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Candidates Vie for Jewish Support by Embracing Israeli Government Policies

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May - June 2004

Both Republican and Democratic parties are now engaged in an effort to gain Jewish votes and support for their candidates in the 2004 election. Their approach is to embrace the policies of the Israeli government and accuse their opponents of being less than faithful to them.  

The Republican Party has launched a campaign to increase its percentage of Jewish votes and contributions and apparently believes that the way to do this is to refrain from placing any pressure upon Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to fulfill his commitments to proceed with the U.S.-sponsored road map to peace.  

In a front-page story, The Hill, a Capitol Hill weekly, in its March 30 issue discussed a private meeting held by Democratic lawmakers to discuss ways to counter defections by some major Jewish donors to the Republicans by stressing their party’s pro-Israel stance.  

According to The Hill, “The lawmakers met privately ... with nearly 80 Jewish interest groups to make their case. Although Jews make up slightly more than 2 percent of all Americans, they have played a wider political role for both demographic and financial reasons. Jews are concentrated in such battleground states as Florida and Ohio. In the era of soft money, an estimated 50 to 70 percent of large contributions to the Democratic Party and allied political units came from Jewish donors. While President Bush won only 19 percent of the Jewish vote in 2000, Republican candidates garnered 35 percent of the Jewish vote in 2002.”  

The Hill reports: “The growing allegiance between the GOP and leaders in the Jewish community is due largely to Bush’s strong support of Israel and refusal to negotiate with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Republican aides and Jewish lobbyists say. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) ... hasn’t helped his party on that front by recently issuing statements that were widely interpreted as waffling on the controversial ‘security fence’ the Israeli government is building at the edge of the West Bank. Meanwhile, Republicans on Capitol Hill, led by Sen. Rich Santorum (R-PA) in the Senate and Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) in the House are aggressively courting Jewish interest groups, citing their strong support of Israel’s security policies.”  

Democrats did their best to convince Jewish leaders of their support for Israel. According to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, who attended the meeting, “They agreed to do a better job of communicating their positions. They acknowledged it and said it was the crux of their frustration.”  

Rep. Cantor, who has led the Republican outreach effort, said: “Democrats do not speak with a unified voice on Israel anymore. The Democrats want to re-inject the U.S. into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a neutral arbiter and a neutral voice.” He and other Republicans charged that acting as a “neutral arbiter” is equivalent to adopting an anti-Israel position.  

Speaking before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in May, President Bush expressed support for Ariel Sharon’s government and said with regard to recent Israeli incursions into Gaza that, “Israel has every right to defend itself from terror.” According to The Washington Times (May 19, 2004), the president’s speech “was interrupted ... with applause dozens of times” and he was given “several standing ovations.”  

The quest for Jewish support has caused Senator Kerry to alter his own Middle East views. The New York Times (May 15, 2004), reports: “Mr. Kerry gave Mr. Bush an opening by making statements earlier in the presidential campaign that were worrisome to supporters of Israel. Last fall, Mr. Kerry criticized the barrier Israel is building ... as counterproductive. In December, he came under fire from some Jewish organizations when he suggested that former President Jimmy Carter, whom some Jewish groups ... consider biased toward the Palestinians, would be among the people he would consider making a special envoy to the Middle East. Mr. Kerry subsequently backed off these positions, and in recent weeks he has emphasized his pro-Israel credentials.”  

For his part, former President Carter blamed the “Palestinian issue” for much of the animosity directed abroad toward the United States. In an article in the Houston Chronicle, Carter declared: “The prime source of animosity towards the United States is lack of progress in dealing with the Palestinian issue. We have been exclusively committed to the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israel, and have made no effort to try to have a balanced negotiating position between Israel and the Palestinians,” unlike previous administrations.  

The question asked by the Jewish magazine Moment (June 2004) in its a “Survey” column is: “Between the two presidential candidates ... who would be a better ally for Israel?”  

M.J. Rosenberg, Washington director of Israel Policy Forum, laments the fact that those seeking Jewish support by embracing current Israeli government positions rarely “say anything about what is best for the United States or Israel.” Writing in The Hill (April 21, 2004), he notes that, “They simply utter pro-Israel sound-bites that they believe sound pro-Israel. But they aren’t. They are simply prescriptions for sustaining the status quo. And some status quo it is! Over 900 Israelis killed in acts of terror over the past three years (in contrast to the less than 12 killed in the previous three years of Oslo-mandated Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation) ... But these politicians think they are doing Israel a favor by urging that Israel (and the U.S.) just keep doing what they are doing. That is not pro-Israel. But it is not supposed to be. It is partisan self-interest. The Democrats want to finesse the Israel issue to score in November, and so do Republicans. I don’t fault them for this. They are simply saying what certain lobbyists tell them they have to say.”  

According to Rosenberg, “I guess pro-Israel Jews like me are supposed to hear strains of Israel’s national anthem when they read these quotes. I don’t. All I hear is ‘ka-ching.’ Meanwhile ... Israel continues to bleed. And our own country becomes increasingly alienated from a world that understands that allowing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to fester endangers us all.”

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