2000-09-01: Jewish voters
By Donald H. Harrison
Even though the Democrats' nomination of U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut to become the nation's first Jewish vice president has sent waves of excitement through the Jewish community, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans dare to take the "Jewish vote" for granted this year.
Both sides know that Jews have favored every Democratic presidential candidate since Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Republicans will not write the Jewish vote off, and Democrats will not assume that having nominated Lieberman they can rest on their laurels.
Both parties know that although Jews continued to vote Democratic in 1972, many were so turned off by George McGovern's pro-Arab sounding campaign associates, that they defected in record percentages to the Republican reelection campaign of Richard Nixon.
We Jews are but a tiny proportion of the American population, but because of the winner-take-all mathematics of the electoral college system, our importance is magnified by the fact that we live in big, urban states with large electoral college votes like California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey -- the states which Democrats ordinarily must win. In tight races in those states, if Republicans can coax just a few more defections from Democratic Jewish ranks, they could win the presidency.
The Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council--which are Jewish affiliate groups of the two major political parties--both have scoured the candidates' statements and votes on separation of church and state' and U.S.-Israeli relations, among other issues, to find chinks in the opponents' "Jewish armor."
For example, the Republican Jewish Coalition cites a report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that "Al Gore has stated he would delay moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv until a final status agreement is forged between Israel and the Palestinians."
"This is in direct conflict with the will of Congress which passed legislation mandating the move in 1995," the RJC reports. "By contrast, Governor Bush has pledged that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem as soon as he was sworn in as President."
The Republican Jewish Coalition goes on to quote James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, as writing back in January of this year that both Al Gore and his Democratic challenger Bill Bradley "endorse the current even-handed approach of pressing Israel and the Arabs alike for concessions." The organization quoted Zogby as adding that George W. Bush and his chief Republican rival at the time, U.S. Sen. John McCain, "insist that if elected president, they will not pressure democratic Israel into making concessions to the likes of Yasser Arafat and Hafez Assad."
Concerning Israel, Democrats have focused their fire on positions taken by Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney. The National Jewish Democratic Council cited a report in the Forward, an Anglo-Jewish newspaper based in New York, that Cheney is a member of the finance committee of the Mosaic Foundation which the newspaper described as "an Arab charity with a policy of excluding israelis."
The NJDC also quotes from a lengthy interview which Cheney gave in 1989 to the Wyoming Star-Tribune, in which he said that the United States should have been "tougher on Israel" following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Cheney said in that interview that the Reagan administration should have "expressed our displeasure in no uncertain terms.... Literally thousands of innocent people have been killed or injured. I find that difficult to accept."
The NJDC also reported that in 1981, when Cheney was a congressman, he voted against the resolution disapproving the sale of AWACS and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia. In 1986, Cheney similarly was opposed to a resolution opposing sending arms to Saudi Arabia.
"Separation of church and state" issues, in particular, are cited by the NJDC in its criticism of George W. Bush. The Democratic organization noted that June 10, 2000, was declared by the Texas governor to be "Jesus Day" in the state of Texas. His proclamation stated: "People of all religions recognize Jesus Christ as an example of love, compassion, sacrifice and service....To honor his life and teachings, Christians of all races and denominations have joined together to designate June 10 as Jesus Day." The proclamation was promptly criticized by the American Jewish Congress which urged him not to make such sectarian pronouncements in the future.
NJDC takes issue with Bush saying he has "no problem with the Ten Commandments posted on the wall of every place." Further, it chastised him for describing the Nation of Islam as a faith "based upon some universal principles" when the NOI's leader Louis Farrakhan has vilified Jews and Catholics. Bush, according to the NJDC, later backtracked, saying he thought he had been asked about Muslims generally, not the Nation of Islam group.
Counter-attacking, the Republican Jewish Coalition accuses Gore of having been too cozy with the Rev. Al Sharpton, a Black leader in New York whom it described as having "a long history of racism, bigotry and anti Semitism."
Sharpton, said the RJC, "is responsible for voicing numerous anti-Semitic comments. In addition, he has incited his supporters to riot in Crown Heights which resulted in the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum and riot in Harlem which resulted in a Jewish-owned business being burned." The RJC said Gore's only justification for his meeting with Sharpton -- when asked about it during the primary presidential debate in Los Angeles - was that Sharpton "received something like 131,000 votes in the last New York City election." The RJC said Klansman David Duke "received 671,009 votes in the 1991 Louisiana Governor's race. That did not make him any less of a bigot."
Concerning church-state issues, the RJC said it does not object to public expressions of faith. "However, Democrats have made Governor Bush's profession of faith an issue to try to raise fears among Jewish voters. They have conveniently ignored similar comments from Al Gore."
The RJC cited a story in the Washington Post in which Gore said when faced with a difficult decision, he often asks himself: "What Would Jesus Do?" which he abbreviated WWJD.'
It also quoted a story in U.S. News and World Report, in which Gore said: "I think that we have gone too far in conveying the impression that those in public life are obligated to refrain from ever acknowledging that they have a spiritual life....later, as a young man, I felt a transformational relationship with my own interpretation of G-d, and Christ in G-d."
The RJC also took Gore to task for failing to criticize his own Southern Baptist Church for its professed intention "to work towards the conversion of all Jews to Christianity."
In the quest for Jewish votes, not even the record of Joe Lieberman is sacrosanct. Mathew Brooks and Seth Leibsohn of the Republican Jewish Coalition recently penned a commentary in which they said. "Al Gore's courageous decision to choose a religious minority has easily tripped off almost every tongue. While we certainly share in the pride of this moment of accomplishment for Joe Lieberman, a series of questions arise as to how an observant Jew' feels about a ticket that actively courts the support of Al Sharpton. We wonder how comfortable an observant Jew' is on the ticket of a Vice President whose administration has actively appeased Yasser Arafat and that refuses to move to U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.... Already on Larry King Live, Joe Lieberman has withdrawn his support for moving the Embassy at this time."