By Ciro Scotti
01 September, 2004
Bill Clinton was the first black President -- a moniker he relished
-- then George W. Bush is the first Jewish President. After first disengaging
from the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and refusing to even
lay eyes on Yasser Arafat, Bush went on to give Israeli Prime Minister
and best Mideast buddy Ariel Sharon virtual carte blanche in his crackdown
on the suicide-bombing Palestinans and then followed the advice of his
fiercely pro-Israel neocon advisers and went to war in Iraq.
Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition,
calls Bush "the most pro-Israel President in history." And
on the Republican Jewish Coalition Web site, former New York Mayor Ed
Koch, a Democrat, writes that he's voting for a Republican for President
for the first time in his life because "George W. Bush has amazed
me. Bush 41, the father, was not particularly good on [the Israel] issue.
I do not believe he was anti-Semitic but his Secretary of State, James
Baker, perhaps summed up the attitude prevailing in that Administration
when he said, 'F--- the Jews. They don't vote for us anyway.'"
Now the FBI is investigating
whether a Pentagon official in the office of neocon Defense Under Secretary
Douglas J. Feith, identified by The Washington Post as Lawrence A. Franklin,
passed classified information about American policy toward Iran to Israel
through a pro-Israel lobbying group. The obvious question about the
probe, which has been reportedly going on for a year but was first reported
by CBS last week, is this: As details come out, will Bush's tilt toward
Israel hurt him in November? The less obvious question is: Will the
scandal help him even more with some Jewish voters?
Certainly the Administration
isn't downplaying the vigorous support of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee, the lobbying group implicated in the spy scandal.
At a pre-convention event on Sunday afternoon co-sponsored by AIPAC
[which vehemently denies allegations that it passed sensitive documents
to Israel] and attended by almost 2,000 members of the New York Jewish
community, the Republicans rolled out the big guns: Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. UJA
Federation of New York President Morris W. Offit introduced Bush campaign
chief Ken Mehlman by saying: "We are honored that President Bush's
campaign is being managed by one of us."
Almost since Inauguration
Day 2001, Bush has been a lot like a kid with a piggy bank. He has been
putting in a few pennies worth of backing here, a dime's worth of support
there, and hoping that on Election Day when he busts the ceramic porker
open, he'll have just enough new voters behind him to buy four more
This strategy of
political incrementalism has been pursued almost religiously [but, hey,
what hasn't been?] by the White House. That's why Bush comes across
as an 18-year-old on Levitra with his wooing of the American Jewish
community. So with 63 days to go before Election Day -- to paraphrase
a famous Ed Koch line-- "How's he doin'?"
Before the spy
probe broke in the papers, some of the answers were on a yacht-for-rent
bobbing in the Hudson at the Chelsea Piers dock on the night of Aug.
26. That's where The Israel Project, a two-year-old nonprofit devoted
to promoting a positive image of Israel in America, was holding the
first of several events scheduled for Republican Convention week.
Between bites of
sushi, Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition delivered the partisan
answer, predicting that Bush would do substantially better than the
19% of the Jewish vote that he captured in 2000. The surprise, he says,
is that "the President is going to do particularly well among seniors
because they are much more Israel-centric" than younger Jewish
voters. In the swing state of Florida [where Jews account for around
5% of the electorate], if enough older and traditionally Democratic
voters cross over to Bush, he muses, "the Jewish community could
very well decide the election."
A less biased answer
to how Bush is doing is given by David Borowich, the 34-year-old chief
operating officer of tech startup Optinetix. "The Jewish community
had very low expectations of Bush...but I think he has delivered for
America and for the Jewish people," says Borowich, who has dual
Israeli and American citizenship. But, while he thinks either Bush or
Kerry would be acceptable, Borowich says a lot of Jewish Americans are
asking themselves: "Why have we always been voting Democratic?"
The leader of a
leading nonpartisan Jewish-American umbrella organization, who declines
to be identified, says while it's a mistake to look at the Jewish vote
as even close to monolithic, in broad terms, American Jews divide up
between those for whom the security of Israel is of primary concern
and those for whom social issues such abortion and stem-cell research
are paramount. And, as for every American, he adds, economic performance
is an overarching issue.
This wise man's
assessment is that while he sees Bush as "a simple man without
a great intellect," he believes the President has a visceral feeling
about the need to protect Israel. And he says, as the country as whole
has become more conservative, so have Jews. His Aug. 26 "snapshot"
is that on Election Day in November, the Jewish electorate will split
75%-25% between John Kerry and Bush, with Bush getting a maximum of
is at odds slightly but significantly with a poll conducted in July
by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the National Jewish Democratic
Council and The Solomon Project: It found likely Jewish voters choosing
Kerry over Bush by 75%-22%.
Still, it's a problem
for Kerry if the wise man's hunch is closer to reality and a larger-than-expected
number of Jewish voters go for Bush.
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