Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 2000 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761
Israel returns to the Jewish voter’s agenda
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WITH THE RACE for president going down to the wire, with George W. Bush and Al Gore apparently neck and neck, the fight for every last undecided vote is of considerable importance. The question is, how are those undecideds who are Jewish going to make up their minds?
Of course, we know that a vast number of Jews would vote for the Democrats no matter who was running. And Al Gore’s historic choice of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as the first major party Jewish vice presidential candidate has made it certain that the Democratic ticket will rack up a record number of Jewish votes.
But let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that 90 percent or more of the votes cast by American Jews were not already locked up. Are there issues of concern to the American Jewish community that would enable us to decide objectively between Bush and Gore?
SUPREME COURT CONTROVERSIES
That means future decisions on abortion rights and church-state separation may well be decided by the outcome of next Tuesday’s voting. Even though history should teach us that there is no way of guaranteeing how a justice will vote before he is nominated, a vote for Gore will probably mean more liberals on the court, while a vote for Bush will mean more conservatives.
On abortion, many fear that increasing the number of conservatives will mean a possible repeal of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Considering that support for abortion rights seems to be a litmus-test for many Jewish voters — especially women — that constitutes a huge obstacle for a pro-life candidate like Bush.
I posed this question to Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who is himself up for re-election this year and is favored to win over Democrat Rep. Ron Klink. The candidates share pro-life and pro-gun views. Santorum acknowledged the potency of the court as a wedge issue but insisted that the real issue, is not abortion but the willingness of the Supreme Court to arrogate to itself the right to legislate instead of leaving this power to Congress.
Santorum, no matter his pro-life stance, thinks the chances of reversing Roe are minimal. The battle in the next administration, he says, will be over restrictions on abortion, such as attempts to ban partial-birth abortion procedures. That is probably true, but the fact is, most women’s groups — including Jewish women’s groups — oppose these restrictions in the same way that the National Rifle Association is prepared to fight tooth and nail to oppose even the most reasonable restrictions on the right to own guns.
Here again, the problem for Bush and Santorum is that Gore can probably count on the fact that more Jewish voters fear a reversal of Roe v. Wade than worry about the growing power of the court.
The composition of the court will also affect Jewish concerns about separation of religion and state. More liberal justices will reinforce the court’s majority opposed to public-school prayer, as well as make it less likely that the court will approve experiments in vouchers or school choice, which would make it easier for parents to choose private or parochial schools (including day schools) for their children.
While there is a general Jewish consensus opposing school prayer, there is a growing minority of Jewish opinion favoring school choice. The former issue works to solidify the Jewish majority for Gore while the latter might help tempt some Jews to vote for the pro-voucher Bush.
The other issue that will move Jewish voters is Israel. Up until recently, the Middle East hasn’t been much of a factor. But the recent collapse of the Oslo process and the continuing assaults upon Israel by the Palestinians and the world media have put it back on the front burner.
On this point, Gore has a natural advantage. He’s been working closely with the pro-Israel community his entire political life and has earned the right to be considered personally pro-Israel, even by those who don’t like the Clinton administration’s pressure on Israel.
On the other hand, other than recent canned statements, Bush’s feelings about Israel have been a mystery. But most Jews clearly remember the less-than-brilliant record of his father’s administration and the elder Bush’s Secretary of State James “Bleep the Jews” Baker. Throw in the association of both members of the GOP ticket to the oil industry and it is hard for many Jews to trust the Shrub.
“W” has worked hard to overcome that with statements proclaiming his willingness to stand by Israel, whether or not it is making concessions. His spokesperson on foreign affairs, Condoleezza Rice, assured me that the alliance with Israel and the Jewish state’s security are the touchstones of Bush’s views on the Middle East.
The best rationale on this issue for Bush that I’ve heard came from Santorum, who was himself critical of the elder Bush’s bashing of Israel as well as of President Clinton’s reckless pursuit of peace to Israel’s detriment. Santorum thinks George W. Bush will be sensitive not to repeat any of his father’s mistakes and that his caution in not trying to emulate Clinton’s grandstanding will benefit Israel.
Interestingly, both Bush and Gore have not limited their pandering to Jewish voters. Both are trying hard to win Arab-American votes. Both have won some Arab endorsements, which makes friends of Israel nervous.
Particularly troubling was Gore’s foray into Michigan last week, where he took credit for the Clinton administration’s decision to abstain rather than to veto a U.N. resolution that condemned Israel without noting Palestinian violence. He also assured them that the U.S. Embassy would not be moved anytime soon.
Though the general assumption among most Jews is that Gore is our friend and Bush a stranger, the fact is, both practice the philosophy of the 1960s’ pop song, “Love the One You’re With.” Though Gore feels better to most Jews, clearly, neither can be entirely trusted.
Gore, who is concerned about losing liberal voters to the Green Party’s Ralph Nader, is also trying to make use of the little-known fact that Nader is very anti-Israel, and has even called for cutting off all U.S. aid to the Jewish state. The only problem is that the “peace, love and granola” types who favor Nader are usually the Jews who are most likely to oppose Israel themselves.
Bush has yet to find an issue on which he can pry a big chunk of Jewish voters away from Gore. That means he will probably run behind other Republicans (such as Santorum) among Jewish voters.
But we already knew that, as did the candidates.
If, in the next four years, you sense a decline in presidential
interest in Jewish issues, remember that a candidate who has no
reason to fight for our votes on Election Day won’t be likely to be
interested in our opinions after he’s
JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's highest awards in two categories: First Place in the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing for his column "Israel's China Syndrome -- and Ours" and First Place for Excellence in Arts and Criticism for his column "Jewish Art, Jewish Artists." The awards were given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 2000 Simon Rockower Awards dinner at Washington D.C. on June 22, 2000. Let him know what you think by clicking here.