegger, have never spoken to him, was never contacted by his political people, no one ever asked me to support him, or offered me money to do so. I supported him because I respect him and because I am convinced that he will be good for California. In fact, if I may brag just a little, I started predicting that he would be the next governor of California many months ago, when only a few hard-line nuts seriously considered that a recall could be successful. I didn’t think/hope that Gray Davis would be recalled. I just was sure that Arnold would run and win the next race.

I knew a lot less about him at that time than I do now but one thing was clear: Arnold Schwarzenegger is a winner. Always has been and always will be. And he won on Tuesday by continuing to use his abilities, his intellect and his will. The fact that he has a world-class body and looks doesn’t hurt, but I am convinced that a man with his mind, energy and drive could be confined to a wheelchair and still be a success.

Arnold came to America in 1968. He was 21 years old — no money, no English, no education, no wealthy parents or friends to help him. And look at him now: a multimillionaire businessman, a movie superstar, married into American aristocracy, practically unlimited White House access by both Democrats and Republicans. He will be the governor of a state with a population four times that of his native Austria. Not too shabby, right?

Yes, when he arrived in the United States he already had a reputation as an up-and-coming bodybuilder, but obviously he had much more. After all, there are probably hundreds of bodybuilding champions and all they have are wonderful memories of past triumphs.

The Los Angeles Times, to put it mildly, is not overly sympathetic to Arnold. Its lengthy Schwarzenegger biography disdainfully noted, in an uppity sneer, that he had amassed a hodgepodge of credits in the 1970s by taking classes at Santa Monica college and UCLA extension classes. Excuuuse me? Is this something to be sneered at? He had the discipline and the will to workout hour after hour each day, tried out — successfully — for small parts in B-movies where his part had to be overdubbed in English and he still found time to study and amass enough credits to eventually get a degree in international business and economics from the University of Wisconsin in just one year. Many years later he was awarded an honorary doctorate by his alma mater.

Arnold never looked back — he concentrated on looking ahead, achieving and succeeding. He became a very successful real estate investor, a brilliant businessman, a philanthropist who gives many millions to charity and pays many millions in taxes every year. No, he didn’t graduate from Yale or Harvard, and maybe that is a good thing when you consider some of their graduates.

The media persist in portraying him as a muscle-bound ignoramus, a show business shell with little substance. The media is wrong. Julia Roberts has been quoted as saying that, “Republican can be found in a dictionary between ‘repulsive’ and ‘reptile.'”

I can’t picture Arnold ever saying that a Democrat is between “despicable” and “disgusting.” He has more class — and brains.

A few weeks ago I was surfing the channels and came across an interview of a local state senator on Fox News. I didn’t even hear the question that was asked, just the answer: “Do you really think that at a time when our budget deficit is $8 billion, that I should worry about an insignificant $10 million?”

Insignificant $10 million? And the reporter took it in stride. This is Sacramento’s attitude to your dollars at work. Schwarzenegger had to work for every dollar he made. His attitude is different, and his abilities impressive.

I’ve long thought so, and now, it seems, millions of California voters agree.

Welcome, governor.


Si Frumkin is chairman of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews.

Arnold’s Choice


If there was a presidential candidate whose father accused "the Jew media" and "Jewish pundits in New York and Los Angeles" of beating the drums for war, and said he had no problem with harassing and punishing the Jews — but such things shouldn’t be done in "a loud clamor" — would you vote for that candidate?

The answer, of course, is that most Jews already did back in 1960. Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of John F. Kennedy, made his anti-Semitic views abundantly clear while serving as ambassador to the Court of St. James in the run-up to World War II. Germany’s ambassador to England at the time, Herbert von Dirksen, called Joseph Kennedy, "Germany’s best friend in London."

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s people would probably love to throw that example back at journalists who pepper him with questions about his father’s Nazi membership and his own inordinate affection for former Nazi Kurt Waldheim. But somehow, I don’t see Arnold pointing to his wife, Kennedy family member Maria Shriver, and saying, "You think my family’s got problems, look at hers."

More and more, it seems, candidates run as much against their pasts as they do against other candidates. They mount campaigns within campaigns to race not against opponents but against disclosure. The recall election for governor exaggerates the extent to which politics has become a form of forensic archaeology, with operatives and the press digging up skeletons as fast as the other candidate’s team can heap dirt on the bones.

Take Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. The Democratic candidate for governor once belonged to a Latino group called MEChA when he was a student at Fresno State in the 1970s. MEChA called for the revolutionary and radical return of California to the Mexicans, from whom Anglos took it (though it stopped short of calling for the Mexicans to return it to the pure-blood Indians from whom it was first stolen).

Extremist Latinos still exist out there — one of their Web sites is particularly noxious and anti-Semitic — but clearly Bustamante is not one of them, and a thousand e-mails "exposing" him as otherwise doesn’t make it true.

Bustamante didn’t help matters by not directly refuting what the MEChA manifesto professed and discussing openly his involvement. The past is ever present in campaigns these days, but still candidates see it as a problem to be handled, rather than faced. We the voters have to decide what history matters and how much.

Arnold’s opponents want voters to hold his 1977 Oui magazine interview describing illicit drugs and explicit sex against him. Voters I’ve spoken with will give him a pass. What happened in the ’70s stays in the ’70s.

But Waldheim is different, and it sticks in my craw.

According to "Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up," by Eli M. Rosenbaum and William Hoffer, Waldheim was an intelligence officer in Germany’s Army Group E when it committed mass murder in the Kozara region of western Bosnia. In 1944, Waldheim oversaw the dropping of anti-Semitic propaganda leaflets behind Russian lines.

One leaflet read, "Enough of the Jewish war, kill the Jews, come over." For these activities, the U.S. Justice Department put Waldheim on its watch list in 1987 and denied him entry.

In 1986, the Wiesenthal Center, according to its Web site, launched a massive campaign to urge the Reagan administration to bar Waldheim from entering the United States after reviewing the archival material dealing with his role in German atrocities in Yugoslavia and Greece during World War II. The center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier testified at the Waldheim hearings in Washington, D.C.

Just as the Waldheim controversy was heating up, Arnold invited Waldheim to his wedding. Waldheim declined, but sent a gift, and Arnold toasted the ex-Nazi at his celebration. He has never retracted or explained his affectionate statements or the support he demonstrated for Waldheim by allowing his name to appear on Waldheim’s campaign posters.

Hier recently told The Journal that there is no reason to hold Schwarzenegger responsible for the actions of his father and that the actor, a major financial donor to the center, has worked tirelessly for Holocaust awareness and tolerance. Still, even Hier said he would like to see Arnold publicly clarify his views about Waldheim.

Whatever our political or moral leanings, I think most of us can safely agree that a man doesn’t get a pass for saluting a war criminal. Toasting Nazis should not be anyone’s big issue in this race, but character does count. If in the past Arnold refused to distance himself from Waldheim because, as some critics have suggested, he wanted to keep his options open for electoral office in Austria, his behavior reeks of the kind of opportunism that already stinks up Sacramento.

A Republican strategist told me that Arnold’s Waldheim issue probably won’t matter "to anyone under 70 years old." That may be largely true. It may not be expedient for Arnold to come clean on Waldheim, but it’s right.